Category Archives: wildlife

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.

Protecting Bird Island from Kayakers and Lake Okeechobee Discharges

Bird Island, officially known as MC2, is a “no trespassing zone,” with ten large signs around it stating Critical Wildlife Area or (CWA). Recently, there have been complaints to the Florida Wildlife Commission from Sewall’s Point residents that kayakers have been getting on the island to view the birds flushing them from their nests. Terrible! Exposed chicks and eggs are a delicacy for crows and other predators. Bird Island is a state recognized breeding ground for multiple species of endangered and threatened wading birds. It is protected.

This past Wednesday, April 13, 2021, I accompanied the Florida Wildlife Commission and Martin County to do an official state bird count. There were over 300 birds mid-day and the number of nests will be estimated next week. The sound of the nestlings was unceasing with chicks begging for food as parents chirped and clapped back. Incredible! Chicks were hidden down in the mangroves but older ones were perched outside looking around, looking a lot like their parents. I was told it appeared to be an “average year.” It looked pretty good to me!

Today, I share photos and videos. Hopefully these will quench the thirst of those who may want to break the law. Bird Island can be viewed from outside the sign area, but not inside. FWC law enforcement is increasing visibility in the area and hopefully anyone out and about who sees a disturbance will call 1-888-404-3922. 

The most wonderful thing I learned was that since 2010, when I first met Ricardo Zambrero of FWC and the idea with the Town of Sewall’s Point, Nancy Beaver of Sunshine Wildlife Tours, and Martin County crystalized into a hard fought CWA-designation in 2014 ~ the beautiful pink roseate spoonbills have gone from rookery visitors to successful nesters! Last year over thirty roseate spoonbills were reported on the island, young and mature. I saw many the day of the count. Younger birds are lighter in color and one adult bird I saw sitting on a nest was almost red where body met wings.

This incredible place must be protected from curios visitors, just as we must protect if from polluted discharge waters from Lake Okeechobee!

Thank you FWC.

-Approaching Bird Island off South Sewall’s Point in the Indian River Lagoon-A menagerie of birds! A very diverse crew! Strength in numbers!-Wood storks, and roseate spoonbills-Magnificent frigate birds-Wood storks and frigate birds-Signs are posted around the entire island-Martin County works to protect the island from erosion caused by boat wakes and storms

-Wood storks on nests on black mangroves-Another view. Two large black mangroves died in Hurricane Irma in 2017. A huge loss of habitat.-JTL, SFWMD; Ricard Zambrero & Andrea Peyeyra, FWC; and Mike Yustin, M.C.-A pink rosette spoonbill against a blue sky-I think these are cormorants but they sure look like loons!INCREDIBLE VIDEOS

-Bird Island south side distant and up close

-Roseate Spoonbill flies overhead

-Many types especially wood storks, great egrets, and a juvenile  brown pelican

-Brown pelican flies from island – view of many birds

-East side of island rocks to protect from erosion. Oyster catchers have nested here!

 

-Earlier blog post about Bird Island and diversity of species. 

Feeding the Hungry, 1 Wild Hog at a Time

~Dr Gary Goforth displays two hand made bows, Atlantic Ridge. “Hiking with our kids on public lands throughout Florida opened my eyes to the extensive damage caused by feral hogs. Beautiful pristine landscapes all over the State were being destroyed by their aggressive rooting and predation.  As an omnivore, they are opportunistic eaters – and are known to eat turkey eggs, beneficial snakes and even small fawns – in addition to roots and grubs. After seeing extensive hog damage during a hike at DuPuis Wildlife Management Area, my wife, Karen, turned to me and said – “You’ve got a bow – you should start hunting them!” So I did and we have enjoyed wonderful lean additive-free pork for years; now I feed the hungry.” Gary Goforth 

Dr Gary Goforth is an incredible person with more than thirty-five years of experience in water engineering. I met Gary through the St Lucie River Movement. Recently he has been devoting time as a volunteer at Atlantic Ridge State Preserve. On March 10, 2021, I joined Gary; John Lakich, Johnathan Dickinson Park manager; Rob Rossmanith, Johnathan Dickinson Park biologist; and two South Florida Water Management representatives, Rory Feeney, bureau office chief-land management; and Gene Colwell, senior scientist. We met in the early morning at the entrance of Atlantic Ridge State Preserve off Paulson Road in Martin County. 

Atlantic Ridge contains 5,747 acres and was acquired in 1999 with funding from the CARL/P2000 program, assistance of the South Florida Water Management District, and Martin County. The park is still coming into its own and updating its management plan, thus the help from Johnathan Dickinson. 

Gary invited me as a governing board member of the SFWMD to see the beauty of these lands, but also to witness the overpopulation of feral hogs that is threatening the area. The goal? To turn a negative into a positive. Could we help spread the word about Atlantic Ridge and could we help Gary feed the hungry?” 

 ~Below, JDSP, biologist, Rob Rossmanith briefs the group about hog destruction within  Atlantic Ridge State Preserve  within the context of the park’s  Management Plan.Map of Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

After our briefing, I followed Gary to a monster vehicle, climbed atop, and held on tight! As the rest of the crew took their spots we eased off into the pine forest and adjacent wetlands. I looked over the remarkable landscape of undeveloped pristine land. “This is beautiful!” I exclaimed. My heart stopped. I noticed very large areas of torn earth and uprooted vegetation. My eyes moved toward the horizon. Pocks filled the landscape. -Atop the monster vehicle: JTL, Rory Feeney, SFWMD; Rob Rossmanith, biologist JDSP; Gary Goforth, volunteer Atlantic Ridge; Park Ranger, John Lakich, JDSP.-Note destruction of lands due to wild hogs along  pathway and deep within forest.The joy I felt earlier had diminished. After a about twenty minutes, we disembarked.

“We have one large electronic trap on the property” Gary explained. “I manage it on my cell phone.  We could use five more.”

I listened.

The men talked of various types of traps. 

Gene Colwell and Rory Feeney shared tips of the trade. John spoke about long-standing hog issues at Jonathan Dickinson. As they interacted, I kept hearing expressions like “out-smart,” “probably in the palmettos,” “intelligent,” “cannot eradicate.”

I continued walking; the damage was everywhere I looked. I took pictures and searched for hiding hogs. I brushed a palmetto bush, hoping one would come crashing out. They remained quiet. I looked up to the sky. I love all God’s creatures, but this hog destruction situation was truly horrible. Where would it stop? -SFWMD senior scientist, Gene Colwell, shares tips form the SFWMD. The SFWMD is partial owner of the Atlantic Ridge lands. Wild pigs were introduced to Florida in the 1500 by the Spanish and no one can deny them their success. The problem is, they’ve been so successful that they are wrecking it for everything else. 

The photograph below from the Florida Wildlife Commission  displays the pointed snout, a multi-use tool, that allows hogs to be very successful. 

Gary taught me that a group of females and piglets is called a “sounder.” Males are solitary except during breeding season. A female has two litters of 1–13 piglets per year, usually 5-7. She can bear young at 6-8 months and her gestation period is 114 days. According to the 2020 Feral Pig Working Group, Florida is only second to Texas in wild hog population.  2020-WPC-State-Update_Florida

Gary and the officials from JDSP also explained that public hunting in Florida state parks is forbidden. So the hogs that Gary hunts by bow are hunted outside of the park. As an Atlantic Ridge volunteer, Gary captures the wild hogs in traps, humanely euthanizes them, and then shares the meat with those in need. 

Gary explains: 

“As a volunteer with Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park I helped with hog trapping and it was heartbreaking to see the ranger dispatch the trapped hogs and then leave this wonderful meat for the coyotes and vultures.  The nearest butcher associated with a wild game food bank was in Arcadia, and I actually made the 5-hr round trip to deliver a dispatched hog.  I couldn’t find any local or statewide food bank that would accept wild hog.  There are a lot of misperceptions about the potential risk of human diseases from eating wild hog.  It is true that, just like domestic pets and livestock, small percentages of wild hogs carry brucellosis and trichinosis.  The good news is that observing common sanitary practices while handling the animals and preparing the meat are adequate to ensure minimal risks.  Nationwide, the CDC estimates that of the 3,000 deaths associated with food-borne diseases, it is likely that only 1 is related to brucellosis and trichinosis – and this could have been from contact with domestic animals.  Statewide, the Florida Game Commission estimates that 40,000-50,000 wild hags are harvested by hunters each year, and the Dept. of Health reports deaths from hog-related disease is exceptionally rare (1 hunter in the last 10 years.)

In the last couple of months I renewed my efforts to find charitable organizations that would accept wild hogs.  After countless phone calls, I located three organizations that feed the hungry with wild hogs I’ve trapped at Atlantic Ridge Park.  In the last month I’ve delivered over 1,500 lbs of hog – enough fresh lean meat to serve over 2,100 meals!” ~Gary Goforth 

What can people do to help?  Help us connect organizations that feed the hungry with great free range, locally sourced lean meat!

  • If they belong to an organization that feeds the hungry (a church, charity, etc.) and have the ability to process a whole hog into meals, have them contact me at 772 223-8593!
  • If they are a butcher and would be willing to donate a couple of hours to process a whole hog into roasts, shoulders and other cuts, have them contact me at 772 223-8593! Once processed the meat would be donated to organizations that feed the hungry.
  • If they could ask their butcher if they would be willing to donate a couple of hours to process a whole hog into roasts, shoulders and other cuts, have them contact me at 772 223-8593! Once processed the meat would be donated to organizations that feed the hungry.
  • If they have a pickup truck and would be willing to deliver dispatched hogs from AR Park to a butcher or charitable organization, have them contact me at 772 223-8593!

Kudos to Gary Goforth, feeding the hungry, one wild hog at a time, and keeping Atlantic Ridge beautiful!

 

 

Beyond Pythons

The first time I became interested in pythons was the day I saw this chart. The year was 2016, my husband Ed and I were visiting Everglades National Park, and the ranger informed us that 98% of the small mammals were gone…Terrible! 

In 2019, when I was appointed by Governor DeSantis to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District, he made the SFWMD Python Elimination Program a priority. Those involved in this program hunt to remove these incredible animals. The largest caught was just under 18 feet 9 inches. So the connection? At Governor DeSantis’ announcement of this program, I met Mrs Donna Kalil. “If you ever want to go, let me know,” she said smiling in her trademark pink shirt. Just recently, on March 8, 2021, I took her up on it.

-Everglades Holiday Park, Governor DeSantis announces expansion of the SFMWD Python Elimination Program, August 8, 2019. ~Photo SFMWD.Ed and met Donna at the same place she and I met, Everglades  Holiday Park. Gregarious,  and easy to talk to, Ed and I felt like we’d known her for years, by the time we got to the L-28 canal -running north almost between Big Cypress Park and Water Conservation Area 3, just north of Tamiami Trail. She unlocked the gate, and we began our adventure.

My not being a hunter, not being able to even step on an ant, I was glad that if we caught a python, it would be bagged, and humanly -under strict rules- euthanized. I thought about how the first pythons released into the Everglades in the 1970s had been pets that somebody loved, pets that outgrew their terrariums. Now we have a major wildlife disaster on our hands. A disaster that could end in many of our back yards

Ed and I grabbed the rail atop of Donna’s SUV and stared down. We looked until our eyes popped! Donna had taught us how to distinguish the shiny skin pattern of a python in the vegetation, and immediately one saw how well they are camouflaged! 

It was a beautiful, very cool day and I found myself looking beyond the roadside to the gorgeous scenery. We came upon a rookery of maybe a hundred birds. -Wood storks, great egrets, anhingas, little blue herons, white egrets, great blue herons, ibis, and others I did not know. Alligators were nearby, abundant, black and shining, with their classic grins. As we slowly approached, they stayed either completely still or rushed the waters like angry bulls, branches crashing! After we went by, we could hear them grunting in the deep marsh. Cypress trees were getting their foliage and tender, light-green branches emerged against a blue-clouded sky. It was early morning and everything was just coming alive. 

“Oh!” I thought, “I am supposed to be looking for pythons!” I looked at Ed, and he was glued to the levee bank like a hawk. “Thankfully, he’s with me, I thought, I am a terrible spotter!” But I had never witnessed these Everglades lands. Spectacular!  

Donna was looking too. Suddenly, she jumped out of the vehicle. “Oh my gosh, she going to get one, I thought.” She gracefully came out of the woods with a huge yellow rat snake. “Just like our yard!” I yelled, snapping shots of her smiling and the snake looking very calm. I am not afraid of snakes, but 18 feet? 

“She’s a snake charmer,” I said to Ed. He smiled. “Just like when she told us she ran that program of parents at the PTA.” I laughed. I was so glad Ed was with me to experience this. Our next stop was also beautiful, in the classic Everglades way. We headed south into Everglades National Park from the SFWMD S-333 structure and Old Tamiami Trail. It was exciting to see the trail as it being removed to allow more water to enter the park. Even now, the water flowed south like a river,  Ed took pictures of me beaming.

The air was fresh and cool. The tall grasses and tree islands looked otherworldly waving in the afternoon light. As the clouds floated by, purples, burnt oranges, and greens took on one hue and then another. “A Monet painting,” I thought. “The Creator’s palate.” Cool winds blew, I zipped up my jacket and tightened my scarf. 

“Look at the road!” I heard myself think.“Pythons, I am supposed to be looking for pythons!” Ed smiled. “This is incredible,” he said. I grabbed his hand across our station top the vehicle. 

We did not find a python that day. I’m not sure if it is because it was in the 60 and 70s and the pythons couldn’t get moving, or if I missed about twenty of them. One thing is for sure, they are there. Donna is a top producer! Ed and I plan on going back out with Donna. She is looking for volunteers, so if you think you can keep your eyes on the road and off the stunning scenery contact her! ~join Donna Kalil, python huntress, on Facebook. 

In the meanwhile, I will be happily remembering my day “beyond pythons.” 

I. L-28 Canal between Big Cypress Preserve and Water Conservation Area 3/4. -Donna looks along the levee for pythons warming themselves in the sun II. Canal south at S-333 and Tamiami Trail, Everglades National Park

-Donna points to the an round impression in the grass from a python; she is constantly reading the environment for clues! 

-Farewell to a beautiful day! -Jacqui and Ed before the SFWMD S-334 Structure at Tamiami Trail “Hey Ed, is do you think this water is moving south?!”

VIDEOS

1.-Alligators are eaten by pythons; until now, they were the top predator. Luckily, in this video they look like they are having a very good day. 

2. “Sending water south” Old Tamiami Trail!

 

 

Thousands of Flying Fish Crows!

Yesterday, February 7, 2021, before the Super Bowl, Ed and I took the binoculars and walked to watch sunset at Bird Island. The Indian River Lagoon on the east side of Sewall’s Point is always spectacular at this time of day. Once we took a seat, we were amazed to see an almost endless flock of cawing fish crows making their way to roost somewhere south of Bird Island, maybe in the area of St Lucie Inlet State Park. We could see the shifting shape flying from the horizon miles away. They appeared like little mosquitoes approaching from the distance! There were thousands and thousands of fish crows! 

Although I was born in 1964, and grew up in Sewall’s Point and Stuart, the first time I noticed the massive flocks was along the St Lucie River in North River Shores back in the late 90s. I would watch with amazement for hours as they steadily made their way across the sky. “Where are they going?” I thought. “Where do they come from?” Although Fish Crows are listed as being at risk due to Climate Change, it certainly seems that their numbers are increasing. 

I include a couple of videos and encourage comments on what readers may know of this  incredible phenomenon. This survivor of a bird! 

Video 1: Thousands of fish crows fly over east Sewall’s Point near Bird Island. Video 2. Same but even better view hundreds more in the near distance. Incredible! 

Fish Crows: John J. Audubon

Walking for Panthers

~Above photo: FWC public records. FWC officer documents young male Florida Panther hit on Hwy. 710, November 2, 2019. 

I waited a long time to share this photograph. It’s almost too much to take.

This panther was hit and killed November 2, 2019, on Highway 710, less than a mile south of Indiantown in Martin County, Florida. Today I share this photo because of an article I read in TCPalm by environmental reporter, Max Chesnes. The title of the article is Man Walking From Vero Beach to Key West to Tallahassee for Panther Donations.

It is a story of loss and inspiration.

Mr Chesnes explains that when tragedy struck, Mr Steve Fugate “hit the road.” Fugate had lost his son to suicide and his daughter to accidental drug overdose To cope, the 74 year old Vero Beach native, began walking, finding solace and inspiration in Nature along the way…

There are panthers in Martin County.

In 2016, I wrote about one sighted in Allapattah Flats – ten miles west of Palm City, where in fact, SFWDM just held a Ribbon-Cutting. But because Panthers are few and far between compared to the south west coast of Florida, in my opinion, they do not get the government press or the protection via fencing and wildlife underpasses they should here. There is no urgency anyway.

“It was just one hit in twenty years.” I’ve heard. “Most are on the west coast…”

I think there should be signs, underpasses, fencing, and press on the east coast as well. For Mr Fugate and others, every life counts. Thank you to reporter, Max Chesnes and thank you to Mr Fugate, I am inspired!  I will be making a donation on the panther’s behalf! 

TCpalm: In an effort to raise awareness, and funding for the critically endangered Florida Panther, Vero Beach native, Steve Fugate has partnered with the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and started on a nearly three-week, 1,600mile walk around Florida. Photo PATRICK DOVE/TCPALM. Click here for full article. 

Chesnes writes:

“Now, Fugate hopes to give back to the natural world and its inhabitants that embraced him throughout the years. His latest walk, which started Saturday, will take him from Vero Beach — through St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties — to Key West, then up Florida’s west coast from Naples to Tallahassee.

The nearly three-week, 1,600-mile journey is meant to raise awareness and funding for the critically endangered Florida panther, he said. 

“They’re just gorgeous animals,” Fugate said of the species, named in 1982 as Florida’s official state animal. There are only an estimated 120 to 230 wild panthers left, according to data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

More:FLorida panther deaths map and details”

~Florida Panther, Florida public photo

 

 

 

Africa’s North Fork of the St Lucie

I felt like I was in Africa…

It’s strange to find perhaps the most untouched part of the St Lucie River in the heart of Florida’s eighth largest city, Port St Lucie. In fact a full trip up the North Fork goes all the way to Ft Pierce. Although many of the trickling branches once running to the river have been developed, some have not, and the immediate area around the oxbows was left wild. 

Poor water quality from agriculture and development’s runoff plague this 1972 designated Aquatic Preserve but nonetheless it is an incredible relic! Today I share phots and videos of this remarkable place. The photos of mangroves and sable palms look a bit flat and repetitive, but the videos really reveal the dimension of the experience. 

Port St. Lucie 1967, mouth of North Fork looking  from south, St Lucie River- Photographer,  Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow Archives, Sandra Henderson Thurlow

Ed and I took put the Maverick in at Leighton Park in Palm City. Other than screaming a few times when gigantic wakes almost enveloped us, it was a great trip- a trip I have not taken in many, many years.

This excerpt from  the 1984 Aquatic Preserve Management Plan notes that the North Fork was straightened and channelized by the U.S. Army during World War II, nonetheless much of the fork has the wonderful oxbows as you can see from my phone’s screenshot below. These oxbows are an incredible thing to see and definitely give one the feel of someplace wild and exotic like Africa. Like Florida was not too many years ago…

“Water is the one resource whose characteristics most directly affect this

             estuary’s habitability and healthiness for the plants and animals naturally

             adapted to living there. The drainage basin of the entire St. Lucie River has

             been modified by agricultural drainage and residential development. The North-

             Fork-St. Lucie River receives the outfall of two major drainage canals (C-23

             and C-24) and many other drainage sources in the upper headwaters. The

             freshwater flow from the St. Lucie Canal on the South Fork may also affect the

             North Fork indirectly. The uplands surrounding the preserve area are also

             modified by the extensive Port St. Lucie residential development and the other

             residential developments along the river. The North Fork was also modified by

             the U. S. Army during World War II. Those modifications involved the

             straightening and channelization of the upper section of the river

             (Environmental Quality Laboratory, 1980). The result of all of these

             modifications to the river and its basin is that rainfall that may have taken

             months to get to the river by natural drainage now takes only hours. The

             river that once meandered through a broad floodplain now flows down a deep

channel.” -1969 Internal Improvement Fund via 1984 N.F.A.P.M.P. 

Photos North Fork, St Lucie River January 3, 2021

-Pond Apple 

-My favorite photo! A turtle sunning itself! 

Videos St Lucie North Fork Oxbows

List of Birds/Wildlife/Plants seen 1-3-21 SLR and North Fork

Seagull
Great Egret
5 ibis
Little Blue Heron
Blue Heron (young) 
Pair ospreys
2 Little Blue Herons
Turkey vulture
Floating flock of seagulls
Floating flock of pelicans
Cormorant
Kingfisher-N. Fork
Turtle
Little Blue Heron
7 mullet jumping- Mud Cove
Little Blue Heron and ibis 
Little Blue
Pond Apple 
Frilly fern?
Leather fern
Saw palmetto
Seagulls hunting  S. of PC Bridge
 

 

 

Nature’s Ultimate Transformation

-Newly born MonarchFor me, there have been a few positive aspects regarding “Terrible 2020. “Covid-19’s Zoom World  isolation has given me time to learn to cook and also to study butterflies.

Recently, I decided to learn the difference between the celebrated and now endangered Monarch and the lesser known Queen. Walking my garden, I had noticed two similar but different caterpillars on milkweed that I had not seen together before. When the weather got unusually cold, I decided to bring them inside on their hosts plants.

“You are going to make those butterflies weak!” My husband Ed told me.

I smiled, replying, “Well at least they will live.” I had researched and learned that about ten percent overall make it due to predation and the elements. 

-Queen rust colored (below) all photos JTL-Monarch orange (below) both have white dots and stain glass window patternWith a little convincing, Ed helped me carry a heavy, old, lidded aquarium into my office, and the magic began. Within a few days all of the caterpillars were hanging upside down and turning into chrystalises. I noticed right away that the Queen’s case, although almost identical to the Monarch’s, was smaller and sometimes a cream-pinkish color rather than bright green. All had the distinctive and beautiful gold dots!