Category Archives: wildlife

Free “Save Our Manatees” presentation – Lyric Theatre

Manatees are in the news…

Mark your calendar for 7pm on March 24, 2022. The Environmental Studies Council and River Kidz present: “Save Our Manatees -How Water Pollution and Seagrass Loss are Killing Florida’s Beloved Sea Cow,” at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart.

Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee, will be speaking. The event will be moderated by Eve Samples of Friends of the Everglades –with the help and input of the River KidzTickets are free,  just call the Lyric Box Office at 772-286-7827. See flyer above!

If you are not familiar with Mr Patrick Rose, he is a great speaker, and knows more than just about anyone about manatees. This is a recent update he gave from Save the Manatee to the Rivers Coalition. His words are extremely informative. Just go to 30.00 in link below to hear his seven minute Zoom presentation.

Rivers Coalition 1-27-22 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwEgM1BMJ4I

Also Dr. Tom Reinard of the Florida Wildlife Commission reported 1-26-22 -with this cold snap- that on 1-20-22 manatees began taking food. This is an unprecedented situation due to the Manatee Unusual Mortality Event in the Indian River Lagoon. Thank you to FWC and cooperating organizations/agencies for doing all they can to help these ancient and gentle marine mammals.

See this  link for latest FWC update and to see video of manatees taking/eating Romaine Lettuce.

In closing, I have thought a lot about manatees today. Don’t tell my husband, Ed, but I just adopted a manatee in his name for our wedding anniversary coming up on 2-12-22. Here’s his adoption certificate for Millie. LOVE THOSE MANATEES!

 

For the Baby Box Turtle – reworking our yards

I found this tiny Florida box turtle in December of 2021 while I was out in my yard. It was so small, I was nervous to let it walk back into the wild – but I did. I couldn’t believe it was so small -just a tad larger than a silver dollar. I immediately realized, “box turtles are breeding in our yard!” Over sixteen years,  I have seen adult box turtles occasionally, but not often, maybe once every five years. As box turtles wait until their late teens to reproduce and can live to the ripe age of eighty, I imagine box turtles lived at Riverview before Ed and I did. But I like to think that Ed and I helped them recently -have this baby- by naturalizing our yard.

Last night I was reading and it made me think about the baby box turtle…

In his best selling book, Nature’s Best Hope, A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, Douglas W. Tallamy writes about the population demise of the Eastern Box Turtle – there are six types in North America. The one I found was a Florida Box Turtle. Tallamy discusses a better wildlife future if we all would offset the “isolation” of our modern (large lawns and ornamental landscaping) and “create connectivity.” This is not a difficult thing to do. By “shrinking our lawns,” and adding more native, and thus wildlife valuable landscaping, we create connectivity, like wildlife corridors -giving the box turtles and other wildlife a large area to live and breed- rather than thinking they can live and breed endlessly on a sterile postage stamp.

I have written many times, that Ed and I stopped fertilizing in 2008, and then slowly expanded our planting beds, adding more native plants. By 2018 we had no grass, added rocks for walking paths and native plants for a butterfly garden. This has really paid off as far as bringing more birds and wildlife! It’s more healthy. No fertilizer. No pesticides. Considerably less watering. And now a baby box turtle!

Sewall Point, Aurthur Ruhnke ca.1950, Thurlow Archives.

This 1950’s Aurthur Ruhnke Sewall’s Point aerial from my mother, Sandra Thurlow’s book of the same name, reveals the peninsular Sewall’s Point landscape between the St Lucie River/Indian RiverLagoon of the 1950s before major subdividing. Other than the naive people, Sewall’s Point’s first residents settled in the late 1800s when Sewall’s Point was a natural coastal landscape, and on higher ground, a hardwood hammock. Today, practically no natural landscape is left. Hundreds of wildlife habitat acres developed, now filled with sterile, water demanding lawns, and mostly “ornamentals” that hold no wildlife value. Luckily, there remain quite a few giant trees such as oak, gumbo limbo, strangler-fig, satin leaf, paradise, mastic, and hickory. Replanting with natives and less lawn would look more like the photo above and less like the Google Earth image below. So, to Mr Tallamy’s point, if we all planted more natives (and I know many of you have! 🙂 and less grass in our yards, even though we are now so split up (isolated) we could build connectivity for wildlife throughout Sewall’s Point and everywhere. He notes nature doesn’t just belong in parks!

Having spent the last sixteen years fighting for the St Lucie River, I have come to understand the important connection of the land to the water. The little box turtle may not live in the river, but the baby turtle is a sign of health for the lands that are connected to the waters. And this really makes me smile.

Baby turtle going back to from where it had come after I photographed it. It’s a big world out there! Good luck little box turtle!

A Picture Speaks a 1000 Words

-Martin County Manatee educational sign in the IRL at Joe’s Point Understandably, many are concerned about manatees. Today, I share the most recent 12/29/21 Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) video update by Dr Tom Reinard. Please click on below.

12/29/21 FWC MANATEE MORTALITY EVENT and FEEDING UPDATE

This FWC site is updated weekly, and previous updates are available. Here one can view the Temporary Field Response Station in Brevard County where only FWC, at a large distance, will interact with these marine mammals, by law, the public cannot. Manatees, as wild creatures, should never associate humans with food. You will see in the video how FWC has made this a priority.

In Florida, presently, the stats for manatee deaths are highest in Brevard County, but also higher by year in many other counties like Martin. Stuart resident and world famous wildlife artist Geoffrey Smith is a friend, and on 12/30/21 he shared some photos that he took of a deceased manatee that had recently washed up on the shores of St Lucie Inlet State Park. With Geoffrey’s permission, I share these photos below. Beware, you may find them disturbing. Geoff reported the carcass to FWC. Please do the same by calling 1-888-404-3922 press 7 for Operator– if you encounter such.

I am also including photos taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, out on the Sailfish Flats of the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon. These photos show seagrass cover on Thursday, December, 30, 2021. Readers of my blog will know that since 2013, Ed and I have religiously documented the discharges and cyanobacteria blooms entering the St Lucie River through C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. I believe that the seagrass loss near the St Lucie Inlet is connected to the many years of reoccurring destruction particularly in 2013, 2016, and 2018 as the long lasting discharges kept sunlight from reaching the seagrasses. In Brevard County, seagrass loss is linked to little flushing in the IRL as there are few inlets, and thousands of septic tanks’ nutrient pollution adds to decades of stormwater and ignites algae blooms – also keeping light from the the seagrasses. Scientist note it is all much more complicated than this, however there are certain things we can do to improve the situation- like stop/lessen discharges and make sure septic is working properly and or changed out to sewer.

My hope in sharing Geoffrey Smith’s photographs and getting my husband to regularly visually check up on the seagrass beds is to continue to inspire change. Since 2019 more state and federal funding has been made available for improvements to our waterways than ever before. We inspired that! Now we just have take it to the finish line.

ST LUCIE INLET STATE PARK, MANATEE REMAINS, GEOFFREY SMITH shared 12-30-21.

-“Hi, Jacqui. Manatee on beach St Lucie Inlet State Park the other day.” Geoffrey Smith wrote that these images remind him of poached African Elephants. “So sad.”  St Lucie Inlet State Park lies south of the St Lucie Inlet in Martin County, Fl.

SEAGRASS PHOTOS, Ed Lippisch

The following photos of seagrass beds were taken by my husband Ed Lippisch on 12-30-21. Seagrasses, like plants in our yards, naturally grow more in warmer months and less in cooler/cold months. So these photos will be a baseline for 2022 to see how the seagrass grows throughout 2022. Since the heavy discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals (Lake O is worse as it does not let up and ofter goes on for many months unlike a rain event) the seagrass has lost its lushness but remains visible as in Ed’s photos.

Manatees need lush seagrass for their survival.

-Ed’s location around blue dot; note this area is an Aquatic Preserve

 

SFWMD Seagrass Presentation Town of Seall’s Point

 

Manatee Mortality Event Along the East Coast 2020-2021

-Manatees eating off the seawall in Flamingo, FL. May, 2021. Photo JTLYesterday I called Dr Tom Reinard, South Regional Director for the Florida Wildlife Commission, and asked for an update on the manatee situation. He forwarded me this most recent update that includes an educational video about state and federal agencies- an emergency station, feeding, and observation.

As we know, the Florida manatees are experiencing an unprecedented Mortality Event. Most of the deaths are occurring in Brevard County, three counties north of Martin, along the Indian River Lagoon; but there are above average deaths in many counties. You can view the chart below to find your county and FWC Mortality Statistics to compare years. This event is due to lack of food to be found when manatees, with memories like elephants as they are related, return to find their historic seagrass meadows gone.

-2021 Manatee Mortality Table

-PBP article by Kimberly Miller

Recently, Dr Jessica Frost of the South Florida Water Management District presented about SEAGRASS along to the Sewall’s Point Commission in the Town of Sewall’s Point, Martin County. Her overall message was optimistic for the return of seagrass in our St Lucie/Indian River region in that seagrass is resilient. She pointed out that seagrass growth is seasonal and stochastic (randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.)

One thing that seemed simple to understand was the requirement of light for seagrass. We can all think of many reasons our various waters are blocked of light, such as algae blooms from nutrient pollution. For seagrasses to grow, there must be light.

“Let there be light…”

I share Dr Frosts’ powerpoint for reference and documentation. It is a good reference for all the lagoon. May 2022 be better than 2020 and 2021. From River Kidz to FWC we all must work to bring back the health of our seagrasses for our iconic manatee!

VIDEOS OF MANATEES EATING OFF THE SEAWALL IN FLAMINGO, FL MAY, 2021. HEAR THEM BREATH!

SAVE THE MANATEES, RIVER KIDZ, 2021 On January 26, 2022, 7PM, there will be a presentation SAVE OUR MANATEES at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart, Florida. Ticket are free.

Black Bobcats – Reports Near and Far

As we approach the end of 2021, I’ve been looking back. Amazingly enough, I have been writing my blog “Indian River Lagoon,” since 2013. I have now written over one-thousand posts and one of the most popular is not about toxic algae, Lake Okeechobee, or even the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. One of my top posts is about black bobcats -properly called, melanistic bobcats.

I wrote my first black bobcat post in 2014 specifically about the high documentation in my home of Martin County, Florida. Since then, many readers have contacted me about melanistic bobcat sightings outside of Martin County. Most recently, two more from Georgia.

Today, I share these two reports, one from 2019 and the other from 2021. These special creatures are a rare sight to see and of unforgettable beauty.

I.

The gorgeous photograph of the melanistic bobcat above was taken in Georgetown, Georgia, in 2019. I learned about the sighting this December at a baby christening in Stuart, Florida. Mrs Kight was nice enough to find the photo and send to me after we got on the subject of all things -black bobcats!

II.

This next photo, above, is a screen shot of a “doorbell” black bobcat -2021- sighting in Waleska, Georgia. CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO OF BLACK BOBCAT.

Mr Kaiser, of Waleska, Georgia, who sent the doorbell video, wrote interesting observations included below.

Mr Kaiser:  “Greetings. We live in north Georgia on the east side of Pine Log Mtn. Have recent video of what could to be a melanistic bobcat in our front yard. We have seen it twice and saved on Ring video. Would like to share it with you and your thoughts. Thanks.”

JTL: “Dear Mr Kaiser, I am so glad you contacted me. I can’t wait to see the video of this incredible creature. Please send.” 

Mr Kaiser: “Hi Jacqui. Wondering if you got the brief video and thoughts. I took down 2 Ring cameras today (temporarily) while they were cleaning up our yard. When I went back outside I saw the animal walking right down the middle of our quiet street. (that gets maybe 12 cars a day). The animal looked at me briefly and it appeared to have yellowish/greenish eyes. It looked all black with apparently no charcoal or grey. It had a knob for a tail and the upper hind legs looked a little bigger. We do have a few neighbors as we live in the higher elevation end of our community and so far no one has identified it as a pet or seen it before. Thanks.”

JTL: “I did receive. Thank you so much. What a creature to behold and see eye to eye! Where do you live?”

Mr Kaiser: “We live in Waleska GA (Cherokee County) in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mtns. and on the east side of Pine Log and Bear Mountain.  Please feel free to share this information on your blog. My wife and I are surrounded with all this fascinating wildlife and this is so educational studying their seasonal habits. Any information you can share would be appreciated and likewise I can certainly pass on to you with updated pictures/ video clips. This is our 3rd sighting of this animal and we don’t know bobcat habits. When it walked by yesterday it looked at me briefly but didn’t stop or act afraid or defensive. That is when I got a split second look at the eyes.”

JTL: “This is so amazing. Thank you so much for sharing and letting me share! Tell me more!”

Mr Kaiser: “We set this Ring camera up to video the black bears that visit us. Never seen this before and shared with 2 wildlife experts. I do have another separate video and would like your take. Both sightings were midday and have the camera mounted on the front porch hopefully for more views. It appears to have a firmer walking stance on the hind legs. Also have pictures and videos of our visiting black bear. We have various animals that live and roam our property including a fun to watch fox family. If you think this video is of interest I can keep you updated.”

JTL: “Please do. ! I hope in the future to see more including bears and foxes. Love the wildlife, especially the melanistic bobcat, people are really fascinated by them. A mythical creature indeed!”

Thank you to Mrs Kight and Mr Kaiser for sharing and I hope more people, inside or outside of Florida, will tell of their black bobcat sightings too!

~Jacqui

PREVIOUS POST ON BLACK BOBCATS

1.https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/07/the-black-bobcats-of-the-st-lucie-region-and-indian-river-lagoon/

2. https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2016/04/21/two-black-bobcat-cubs-and-mom-happily-strolling-around-western-martin-county-slrirl/

3. https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2017/02/24/black-bobcat-hit-by-car-in-sebring-please-drive-with-care-slrirl/

Reintroducing Myself to Pelican Island’s Paul Kroegel

Reintroducing Myself to Pelican Island’s Warden, Paul Kroegel

-A 30 year old Jacqui meets the Paul Kroegel statue, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Sebastian, Florida, 1994.  Photo by mother, Sandra Thurlow.  -A 57 year old Jacqui reintroduces herself to the Paul Kroegel statue, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Sebastian, Florida, 2021. Photo by husband, Ed Lippisch.

The Story of Recreating the Photo

Last week, when I told my mother I had an Indian River Lagoon Council meeting in Sebastian, she forwarded me a 1994 photograph of me with my hand on the shoulder of statue Paul Kroegel. I vaguely recalled visiting the statue twenty-seven years ago during a family outing to the St Sebastian River.

“You’ll have to reintroduce yourself to our friend, Mr Paul Kroegel,” mom said. “You know, the man who inspired Theodore Roosevelt to create the Pelican Island Reservation that became the nation’s first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903. Mr Kroegel was appointed the United State’s first warden. He loved and protected thousands of pelicans!”

“I’ll do that mom. I’ll find the statue. I do remember that day,” I replied. “You, dad and I were canoeing and got caught in a thunderstorm.” It all started coming back to me…

The more I thought about it, the more I stared getting excited about finding the statue…

On Friday, August 13, I attended the Indian River Lagoon Council National Estuary meeting. Afterwards, using Google Maps, a devise not available in 1994, I found the Kroegel statue in Riverview Park just down the road from Sebastian City Hall.

There Warden Kroegel stood smoking his pipe, pelicans at his feet,  just a shiny as ever! Someone had patriotically placed an American flag in his arms. It blew in the wind as pelicans and wading birds flew by. I took a deep breath, stood tall, and using my best manners reintroduced myself to Warden Kroegel. Looking into his bronze eye was almost real. We looked at each other for a long time. I placed my hand on his shoulder as in the original shot but had to turn around to take a modern day selfie. No one was there to take my picture, so I was unable to recreate the 1994 photo for my mother.

-Sculpted by Rosalee T. Hume

Luckily when I got home that night at dinner, I convinced Ed to drive up with me to Sebastian on the weekend, Sunday, August 15, to recreate the photo. We had a blast! First, it is such a beautiful drive to Sebastian from Sewall’s Point along historic Indian River Drive. Second, Sebastian is small and beautiful.  A lot like Stuart was when I was a kid. We really enjoyed our visit there. After finding Riverview Park and enjoying the scenery, I introduced Ed to Warden Kroegel and we took the picture!

-Riverview Park, Indian River Lagoon -Ed looks out to the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Indian River Lagoon -Standing at Paul Kroegel’s statue  -Ed takes the iconic recreation photo of Jacqui and Warden Kroegel 27 years later! 

Pelican Island and the legacy of Paul Kroegel are on display in Sebastian just about everywhere, but first and foremost at the remains of his Homestead at Kroegel Produce, right at the corner of Indian River Drive and U.S. 1. Pelican Island proper  is “right behind” the old Homestead out in the Indian River. On land, the tomatoes were the best I’ve ever had! If you visit Sebastian, please take a photo with Mr Kroegel and send it my way. I’ll share it with my mother too.

And thanks to my husband, Ed, for helping me recreate the 1994 photo with Paul Kroegel. For mom, for fun, for history!

Information on Pelican Island today, Sebastian Chamber of Commerce.

Meeting up with Cinnamon Girl to Document the IRL

Friday night, August 6, 2021, Ed, Luna, Okee and I spent the night on Adrift, after meeting up with “Cinnamon Girl,” the craft of Dutch and Mary Radabaugh. Their name may ring a bell as Dutch and Mary were the face of Central Marine during the infamous toxic algae outbreaks of 2005, 2013, 2016 and 2018. Fortunately, there is no blue-green algae bloom  in the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon today as they ACOE has not discharged from Lake Okeechobee since April 10, 2021 due to algae sitting at the gate of Port Mayaca.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, the rains have begun, rainy season is upon us, and although stormwater runoff and C-23/24 are tainting the river brown, it is remains beautiful and safe so Ed and I decided to take Mary and Dutch up on their offer to meet and anchor in the IRL near Boy Scout Island. We had done this two years ago. How time flies!

It turned out to be a wonderful weekend and we got to observe. The seagrasses were no where close to as thick as they were in 2019, but they were there, and and recovering.  Macroalgae coated everything. This is disappointing but is happening across the entire Indian River Lagoon due to nutrient conditions. Nonetheless, thankfully, at low tide the wading birds were abundant. We also saw manatees, sea turtles, stingrays, snook, hermit crabs, one large conch and hundreds of shiny minnows. I was impressed!  I think there is no more beautiful place that the Indian River Lagoon at sunrise or sunset. Glorious…

We must remain vigilant.

Lake Okeechobee reached 13.87 feet over the weekend, eyeonlakeo, thus the C-44 canal with its surrounding runoff will start flowing to the St Lucie once the lake achieves 14 feet. So is the operation of the Central and South Florida System. This will certainly affect the clarity of our waters. Thankfully there is still #NoLakeO.

I share these photographs to document and to celebrate a good year thus far in 2021. Let’s continue “Riverlution” to keep it that way!

-St Lucie River -headed southeast into Indian River Lagoon Indian River Lagoon. There’s Cinnamon Girl! -Ed with Luna going to say “hi!”-Dutch with Holly-Okee stays inside Adrift. She likes sitting on maps.-IRL at sunset, silvery. -After a peaceful night’s sleep under the stars, Okee awakes to watch a golden sunrise -Sun’s up! Time to paddleboard and check out the conditions. JTL, Mary, Dutch and Ed. -Ed takes a break-Water brownish from rain and canals C-23/24. Greenish in bright light. -Mangrove island in the area known as the Sandbar. Many birds roosting! Mostly ibis. -Bare bottom with a some seagrasses surrounding mangrove island and sandbar area. Mary noted in 2007 this area had very lush seagrasses that have since been destroyed by Lake O discharges. Today there are sprigs. -Water looking greenish in bright light -Ed checking out the conditions and happy as a clam-Macroalgae (below) coats everything ground and seagrasses- not good. Many believe this system is replacing seagrasses through out the IRL. Water quality is key to keeping seagrasses! After our journey out we return to Cinnamon Girl. There are visitors!-Nic Mader and I relax. Nic is a dolphin specialist.  Bottlenose dolphins like all creatures of the IRL are intricately connected to the seagrass habitat and the life that grows there.-Getting some exercise-Rains are beautiful falling in giant sheets from the sky! -Nic paddles towards home while looking for dolphins. 

-Mary Radabaugh is a very good photographer always carrying her camera. She captured these images. The roseate spoonbills and American egret were on the sandbar along many other wading birds. Wonderful to see! Watch the link below (in red) to watch a manatee video Mary took as well.

What a place of beauty. The St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon  was once considered “the most bio-diverse estuary in North America.” Let’s continue to fight to regain that status! We are on our way back. Such a stunning, special place! Thank you for getting us on the ground out to see.  We love you Cinnamon Girl!

MANATEE SWIMMING IRL  IMG_0638

-Saturday afternoon, on our way back to the Harborage Marina in Stuart. Another memorable sunset…

This is the Life

On Saturday, June 5, 2021, Ed took me for a ride in the Maverick. Sometimes I am fussy, refusing to go if the waves are too big or the wind is too strong. But on Saturday, conditions were perfect.

It was a beautiful day, and I was grateful. I was grateful that the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was not a toxic soup this year. I was grateful for the small amount of life in the river. Ed and I  put in at the Jensen Beach Boat Ramp and it was crowded. Resident wading birds were there waiting to see if someone would throw them a fish. I noticed, thankfully, the county had put up a sign since the last time Ed and I had visited. Once Ed and I got beyond the docks and out into the Indian River Lagoon the wind picked up and I held on tight! I Suddenly it seemed we were weaving in and out of other boats. I kept yelling “Be careful of manatees!”

“I’m in the channel!” Ed replied, looking at me  incredulously.

First we visited Boy Scout Island between Sewall’s and Sailfish Points as I wanted to check out the seagrass or lack thereof. It was growing! There were different kinds, one like a feather, (Johnsons) the other like a thick hair (Shoal). I saw blue crabs and hundreds of small snails. I was so happy to see this. I remember other times recently when there was not one bit of life. Still, it hurts that I have to “be happy” for such a small banquet of what I experienced in my childhood.

“If we can just hold off Lake Okeechobee releases…” I thought and was pleased the ACOE has done so for most of this year. Lake Worth Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee have not been so lucky.

Here, the rains began in late May and the river’s a little darker, not the turquoise blue you sometimes see. Nonetheless, the water looked good and and many families were enjoying themselves. Ed anchored being careful of grasses. I took a walk while he fished. Together we photographed the area.

-Boy Scout Island lies between Sewall’s and Sailfish Points near the Sailfish Flats and St Lucie Inlet -Seagrass beds slowly recovering  just off Boy Scout Island 6-5-21 -Excessive sargassum weed and macro-algae not as welcome to see a budding seagrasses-Head  of horseshoe crab – maybe molted. Good sign they are still here! -Thousands of snails leaving paths in the sand-A small hermit crab took someone’s shell. A nice one! -Little snails up close-Hand sized hermit crabs, old friends. Once there were thousands. We held races on the beach.-Boy Scout Island is a mangrove island with tidal areas for wildlife. We visited at low tide.Next, Ed and I got back in the boat and jutted through the Crossroads, me holding on for dear life again, -Ed in his glory! Spray on our faces! We arched off around the sea of boats onto a large sandbar close to the St Lucie Inlet.

It was a great adventure anchoring and then walking in the waist high water to the sandbar. I felt like I was a kid again roaming around, looking for shells, breathing in the clear air, lost in the happiness of the experience. We found quite a few fighting conch, pin shells, and clam like creatures all alive inside their shells! But no queen conch. Ed decided to go check that the anchor still held.

I wandered around losing track of time. I don’t think think there is anything more I love than this. I collected shells. Looked in holes. Birds rested and hunted for food. I even saw an osprey catch a fish in the lagoon’s shallow waters. The cloud formations were unbelievable.

When I finally returned to the boat, Ed was asleep. What a classic!

“This is the Life.”

This is the life indeed!-Pin shell and mollusk-Fighting Conch – orange in color -Tiny bit of seagrass and macroalge -Ed sleeps, Sandbar, St Lucie Inlet 

 

A Little Piece of Florida Along US1

I had driven past hundreds of times, but never stopped. Mostly because of the traffic and because by the time I noticed the sign, it was well in my rear view mirror as I navigated a sea of cars. This small section of Savannas Preserve State Park lies on the west side of US1 just south of Crosstown Parkway not too far from the boarder of Martin and St Lucie counties.

This past weekend, I passed it again and was determined this time to visit. It required a few back and forths,  but finally I turned into the “Savannas Preserve State Park, Evan’s Creek.

There were no signs of people. I put a few dollars into the state payment box and tore off the lip of the baby-blue envelope to hang on my mirror.

“Wow. This is cool I thought. I’m finally here.”

I noticed a sheriff car. I drove down a winding road through the middle of Florida scrub and what was perhaps once pine flatwoods. As in all Florida, drainage and development has altered the landscape but here there was plenty of “Old Florida” remaining. I felt relaxed and a hundred miles away from civilization!I drove slowly hoping to see a gopher turtle, noticing a sign to share the road.“This is amazing,” I thought. Once, all along US1 was scrub habitat. Think of all the animals. Think of all the birds. Think of the Native People. Think of the pioneers who where the first to clear this land…

I saw beautiful white sand, pine trees, woodpeckers, and little sparrow like birds I didn’t know. I saw sand pines and slash pines. One slash pine so large I wondered if it had escaped the loggers and turpentine men. I turned my head to see an osprey gliding over the savannas.

-A sand pine-Scrub habitat-white sands-a slash pine“Praise to the people who saved these places.” I thought. I could hear the hum of US1 in the near distance…

Finally,  I made it down to the end of the road, maybe a half mile or so, and there was a cul-de-sac and neatly folded information under a shaded area.

“Oh my gosh” I thought, “I’m at the river. I’m at the North Fork of the St Lucie River!”

I guess I knew that, but I certainly wasn’t thinking I was that close to the north fork every time I drove down busy US1 to Stuart. Somehow with all the cars, with all the noise, with all the technology, with all the billboards, it seemed much further away.

I parked, got out of the car, and walked around. I looked in the tannin waters. I thought about how great it was that no houses were here. “All these years; my whole life really, and I have never visited this place! Incredible.” It was so good to see fish jumping and wading birds hunting in almost total privacy. And for people there was a great canoe/kayak launch. As I walked back towards my car, I couldn’t believe my luck. A gopher turtle was happily eating along the dunes. I pondered the passage of time knowing this gopher’s ancestors also ate from these dunes, hundreds of thousands of years ago when they were islands in an inland sea…

It felt magical to be here knowing a busy modern world was only feet away. A little piece of Florida along US1 can go a long way.

“When Flows Return to the River of Grass” -Dr Mark Ian Cook

Dr Mark Ian Cook is smiling. And he should be. It is looking like the the birds and wildlife of the Everglades may end up having one of the best years ever! Dr Cook is the Scientific Section Lead of the Systemwide Everglades Group for the South Florida Water Management District. He received his B.S. at Bangor University; his M.S. at the University of Durham; his Ph.D at the University of Glasgow; completed Post Doc work at UC Berkley;  then in 2004 was hired SFWMD Lead Scientist rising to his position today. Cook’s seventeen years of SFWMD scientific photography and publication has required him to take hundreds of helicopter flights throughout the greater Everglades-and literally hundreds of thousands of aerial photographs (data). Dr Cook has seen it all. He was there last year when the rains came early and thousands of wood storks and other wading birds watched their almost fully fledged chicks starve. But this year, this year is different! This year, more chicks may fledge than Mark has ever witnessed…

Before I wrote this post we spoke by phone. “Hello Dr Cook,” I said. “Please call me Mark,” he replied. “We just landed in Homestead to fuel up.” I could hear the helicopter blades swishing.

“How are the birds? Are they still doing well? “ I asked, speaking very loudly.

“They are phenomenal! They are in heaven!” He replied in a wonderful English accent.

“That’s great!” I said.“Tell them hello!” I heard him laughing.

Thank you to the Arts Council of Martin County for featuring Dr Cook’s 2021 Virtual Gallery, “When Flows Return to the River of Grass.” I invite you to partake in this wonderful year for our Everglades wildlife. Take a look at what happens “When Flows Return to the River of Grass.”

(Click on highlighted link above to walk through virtual galley)

Roseate Spoonbills feeding at sunset. Dr Mark Ian Cook.
A Great Egret on its way to build a nest. Photograph Dr Mark Ian Cook

*You can also learn and enjoy from Dr Cook’s work on Facebook.