Last evening, at a gathering of friends of my mothers, I met Mrs Susan Kane. The conversation started as usual with someone I do not know, but quickly, somehow, the our words turned to eagles living along the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon.
I told Susan, I had never seen one here flying, ever, but I knew they were here as Greg Braun, formerly of Audubon, took photos of one sitting on a rock at Bird Island…. I had also heard that there was a pair that hunted from a tall, dead, Australian Pine tree by the Marriott’s Indian River Plantation Marina. But again, although I walk the bridge between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island quite often, I had never seen them…Once, while driving on Highway 76 in Indiantown, I did see an eagle, and was so excited that I parked my car on the side of the road and with trucks zooming by I watched it soar. I was smiling from ear to ear.
Susan listened politely, and then replied, “Well recently, Jacqui, I took a photograph of an eagle on the 16th hole of the Sailfish Point golf course.”
“You’re kidding?” I inquired.
“Yes, the eagle captured a fish right there in the pond at the 16th hole of the golf course.”
“That’s incredible.” I replied, taking a large sip of my cocktail, to hide my bird envy.
Over the course of dinner, Susan pulled out her photos and shared. They are wonderful! And today I am sharing her photos with you.
TCPalm’s Elliott Jones reported this morning that Stuart has received a whopping 11.30 inches of rain just so far this month! (The average being 7.14.)
Although due to the recent drought, the ACOE/SFWMD are not dumping Lake Okeechobee through Canal C-44, canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and areas along C-44, as well as our own basin, are draining right into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Very little of this water is cleansed before it enters and thus is damaging to the eco system. Next time you see water draining through a grate in a parking lot, think about this. Remember too that before the major canals were constructed the 1900s, the river received less than half the water it gets every time it rains today.
The aerials below were taken 6-13-17 by my husband Ed Lippisch and pilot Dave Stone. It is important to monitor the river all of the time so we can view changes.
“Rain stained” we are; please remember not to fertilize during the rainy season. The birds on Bird Island will appreciate it! (http://befloridian.org)
Canals draining water into SLR/IRL after rain events:
This is one of my favorite historic aerial photos of Sewall’s Point; I have used it before. It is on page 11 of my mother’s book “Sewall’s Point a History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.”
Taken in the 1950s, the peninsula is basically undeveloped. The spoil islands, from dredging the Intercostal Waterway, sit to the east of the island lone and unattached…
One very special spoil island is in this photo as well. I think it is the one furthest north: Bird Island, or MC 2, is a small spoil island now off the Archipelago. Comparing the photo above and below you can see the changes to the east side of Sewall’s Point and Bird Island.
I visited Bird Island yesterday with the Florida Wildlife Commission preparing for a field trip for their board who is meeting in South Florida this week. Bird Island was the first Critical Wildlife Area in the state of Florida designated in 20 years in 2014. This was an enormous accomplishment!
Kipp Fröhlich who was aboard boat yesterday said, “Yes it is amazing, we still don’t totally understand why the birds choose this particular island!” This is true. There are many to choose from.
One thing is for sure, the birds and humans love it here! It is a wonderful thing when wildlife and humans can reside together. Thank you FWC!
Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey as our national bird, as he felt the bald eagle, that sometimes steals food from other birds of prey, had “bad moral character…” Even so, one has to wonder if the United States of America would have ever reached its “greatness” if our national bird had been a turkey.
Just recently during the Stuart Air Show, my brother Todd, sent me some photos he took of an eagle soaring over the St Lucie River in North River Shores. About three weeks ago, I was pulling into Cedar Point Plaza in Stuart, I looked up and saw the unmistakable white “bald” head, large body enormous wing span of a bald eagle. Incredible! Inspirational! It made my day!
Today, in our Indian River Lagoon Region, birds of prey are by far more prevalent than when I was a kid growing up in Stuart in the 1970s and 80s. Even if the Indian River Lagoon system was healthier then, than it is now, in the 70s and 80s, rarely did one see the great eagle soaring or the abundant ospreys one sees today.
The reason? Of course DDT, (dichlorodiphenyltrichhloroethane), a powerful chemical used to control mosquitoes and as an agricultural insecticide. Once it became widely known that DDT was a threat to both bird and human health, primarily due to the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in 1962, DDT’s use was eventually outlawed in the United States.
So in spite of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon’s extensive decline, there are more eagles about today than before. In Florida, after being designated as “endangered” since 1972, in 1995 the bald eagle was reclassified as “threatened.” The birds and their habitat remain protected.
Eagles mate for life and a pair has been reported in the area of Sewall’s Point for about four years. The photo below was taken by Greg Braun and shows one of the eagles sitting on a rock by Bird Island. Apparently, the pairs may leave each other for many months when traveling great distances, and then return to their nesting sites. There are accounts of their “mating sky dance” where the eagles lock talons hundreds of feet up in the air and then tumble, almost hitting the earth, only to release and regain their flight at the last-minute!
An eagle can stand three feet in height, and its wing span can be up to 8 feet! Their eyes are just larger than human eyes and of course, their eye sight is superior, approximately 3 and 1/2 times better than a human with 20/20 vision. For instance, they are able to see another eagle flying 50 miles away and a rabbit moving over the ground a mile away. They love fish and are outstanding hunters. Females are larger than males and dominate the nest, often killing the smaller male sibling. Nature does not sugar coat the eagle’s drive to dominate and survive, especially the females….
Another strong instinct is “pruning” which chicks mimic even before they have feathers by accessing an oil gland at the base of the torso using their curved beak to pretend they are coating each feather. Baby eagles must grow for about five or six years to be sexually mature and attain their white head feathers. Parents take care of the young for many months even though the young start flapping their wings around 8 weeks and are encouraged to take flight. I was lucky to experience this wonder, when a few years ago, Dr Dale Hipson, a friend of the family, took me to his camouflaged hide out in the Corbett Wildlife Management Area to watch eagle parents dutifully feeding and teaching their young. It was an experience I will never forget.
Dr Hipson taught me that the word “bald” is an archaic word for “white” and this is how eagles got their name. Juvenile eagles are brown in color and often mistaken as ospreys or hawks.
Reading about eagles, it is hard to understand their migration patterns and perhaps scientists do not really know as they can’t fly with them, but it seems some eagles in Florida migrate thousands of miles to Alaska (Snow birds!) and some are “resident” eagles remaining here. Florida is the second most eagle-populated state in the nation other than Alaska.
In closing, I am happy that some birds are doing well in spite of the poor health of the Indian River Lagoon. And I have to say that with no disrespect to the turkey, I am glad the eagle is our national bird!
Bird Island is one of the most productive breeding grounds for more than 15 species of birds and a rookery/visiting grounds to even more species. The island is owned by the state of Florida and managed by Martin County. It is located 400 feet from the Town of Sewall’s Point. (Most photos by Greg Braun, Sustainable Ecosystems International, story below.)
Just over three years ago, I was going through I guess a kind of mid-life crisis where I really was questioning what I was doing with my life. When I couldn’t seem to get it together, I decided to spend some time going back to “my roots,” to the things that made me happy as a kid. I called up family friend Nancy Beaver of Sunshine Wildlife Tours in Port Salerno, and asked her if I could volunteer on her boat a couple of times a week. She obliged, and slowly, I felt my passion for life return while being surrounded by the animals and birds in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The highlight of every tour was “Bird Island,” located off my “very own” Sewall’s Point, as I was mayor of the town at the time.
I had seen the birds from far away, but to see the beautifully colored birds, especially their babies, through binoculars up close was incredible.
Bird Island, located in the Indian River Lagoon, just 400 feet off of the Sewall’s Point’s Archipelago is one of the most valuable nesting bird habitats along Florida’s east coast, really in all of Florida. Rarely are so many different kinds of birds in one location, breeding…
A wonder of nature, birds of all kinds fill the island, over 40 types visiting or roosting and at least 15 species of birds simultaneouly raising young. At any time of late fall through spring hundreds of birds sometimes over a thousand, some say more, fill the island.
Greg Braun, of Sustainable Ecosystems International, was hired by Martin County for avian monitoring September 2011 thorough August 2012 and he documented observing 240 pairs of birds of 15 species nesting including the Wood Stork; Brown Pelican; Double-crested Cormorant; Great Egret; Cattle Egret; Anhinga; Tri-colored Heron; Snowy Egret; Great Blue Heron; Litle Blue Heron; Black-crowned Night Heron; Great White Heron; Roseate Spoonbill; Black Vulture; Oystercatcher; and suspected White Ibis and a couple of invasive Egyptian Geese.
So why this island? There are plenty of others to choose from in the area. Maybe it is for protection? Maybe its the eastern sandbar that keeps boaters at bay and gives the chicks a place to practice swimming and flying and the older birds can just hang out? Maybe its the nearby western seagrasses with its rich production of fish.
Nobody really knows but obviously the birds like it. Originally Bird Island, more scientifically known as “MC-2” was created in the 1940s as a by-product of dredging the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, (Braun, Avian Monitoring). My mother, historian, Sandra Thurlow, says there are verbal accounts of birds nesting on the island since the 60s and 70s, but again nobody is really sure when it began…
Man’s involvement remains controversial with the removal of tall Australian Pines a few years back that the amazing Frigate Birds sat on, and then the building of a $600,000, 400 foot long rip-rap on the island’s northern side by Martin County to offset documented erosion. Now in the process is the Florida Wildlife Commission’s (FWC) possible creation of a CWA or Critical Wildlife Area so that trespassing onto or very near the island would be a crime.
Personally, I think the bird’s habitat should be very protected as the importance of the island is obvious and it is a rare thing. As far as the CRA status, the County is working through issues with local fishermen who use the area for bait catching, and other users of the area surrounding the island. I do hope some higher level of protection can be met.
Right now, signs surround the island in hopes of giving the birds the privacy they need to raise their chicks, but curious kayakers and others often go very close flushing the birds off their nest, with masses of crows waiting close by, putting the chicks at risk. Sun exposure can also kill the young chicks. People don’t mean to but they often do disturb the island.
Another common problem is fishing line. Nancy Beaver and the FWC when in the area often see birds entangled in monofilament caught in the mangroves. Many birds are taken to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center and saved; but many more are euthanized due to emaciation.
Bird Island was definitely affected by last year’s putrid release water from Lake Okeechobee and the other canals as is visible in an aerial photograph included in this blog. During the releases, 85 percent of seagrasses died last summer according to Florida Oceanographic Society. The bird’s feeding was/is certainly affected by such loss.
In the end, I do believe everyone agrees that Bird Island is an amazing place. Let’s get along like the many birds do and protect it! And if you have not seen it, maybe put it on your list of things to do!
Not a fun photo to see, but one that needs to be seen. This brown pelican was found at Bird Island, or MC-2, a well known bird rookery, just 100 feet off of Sewall’s Point. The bird, like many others, had become entangled in transparent fishing line, and in its struggle actually pulled its foot off trying to escape. Unfortunately, the line was caught around the metal band as well.
In 2012, when I was mayor of Sewall’s Point, I worked closely with The Florida Wildlife Commission and Martin County as they built a break wall to stabilize the erosion on the north end of Bird Island. During this time, they were required to monitor the island. On average, there were one to two birds per week found tangled in fishing line during this time. Many were euthanized as they were emaciated and weakened; a few recovered for a second chance, at the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center, http://www.tcwild.org. This was an eye opening experience for me. What of all the birds that are never reported or found when they are not monitoring? Transparent death…
Personally, I don’t see how these magnificent water birds can keep their population numbers up with such terrible odds.
Let’s help them out and be sure to safely throw away our fishing line.
If you find an entangled bird call the Sheriff’s Department, Animal Control at 772-220-7170.
The above pelican was found by Sunshine Wildlife Tours operator, Captain Nancy Beaver, she states:
“This is why I don’t like metal banding of birds! I have seen many lose a foot or die