Monday, April 7, 2014

Wetland Wonders-Florida Edition

Our recent trip to Florida left me with a deeper appreciation for the diversity of life that thrives in our wetlands. How wrong was the earlier national policy that wetlands were a wasteland to be eradicated for the betterment of our nation.  So, I've pulled together some of the images that speak to the wonder seen in wetlands.

First, there is the Tricolor Heron that dances across the mudflats with wings spread to stir up small fishes.  Shall we dance?

Along the perimeters of the coastal wetlands, one finds the Phoebe on its return travel northward. It announces its name so sweetly and clearly -  Phoe---bee!  She's coming home to New York in April as the warmer weather arrives. Entertaining to watch the Phoebe catching insects.

Another  bird that I miss in  winter is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; it is found on the edges of the wetlands.  I am thinking she somehow makes the biting gnats less overwhelming up here in New York in May and June.  Photographing the bird is a challenge, as it is always flitting about after nearly invisible prey.  Beautiful color too!

These are all easily located and commonly found over a wide range.  While at Merritt Island, we did -- finally! -- find the elusive and threatened Scrub Jay. They have a very narrowly defined habitat that has been widely destroyed to make room for more condos and golf courses in Florida. The refuge does annual controlled burns to maintain their habitat.  It was a pretty hot midday when we finally found them.  (One actually perched on Pam's head. Best to omit any photo of that! )

Now, the wetlands also have some interesting mammals - some welcome and some, well, not so welcome.  One less wholesome example is the feral pig.  They  won't win any beauty contest unless another pig is doing the judging.  I was happy to be in the safety of my car.

I'll wrap this up with the high point of our time in Florida.  We'd stopped at the well-known Viera wetlands (a waste water treatment facility).  These are huge wetland ponds built to reduce nitrate levels before the water returns to the aquifer and are a haven for a wide variety of birds, and we learned, other wetland animals.  There, basking on a grassy bank after its morning dust bath, was a River Otter.  Oh, wow!  It was not skittish either as it lounged in the morning sun before returning to the marsh. Note the dusty blue on its nose.

I consider the River Otter to be the highlight of a wonderful visit to the Space Coast.



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