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Preserving our Future: World Wetlands Day 2015

World Wetlands Day PosterA million HELLOS to the blogging community!

And happy early World Wetlands DayIt’s hard not to be passionate about the celebration of such an event, since all of what you see here — the unique landscapes and its wonderful critters — are dependent on wetland ecosystems. Officially February 2, World Wetlands Day is an international celebration of the planet’s marshes, swamps, and bogs. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. World Wetlands Day was first celebrated in 1997, and since then government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizens all over the world have aimed to raise public awareness of the critical value and intrinsic benefits of wetland ecosystems.

World Wetlands Day 2015 LogoDespite the growing awareness of this unique ecosystem, there are sobering threats facing the survival of our wetlands:

    • A 2011 federal study estimated the U.S. lost 62,300 acres of wetlands between 2004-2009 — a loss rate 140% higher than from 1998-2004
    • Wetland habitat has now been cut within the contiguous U.S. to 110 million acres…. And those surviving wetlands face dangers like hypoxia due to water pollution and invasive species. Pythons and melaleuca in the Everglades (among a host of other destructive non-native species), and nutria in New Orleans continue to ravage the structure of this ecosystem
    • Wetlands are extremely sensitive, and are counted as one of the most vulnerable ecosystems subject to climate change
    • Wetlands residents have suffered terribly due to increased habitat loss

      Preserving the future of the wetlands of our world: Mother and baby Great Blue Heron in the Florida wetlands

      Preserving the future of the wetlands of our world: Mother and baby Great Blue Heron in the Florida wetlands

From the Ramsar website:

Wetlands InfographicTHE FUTURE OF HUMANITY DEPENDS ON WETLANDS

They purify and replenish our water, and provide the fish and rice that feed billions. Wetlands act as a natural sponge against flooding and drought, and protect our coastlines. They burst with biodiversity, and are a vital means of storing carbon. Unfortunately, these benefits are not widely known. Often viewed as wasteland, 64% of our wetlands have disappeared since 1900.

Help us turn the tide on the loss and degradation of our wetlands. Join us for World Wetlands Day 2015 – and beyond! Here’s how you can get involved: #WorldWetlandsDay #WetlandsForOurFuture

 

There’s much that can be done to restore and protect this vital habitat — check out your local resources, visit your neighboring natural areas, and above else, LOVE YOUR WETLANDS and their amazing inhabitants!

For more information and wonderful educational and marketing materials, visit World Wetlands Day 2015, and on Facebook: RamsarConventionOnWetlands

The lush Florida wetlands — a treasure to conserve

The lush Florida wetlands — a treasure to conserve

A Heavenly Hardwood Swamp

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. —
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In honor of the Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, who met after a long correspondence on May 20, 1845…and began one of the most celebrated love affairs in history. After much wooing, Browning finally convinced a shy and skeptical Barrett that he loved her “for naught except for love’s sake only.”

* * *

I readily admit that my sense of direction is horrible. Which makes wanting to explore the more off-beaten trails a bit…difficult, to my family’s tremendous concern. There’s a lot of backtracking! But in visiting these places, a vision of natural Florida is allowed — and it’s divine.

Outside of the *ridiculous* number of gargantuan mosquitoes that swarmed as I carefully crept into this lovely swamp, it was a treat. I only hope that any human male who shows an interest in me in the future, will also understand my occasional mosquito attacks (not pretty). And the spider bites. And occasional wasp stings. I should seriously consider paramedics or forest rangers as potential dating material.

Cypress Swamp, Cypress Creek Natural Area, Florida

A still-dry cypress swamp in the Cypress Creek Natural Area

I recently hiked through one of my favorite habitats, a hardwood swamp. Various hardwood trees and a mixture of hardwoods and Cypress can be found here, including Water hickory, Holly, Maples, Oaks, Cabbage palms and Bay trees, accompanied by a dense understory of vines, ferns and herbaceous plants. Hardwood swamps occur on floodplains or upland areas that are lower than the surrounding area. And it’s home to so much life — the sounds coming from the trees were just lovely.

Hardwood Swamp, Cypress Creek Natural Area, Florida

Looking up into the canopy of the hardwood swamp

Yet another breathtakingly beautiful Florida habitat to witness and love — and above all else, protect and preserve.

It’s World Wetlands Day!

Hikers Across the World Celebrate World Wetlands Day

Hikers honor World Wetlands Day in Israel in 2012; their poster announces “Ramsar day — Israel 2012,” and features a recently-discovered endemic species, the Hula Painted Frog. Courtesy Wikipedia.

It’s hard not to be passionate about the celebration of  World Wetlands Day, since all of what you see on this blog, the unique landscapes and its wonderful critters — are dependent on wetland ecosystems! Officially February 2, World Wetlands Day is an international celebration of the planet’s marshes, swamps, and bogs. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. World Wetlands Day was first celebrated in 1997, and since then government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizens all over the world have aimed to raise public awareness of the critical value and intrinsic benefits of wetland ecosystems.

World Wetlands Day Poster, 2013

World Wetlands Day Poster, 2013

World Wetlands Day 2013, from the Ramsar / World Wetlands Day Website (Click to download poster)

Despite the growing awareness of this unique ecosystem, there are sobering threats facing the survival of our wetlands:

    • A 2011 federal study estimated the U.S. lost 62,300 acres of wetlands between 2004-2009 — a loss rate 140% higher than from 1998-2004
    • Wetland habitat has now been cut within the contiguous U.S. to 110 million acres…. And those surviving wetlands face dangers like hypoxia due to water pollution and invasive species. Pythons and melaleuca in the Everglades (among a host of other destructive non-native species), and nutria in New Orleans continue to ravage the structure of this ecosystem
    • Wetlands are extremely sensitive, and are counted as one of the most vulnerable ecosystems subject to climate change
    • Wetlands residents have suffered terribly due to increased habitat loss. Throughout Florida for example — just to pick one critter — we witnessed a dramatic decrease in the populations of the already-endangered Wood storks, due to the decline and destruction of their homes, as well as what many believe to be extreme weather patterns (dry winter / wet winter) in the last few years. Like so many other wetlands-dependent species, the disappearance of the Wood stork would signal the loss of a crucial component of our wetlands. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom for this gentleman stork, as he appears to have returned this year — hoorah! Fingers crossed that our healthy wetlands will maintain their nests — and that awareness and education will help other species (though perhaps not quite as handsome as my gentleman, below).
Wood Stork in the Florida Wetlands

Wood stork at home in the wetlands

Wood Stork in Flight, Rookery Trail, West Palm Beach, Florida

Wood stork returning to its nest

There’s much that can be done to restore and protect this vital habitat — check out your local resources, visit your neighboring natural areas, and above else, LOVE YOUR WETLANDS and their amazing inhabitants!

The theme for the 2013 World Wetlands Day is Wetlands Take Care of Water. Wetlands provide critical functions, including groundwater replenishment, water purification, flood control, and nutrient storage. They also offer biodiversity, if allowed to flourish. But their health depends on the quality and quantity of the water that reaches them.

For more information, visit World Wetlands Day 2013

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RamsarConventionOnWetlands

Visit Mother Nature Network’s article Happy World Wetlands Day, in which our very own Green Cay Wetlands is highlighted!

Wading Friends at the Cypress Creek Natural Area, Jupiter, Florida

Friends of flight at the Cypress Creek Natural Area in Jupiter

Tree Tuesday: Slash Pines of the Pine Flatwoods

Many of my hikes and images are shot in this ecosystem, and I adore these trees — but in all honesty, show me a tree I don’t love!

Pine flatwoods represent the most extensive ecosystem in Florida, and are distributed over 50% of the state’s land area. As their name implies, flatwoods have a low and flat topography, punctuated by differing kinds of pine, depending where  you are in the state. I’m in the south, so it’s the slash pine that dominates this habitat!

Slash Pines of the Pine Flatwoods, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park, Florida

Slash Pines and Saw Palmetto of the Pine Flatwoods in Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

These flatwoods, or pine barrens, were created by changes in the sea level during glacial times — as the sea levels increased, expanses of land flooded, and sand was deposited. As the waters receded, early species such as pine trees were able to establish themselves in the sandy soil.

Pine flatwoods are consistent: Layered, with high canopies of pines, a lower shrubby layer, and an herbaceous layer. They’re dotted with cypress domes (a cypress swamp in the shape of a dome), cabbage palm flatwoods, marshes, and other habitats. This is truly a fascinating ecosystem, and one that weaves so many others together.

And while today’s flatwoods are less extensive, with more shrubby groundcover than in times past, they continue to be a vital ecosystem in Florida, covering vast expanses of land. Beginning in the 1950s, developers here discovered that this land was easy to cut and clear in enormous swaths — sadly, they haven’t forgotten. Doesn’t the world needs another empty strip mall and golf course?

Flatwoods rely on controlled, or prescribed burning to maintain its community of pines, grasses, and herbs — and to prevent the forest from being overgrown. Controlled burns are vital to new growth, as well. Pine flatwoods continue to be fascinating areas to hike, each one being new; you never knows when you’ll encounter a swamp, open flatwood, or more of these beautiful trees — or the wonderful wildlife this ecosystem supports….

Controlled Burned and Thriving Slash Pines at Bluefield Ranch Natural Area

Controlled Burned and Thriving Slash Pines at Bluefield Ranch Natural Area

To learn more about the Pine flatwoods, visit:

Critical Habitat Protection at the Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park in Stuart (Martin County) is a must-visit: a gorgeous area encompassing 5,800 acres of pristine wetlands and uplands, which provides critical habitat for endangered species of animals and plants. The ecosystem encompasses pine palmetto flatwoods, wet prairie, sand pine scrub, oak hammocks, mixed hardwoods, and freshwater marshes. It includes one of the largest areas of natural land remaining near the Florida Coast.

The natural Atlantic Ridge ecosystem is comprised of 16,000 acres in its entirety. Outside of the already-acquired 5,800 acres, some more areas are on the county’s list for lands to be acquired for purchase of conservation lands and parks — so keep your fingers crossed, because this is some truly beautiful pristine land. The Hobe Sound Irrevocable Trust is proposing to give away approximately 2,300 more acres, enabling the county to provide additional public access to this park, and to preserve the environmentally sensitive land in perpetuity as part of the State park system. The donated lands will create a wildlife, greenway, and recreational corridor running north from Halpatiokee Regional Park (also in Stuart) through the Atlantic Ridge State Park, and south to Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Pine Flatwoods, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Pine Flatwoods (Tree = Tree)

Pine Flatwoods, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Pine Flatwoods

There’s always an exchange: here, it’s houses. In exchange for the conservation lands, the remaining 400 acres will become a new community, the Atlantic Preserve. This new Planned Unit Development (PUD) will contain 650 homes.

Prairie, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Prairie

But for the 2,300 acres of donated lands that will be protected in perpetuity, this area will serve as the missing link that will connect the Atlantic Ridge State Park ecosystem. This area includes the headwaters of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River and the Loxahatchee River — the first nationally designated “Wild and Scenic River.” The donation and preservation of this land is critical in the ongoing efforts to restore the historic waterflow of these ancient waterways.

Pines, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Into the Pines

Prescribed Burning Signage, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Prescribed, or Controlled Burning Signage

Many animals make their homes in these protected and pristine acres, including anhingas, egrets, herons, owls, hawks, sandhill cranes, and osprey. Bobcat and coyote are also abundant, but as always, these guys were shy as ever. It was equally wonderful to see such healthy and abundant Native flora for the wildlife.

Coyote Prints, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Lots of coyote prints, but no real critter… Drats!

Feral Hog Trap, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

(Invasive) Feral Hog Trap… Here, piggie piggie

Hmmm

Really have to take that Naturalist Class….

Hmmmm

Suggestions?

Click Here for a Map to the Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park.

The only other people I saw here were on horseback — two of them! But be forewarned, having learned this from the ranger…. Apparently the Palm Beach Hunt Club likes to visit on the occasional Saturdays with their 20-something dogs and horses, spreading a scent and letting their collared dogs run free throughout the Preserve. Needless to say, I’ll never be visiting this location on any Saturday. I’m VERY confused by the County allowing this practice — that is, allowing a HUNT CLUB and their dogs roam free in sensitive, threatened habitat, with wildlife?? Am I missing something?

There’s one public access point, via Cove Road in South Stuart. Before entering, make note of the fee required at the honor station. ALSO: Call Jonathan Dickinson State Park at 772-546-2771 for the entry gate code. Sometimes the gate is closed upon entry, sometimes it’s open. Either way, you NEED THIS ENTRY CODE to leave via a locked gate!

Slash Pine Close-up, Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park

Slash Pine Close-up

A Walk Through an Endangered Scrub Community

We recently visited one of  Palm Beach County’s many preserved swaths of pristine Florida land, the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area. Thanks to Tropical Storm Debby and other interesting recent weather patterns, we’ve been afforded some great hiking weather — CLOUDY! TS Debby brought us massive rains and winds (and she snapped my lovely, towering Japanese Sunflower plant — GR!), but we’ve been able to accomplish longer hikes than we normally would have at this time of the year.

This particular area was never developed, and saw minimal agricultural use throughout the years. Purchased in 1999 in a growing effort to protect and maintain threatened and endangered biological communities in the county, we’re thankful to be afforded this glimpse of natural Florida. Located on a sand ridge that was once an ancient shoreline, 97 acres of Florida scrub and scrubby flatwoods communities have been incorporated and are now protected at the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area — as are the threatened Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise, both victims of years of over-development and lack of protection.

Scrub and scrubby flatwoods habitats are two of the rarest natural communities in Florida, with less than 2 percent remaining in Palm Beach County. Truly phenomenal, when you wrap your head around it.

The area has quite an interesting history (for more info, visit another post of mine on this natural area — Endangered Native Florida Ecosystems at the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area). During this dusk outing, we were alone (the sky was sputtering), and we encountered many gopher tortoises returning to their burrows, hunting hawks, and thousands of dragonflies. Altogether a wonderful early evening in a most unique and beautiful land.

Scrub and Scrubby Flatwoods

Gopher Tortoise Returning to Its Burrow

Slash Pine Profile

Ground Cover Blossoms

Scrub and Scrubby Flatwoods

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

A Trail Offering

A Lovely Old Slash Pine

Someone’s Meal, So Perfectly Arranged

Tricolored Herons: The Grown-Ups

Tricolored Heron (Juvenile) in the Florida Wetlands

As recently mentioned — in Tricolored Herons: The Young Ones — there are a few physical differences between the juveniles and adults of the species Egretta tricolor.

Beautiful blue feathers cover most of this heron’s body, save a white-striped chest and belly, and a rust-colored neck. The juveniles eventually lose much of the rust coloring, with only a bit of the hue peeping through the slate blue feathers as they age. The eyes of the juveniles are a yellowish-white, turning brown with pink inner margins into adulthood. Males and females of the species look alike.

Below, an adult female carefully watches over her nest, recently built with her mate and filled with a precious cargo. Another fishes in the brown-tinted waters of the wetlands (hued as such by the mangroves and other tree roots) — most likely a parent, as both Tricolored Heron males and females hunt for their young.

We’re fortunate to have secure and protective habitats for these most lovely creatures; without continued preservation efforts however, many amazing and unique ecosystems — the Everglades, Longleaf Pine, Scrub, Mangrove, and more — will remain in decline. As they disappear, so do the plant species and wildlife that depend upon them for survival. According to the study Endangered Ecosystems: A Status Report on America’s Vanishing Habitat and Wildlife, Florida contains ecosystems at the most risk. There are no other Everglades; it behooves us to not only protect what’s left, but to return what we’ve so rudely taken.

Tricolored Heron (Adult) in the Florida Wetlands

Tricolored Heron (Adult), Nesting in the Florida Wetlands

Tricolored Heron (Adult), Fishing in the Florida Wetlands

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