Tag Archives: Greg Braun

I’d Rather be an Eagle Than a Turkey, St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon

The Bald Eagle, (Public Photo)
The Majestic Bald Eagle, (Public Photo)

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.

Wild turkey displays its fanned tail. (Public photo)
A beautiful but not quite as stately, wild turkey displays its fanned tail. (Public photo)

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!

Bale Eagle flying over North River Shores. (Photo by Todd Thurlow, 11-14.)
Bale Eagle flying over North River Shores. (Photo by Todd Thurlow, 11-14.)

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!

 

Eagle sitting near Bird Island just off of the Town of Sewall's Point. (Photo by Greg Braun, 2012.)
Eagle sitting near Bird Island just off of the Town of Sewall’s Point. (Photo by Greg Braun, 2012.)

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.

Eagle nests are the largest nests known.
Eagle nests are the largest nests known. (Photo Harbor Ridge reporting/video taping  of nesting site, 2011.)
Eagle in area of Rio, as taken last week by wildlife photographer,
Eagle in area of Rio, as taken last week by wildlife photographer and Facebook friend, Rebecca Fatzinger, 11-14.)

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!

Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the eagle as he felt the eagle was of "bad moral character" as it sometimes steals food from other birds of prey and other eagles.
Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey to the bald eagle as our national bird  as he felt the eagle was of “bad moral character…”

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Florida Wildlife Commission: Managing Bald Eagles: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bald-eagle/)

Florida Nature: Bald Eagles: (http://www.floridiannature.com/eagleandospreyraptors.htm)

J.W. Corbett Wildlife Area, Palm Beach County, FL: (http://myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/jw-corbett)

 

 

Bird Island/Indian River Lagoon, One of Florida’s Most Important Avian Breeding Grounds

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.)

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Wood stork w nestling at MC-2 - GBraun OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Wood Stork w nesting material near MC-2 Braun

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!

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Sunshine Wildlife Tours: (http://sunshinewildlifetours.com)

Audubon Martin County: (http://audubonmartincounty.org/index.php/home/item/51-bird-island-martin-countys-special-place)

Sustainable Ecosystems International: (http://sustainableecosystemsinternational.com)bird island releases

Bird Island, Greg Braun OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA MC-2 GBraun Oystercatcher on beach - GBraun OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Green heron -GBraun Little Blue Heron - GBraun Frigatebirds at MC-2 GBraun greg, mike and pelican OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1092 IMG_1166 susan Bird Island DSC_9203e OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA MC2 CWA Revised Boundary 5-20-13