Green Anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are native to Florida. They are found in natural and suburban areas throughout our entire state.
Adult Green Anoles grow to 5-8 inches long. Males have a solid pink throat fan known as a dewlap. Anoles can quickly change from bright green to a dull brown color to blend into their surroundings. Their favorite foods are roaches, beetles, flies, spiders, and other small invertebrates which makes them beneficial to your garden.
In cool weather, you may find these lizards hiding in shingles, under tree bark or in rotting logs. In warmer weather, look for them basking in plants, on fence tops or rooftops. Females lay single, round, eggs in rotting wood or moist soil throughout warmer months. The tiny lizards emerge from their eggs looking like miniature adults.
The biggest threat to Green Anoles is the introduced Cuban brown anole. Because they are great climbers, Green Anoles move vertically up in their habitat which allows them to decrease competition by claiming the higher habitat among the trees as their own.
House sparrows were introduced at various stages throughout New York (Barrows 1889), Maine, Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia. Some of these releases were a sentimental connection to the homeland of many European immigrants. Others were to help control cankerworms or linden moths(Marshall 2014). In some cases, the release of house sparrows failed and the birds died without breeding. One of the more successful attempts was in Nova Scotia. This population spread and the presence of other populations in the U.S. Northeastern states may have helped them thrive.
Today, house sparrows have spread throughout all of the United States, most of Mexico, and the southern parts of Canada. They have even made their way to South America. In most regions, they are considered an invasive species due to their aggressive and territorial tenancies. They will even go to such extremes as to damage the nests of other birds. They out-compete many native birds for food and reproduce at a rapid rate making them difficult to control. Oddly enough, many places in Europe are seeing declines in house sparrow populations. The United Kingdom has a 71% reduction since the mid-1990s. This decline has been linked to avian malaria and areas of increased nitrogen dioxide. Italy experienced a 49% decline in house sparrow populations from reductions in nesting sites, reduced food availability, and possible disease. Paris reported a 12.4% reduction by year primarily due to city gentrification. Yet, these birds continue to thrive in North America.
One way you can help is by providing a nesting box for house sparrows. If eggs are laid you can simply poke them with a pin to prevent the eggs from further developing. Removing the eggs entirely can cause the female to produce more eggs at a faster rate. Removing an entire nest could force sparrows into more wild landscapes and could pose a greater threat to native birds. While we might never be able to fully eradicate house sparrows from Florida, it never hurts to try and reduce the growing population.
The photos below show a male (Left) and female (Right). They are sexually dimorphic with the male having a classic black mask across his eyes.
Photo credit: Aymee Laurain Reference: Barrows, W.B. (1889). “The English Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in North America, Especially in its Relations to Agriculture”. United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy Bulletin (1).
“This park is like nothing else in Florida. Being able to see the stars at night in unbelievable detail was absolutely worth the trip.” Jonathan Holmes, IOF Contributor
There is a place in Florida that is world-renowned for stargazing. Designated as a Dark Sky Park due to the absence of light pollution, the stars and planets can be enjoyed the way nature intended.
Located in Okeechobee, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is part of the headwaters to the Everglades and is the largest remaining dry prairie ecosystem in Florida. Once spanning coast to coast and from Lake Okeechobee to Kissimmee, the prairie has been reduced to a mere 10% of its original expanse.
Throughout the years, humans have altered the prairie to suit their needs. The State Park is working to restore the land to pre-European influence. Over 70 miles of ditches and canals have been restored to swales and sloughs. Old plow lines are slated for reconditioning, and a cattle pasture will be restored to native shrubs and grasses. As a fire and flood dependent ecosystem, these efforts will allow the prairie to thrive once again.
The most famous resident of the prairie is the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Critically endangered, the sparrows rely on a healthy prairie ecosystem for survival. Crested Caracaras, Burrowing Owls, Wood Storks, Swallow-Tail Kites, and White-Tail Kites find refuge at the park. Watch for Bald Eagles, White-tailed Deer, and Indigo Snakes. Native wildflowers are abundant. Look for Blazing Stars, Yellow Bachelors Buttons, Meadow Beauty, Pipewort, and Alligator Lilies.
There is plenty to do at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. Hiking, horseback riding, and biking are wonderful ways to experience Nature up close. Camping, primitive camping, and equestrian camping are offered for those who want to spend the night. A ranger-led prairie buggy tour and an astronomy pad are spectacular ways to enjoy the park.
Creeping indigo is an invasive plant that originated in Africa. This plant is particularly concerning due to its toxicity. It is highly toxic to cows, horses, and donkeys. Symptoms include a wide range of abnormal behavior such as mouth ulcers, dehydration, heavy breathing, high temperatures, rapid heartbeat, foaming of the mouth, pale mucous membrane, light sensitivity, lethargy, odd gait, pressing their head into a corner, etc. Any abnormal behavior should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
This plant can spread rapidly and is difficult to remove due to its strong taproot. If you spot these popping up in your garden remove them before they become overwhelming.
What other invassive species can you think of in Florida?
One mile of shoreline, wildflowers, and birds draw over 200,000 people each year to the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands which is commonly known as Viera Wetlands. Named in honor of a long-time Brevard County employee and awarded a grant by the Florida Wildflower Foundation, the wetlands are a popular destination for ecotourists, birders, photographers, and wildflower enthusiasts.
There are 200 acres to explore at Viera Wetlands. Walk or bike around the berms. Enjoy the scenery from your car as you leisurely drive no more than 10 mph along the one way, unpaved road. (The road is occasionally closed to vehicles when too wet.) Revel in the beauty of wildflowers along the banks of the lakes and ponds. Notice the different plants in dry areas as well as those in wet areas. The plants work together to stabilize the soils without the need for fertilizers and irrigation. What pollinators will you discover?
Birds abound at Viera Wetlands which is included in the Great Florida Birding Trail. Get a better view of the wetlands from the observation tower. Keep your eyes open otters, marsh rabbits, and raccoons who make their homes there along with an abundance of amphibians and reptiles. Look for beautiful butterflies and striking Painting Buntings.
These cute little fuzzy spiders are typically found around immature woodland habitats. They can also be found hanging out on your windshield. Males are identified by their black and white features. Females are grey or brown in color. These spiders may be expert jumpers but they also produce a dragline in case they miss their target.
Males perform a romantic dance to woo the females. They show off their handsome leg fringe and bright metallic green chelicerae. If the lady is impressed they will cohabitate in dried leaves such as old palm fronds. When the mating time arrives the male does another type of romantic dance that is different from his courtship dance. During this dance, he shows off his dance moves and then plays a game of peek-a-boo with the female through the tent-like web. Once the female allows him in, he softly pets her several times before mating occurs. Quite the charmer isn’t he?
When it comes time to lay eggs the female will produce several nests under pine and oak trees. Several hundred eggs can be laid during this time. Babies will consume small invertebrates. While they may strike fear into other insects they are relatively harmless to humans. Rough handling of the spiders may prompt a bite which can sting for several minutes before subsiding.
Do you know an animal that performs an interesting mating dance?
“Nice morning walk warm-up. I loved seeing all the Florida pond apples. A plethora of water birds. Definitely bring your camera when you stop here.” Bobby Putnam
Located in suburban Delray Beach, Wakodahatchee Wetlands is the perfect place for a morning walk. A 3/4 mile boardwalk makes it easy to stroll leisurely through 3 of the wetland’s ponds. There are benches and gazebos to sit and enjoy the views. Interpretive signs will help you learn about the history and ecology of the wetlands as well as water purification.
Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a Seminole Indian word meaning “created waters,” was built by Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department to act as a natural filter for about 2 million gallons per day of treated reclaimed water. While cleansing the water, the wetlands provide a home for an abundance of wildlife.
Forested wetlands, marsh areas, ponds, and islands have been designed to attract an abundance of birds and other wildlife. Part of the Great American Birding Trail, Wakodahatchee Wetlands boasts sightings of178 species of birds. Raccoons, rabbits, otters, frogs, turtles, and alligators call these wetlands home. Native plants are used as buffers to hide human neighborhoods.
Twice the size of domestic cats and weighing 12-28 pounds, Bobcats, Lynx rufus, are beautiful, stealthy, and secretive. This native species is abundant in Florida and can be found in forests, swamps, and hammocks as well as rural, suburban, and urban areas.
Bobcats are often mistaken for Florida Panthers. Despite being the only two native wild cats to Florida, they diverged from two different lineages. Bobcats are a species of lynx. The lynx line diverged from a common ancestor 7.2 mya. The Puma lineage which the panther diverged from did not appear until 6.7 mya.
Dense shrub thickets and saw palmetto provide cover for private dens. Breeding takes place in August through March with the peak time occurring in February and March. After a gestation period of 50 to 60 days, mother bobcats give birth to 1-4 cubs. The cute cubs are spotted or mottled and have distinct facial markings.
Bobcats usually hunt at night but can often be spotted during the day. Dinner consists of rats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. Towhees, thrashers, catbirds and other ground-dwelling birds provide winter treats. Coyotes effectively regulate the Bobcat population when they prey on cubs.
Bobcats are elusive and show no interest in people. They play an important role in the ecosystems they inhabit by helping to control populations of their prey animals.
When living with Bobcats, we must do our part. Secure chickens and other small pets in an enclosed pen. Domestic cats and dogs should not be left alone in your yard or on a screened porch. Always walk your dog on a leash. With just a little common sense, we can truly coexist with these magnificent cats. #ConnectRespectCoexist
Hiking the 7.1-mile loop trail along the St. John’s River in Seminole County’s Black Bear Wilderness Area will provide a great opportunity to view many of Florida’s native species. The trail system in this 1600 acre Wilderness Area winds through a Hydric Hammock, Wet Prairie, and Cypress Swamps. Because it is established on levees, it stays dry most of the year. However, it can experience flooding during the wet season since it is located within the St. Johns River’s floodplain. Blue Blazes will show you the way along this remote trail and boardwalks provide a dry passage over wet areas.
The Black Bear Wilderness Trail plays an important role in connecting the Ocala National Forest with the Wekiva / St. John’s basins. Look for River Otters, American Alligators, White-tailed deer, and Swallow-tailed Kites. We hope you are the lucky ones who get to see a Florida Black Bear in the wild.
The Leavenworth’s tickseed is an endemic flower that provides food for several pollinators. It can usually be found in pine flatwoods where the soil is dry but can adapt to other regions. Here we have pictures with a species of fruitfly, Dioxyna picciola and a Green sweat bee, Agapostemon splendens. Most flowers are produced in spring but flowers can be found year-round. Have you spotted these beauties anywhere around the state?
Just northeast of Brooksville there is a beautiful tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest waiting to be explored. The Croom Wildlife Management Area is made up of 20,000 acres along the winding Withlacoochee River in Hernando and Sumter counties.
There are 31 miles of hiking trails, 64 miles of biking trails, 43 miles of equestrian trails along with the paved Withlacoochee State Trail. Camp at one of 5 camping areas, launch your boat or canoe from one of 3 boat ramps or enjoy a thrilling ride at the Dirtbike and ATV area. A four-wheel drive is recommended if you prefer to drive through the sandy roads.
Walk, bike or ride through the Longleaf Pine forests, admire the many Cypress trees, and stop by Silver Lake. Watch for fox squirrels, deer, turkeys, alligators, and swallow-tailed kites. Bring your dog on a leash – they are allowed in most places, a picnic lunch, and enjoy your day outdoors at The Croom Wildlife Management Area.
Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is native to Florida from the panhandle through Central Florida. It occurs naturally in soil that is rich in calcium carbonate and in moist areas.
Before cold weather arrives they will lose their leaves to reveal brownish flaky bark with dark reddish-brown twigs. Among the first plants to bloom in spring, the Red Buckeye is an important early source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Fruit appears in the fall and when split, reveals a seed that resembles a chestnut.
Red Buckeye is a gorgeous addition to your native plant garden. It is a fast-growing plant and can be grown from seeds. Red Buckeyes can be maintained as a shrub or allowed to grow into a tree. The plant grows quickly, thrives in moist, rich soil and partial shade. Irrigation may be required in full sun or dry areas. When planning your garden, you may want to consider the leaves and seeds from the fruit contain saponins which are poisonous to humans and pets.
Once a wet prairie that was part of the St John’s River flood plain, Orlando Wetlands Park in Christmas Fl is now a man-made wetland treatment system that attracts over 230 species of birds.
Orlando Wetlands Park has quite a history. It was originally settled in the 1830s. In 1837, Fort Christmas was erected by the Army. When the Civil War was over, settlers drained the land for agriculture. By the early 1900s, the land became an open range for cattle while red cedar trees and pine trees were being cut down for lumber. By the 1940s a dairy farm was operating on the property. With a growing population, the city of Orlando and surrounding communities needed a larger and more efficient treatment facility. The City of Orlando purchased 1650 acres from Ft Christmas, converted 1220 acres of pasture back into wetlands, and named it Orlando Wetlands Park.
35 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater makes its way through 3 wetlands communities each day. The ecosystems include a mixed marsh, wet prairie, and hardwood /cypress swamps. A 100-acre lake was also established. As the water makes its 30-40 day journey through the park, nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other residual nutrients, are removed before the clean water spills into the St Johns River.
2.3 million aquatic plants, including 200,000 trees were planted during the construction of Orlando Wetlands Park. Look for pickerelweed, duck potato, cattails, and giant bulrush. Trees include cypress, pop ash, and water hickory.
Animals abound at Orlando Wetlands Park. Over 18 species who are federally or state listed live at the park. Blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, black-bellied whistling duck, roseate spoonbill, black-crowned night heron, American bittern, wood stork, sandhill crane, bald eagle, great blue heron, red-shouldered hawk, osprey, common gallinule, and coot are some of the birds you may encounter. Be on the lookout for raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and alligators along the roads and hiking trails.
Open daily from sunrise to sunset, Orlando Wetlands Park offers wonderful opportunities for wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There is an education center, guided tours, pavilions, picnic tables, and interpretive signs for your enjoyment.
The Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is often found in the suburbs or city parks. They thrive in woodlands near rivers and in swamps.
With just a touch of red on their bellies, these woodpeckers are easily identified by the beautiful black and white barred pattern on their backs. Males have a bright red crown and nape. Females have a pale white crown and red nape.
A mated pair will work together to build a nest. Often the male will excavate several holes in a dead tree or fence post and the female will choose the best one. She may also select a nest box or a previously used nest from another woodpecker. Once the nest is complete, the female will lay 4-5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs with the male usually taking the night shift. In about 2 weeks, the eggs hatch. Both parents feed their babies until they leave the nest in 3-4 weeks and for up to 6 weeks after.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers love insects. Look for them on branches and tree trunks as they pick at bark for food with their bills or perch while eating berries. Other food may include acorns, nuts, fruit, and seeds. Occasionally, these woodpeckers may treat themselves to a tasty bird egg, a tree frog or oozing sap.
The next time you are outside, look up. You may get to see one of these beautiful, acrobatic birds in action.
Blowing Rocks is a barrier island composed of Anastasia limestone shores which can produce spectacular dances of waves as they thrash against the stone and bounce higher than a house.
In 1969 Jupiter Island residents donated 73 acres of land towards conservation. The land would become a haven for endangered species such as the green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles. It also houses one of Florida’s most endangered ecosystems, the sand dune. Volunteers over several decades have removed Australian pines and Brazilian pepper, invasive species to Florida. The dunes were restored with sea grapes, sea oats, beach sunflowers, and bay cedar.
There are many activities that you can take part in at Blowing Rocks Preserve. The park attracts nature photographers, hikers, campers, snorkelers, and bird watchers. Have you visited Blowing Rocks Preserve? Tell us what your favorite part of the trip was.
Striped Mud Turtles, Kinosternon baurii, are small turtles who grow to only 4″ -5″ long. They usually have 3 visible stripes on their shells and 2 yellow stripes on each side of their faces. These native semi-aquatic turtles live in and near brackish and freshwater in ditches and ponds. Dinner consists of algae, snails, insects, worms, seeds, and carrion.
Females may travel up to 820 feet away from the wetlands to lay a clutch of 1-6 eggs. Temperature determines the sex of the embryo. The embryo may pause its development until the correct temperature is reached. Incubation lasts from 2 1/2 to five months. The hatchlings are about 1′ long and may take more than a year to leave the nest.
Striped Mud Turtles depend on waters with low saline content. This makes them especially vulnerable in the Lower Keys where sea level rise is expected to cause saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats. More intense storms will cause many of the low-lying areas to be inundated with saltwater thus making the ecosystem uninhabitable for Striped Mud Turtles. Human-caused pollution and oil spills also threaten these little turtles.
Striped Mud Turtles spend much of their time underwater and can often be seen in the shallow waters. When in wetlands keep an eye out for movement in mud, marshes and wet fields and you may meet a new wild turtle friend.
Soras, Porzana Carolina, are chubby little birds who spend most of their time hidden in marshes. Their distinctive whistles can be heard often near ponds, rivers, and other marshy areas. When they finally appear, Soras move their heads forward with each step and flick their tails to expose the white undersides. They are striking birds with a black mask and a bright yellow bill.
After the male and female complete their courting ritual, the couple builds a nest of grasses and dead cattails before adding a soft lining. The nest is well hidden in the dense marsh, often among cattails, and is placed a few inches above the water. Incubation begins as soon as the first of 10-12 eggs are laid. As the eggs hatch, one parent will incubate the remaining eggs while the other will care for the hatchlings who leave the nest. Both parents will feed the hatchlings for 3 weeks before the young ones learn to fly.
Soros dine on a variety of foods. Seeds, insects, snails, and aquatic invertebrates are some of their favorite foods. They forage on the ground, in the water, on plants, and in the mud.
Brooker Creek Preserve is the largest natural area in Pinellas County. Surrounded by urban development, this 8700 acres of wild Florida protects much of the Brooker Creek Watershed.
There are trails for everyone at Brooker Creek Preserve. Explore the preserve via boardwalk or trail. Two trails are nearly 5 miles long. Shorter hikes vary from the .1 mile bird path to the 4 mile Pine Needle Path. Equestrians can enjoy over 9 miles on one of two trails that wind through fields and pinelands.
There are 4 distinct ecosystems within the Preserve. The Forested Wetlands is made up of a creek system with 13 meandering channels. Water flows through the channels during the rainy season of May through Oct. Fish, birds, and other wetland inhabitants thrive in the wetlands. The Pine Flatwoods is a sunny area alive with saw palmetto and native grasses. Gopher Tortoises enjoy the grasses as well as the leaves and fruits from the plants that grow here. Be sure to look for the threatened Catesby’s Lily.
Cool off in the Oak Hammocks where tall oaks block the sun. Watch for turkeys and white-tailed deer foraging for acorns among the leaf litter. The Cypress Dome boasts Black Gum, Bald Cypress, and Buttonbrush. Look for an abundance of wildlife in this cool and moist swamp. Dragonflies, frogs, spiders, marsh rabbits and owls thrive here.
Interpretive Trail Signs along the paths show how everything in nature is connected. Discover how your yard can expand wildlife areas, how human choices are impacting the watershed, and how water connects all of us.
Plan your visit. See the schedule for annual events and programs, download a map, reserve a guided tour or sign up for classes at the Environmental Center http://brookercreekpreserve.org/
Meet Katy! A Katydid to be exact. Listen to her chirp and you will hear “ka-ty-did.”
Katydids love to hang out on palmettos, scrub oaks, vine-covered undergrowth, and in damp areas. They are solitary and sedentary creatures. Their coloring provides a wonderful camouflage from predators and humans. The veins in their wings mimic the veins in leaves. This makes it easy to blend in with the tree or plant they are resting on. Katydids are tasty treats for birds, wasps, spiders, frogs, and bats.
Katydids are primarily leaf eaters and feast most often at the top of trees and bushes where there are fewer predators. They will dine on an occasional flower and other plant parts.
Katydids are related to grasshoppers and crickets. Like their cousins, Katydids have strong legs and jump when they feel threatened. They are poor flyers but their wings allow them to glide safely from a high perch to a lower one.
You can find Katydid eggs attached to the underside of leaves. They resemble pumpkin seeds and are lined up in a row. Adult katydids have a lifespan of about 4 to 6 months. They can grow up to 4 inches long and their antennas can be double the length of their body.
Katydids are nocturnal. The next time you go outside after dark, take a flashlight. How many Katydids can you find in your yard? When you spot one of these beautiful insects, be sure to say hi to Katy.
The Resurrection Fern, also known as. the Miracle fern lives on branches and trunks of trees. Live Oaks and Cypress Trees are their favorite hosts. They have been seen growing on rocks and on the sides of buildings. Resurrection Ferns are air ferns that attach themselves to a host plant or rock and will get moisture and food from the air and rain. They will also gather nutrients that collect on the outer part of their host. The fern does not steal any nutrients from its host and therefore will not harm the host.
Have you seen ferns that are curled up, brown, and appear to be dead? Simply add water and they miraculously uncurl and resurrect to a live, healthy, green fern.
Resurrection Ferns can lose up to 97% of their water content and still come back to life when water returns. In contrast, most plants can only lose 10% of their water content before their cells collapse and they die. Like all ferns, Resurrection Ferns reproduce from spores.
These ferns can be found from Florida to as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. They are so fascinating that in the late ’90s, NASA sent a Resurrection Fern on the space shuttle Discovery to watch it miraculously come to life in zero gravity.
The Halloween Pennant Dragonfly (Celithemis eponina)—- This not-so-spooky dragonfly gets its name from it’s orange and black coloring. Yellow markings can be found on females and juvenile males. As males mature their coloring starts to turn a more vibrant color of orange. This is the largest species of pennant dragonfly in eastern North America. They can commonly be found around lakes, streams, or other wetland areas and are most active in the morning.
Native to South Florida, the Gumbo Limbo tree, Bursera simaruba, is a striking addition to landscapes south of Tampa Bay. Also known as the West Indian Birch or the Turpentine Tree, Gumbo Limbo Trees quickly grow to 50-60′ tall with a round canopy. They are extremely wind tolerant and are recommended as a hurricane-resistant species. Gumbo Limbo trees can be grown simply by sticking sprouts in the dirt.
Gumbo Limbo trees prefer sun but quickly adapt to shady, moist, dry, and slightly salty habitats. They are easily recognized by their reddish-brown bark which peels to reveal a beautiful green wood beneath. Vireos and Mocking birds dine on their deep red fruits during summer and fall. Gumbo Limbo trees are naturally found in coastal hammocks, tidewater areas, and mixed forests.
Fiddler Crabs, genus Uca, live in the tidal sands of mangroves and salt marshes. They are experts at sensing the ebb and flow of the tide because their survival depends on it. Although they have gills, Fiddler crabs can drown if there is too much water. At high tide, they retreat to their 12″ burrows in the sand and seal the burrow with mud or sand.
During low tide, colonies of Fiddler Crabs get down to business doing their part for the ecosystem when they come out in the hundreds to work and eat. To build and maintain their burrows, they use their small claws to move sand to their mouths where they strain and extract nutrients. Clean sand pellets are spat out. Although their diet consists of algae and decomposed matter, Fiddler Crabs are tasty meals for shorebirds, fish, and land mammals such as raccoons and foxes.
Female crabs incubate eggs for 2 weeks. During high tide, the female will release the larvae who will float away. In a few weeks, the surviving young crabs will drift back to shore and join a Fiddler Crab colony.
Male Fiddler Crabs have one oversized claw that looks like a fiddle. While it is sometimes used to defend against other male crabs, the large claw is primarily used in courting rituals. To woo his desired female, the male Fiddler crab will dance while waving his giant claw until the lady agrees to join him in his burrow.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge -Sanibel Island
Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling convinced President Harry Truman to protect environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island from developers. In 1945 President Truman signed an Executive Order, and J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge was created. Today, it is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers refuge to countless animals, including those who are threatened or endangered. There are over 245 species of birds in its 6400 acres of mangrove forests, open waters, tropical hardwood hammock, seagrass beds, freshwater marsh, and Mudflats.
Federally and State listed species seek haven at Ding Daring Wildlife Refuge. Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, Roseate Spoonbills, Burrowing Owls, West Indian Manatees, Sanibel Island Rice Rats, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles make their homes here. Aboriginal prickly-apple and Barbed wire cacti are protected from development within the refuge. Visitors from all over the world travel to Sanibel to catch a glimpse of and photograph The Big 5: the American White Pelican, Mangrove Cuckoo, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
Calusa Indians once made their home in the hardwood hammock among Gumbo Limbo trees, Strangler Figs, and Sea Grape trees. Take a short walk down the Shellmound Trail and discover remnants of shells which along with other waste, grew into mounds. The change in soil chemistry and height created a subtropical maritime hammock.
The 4-mile wildlife drive offers visitors the opportunity to drive, bike, or hike along the paved road. There are plenty of spaces to park and get out of your car for wildlife viewing. Four walking trails: the Indigo Trail, the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, Shellmound Trail, and Wulfert Keys Trail are accessible from the wildlife drive. A 90 minute guided tour aboard a tram is available. Walk or bike the Bailey tract to enjoy freshwater plants and wildlife. Launch your canoe, kayak, or boat or take a guided canoe, kayak or paddleboard tour at one of the designated sites.
Cormorant is derived from the Latin word corvus which means raven and marinus which means sea.
Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus, are brownish-black with black webbed feet and legs and a reddish-orange face and beak. You will often find them floating low in the water or with their wings outstretched along the shores of coastal areas, rivers, swamps, and lakes. Because their oil glands do not waterproof their rings, cormorants will find a sunny spot to dry their wings.
Cormorants may feed alone or in flocks. Finding their favorite foods, fish and invertebrates like shrimp and crabs, may require them to dive up to 60 feet and remain submerged for more than a minute. Cormorants are not picky eaters and their diets vary by season. They enjoy treats such as eels, plants, frogs, and an occasional snake.
Courtship is a big deal for Sea Ravens. A Male will use his wings to splash, swim in zig-zag patterns, and dive for vegetation to present to a female. He will crouch at his chosen nest site and call out to his desired female while vibrating his wings. Nesting usually takes place in a large colony which is sometimes shared with other wading birds. Using twigs, sticks, seaweed, and grass collected mostly by the male, the female constructs most of the nest in a tree or on the ground near the water. Cormorants incubate their 3-4 eggs with their webbed feet. Both the male and female will feed the chicks until they are about 10 weeks old and ready to leave the nest.
Before 1966 populations significantly decreased from hunting and pesticides such as DDT. Today, cormorants are once again widespread and abundant. This heartwarming story of the Sea Ravens who not only survived persecution from humans but who are now thriving can be repeated with today’s endangered and threatened animals. It’s up to us to teach folks of all ages to #connect, #respect, and #coexist with our wildlife and within our shared ecosystems.
White-tailed deer are found throughout Florida. They are most often seen at dawn, dusk, or on overcast days near the edge of a forest where they browse vegetation and can quickly run back into the forest to avoid a predator. Some of their favorite foods include twigs, leaves, acorns, mushrooms, and fruit. Deer are herbivores and enjoy many of Florida’s native plants including buttonbush, tupelo trees, beautyberry, and persimmons.
In northern Florida, male deer can reach weights of 190 pounds although the average weight in Florida is 115 pounds. The average weight for a female is 90 pounds. White-tailed deer in Florida are smaller than their northern relatives because their bodies have adapted to the steamy temperatures. Their smaller bodies allow deer to use less energy to regulate their body heat. Adults are 55-80″ tall.
Male deer, known as bucks, grow antlers to establish dominance and attract does. Their antlers begin growing in the spring and will grow a velvet-like tissue. The tissue will dry up and the buck will scrape it off by rubbing his antlers against a tree. The smooth, hard antlers are then ready to be used to fight if another male is pursuing the buck’s desired doe. Antlers are shed in late winter or early spring. They will regrow within 6 – 8 weeks which is perfectly timed to the beginning of the breeding season.
Deer breed from September to March. Gestation lasts approximately 200 days and the doe will give birth to 1-3 fawns. Fawns will start foraging with their mother at 3-4 weeks and are weaned at 2-3 months old. They will set out on their own when they are 6-18 months old
White-tailed deer get their name from the white on the underside of their tail. To alert other deer of possible danger, white-tailed deer will raise and wag their tails like a flag. You may also see them stomp a foot and hear them snort. Their predators are panthers, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, and humans.
Fun Fact: Fawns are born with no scent. To keep her fawn safe from predators, the doe will hide her fawn in tall vegetation. She will visit the fawn several times a day to nurse but will leave quickly so her scent does not attract predators. If you find a fawn hidden among the brush, leave it alone and know that mom will soon return. #NatureKnowsBest!