Category Archives: wildlife

At Mid Tide

In July a post I wrote, “At Low Tide, made many waves of happiness as our seagrass recovery (albeit with macro-algae) was suddenly visible. Today I share “At Mid Tide,” not as dramatic, but certainly worth documenting as it too shows the improving state of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon since the damaging and toxic Lake O discharges of 2013, 2016 and 2018 eradicated all seagrasses.

These photos were taken at different times of day on Sunday, August 14, 2022 in the area of the St Lucie Inlet between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island – an area often locally referred to as the “Sand Bar,” including Sailfish Flats.

Incorporated are photos from my sister Jenny, my brother Todd, friend Mary Radabaugh, and me. All on the water with family/friends on the same day! Ed and I were late getting out, and the tide was receding. While about, Ed and I are very careful not to disturb the budding seagrasses -staying on the edge.  All mollusks/sea life if photographed is immediately returned to its original location. This habitat is delicate!

Yet another recent wonderful day on the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon since there have been no major damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee in over three years and Mother Nature has not thrown a hurricane our way…

Enjoy!

Approaching Ernie Lyons Bridge from Jensen Boat Ramp Do you see the fighting conch’s blue eyes? Video below gives perspective:

Almost home! 

II.

My sister’s photos: Zella-Sand Bar, earlier incoming tide, Jenny Flaugh

III.

My brother’s photos: Todd Thurlow – daughter Julia water skiing off the House of Refuge

IV.

Mary Radabaugh, friend and nature photographer: Osprey & blue sky near Boy Scout Island

~Our wildlife, sea and sky,  needs our continued support for a healthy St Lucie!

Thousands of Roosting Swallow-tailed Kites

At 4am my alarm rang. I was headed to Lykes Bros. near the western edge of Lake Okeechobee’s Fisheating Creek. Here were gathered, for their annual assembly, thousands of roosting Swallow-tailed Kites. As a kid, growing up in Stuart, I don’t remember ever seeing these, gorgeous, black and white birds, but today they can be seen gliding almost everywhere: over the woodlands on the side of I-95, around the edge of the Indian River Lagoon, and near Lake Okeechobee. No matter where I see them, time stops. Their graceful beauty surreal, their sharp forked tails unforgettable. These large dove-like birds are raptors in the family of hawks and owls, but eating mostly insects.

Credit: Audubon image, Swallow-tailed KiteYesterday, Lykes Bros., one of Florida’s largest landowners, invited me to visit their land and water resource project, Nicodemus Slough, where an estimated 2500-5000 swallow-tailed kites are roosting. This only occurs sometime between July and August before the birds migrate 10,000 miles to Central and South America. Thank you to Lyke’s Noah Handley, Director of Engineering and Land Management, for being the guide of this field-trip. Thank you to Lykes Bros. for giving shelter and protection to Florida’s wildlife. It was a sight to see. In the early morning hours the birds sat quietly. As the day warmed up, one at a time, they rose in groups of up to a thousand flying like a vortex in the thermals, calling to each other, finally dispersing. A memory for a lifetime! Today I share my photos of this special day.

-A video and close ups of hundreds of dying oak trees where the swallow-tailed kites are roosting. The trees are dying because these lands are being brought back to their natural wetland status inside 15, 858 acres of Nicodemus Slough, a section that the Herbert Hoover Dike had destroyed. My phone camera only captured what was in front of me. This scene went on for miles. Video in slow motion and not the best quality, but it gives the best idea  of the extensive area the birds were in.  

-Kathy LaMartina, SFMWD Region Representative listens to Lykes Bros Director, Noah Handley explain how the company supports wildlife like the swallow-tailed kites. Researchers and scientist study and learn about their not totally understood 10,000 mile migration. -Part of the Herbert Hoover Dike between Fisheating Creek and Lykes Bros. -Noah Handley and JTL This cypress wood carving shows better than any map where Lykes Bros.’ extensive land holdings exists and where the roosting area of the swallow-tailed kite exist.

 

 

At Low Tide

This post is meant to document the life seen July 2022 On Saturday, 7-9-22, Ed made me promise I would be ready on time. He wanted to take me out in the Maverick to show me the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon’s seagrass/macro-algae flats at low tide. Very low tide. “Exactly 12.37pm.”

I was ready on time, but I don’t think I was ready for what I witnessed. With the seagrass and macro-algae totally exposed, one could see the extent of the recovery; wading birds feasted everywhere -over one-hundred of various species.

Ed and I did not walk out into the delicate grass flats, but anchored and explored along the edge. From where we were, in the distance, we could see many boats at the Sandbar, Sailfish Point, and the St Lucie Inlet. Carefully, we photographed and returned the creatures living on the edge of the seagrass/macro-algae flats. It definitely does not look entirely healthy, like it did when I was a kid,  but nonetheless life reigns. The extreme low tide lasted about an hour. Then the ocean tide came rushing in…

Of the critters  I knew were fighting conchs, living sand-dollars, hermit crabs, inky sea slugs, olive snail mollusks, clams, shrimp, and pen shell mollusks bivalves. Many others were present that I could not identify. There were at least two kinds of seagrasses.

Historically, this is a small amount of seagrass life for the Indian River Lagoon. These flats were completely decimated by long-duration Lake Okeechobee discharges, some toxic, in 2013, 2016, and 2018. Three years without major Lake Okeechobee discharges has allowed some life to return.A reader of my blog recently asked if I thought our water improvements were policy driven or luck. My answer? “Both.”

-Fighting Conch says “hello, remember wildlife is protected!” -Watch video of the fighting conch walking

-Video of low tide exposure

-Ed is happy I was on time! -Various photographs 7-9-22 around 1pm. Looking east towards Sandbar (L) and Hutchinson Island’s Sailfish Point (R) visible behind a stunning mangrove island and ibis rookery. Note all the specks, they’re birds! -Ibis-Ed and I did not walk out on the delicate beds but could see many birds feasting in the distance. -Little blue herons happily eating-Living sand-dollar -Fighting conch covered in sandy mud-A clam excretion? Very strange- and a sea-slug.-A hollow tube formation.-Here one can see two kinds of seagrasses, maybe manatee and johnson. -There were hundreds of these piles of sand. Not sure what they are. -When disturbed, a sea slug excretes beautiful purple ink- kind of like an octopus. I put him right back! -A convention of sea slugs!-Baby olive mollusk makes a path through the sand.-Small clams. There were blue crabs, and tiny crabs about but they were too fast to photograph! -Sand dollar. Amazing they are breeding here! -Ed and I though this might be a baby queen conch due to spikes but the more we looked we thought it was yet another fighting conch.-There were many hermit crabs in many different shells. At one point, after the long Lake O discharges, there were no hermit crabs to be seen. Terrible. Glad to see them back! -I think this fighting conch was eating this little shrimp.-Pen shell mollusk bivalve-A living olive mollusk! A rare sight! Beautiful! -Note macro algae on top of seagrass. This is getting to be more and more due to over nutrification (nitrogen and phosphorus) of our waters. -Hermit crab in macro algae and seagrass.-Ed and I at “high noon.”-Surrounding water looking clear! 

 

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!