A Florida River, A Look at Wildlife 1950, by E.W. Dutton.
“This film shows a trip down the St. Lucie River with E.W. Dutton. Viewers see gators, blue herons, and many plants and flowers. The film also shows a red-shoulder hawk, sandhill crane, armadillo, black bear and cub, rattlesnake, land crab, and a gator being fed by hand. “Now a NO! NO! “Viewers see pelicans, mullet, cormorant, deer and a Florida panther.” ~Florida Memory.
Recently, my mother sent me this wildlife video filmed by E.W. Dutton, well known for his work of the St Lucie River and for area Chambers. His films bring one back to a time when not as many people lived here, and wildlife was prolific including animals unable to live along the river today such as deer, bears, and panthers. At this time the North Fork was a game sanctuary and conservation laws were respected in the South Fork.
Wikipedia shows the population of St Lucie County as 20,180 in 1950.
And the population of Martin County as 7,807 in 1950.
A rather remarkable thing happened. There was an owl in my kitchen. Yes, an owl, a real owl.
I woke up, went outside to get the newspaper, and then I fed my fish. When I looked from the dining room into the kitchen, I saw the silhouette of a little owl patiently seated on the back of a chair in our sunroom open to the kitchen. Of course, I did a double-take! And then I thought to myself: “Is it that owl? Is Ed playing a trick on me….?”
Why a trick?
Just a few days ago, I had bought a fake, feathered owl at the Lamp Shop. I attached it to a fake palm tree in my sunroom. You know, the kind of thing with wire for feet, so you can twist it around the branches?
So, in the darkness of early morning, I wondered if Ed had put that thing on the back of the chair just to freak me out.
He had not. I looked again and again, and for certain, a living screech-owl was sitting in my sunroom, in my kitchen. Unbelievable!
I quietly snuck over and closed the surrounding pocket doors to that area. And then quickly went to find my husband, Ed.
From afar, I whispered sounding panicked: “Eddie! Eddie!”
Ed got up out of his chair, leaving the computer with the dogs gleefully trailing behind him.
“Put the dogs in the crates, now!” I said.
Ed looked at me, confused.
“In their crates! ” Again, I stated.
“O.K. he said.” Looking bewildered.
“Turning around, Ed took Luna, an 80 pound, black, German Shepard, and Bo, an old and now crippled Corgi, to the other side of the house…
“What’s up with you?” He inquired, irritated. Not even a “good morning” ?”
“Ed, there’s an owl in our kitchen.”
“What?” He inquired.
“Do you mean that owl you bought at the store?” Ed snickered.
“No. A real owl. I think it was attracted to the other owl.”
“What are you talking about?….” He said…
I slowly slid open one of the pocket doors. Sure enough, the beautiful little owl sat there with its head turned towards the fake owl.
Ed let out an explicative and shut the door.
“The owl must have seen the other owl from outside.” I whispered.
” How did it get in?” Ed quietly asked.
“I don’t know, from you? When you let the dogs out? I don’t know, but we have an owl in our kitchen!”
Ed and I looked incredulously at one another, then smiled.
Gently opening the door, we slowly snuck over, as quiet as could be. Ed started removing the screen from behind the joulosy windows. The owl lifted off the chair and flew about the kitchen landing by the fake owl, but the plastic branch sunk under its weight so it flew off and around the kitchen in high circles without a whisper. Ed and I were transfixed, fascinated. When it landed, we took pictures.
Ed finally got the screen off and cranked the window. It popped open, braking the silence of the morning. Wind blew inside the room.
The owl looked back to its friend, and then, without a sound, flew through the window, and was gone.
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.
I remember my historian mother telling me that Paynes Prairie was once a giant lake and that in the mid-1800s, before a sinkhole drained the lake, famed pioneer and pineapple farmer, Capt. Thomas E. Richards sailed from the St Johns River, in Jacksonville, over the lake, only to wind up at the Indian River Lagoon in Eden, near today’s Jensen.
Well this past Friday, on my way to Gainesville for the “Future of Florida Summit” (http://www.futureoffloridasummit.com) Paynes Prairie looked like it had become a lake once again. Although it is not a truly a lake any longer, it must be flooded as the prairie’s water levels go up and down.
As my grandparents lived in Gainesville and I graduated from UF, I have driven across the prairie many times, but seeing it from the air “all wet looking” really took me aback. Like a miniature Tamiami Trail, one could see Highway 441 going right through this “lake!”
Apparently in 2000, eco-underpasses were installed as it has been widely documented that thousands of animals, mostly reptiles, have been killed on this road. And yet, many animals, reptiles and other, continue to be killed.
I know it would be expensive, but since transportation is perhaps one of the most highly funded of all state departments, in the billions and billions of dollars, and since Florida’s wildlife and natural lands rank as a portion of the state’s number one economic driver, tourism… could not, over time, Hwy. 441 become more like the Tamiami Trail is becoming, more bridged than flat…
It just doesn’t make sense to have a lake, or an Everglades, with a road through it.
The Army Corp of Engineers has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee since January 29th and toxic algae from the lake has been released into our St Lucie River. We are being invaded. This is horrific for the people, but what about the animals? Thank God someone is documenting their plight….
Facebook friend, Rebecca Fatzinger, is not only a voice for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, but for its wildlife. With the cries of the people “loud and clear” sometimes it seems the animals are but an afterthought for our local, state, and federal government.
I can’t help but wonder….
The Florida Wildlife Commission? The Department of Environmental Protection–have you written a statement about the wildlife implications of this bloom? What are you thinking? Are you allowed to say?
How could the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon once have been the most bio-diverse estuary in North America? How could we be home to some the state’s most important aquatic preserves?
Thank you to Rebecca for documenting and giving us an up close look as the animals try to cope.
Heartbreaking. Disturbing. Disgusting….
This is home?
THANK YOU TO REBECCA FATZINGER FOR SHARING HER PHOTOS!
7-12-16 NOTE: Although there are no photographs of bottlenose dolphins in this series they are certainly swimming in algae waters further from shore where the algae is more “particulate.” Yesterday, I spoke with Nic Mader of Dolphin Ecology Project and she said she has seen dolphins swimming around in their “normal” areas on her runs. The animals are very “sit specific” (territorial) like people. I also called Dr Gregory Bossert now of Georgia Aquarium formerly of Harbor Branch and his response was that this is just one more layer in an already health-affecting system— noting the animals sicknesses such as low immune system, lobo mycosis, and lessons the animal have been prone to for over 15 years since HERA Heath Environmental Risk Assessment began. Nic has stated if she gets photos she can share she will.
Martin County’s theme is “Our Good Nature.” We have kept some of it, unlike so many other counties in the state of Florida. I grew up appreciating this. My mother and father used to bring home injured animal for my sister, Jenny, my brother, Todd, and me to care for when we were growing up in Stuart in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I was taught never to be afraid of wild animals, but to respect them.
One of my favorite fascinations with local wildlife is the black, or “melanistic,” bobcats of western Martin County. I have written before about this local genetic phenomenon. In fact, it is one of my all time most popular posts. Indeed, there are more reports of black bobcats or “black panthers” occur right here, especially around Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie Canal, than anywhere else in the state!
Yesterday, my friend and UF NRLI classmate, FWC biologist Angeline Scotten– who was in town to give a coyote presentation for Sewall’s Point and Martin County, took me to visit Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and to meet her mentor– of animal-fame– David Hitzig, Busch Wildlife’s long time executive director. I was totally impressed. What an amazing place. You must visit! http://www.buschwildlife.org
Early on in the conversation I told Mr Hitzig that for whatever reason, although an animal fan, I had never visited Busch Wildlife Sanctuary—but that I had written about a black bobcat that was documented to be at the sanctuary after being trapped near the St Lucie Canal in Western Martin County. This bobcat had been eating somebody’s chickens.
Excitedly, Mr Hitzig noted that yes, the melanistic bobcat had been at the center a few years ago, and was released. He also shared that just this month, April 2016, there had been reports of not one, but two, black bobcat cubs walking behind their mother; he later shared this rare and awesome photo.
What a sight! Two black bobcat cubs strolling happily along behind their mother in western Martin County. I love this place. Don’t you?
Correction to blog 🙂 Just after completing this post, I just received an email from David Hitzig of Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, and this black bobcat cub photo was taken in Okeechobee, a western neighbor to Martin County not Martin County itself as I thought when I wrote this! Certainly there are no boarders for the cats and Okeechobee and Martin are side by side “out west.” See map below. Wanted to note for the record. jacqui
Thank you Mr David Hitzig for sharing this marvelous photo.
Thank you to FWC Angeline Scotten from UF NRLI Class XV for taking me to the Busch Wildllife Sanctuary and for her excellent coyote presentation for the Town of Sewall’s Point: http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu
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….”
My mother tells me that when I was a baby she nursed me in Muir Woods, California. My father was in the United States Air Force, and the family was living in the area at the time. It was 1964. She has joked, my entire life, that this perhaps is the reason I have always been so adamant about protecting the environment and its creatures.
John Muir was part of America’s early conservation movement. He wrote a collection of stories for “Century Magazine” entitled “Studies in the Sierra.” In 1892 Muir joined the magazine’s editor in creating the Sierra Club, an organization with the mission to protect America’s resources and public parks.
There were others who are also famous in the “conservation movement” of that era such as President Theodore Roosevelt. He is most famous for the establishment of many National Parks; Pelican Island, along the Indian River Lagoon in Sebastian, established in 1903, was actually our nation’s first “national wildlife refuge.” (http://firstrefuge.org)
President Roosevelt said: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.”
As the conservation movement moved forward it is said to have split into two modes of thought. The first was to conserve resources for the future and for their use by humans and the second was more to preserve nature for wilderness preservation.
In any case, the foundation of America’s “conservation” movement was established during this period from approximately 1850 thorough 1920. This movement was bubbling up in Florida as well.
In 1900 Louis F. Dommerich and his wife Clara hosted a gathering of neighbors in Maitland, Florida, just north of Orlando. On this fateful night the group decided to align themselves with other chapters the existing Audubon Society forming Florida Audubon.
In 1900, not only was Florida’s bird population being decimated, by the plume trade and the rage for feathers on ladies hats, the southern part of the state, almost entirely wetland, was being drained for agriculture and development.
This drainage focused around Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River cutting off waters to the Everglades which for thousands of years had formed one of the world’s most important and productive wet lands for birds, fish and hundreds of other species. We, living along the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, are part of this story.
–You reading this today as people who care about the conservation of our area are the grandchildren of that those 15 people who met in Maitland Florida in 1900…
And for conservationists today, water issues are at the top of this list. Although Florida seems to be full of water, it is not. It is along side with California and other western states in its struggle to conserve and preserve water and its life.
1.7 billion gallons of water is wasted on average to tide each day through the canals draining Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River. With only 3% of the water on the planet being “fresh” and an exponentially growing population, this is wasteful beyond comprehension. Right now, just south of Orlando, the Central Florida Water Initiative, a conglomeration of three state water districts, is organizing because this area of the state has maximized its water use. They need more.
This is no knee jerk reaction and wise water use is completely linked to the success or failure of Florida’s future. Unless we can learn to conserve, preserve and perhaps most important, educate the children of the future there will not be enough clean water for people and for the wildlife that has a right to these resources as well.
Imagine setting eyes on the surrounding lands of the beautiful St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, in virgin form, the year 1883. You are a surveyor, and your job is to create a map, a map showing the topography of the area. It’s a jungle, the insects are singing, animal life is everywhere, there are even remnants of the Seminole Indians that appear and disappear cutting back the palmettos so they can see you. There is venison, bear and many kinds of delicious fish. But there are also seven foot rattle snakes and mosquitoes in the saw grass ponds that will cover your face and make you jump in the river! Nonetheless, this Eden is a place of beauty.
How did I come upon this survey? Surveyor, Mr. Chappy Young, GCY Inc. of Palm City, has known my family for many years and recently sent me a copy of this original hand written part of the 1883 topographical survey completed by Chief B.H. Colonna and his men. What an incredible thing to read, a first hand account of this area from over 120 years ago! It is a treasure.
I will choose some highlights to quote and some I will summarize. My excerpts come off a bit choppy but the accounts are still incredible.
The twelve page report is hand written in cursive and documents the “East Coast of Florida from Eden Post Office, or Richards, southward, to Peck’s Lake, including the St Lucie River.”
“On the west shore of the Indian River the ground rises from five to eighty feet above the level of ordinary height of the water in Indian River, the higher ridges give quite a pretty landfall when seen from four or five miles off shore, quite outcropping the land, and found between Indian River and the ocean.”
Colonna talks of standing on the highest point of the west side of the Indian River, “Blue Hill,” and “looking westward to see a number of parallel ridges of sand, with intervening saw grass ponds;” he describes the yellowish-white Conchina sands and the roads as marine conglomerates.
“The vegetation is thick,” he writes, and “the many hammocks rise above the flatlands recognized by their palmettos (sable palms), mastics, rubber trees, live oaks, iron wood and crab-wood along with a great variety of other trees.”
The St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon are filled with life. He describes a great number of coots and ducks on the rivers; as well as quail, partridge, and wild turkeys in the surrounding woods, and many small birds, just about everywhere, daring about. The waters are filled with luxuriant eel grass the favorite food of the manatee which also is abundant.
He talks of giant sawgrass with blades in the ponds and fresh waters three to ten feet long and very sharp. And further west soft, sweet, moist grasses attracting deer.
You can image, Chief Colonna was camping for many months, maybe years with his team; so he was able to document watching river waters rise 2-3 feet during rainy season, and the lands being inches deep/sometimes feet deep, in water…
In 1883, the year this survey was taken, the inlet, Gilbert’s Bar, next to today’s Sailfish Point, was closed. He explains, mentioning fish on the reef that I have never heard of…
“The old Gilbert’s Bar entrance, now closed, is shown on the sheet. Whenever the salt and fresh waters meet, the mangrove flourishes and such has been the case at Gilbert’s Bar. Once fine oysters grew there and all kinds of fish belonging in these waters were abundant, but sine the inlet closed the oysters have died and the fish are gone except a few bass and catfish. Just outside and along the old Gilbert’s Bar, (Conchina Reef). There are lots of fish, Barracuda, Pompins, Blue fish, Cavallis, Green Turtles, Mullet, Sea Bass, and a beautiful fish, much resembling our spanish mackerel, but it has more beautiful colors and is very tame. Trolling there I have seen them take the hook and bound 5-10 feet clear of the water. I had thought the blue-fish game, and the taking of the fins for sport, but one of these beauties far exceeds anything I ever saw for pluck, rapidity of motion and beauty of form and color…”
According to Colonna, the “House of Refuge was the best dwelling on the sheet,” and “Dr Baker’s house (in today’s Indialucie) was the only place that looked like a home.” This is interesting to me because I grew up there. His account of my former playground:
“In this area the rattle snakes are the largest I have ever seen being from 6-7 feet” but there are not many; alligators are no longer numerous and have become shy; but raccoons and opossums are so thick it is impossible to raise fowl; “wild cats are 4′ 6″ from tip to tip,” and Black Bears come in June across the lands to comb the beaches for turtle eggs…”
I think I would have had fun living in the area in 1883, but I would have worn boots for sure!
And now the grand finale. On the final page of the handwritten piece, Chief Surveyor, Colonna proclaims:
“The prettiest land on the sheet is the peninsula laying between the St Lucie River and Indian River, from Mount Pleasant south, to the the point. It is high hammock land with Cochina foundation and covered by a heavy growth of Hard Wood and underbrush with now and then a pine. This country had quite a population in it once, just before the Seminole outbreak and for a times after it, the settles had oranges, lemons, and limes, some of the old trees are sill to be found in the vicinity of Eden P.O. and the limes are very fine but the oranges are bitter and the lemons not bearing..”
(Mount Pleasant is Francis Langford’s former high river property.)
So congratulations to Sewall’s Point, the “prettiest” piece of land surveyed in 1883 and still known for her beauty today. All of our area around the Indian River Lagoon and stretching westward is beautiful, a changed but modern Eden. Let’s protect it for the next 120 years.