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The Extinction of “Florida’s Parakeet,” a Sebastian Recollection of This Beautiful Bird, SLR/IRL

Photo of a "Carolina Paraquet," that lived in Florida's swamps and old growth forest until overshooting and loss of habitat led to its extinction. (Photo Palm City County Museum Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Photo of a stuffed “Carolina Paroquet,” displayed in a glass container. “The bird was given to Mrs. Carlin at Jupiter and was owned by her son Carlin White who died at 105.” The birds were prevalent and lived in Florida’s swamps and old growth forest until overshooting, the pet trade, and loss of habitat led to their extinction. (Photo Palm  Beach County Museum, quote by Sandra Henderson Thurlow)

Sometimes on a sunny day, I hear gregarious green parrots in the cabbage palms of Sandsprit Park near Port Salerno. When my husband, Ed, and I recently visited his niece at University of Miami two huge, gorgeous multi-colored macaws swooped down over cars stuck in traffic.

“Holy moly!” I exclaimed. “What was that?”

“Parrots.” Darcy calmly replied. “They got loose from the zoo after the hurricanes. Now they live here; they have chicks in a royal palm tree on campus.”

Pretty cool. Life adapts, unless you go extinct that is…Extinct: “No longer existing or living; dead.”

This was the fate in the early 1900s of a beautiful bird known as the “Carolina Parakeet,” last reported between 1910 and 1920. The “paroquet” as the old timers referred to them, had an expansive range that included much of the eastern United States, west into Colorado, and south into Florida. Their habitat? Swamps and old growth forests… what our state used to be.

As these habitats were cleared and filled for timber and development, especially from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, their range became limited, and their numbers declined. According to documentation, some of the last remaining lived in our Indian River Lagoon region.

The birds were sought after for their bright feathers and friendly voices. People kept them as pets and wore them on ladies’ hats prior to Florida Audubon’s rampage.

Perhaps the most poignant  tale of their story is that the birds were very social, and like people, if a member of their group were shot, all the others would “flock to the injured,” making capture, or shooting of all others, “easy-pickings.” This compassion, an “advanced, evolved trait” sealed their fate in the extinction-book of history.

Ironically one of the most famous reports of the stunning birds occurred in the area of the Sebastian River and its confluence of the Indian River Lagoon.  A local man, Chuck Fulton, whose relation was my principal at Martin County High School, seems to have guided Chapman thorough the areas as a lad when he stayed at Oak Lodge in Sebastian where his great-great grandmother lived. (Sandra Henderson Thurlow)

Mind you Frank Chapman was like a movie star of his day. This would have been very exciting for young Chuck. “Frank Michler Chapman”—scientist, explorer, author, editor,  photographer, lecturer, and museum curator, —-one of the most influential naturalist and greatest ornithologists of his era.

In a book “Letters to Brevard County” shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Chapman accounts his travels of our region:

Frank Chapman
Frank M. Chapman

“The Sebastian is a beautiful river, no words of mine can adequately describe it.” Half a mile wide at its mouth, it narrows rapidly and three miles above appears as a mere stream which at our camp, eight miles up, was not more than fifty feet in width and about fifteen feet in-depth. Its course is exceedingly irregular and winding. The banks as we found them are high and for some distance from the water grown with palms and cypresses which arching meet overhead forming most enchanting vistas, and in many places there is a wild profusion of blooming convolvulus and moon flower…Here we observed about fifty colorful paroquets, in flocks of six to twenty. At an early hour, they left their roost in the hammock bordering the river, and passed out into the pines to feed….

In the “spirit of the day” Chapman goes on to describe how unafraid the birds were of him and then shoots a few birds for “science,” leaving alone those that come to the rescues of their fallen comrades…..

In all fairness, it must be noted Chapman also appealed to President Teddy Roosevelt to establish Pelican Island as a national preserve– which in time became the first U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, (also in Sebastian),  and he is also credited with starting the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, where birds are counted, and not shot. Even today “scientific” specimens must be killed in order to be recorded as a new species. One day perhaps a photograph will be sufficient. 

Quite a story….and so close to home.

So next time you see a brown pelican gracefully flying past, picture a flock of fifty, squawking, colorful parakeets happily trailing behind. What a colorful world our Indian River Lagoon must have been!

Carolina Parakeet drawing 1800s. Public image.
Carolina Parakeet art piece 1800s. Public image.

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Thank you to my mother Sandra H. Thurlow for the content to write this blog post.

Carolina Parakeet: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_parakeet)
Extinct birds: (http://www.50birds.com/birds/extinct-birds.htm)

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8-25-15 10PM: I am including a photos and comment sent to me by Dr. Paul Grey, Okeechobee Science Coordinator, Florida Audubon. Very interesting!

“Jacqui, thanks for the parakeet story. Look at the tags on these parakeets, these are the skins of the birds Chapman shot that still are in the Museum of Natural History in NY. There is a statue of the bird at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve that Todd McGrain did for his Lost Bird Project…Worth seeing.” —Paul Grey

*NOTE THE LITTLE CARD THAT SAYS “SEBASTIAN RIVER!”

Chapman's birds, Museum of Natural History. (Paul Grey)
Chapman’s birds, Museum of Natural History. (Paul Grey)
Carolina Parakeet sculpture by (Paul Grey)
Carolina Parakeet sculpture at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, by Todd McGrain. (Paul Grey)

Lost Bird Project: (http://www.lostbirdproject.org/)

A Lifetime of Loving Wildlife, “Shady Refuge,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

A baby rabbit in my mother's hands, Sewall's Point, 1974. (Thurlow Family Album)
A baby rabbit in my mother’s hands, Sewall’s Point, 1974. (Thurlow Family Album)

I grew up in both Stuart and Sewall’s Point, not on, but close to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.  My mother named our second home, “Shady Refuge,” because of the tremendous oak trees arching over the property. Many animals visited, and we welcomed them. Some even lived with our family for short periods of time. Early on, there was no Treasure Coast Wildlife Center like today, so we took animals that needed care to the vet or tried to help them ourselves. My mother was an expert at this. We were taught not to fear animals, even poisonous ones, but to respect them, and to learn from them. It was a great childhood; a great lesson for life.

The  photos I am sharing today were taken at my parent’s home in Indialucie over many years.

I still live in Sewall’s Point today, 30 years later. Of course with continued development of the Treasure Coast, population growth, and continued degradation of our waterways, wildlife is not as plentiful. But it is still here!  When I see an any animal, it is one of my greatest joys. Right now, a hawk is living in my and Ed’s yard. I always feel that  having one of God’s wild creatures visiting me is a gift.

Thank you mom and dad for keeping this family wildlife album and know that siblings, Jenny, Todd, and I, are “passing it on….”

Raccoon family in our driveway.
Raccoon family in our driveway.
Sister, Jenny, with baby squirrel.
Sister, Jenny, with baby squirrel.
Mom with Bandit, who lived with us for a long time until released back into the wild.
Mom with Bandit, who lived with us for a long time until released back into the wild.
A blue heron we took to the vet due to hook in its leg. It was returned to the wild.
A blue heron we took to the vet due to hook in its leg. It was returned to the wild.
A mole. Such soft fur! Returned to dirt.
A mole. Such soft fur! Returned to dirt.
A large native grasshopper who lived in our yard.
Me holding  large native Lubber grasshopper who lived in our yard.
Me holding rat snake that was returned to the bushes.
Me holding rat snake that was returned to the bushes.
Foxes and raccoons that came to food put out. In the 70s we did not know how "bad" this is to do as the animals become dependent and may learn not to fear humans as they should. This practice was stopped but enjoyed while it lasted!
Foxes and raccoons that came to food put out and we took pictures.  In the 70s we did not know how “bad” this is to do as the animals become dependent on human food, and may learn not to fear humans as they should. This practice was stopped but we enjoyed while it lasted!
The Three Stooges.... :)
The Three Stooges…. 🙂
Ping and Pong who we raised after they fell out of a nest.
Ping and Pong, who we raised after they fell out of a nest.
Screech owl in our yard.
Screech owl in our yard.
A bobcat, just walking by...
A bobcat, just walking by…
A lizard shedding its skin.
A lizard shedding its skin.
A Zebra butterfly and a butterfly plant planted to attract them.
A Zebra butterfly and a butterfly plant planted to attract them.
A box turtle in the bird bath.
A box turtle in the bird bath.

 

Secret Garden tour write up by my mother, in 2005.
“Secret Garden Tour” write-up by my mother, Sandra Thurlow, 2005.
Secret Garden Club page 2.
“Secret Garden Tour” page 2.

Treasure Coast Wildlife Center:(http://tcwild.org)

Florida Wildlife Commission: (http://myfwc.com)

Kids Making Friends With Sharks, “Stewards of the Florida Straits,” SLR/IRL

A group of kids at Parker Elementary School wants to learn about sharks and how to protect them. (Public photo, clip art)
A group of kids at Parker Elementary School in Stuart, want to learn about sharks and how to protect them. (Public photo, clip art)

In first grade, I attended  Parker Elementary School in Stuart. In 1970 it was called “Parker Annex.” I remember those days well and can still recall many of the names of the kids in my class; my teacher’s name was Mrs Jerdeman. Tomorrow, I will be returning to the school, 45 years later, as a guest speaker on the subject of “River Kidz and the protection of sharks”—a subject chosen at the requests of students in Mrs Maya Gebus-Mockabee’s  first grade class.

"My school photo, Parker Annex, Stuart, Florida 1970.
“My school photo, Parker Annex, Stuart, Florida 1970.
My first grade class at my home for an Easter party on Edgewood Drive, Stuart, 1970. (Photo Sandra Thurlow)
My first grade class at my home for an Easter party on Edgewood Drive, Stuart, 1970. (Photo Sandra Thurlow)

Am I a shark expert? No. But I can give a good lesson as a former teacher and someone interested in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon as well as our Atlantic near shore reef habitat that is connected to our rivers. I have been a guest in many schools, mostly elementary.  It’s a riot. A blast. I taught middle and high school, but elementary kids seem smartest of all. So creative! So enthusiastic! So wanting to help!  Visiting these young students gives me hope for our rivers  and “puts gas in my tank.”

Interestingly, if one takes a look at the River Kidz workbooks, both first and second edition, one will see that it is the bull shark who recites the River Kidz mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved, and raise awareness because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.

Hey, did you know that the Indian River Lagoon is considered the second most important bull shark nursery in North America? Mother bull sharks come here (mostly central IRL) to have their live young and these juveniles may stay here for up to nine or ten years? Did you know that bull sharks swim way up into estuaries, can endure fresh water, and have even been reported to live in Lake Okeechobee?!

Cool! Yikes! Wow!

The River Kidz’ mission of course applies to ocean reefs as these waters and the creatures of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon are all connected!

River Kidz' mission statement. (Artwork by Julia Kelly, 2012.)
River Kidz’ mission statement. (Artwork by Julia Kelly, 2012.)

Sharks……so misunderstood.

We all know they are often needlessly exterminated  for “fun,””sport” or wasteful “shark-fin soup.”

Kids with their creativity and sensitivity are able “see” that the fear and hatred directed towards sharks is sometimes extreme. And all kids know, hating just to hate, is not good.

Yes, we humans need to be careful and stay out of their way….but we need not hate sharks; it is better to respect them for the role they play in our oceans keeping disease at bay and populations in check.

From what I’m told, the kids at Parker Elementary are interested in promoting a theme such as “Shark Stewards of the Florida Straits” creating a  recognized area off the St Lucie Inlet promoting “education and conservation of sharks.” The students will study the subject of sharks for two weeks, learn, and draw pictures to share with the River Ocean Institute. (http://www.oceanriver.org) (http://www.oceanriver.org/blog/protecting-americas-sharks-on-anastasia-and-oculina-reefs-in-the-straits-of-florida/)

For fun, just what kind of sharks live in our area waters, their length, life span,  when do  they have “pups?”

There are many kinds, various sizes, and many live 25-35 plus years, and don’t have pups until they are 10 or older!

Here are some area sharks as listed by the Florida Wildlife Commission: (http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/sharks-rays/shark-species/) :

1. Tiger-18 feet

2. Black-tip- 10 feet

3. Bull- 10 feet (The IRL is a bull shark nursery)

4. Hammer Head- 20 feet

5. Nurse- 14 feet

6. Bonnet 5 feet

7 Lemon-10 feet

8. Spinner-10 feet

9 Sand bar-10 feet

10. Great White- 21-26 feet (sometimes off our shores as they migrate through)

Legions of sharks migrate through our waters, and in winter especially, can be seen by plane sometimes by the hundreds. My husband Ed and I have seen this. And although I like and respect sharks, I have had visions of the plane crashing into the water and having a really bad day!

Yesterday, Terry Gibson, of the Pew Charitable Trust, and I spoke. What I got out of that conversation was that sharks are “really not protected;” this has to do with the politics and structure of federal and state agencies, and a “conflict of interest.” (Kind of like the Department of Agriculture oversees the Department of Environmental Protection for the state of Florida—now that’s something to be afraid of! )

Personally, I have seen boats right at our St Lucie Inlet, over the nearshore reefs, catching sharks and leaving them on deck longer than they could possibly survive– holding them up hooked to take pictures and then throwing them back hours later to sink to the bottom. I witnessed this from afar when I was a volunteer on Nancy Beaver’s Sunshine Wildlife boat from 2011-2012.

There is a long history of shark fishing in our area and acting like “sharks will last forever.” It is well documented that Port Salerno was an active and “productive” shark fishery in the Martin County’s early days—–until the resource was exhausted of course.

Shark fishermen, Port Salerno, Florida, Martin County, ca 1940s/1950s. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow archives.)
Shark fishermen, Port Salerno, Florida, Martin County, ca 1920s/1940s. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow archives.)

We must admit, that over recent generations, many of us have not been good stewards to our waters, or to sharks. Many of us we were not educated to be….I remember the movie JAWS in eighth grade. Do you? I never thought that sharks could become as they are today, a threatened species.

Hopefully the upcoming generations will be better than we were, than our parents and grandparents were. Considering these Parker students asked to study and protect sharks all on their own, a brighter future just may be coming.

Bull Shark. (Public photo)
Bull Shark. (Public photo)

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Florida Straights: (http://www.nova.edu/ocean/messing/strait-of-florida/)

florida straightsBull Sharks/IRL nursery JTL: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/07/18/the-indian-river-lagoonthe-most-significant-bull-shark-nursury-on-the-u-s-atlantic-coast/)

River Kidz
River Kidz