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Posts tagged ‘ecosystem’

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

World Ocean’s Day 2012

Today is World’s Oceans Day: Natureview photography reminds us of the importance of the world’s oceans, and threats to this ecosystem under attack. He highlights an albatross in a beautiful image — a most amazing creature. I’ll never forget my first view of an albatross in the middle of the South Pacific, thousands of miles from any major land mass; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Natureview photography

Today is World’s Oceans Day, a day to remind us of the richness of the world’s oceans. But also a day to remind us how we use that richness, or better, misuse it…. Mankind has thought for a long time that there was so much fish in the ocean that we couldn’t possibly have a lasting impact on these populations. Now it’s starting to get obvious this is not the case. It is hard to get proper estimates of world populations of fish (how do you count those?), but it’s getting clearer and clearer that most populations are declining. This will also have an effect on the seabirds feeding on this fish. Now already are 81 of the 131 species within the order Procellariiformes (tubenoses) categorized as being threatened in any way by the IUCN (red list categories between near threatened and extinct. All 22 members of the family Diomedeidae (albatrosses) are…

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Endangered Native Florida Ecosystems at the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area

Aerial View

Palm Beach County has managed to preserve several swaths of pristine Florida land, and the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area is one such example. This land 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 for their efforts, and to be afforded this glimpse of native 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 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.

History

Entering the trail area from the parking lot are two observation towers; the vantage point overlooking the natural area from the towers allows visitors to view the land as it would have appeared pre-development. Educational plaques around the towers explain the region’s history (as well as that of the Town of Hypoluxo), beginning with the early settlers in 1873 to the 1960s. Standing guard in front of the observation tower is the looming Barefoot Mailman statue, in honor of the 19th-century men who delivered mail on treacherous routes — 3-days each way, and involving nearly 100 miles of unpaved roads and alligator- and shark-infested waters. As the plaques state, the land that is now the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area was once owned by Andrew Garnett, James Edward Hamilton, and James Porter; Garnett and Hamilton eventually won contracts to deliver mail from Jupiter to Miami. (Remnants of Porter’s homesite are still visible at the location.) The northernmost portion of the “Sand Road,” built in 1892, signaled the end of the barefoot mailmen and is located within the park (and is the only section of the road that’s actually still sand). An additional sweet smaller sculpture greets visitors to the natural area, one by Chrisanthy Vargo depicting a scrub jay, a fox, bromeliad, and a tortoise — life of the scrub.

Trails, Flora & Fauna

Paved Cottonweed Nature Trail

The .2-mile paved Cottonweed Nature Trail trail leads from the observation towers, and is lined with gopher tortoise burrows. While there are definitely areas within Hypoluxo Scrub that are shaded, much is exposed to the open sun — so an early morning or late afternoon/early evening hike are usually ideal, at least from our experiences. It’s a beautiful casual venture, and a great opportunity to explore this endangered ecosystem. Our preferred hike is the 1.5-mile natural Eastern Pondhawk Trail loop, which provides a lovely view of pine and scrubby flatwoods. Several other paths loop off the main trail as well, but be aware of crushing any fragile tortoise burrows and delicate and vital scrub plants.

Even on the sandy scrub trail, bright flowers spot the landscape: Cottonweed, Prickly pear, Netted pawpaw, Gopher apple, and Honeycombhead flash all shades of yellows, whites, and reds across the sand. The area is great for birdwatching, although during our last visit the impending rain seemed to quiet the wildlife. However, on a previous walk towards the back of the park, we saw a large flash of tan… Of deer? Or of leaping fox?

Hours & Location:

150 Hypoluxo Road, Lantana, FL (just west of Federal Highway)
Open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week
Admission: Free

For More Information:

Observation Tower from the scrub

Netted Pawpaw

On the trail

Slash pines against the sky

Scrub environment leading to flatwoods

Slash pines

Scrub environment

Gopher tortoise burrow

Air, Water + Earth: The Savannas

Despite our fanatical hiking throughout South Florida, we had never investigated the Savannas — and within the space of one week, it came up in conversation no less than three times (once from a fellow blogger). Obviously a sign! We were insanely lucky to visit on a cool, cloudy, and windy day after an unseasonably warm (read: HOT) spell. We investigated a few trails from the Education Center, as well as further within the park. Afterwards, we drove towards Jensen Beach to check out Hawk’s Bluff, also part of the park and an extension of the Florida Trail. Located along the eastern edge of the Savannas, Hawk’s Bluff is a lovely 1-mile loop trail, marked by sand dunes and oak hammocks, leading to the water’s edge overlooking the Savannas. If anyone has suggestions for other trails and access points, please give a shout!

Managing nearly 6,000 acres, the preserve represents the largest and most ecologically intact swath of freshwater marshes, or “savannas,” that once extended along Florida’s entire southeast coast. Looking across their lovely vastness today, it’s downright depressing to picture the hotels that currently reside in their place. The open wetlands filter rainwater and runoff from the surrounding dunes and pine flatwoods, creating a unique biological community — an endangered landscape — as they continue to preserve and feed vital waterways and ecosystems, including the Atlantic scrub ridge, freshwater marshes, and the estuaries of the St. Lucie Inlet. The preserve is comprised of six natural communities: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, basin marsh, marsh lake, sand pine scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. While each community is home to its own fauna and flora populations, the sand pine scrub habitat represents an increasingly imperiled ecosystem, and shelters several of Florida’s most threatened and endangered animal and plant species. The Savannas’ many wildlife species include the threatened Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises, alligators, deer, and sandhill cranes. American bald eagles have recently made their homes in the preserve, as well — the nests of several pairs are located in the more isolated areas. The park is also one of the few remaining natural habitats in the U.S. for the endangered (and inedible) prickly apple cactus (Harrisia fragrans), which grows along the Atlantic Ridge in the scrub regions.

Being a chilly and windy day, we didn’t run into too many critters, but I did manage to spot a few (with some trees thrown in for good measure):

Green-on-Green Dragonfly

Water Flower

Rat Snake Catching Some Sun

Palm and Savannas

Live Oak on the Hawk’s Bluff Trail

For More Information:

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