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Posts tagged ‘tortoises’

It’s World Turtle Day!

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. ―Edward Abbey

Gaaa! Today — May 23, 2013 — is the 13 annual World Turtle Day! This special day was created to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.

I love our turtles and tortoises…. I grew up with the giant South Pacific sea turtles (MAGNIFICENT), and now, I always have towels in my car for the sole purpose of transporting wayward turtles on our Florida roads (especially during nesting season, poor babies). If you encounter and relocate one, remember to *always* move them to safety in the direction he / she’s heading. Wildlife needs every tiny bit of help we can offer. More from the Mother Nature Network, in honor of this day celebrating these wonderful guys:

“The earliest turtles evolved up to 300 million years ago, branching off from a group of reptiles more closely related to crocodiles and birds than to lizards and snakes. Lots of turtle species have come and gone since then, including some spectacular ones like the car-sized “coal turtle” or the Koopa-like Meiolania damelipi. But today’s turtles face an unusually widespread danger, with about half of Earth’s 328 known species listed as threatened or endangered with extinction. They’re largely under siege from humans, yet unlike King Koopa, they didn’t bring this on themselves….”

Red-bellied Turtle, Flamingo Gardens, Florida

A Red-bellied turtle finds sanctuary at Flamingo Gardens

Florida Cooter (Turtle) in the Florida Wetlands

A Florida Cooter safely surveys his domain in the wetlands

Visiting with an Ancient Tortoise at Flamingo Gardens, Florida

Visiting with an ancient tortoise at the Flamingo Gardens wildlife rehabilitation center and sanctuary, last year… I would have climbed in for cuddles, if possible.

Sea Turtle, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Juno Beach, Florida

A rescued sea turtle in rehabilitation at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach

And finally, one of my favorite guys: The always gentle and shy Gopher tortoise! I’m always trying to catch a glimpse of these sweethearts, and have written a few times in this blog about their essential role to our ecology, and the need for their continued protection.

Gopher (Burrowing) Tortoise, Savannas Preserve State Park

Trying my best not to frighten a Gopher (Burrowing) tortoise in the Savannas Preserve State Park


Read more about World Turtle Day, and protecting turtles and tortoises here
and here:

at Mother Nature Network, and at the

Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida, and at

World Wildlife Foundation, and at

Nature artist / writer Denise Dahn’s blog, learn about Gopher tortoises, and finally at

treehugger!

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

Protecting Florida’s Gentle Gopher Tortoises & Restoring Their Habitat

We often encounter gopher tortoises on our hikes in Florida’s natural spaces; not just in the far reaches — and there have been times when they’ve needed some help with humans’ encroachment into their land. This poor guy was trapped behind acres of personal enclosure, and had been trying to burrow in the mulch; there were dozens of failed holes to attest to his failed attempts. We stayed awhile, to see if he could manage an escape on his own (or if he was simply choosing that location), but then saw how the fence was buried, impeding his escape. Between the buried fencing, his constant dodging at the barrier, and the myriad failed burrows, it was easy to understand his dilemma. We quickly relocated him to a perfect burrow-able location nearby — literally five feet from his manic failed and impossible attempts behind the fencing, where his natural habitat awaited him. NOTE: With turtles and tortoises (of the water and land varieties), help them safely in the direction they’re heading. It would have been nice for the actual property owners to have accomplished this tiny feat, of course — it wasn’t difficult to witness the poor guy’s quandary (or his efforts); these aren’t small tortoises.

One of the oldest living species, the burrowing tortoise is found throughout Florida and southern Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and eastern Louisiana. They dig and live in long burrows in pine savannas, thus protected from summer heat, winter cold, fire, and predators. Gopher tortoises are essential to the local ecology — their burrows also provide homes for other animals, including indigo snakes, gopher frogs, mice, foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, quail, armadillos, burrowing owls, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, and other invertebrates. Their burrows — abandoned or shared — may be the homes to more than 300 species of animals at one time or another. Pretty amazing; and it’s easy to see how destroying the habitat of the gopher tortoise greatly alters the already fragile ecosystem.

Federally protected as a threatened species (FINALLY in Florida, where the status was “under review” for years), the tortoise’s main threat remains: Habitat loss and destruction. For instance, it wasn’t until 2007 in Florida, that developers were forced *by law* to relocate burrowing tortoises — until then, development could shockingly occur with no thought to the safety of the animals and the destruction of their habitat. It was only then that the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan was implemented.

But the wonderful news is that with the 2007 Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, 36,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat have been restored and managed, and the protected tortoise habitat continues to expand. More than 4,000 gopher tortoises have been humanely relocated from development sites, as well. A recent post on Southwest Florida Online elaborates on the plan:

Like a baseball player stretching muscles and practicing skills during spring training, the gopher tortoise is emerging from winter dormancy and moving slowly and steadily through the landscape in search of greenery to eat and a new place to dig its burrow.

Look for gopher tortoises’ distinctive domed brown shells and stumpy legs, as these land-dwellers make their way through Florida’s open canopy forests and sandy areas. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asks people to remember that gopher tortoises are good neighbors, and can live from 40 to 60 years, so leave them and their burrows alone.

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works with, and is grateful to, the homeowners, landowners, businesses and public agencies willing to share their lands with gopher tortoises and their burrows,” said Deborah Burr, the FWC’s gopher tortoise plan coordinator…

For the rest of this blog post and more on the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, visit Florida Restores 36,000 Acres For Tortoise Habitat.

For More Information:

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

Jonathan Dickinson & Riverbend: Natural Florida and an Awe-Inspiring Cypress Swamp

Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida, has been by far one of our favorite places to visit. Besides the vastness of the park proper, there’s a great extension of the Florida Trail — accessible through the park (under Indiantown Rd.), or attainable across the street (we jump the fence for more immediate access), near the Loxahatchee River. (The Ocean-to-Lake portion of the Florida Trail also runs behind the park, to the south.) But one of my favorite hikes is along the Old Indiantown Trail, also accessible across the street from Riverbend. It’s absolutely beautiful, replete with a gorgeous watering hole, canopy trees, old Florida growth, prairie, and miles of hiking, that lead into Jonathan Dickinson. Natural Florida at its BEST. It’s rarely traveled — we’ve never encountered another hiker past the watering hole.

During our most recent trip, the gopher tortoises were exceptionally active — we must have seen at least five in their burrows within as many minutes. One of the oldest living species, the burrowing tortoise is found throughout Florida and southern Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and eastern Louisiana. These tortoises dig and live in long burrows in longleaf pine savannas, thus protected from summer heat, winter cold, fire, and predators. Gopher tortoises are essential to the local ecology — their burrows also provide homes for other animals, including indigo snakes, gopher frogs, mice, foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, quail, armadillos, burrowing owls, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, and other invertebrates. Their burrows — abandoned or shared — may be the homes to more than 300 species of animals at one time or another. Pretty amazing; and it’s easy to see how destroying the habitat of the gopher tortoise alters the already fragile ecosystem. Federally protected as a threatened species EXCEPT in Florida, in which it is “under review,” the tortoise’s main threat remains: Habitat loss and destruction. For instance, it wasn’t until 2007, in Florida, that developers were forced *by law* to relocate burrowing tortoises — until then, development could shockingly occur with no thought to the safety of the animals and the destruction of their habitat.

But by far my favorite part of this particular hike was our segue from the trail, into an untouched cypress swamp. The trees were so enormous, that I’d like to think they were saved from the mass logging of so many of Florida’s virgin trees, during the 1920s and ’30s. The swamp was vast, secluded, and amazingly peaceful — it was hard to leave. Finding the not-so-small shedded snakeskin not far from the trail (possibly rattlesnake?) was another decent reminder as to why I *always* wear my hiking boots on these trips, regardless of the temperatures.

For More Information:

The Florida Trail & a Gopher Tortoise Rescue

Hiking Jonathan Dickinson State Park in the Riverbend area has provided us with some amazing scenery and images. This extension of the Florida Trail is accessible through the park (under Indiantown Rd.), or attainable across the street, near the Loxahatchee River (we jump the fence across the street for quicker access to the trail). The Ocean-to-Lake portion of the Florida Trail also runs behind the park, to the south. It’s a fantastic trail, with a gorgeous watering hole, canopy trees, old growth, prairie, and miles of hiking, that leads to Jonathan Dickinson. Natural Florida at its BEST. It’s rarely traveled — we’ve never encountered another hiker/kayaker past the watering hole.

During our most recent trip, we saved a gopher tortoise. One of the oldest living species, the burrowing tortoise is found throughout Florida and southern Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and eastern Louisiana. These tortoises dig and live in long burrows in longleaf pine savannas, thus protected from summer heat, winter cold, fire, and predators. Gopher tortoises are essential to the local ecology — their burrows also provide homes for other animals, including indigo snakes, gopher frogs, mice, foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, quail, armadillos, burrowing owls, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, and other invertebrates. Their burrows — abandoned or shared — may be the homes to more than 300 species of animals at one time or another. Pretty amazing; and it’s easy to see how destroying the habitat of the gopher tortoise alters the already fragile ecosystem. Federally protected as a threatened species (FINALLY in Florida, where the status was “under review” for years), the tortoise’s main threat remains: Habitat loss and destruction. For instance, it wasn’t until 2007, in Florida, that developers were forced *by law* to relocate burrowing tortoises — until then, development could shockingly occur with no thought to the safety of the animals and the destruction of their habitat.

This poor guy was trapped behind acres of personal enclosure, and had been unsuccessfully attempting to burrow in the mulch — there were dozens of failed holes. We stayed awhile, seeing if he could escape on his own (or if he was choosing that location), but then saw how the fence was buried, impeding his escape. Between the buried fencing, his constant dodging, and the myriad failed burrows, we quickly relocated him to a perfect burrow-able location nearby — literally 10 feet away his natural habitat awaited him, for pete’s sake. Rule of thumb with turtles and tortoises, help them safely in the direction they’re trying to head. It would have been nice for the actual property owners to have done so, of course; it wasn’t difficult to see the poor guy’s quandary.

We’ve also seen great horned owls, red-shouldered hawks, and alligator, to date, on this section of the Florida Trail — as well as a territorial pit bull during a brief stint of occupied home/farm ownership. Note to owners, or park management: Fix the freakin’ fence to prevent his escape. I’m sure the very nice farmer down the path would be equally grateful to have his chickens lay more eggs.

For More Information:

Canopy Trees and Live Oak Along the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Watering Hole, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Lovely Live Oak of the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Saving the Gopher Tortoise, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Be Free, Mr. Tortoise!

Cypress at the Watering Hole, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Dry Swamp Scene Along the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Opening to Prairie (and Sun), Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Sheltered by the Trees Along the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Watering Hole, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

A Lovely Vintage Along the Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

Hiking Trail, Florida Trail Extension (Jonathan Dickinson Trail)

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