Tag Archives: treasure coast wildlife center

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)

Lessons From a Baby Screech Owl Along the Indian River Lagoon

A baby screech owl sleeps in a tree the morning after its "bib jump." (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2014.)
A baby screech owl sleeps in a tree the morning after its “big jump.” (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2014.)

Recently, I have had the most amazing experience as a family of screech owls decided to use the nesting box that is literally right outside my bedroom window.

My husband helped me put up the box. We live in Sewall’s Point one lot off the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Screech owls are common here but never did I dream  of watching them so up close.

The family set up house about two months ago. The first owl I encounted was “Dad.” I noticed that every day, he was sitting in a vine growing in the strangler fig tree by our front door. At first, I did not know he was “dad,” but I soon figured this out. He was a funny little owl, standing about six inches, with crossed looking eyes and a flabbergasted  expression like Jack Nicholson. I tried not to scare him but soon realized he was not afraid and I could take photos. I took them quickly and darted away, thanking  him for living at my house.

dad screech owl

After a few weeks, my husband Ed, who gets up much earlier than I do, told me he thought he had seen the little owl flying into the nesting box in the dim light of morning. Within a week or so, one day I heard soft chirping inside the box. At that point, I knew there must be a mate and chicks, as I had read that screech owls are monogamous. Amazing!

Within another week or so, one Sunday afternoon,  the mom stuck her head out. She was much rounder than her counterpart and redder in color. She looked exasperated like the growing chicks were restless below her, pushing her up in the box.

mom owl nesting box


Within a few days, she flew and joined her mate in the tree. In the evenings or mornings chicks soon started to emerge and then would pop back inside.

baby in nesting box


The mother and father owls sat silently with great patience for many days waiting for the baby owls to leave the box.

mom owl in tree

Ed and I could never figure out how many babies were there were. We thought two or three, as some seemed bigger or smaller, and had different faces, but really, they all kind of looked the same!

Then one evening, on a Friday, Ed wanted to go out to dinner and as he went upstairs to get ready, I heard, “Jacqui! A baby is out of the box!” Outside, I threw down the hose, water gushing, leaving my flip flops behind and ran up the stairs as fast as I could to see a  fluffy owl sitting along the chair on the upstairs balcony just under the nesting box. It was as large, if not larger, than its parents!

baby on chair


I lay on the floor looking under the blinds and watched this baby owl decide to jump thirteen feet to the deck below. Incredible! I worried like a mother myself!

looking down

“Oh Ed, what if he gets hurt? What if he breaks a leg and we have to take him to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Hospital?”

“Why would you want to do that? ” asked Ed. You’re the one who aways  says ‘let nature take its course’…”

“That’s not funny Ed, it’s just a baby…”

“Let’s go to dinner,” Ed replied.

I knew I was pushing it, but this was a once in lifetime opportunity.

“Oh, I can’t yet, I have to watch it jump! Look it’s moving its head in circles like a chicken! Look! Oh it just crashed into the railing! It got up! It’s trying to jump! Oh my gosh! Should I take it down myself….? ”


So Ed sat at his computer as dusk fell and I lay on my stomach watching and praying for the baby owl and restraining myself from messing with Nature.  I heard the mother and father calling and the baby owl inched closer to the edge of the balcony getting up his nerve, jumping high and then going low, sitting on a chair, walking the railing, flapping his little wings. And then finally, he looked down and just jumped!

“He jumped!” I screamed from the bedroom.

Ed came up the stairs, and we watched, in the dim light of evening the baby owl hop into the vine along side his parents. He had not hurt himself. He trusted his instincts and he succeeded.

Night came and the owls spoke to each other in a tongue I could not understand,  but I knew it must be a proud day for those  parents and for the baby owl too.

Ed and went to dinner, we toasted the baby owl, and all I talked the whole night was the power and faith, of being able to get up the nerve to jump, unafraid into one’s destiny…


Endangered Small-toothed Sawfish and the Indian River Lagoon

Small-toothed Sawfish, Sewall's Point, 1916. Reported 18-28 feet, they  were once common in the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Thurlow's archives and the Historical Society of Martin County.)
Small-toothed Sawfish, Sewall’s Point, 1916. Historically reported from 18-28 feet, they were once extremely common in the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Thurlow and the Historical Society of Martin County.)

I guess as much as I have just begun to really fight for our Indian River Lagoon/St Lucie River, many of its most spectacular creatures have been dying off for a very long time. For me, the most notable of these is the prehistoric, quiet, remarkable, and since 1999, “critically endangered,” small toothed sawfish whose numbers have been estimated to have been reduced by up to 99%, due mostly, to thankfully former, commercial fishing practices.

Many may not realize that this fish, the “small toothed sawfish” was the first marine fish determined as “critically endangerd” in United States’ waters, right here, along the Indian River Lagoon’s Treasure Coast!

Sources for this post:(http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/statusreviews/smalltoothsawfish.pdf)



As a kid growing up in Stuart in the 60s, 70s and 80s, I would hear about sawfish and see pictures, but I never “saw” one, until recently believe it or not, when one was reported and photographed in the Stuart News, caught near the Ernie Lyons Bridge in Sewall’s Point. The creature was released, giving hope for its survival and comeback.

How incredibly cool, “Leviathan lives!”

As far as notes of interest: sawfishes are a family of rays and their mouth and nostrils are on its flat underside. Its skeleton is made of cartilage; they can live up to fifty years and don’t mature sexually until they are about ten. Bearing young only every other year, sawfish babies grow in eggs inside their mother and once they are fully developed, she gives birth to her “pups,” usually around 1-15 in number.

By far, the sawfishes most distinctive feature is its “rostrum,” or saw, which is covered with electrosensitive pores that allow it to sense even the beating heart of of its prey hiding in the mud or muck covered bottom. They can also dig with their unique appendage and slash/stun fish above them to ingest whole. The saw is also used to protect them from shark attacks but unfortunately “nets,” which were allowed in the Indian River from time beginning until 1994, caught possibly over time hundreds of thousands of these creatures “accidentally.” Most were simply killed, usually by cutting off the saw, and the dying fish left to sink to the bottom discarded. In its hey-day, more small toothed saw fish lived in the Indian River Lagoon than any other body of  water on the planet.

All things considered, I think the small toothed sawfish should become our symbol  for the Indian River Lagoon movement that really took shape  in 2013. The Indian River Lagoon, like the critically endangered small toothed sawfish, after years of hiding on the bottom, is finally coming back,  full of vim and vigor,  to rightfully claim its former glory.





The Black Bobcats of the St Lucie Region and Indian River Lagoon

Melanistic bobcat caught in Martin County (Photo Busch Wildlife Center)
Captured melanistic bobcat from Martin County (Photo courtesy of Busch Wildlife Center, 2007) 

The Martin County Difference” is an expression that one often hears from locals that means exactly what it says, “things are different here…”

Not only are the different, they are exceptional. We have the beautiful St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, a four story height limit, a strong urban service boundary, great public schools,  a strong fertilizer ordinance, public beaches and black bobcats…

When I was a kid growing up in Stuart, one sometimes heard stories from the kids that lived in Indiantown or Palm City about “black panthers.” And someone who had seen them would swear on their mother’s grave this to be true. Supposedly these stories had been around for many, many years coming down from parents and grandparents.

More recently in 2008, my first year on the Sewall’s Point commission, the town had  at least  three “normally colored” bobcats and multiple kittens. The sightings were very exciting but scared some residents who had moved here  from up north so I started reading about bobcats in great detail. Eventually we had Dan Martinelli of the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center speak before the commission and things calmed down but my fascination with these beautiful creatures did not.

I talked about bobcats a lot during this time and in the course of a discussion, one of my husband’s physician friends who lived in Palm City, with great excitement told a story of  seeing a black bobcat in Palm City walk across his yard. That same year one of the Guatemalan landscape workers in the town, knowing I loved animals, struggled wide eyes to tell me about the black panther he had seen walking along a fence, close to Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie Canal, that he had seen while fishing with his son.

According to my reading there have been more reports of melanistic bobcats in Martin County than anywhere else in the country, mostly near the area of the St Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee and Loxahatchee.

If you want to find these reports, google “melanistic bobcats martin.” These posts are not entirely scientific but they are documented. They say there have been sightings for the past 80 years.

Although I never seen a black bobcat, popular lore says the exist, I believe it, and it’s certainly better documented than Sasquatch who many of my high school friends claimed to see too.

What an incredible place to live! The “Martin County Difference!”


According to the Florida Wildlife Commission black panthers  do not exist  but black bobcats do!

FLORIDA PANTHERS:(http://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/panther_faq.html) 

FLORIDA BOBCATS:(http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/bobcat/)

Fishing-line, Transparent Death

Banded Brown Pelican, Bird Island, died struggling to escape fishing line 2/14
Banded Brown Pelican, Bird Island, died struggling to escape fishing line in the Indian River Lagoon. 2/16/14

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
because they don’t release. This poor bird was alive when I found him and he had ripped his foot off attempting to free himself.” http://www.sunshinewildlifetours.com

“How to Rescue a Shorebird”

Northern Gannet rescued at Bathtub Beach 2-12-14
Northern Gannet rescued at Bathtub Beach 2-12-14

I believe the first shorebird I “rescued” was a blue heron, along the St Lucie River. I was in middle school and my friends found the magnificent, four foot tall creature, caught in fishing line in Rio, in the mangroves by their home. If I remember correctly, I was the one who held the beak and  body while my friends cut away the fishing line. I never let go, and my best friend, Vicki Whipkey, had an older sister Beth, who drove us to a Veterinarian, Dr Hooks.  This was about 1976. I felt oddly important; I had a purpose, to help…

I have always felt a responsibility to assist animals in distress, but one must be careful. How I learned this stuff, I’ll never know. I think it was just part of growing up in Stuart when it was small and we as we were always outdoors. And my parents always had some animal for my brother and sister and I to raise: a raccoon, a robin, a opossum, a black snake….

With birds, the most  important thing is to be very careful of the beak. Almost any shorebird, can  take out an eye very quickly. Of course the bird is scared and thinks you are a predator when you try to rescue it, so if you are not comfortable, just call the authorities.

If you feel  inclined, have a towel or shirt in one hand and ideally someone else with you; don’t hesitate, grab the beak and close it, not covering the nostrils;  be gentle with  the head and neck but be firm, you must be in control;  move the head inward, in the direction of the neck’s natural curve, close to  bird’s body; now use your other hand to  scoop its  body up and into your arms; keep the  head away from your  face.  You’re almost done!

Now to get the bird some help. I have driven pelicans to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center while holding them in my lap,  probably not a good idea. Ideally, you have a large container and gently put them into it, covering it so they calm down. You can now deliver the bird or call the authorities to come pick it up.

The Treasure Coast Wildlife Center is located at 8626 SW Citrus Blvd. Palm City, Florida 34990, 772-286-6200. Animal Control’s number  is 772-220-7170, through the Sheriff’s non emergency number.

Most recently with the Gannet, it was after 5PM so I had to call Animal Control. The control officer’s name was Michele Thonney. She was terrific: prompt, knowledgeable, and compassionate. I am planning on writing Sheriff Snyder a note  expressing my gratitude for his professional staff. She even sent me a link to a video on Gannets (below), amazing dive bomb birds that hunt fish from fantastic heights and can swim/dive 40 plus feet deep; they live at sea and  migrate thousands of miles, if “from around here,” probably to Nova Scotia.  Their airodynamic bodies have been used in the design of missiles. It is rare to find a Gannet along our Martin County beaches: I feel lucky to have helped one. Good luck to you, should you decide to as well!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwPrXOtBoVg