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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

Cantankerous Puffs of Adorable

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way. —John Muir

We’re finally getting drenched with some much-needed rains in South Florida — the swamps and Everglades are thrilled, I’m sure of it. Last Monday alone, we received ten inches from the sky… TEN INCHES. That kind of downpour creates flash flooding, and the accompanying high winds (and lovely lightning) can wreak havoc on birds’ nests.

During a quick visit to the wetlands between the raindrops, it was obvious that there was much repair to the nests being done throughout the preserve. As I was blankly staring at a turtle (I love our turtles), I caught some commotion deep within a Pond apple tree, one that’s been an annual home to nesting Green herons. Mom had just returned with branches to repair the nest, and her little ones were obviously expecting food — and visibly unhappy about the sticks over the food.

Baby Green Heron in Pond Apple Tree, Florida Wetlands

On the lookout for mom

All babies are sweet, but Green heron babies are little cantankerous puffs of adorable.

Baby Green Heron in Pond Apple Tree, Florida Wetlands

She’s not that way, either…

And back she flew to the wetlands, to high commotion, for more nest-building materials. So much work to be done; babies still needed their food….

Baby Green Heron and Mother in Pond Apple Tree, Florida Wetlands

Honestly, mother.

[For all you locals: If you’re as fascinated by the area’s water cycle and flow as I am, check out Go Hydrology in my “Florida Nature Blogs” to the right — fantastic daily updates and general information!]

A Cormorant’s Dream

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our cormorants are some of the most personable birds of the wetlands. As common as they may be in this area, they’re fascinating and sweet creatures.

Sleeping Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Hello, sweet one

I caught this serene cormorant — or “shag” (referring to the bird’s crest, which is lacking in the British forms of the Great Cormorant) — as he was preparing for the evening in the local wetlands.

These medium-to-large coastal (rather than oceanic) seabirds are plentiful in southeastern Florida, and can often be seen diving for fish and other aquatic grub. After fishing, the cormorants dry their wings ashore in the sun and in the trees (similar to the cormorant-like anhingas), as their feathers don’t possess the waterproofing oil of other seabirds.

Preening Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Preening time

Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

One last look to the setting sun

Sleeping Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Nodding off

Sleeping Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Snooze

Check out their beautiful and distinctive turquoise eyes that fade quickly after the breeding / nesting season.

Humans have long used trained cormorants to fish the waters of China, Japan, and Macedonia. Trained by fishermen, a snare is tied near the base of the bird’s throat, allowing the bird to swallow only small fish. When the bird captures and tries to swallow larger fish, the snare doesn’t allow the fish to be swallowed, and it becomes stuck in the bird’s throat. The cormorant is forced to return to the fisherman’s boat, where he helps the bird regurgitate the fish, removing it from its throat. Traditional cormorant fishing isn’t as common a method today — with the development of more efficient fishing methods — but it remains a tourist draw. However, the method is still practiced in some Japanese regions, and has continued uninterrupted for 1300 years in Gifu City, in Gifu Prefecture.

Purple Gems

[Many thanks to fellow bloggers for alerting me to a glitch here, which broke readers’ feeds; If you’re interested in viewing a few posts that didn’t make it to your Reader, visit Recent Posts below, from “The Show” forward, or simply click Unfollow & Follow, and they’ll appear. Or scroll! Thanks to WP for the fix.]

Purple Gallinules are one of the shyer creatures of our wetlands, and to spy one is always fun. It’s ironic that they’re so timid, given their bold coloring. But it’s always a joy to watch these purple, blue, and green gems — especially since they’re my favorite colors, wrapped up into one bright little bird.

Purple Gallinule, Green Cay Wetlands, FL

I am spectacular, yes

Purple Gallinule, Green Cay Wetlands, FL

Perhaps you need to see me at a different angle, to fully comprehend my beauty

These lovely creatures live in the freshwater marshes of the southeastern United States, as well as in Central America and the Caribbean. There’s no mistaking this medium-sized rail, with its purple-blue plumage, green back, pale blue forehead, white undertail (of which I’ve caught more than one glimpse), bright red and yellow bill, and long yellow legs. The juveniles sport blander, brown colorations. The  gallinules’ long legs make them *seemingly* awkward fliers, so short bursts of activity are their mode of transportation — or swimming like a duck if they’re not navigating the marsh with those dangling legs. They nest in well-hidden floating constructs in the wetlands, laying 5-10 eggs.

Purple Gallinule, Green Cay Wetlands, FL

Dinner-time in the duckweed at dusk

Purple Gallinule, Green Cay Wetlands, FL

Heinie-feather shot in the duckweed

The Purple Gallinule is omnivorous, eating the seeds, leaves, fruits, and grains of both aquatic and terrestrial plants; they also enjoy insects, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms, fish, and even the eggs and young of other birds. When I see them in our wetlands, they’re often alone, nestled in the vegetation and cackling away — or being chased by other birds, most often by their sister species the Common Moorhen.

Purple Gallinule, Green Cay Wetlands, FL

Munching on blossoms in the wetlands

Fun Fact:

Despite the appearance of an awkward flier, Purple Gallinules have flown far from their home tropical marshes. They’ve turned up in the northern U.S., Canada, and even Europe and South Africa!

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Dusky Beauties, or: Please Don’t Talk Smack About Our Coots

Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius. —Edward O. Wilson

I’m easily distracted by critters — no matter how common they may be. It could be an Eastern Harvest Mouse that grabs my attention for a half-hour. On a recent stroll around our wetlands, I was entranced by the coloring of our very common American Coot, as a mating pair stood in the shallow waters at dusk. Their dark grey / black feathers, white bill, and red eyes against the darkening waters of the approaching night sky was lovely. It wasn’t a Great egret in full breeding plumage, no…. But just as striking.

American Coot, Florida Wetlands

A seemingly perturbed, but lovely, Coot

There weren’t many other human visitors, but I managed to attract a doozy. Off-season, I’m alone in the wetlands; during the season, I’m accompanied by a bevy of snowbirds. A female leaned over to see what I was engaged with — it had to be an exceptional find, after all — and *snorted* before replying to her equally charming companion: UGH! UG-AH-LY! And BORING. WHAT’S THE POINT?!? I was ready to say the same about her outfit, but she stomped off to insult some other hapless bird in the nature preserve before I could reply.

American Coots may be common in certain areas — in Florida, for instance, they’re year-round residents — but ugly? Boring? Unnecessary? Honestly. Do I go to your home state and randomly insult the poor animals? No. And not to be trite, but ALL creatures deserve our respect. Just because they’re common doesn’t mean that they’re 1) not beautiful and 2) not imperative to the ecosystem.

American Coot, Florida Wetlands

Listen to Stuart Smiley, Mr. Coot — you’re just lovely

As such, here are a few tidbits about these petite and lovely obsidian creatures, courtesy of Cornell, to dispense with those boring and unnecessary commentaries:

  • Coots have a profound ecological impact in the wetlands: One estimate from Back Bay, VA, suggests that the local coot population ate 216 tons (in dry weight) of vegetation per winter.
  • They’re long-living: The oldest known American Coot lived to be at least 22 years, 4 months old!
  • Looks like a duck, swims like a duck, but….: Coots don’t have webbed feet. Each one of the coot’s toes has broad lobes of skin that help it kick through the water; these broad lobes fold back each time the bird lifts its foot, so it doesn’t impede walking on dry land, though it helps to support the bird in the mucky wetlands.
  • Coots help science! Because coots are so common and widespread, scientists will monitor them as a way of tracking problems in the environment at large.

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

Wail of the Limpkin

Floridians know their cries well. And if you live near water, it’s always a lovely wake-up call, this startling wail. Their wail is the sound of the Everglades and of Florida.

The Limpkin (also called carrao, courlan, and crying bird) is found primarily in wetland habitats, from Florida to northern Argentina. While doing well in areas south of here, this bird is considered SCC — a species of conservation concern — in Florida. This, due to the severe decrease of its primary diet — more on that later — but there is hope for these sweet birds. As with other natural wanderers, I’m seeing them feeding in more creative areas, including canal banks. They’re adapting to their habitat loss, hopefully. Here’s to restoring more of their land, and continuing to protect it for future generations.

Limpkin, South Florida

A Limpkin rests precariously close in the alligator-infested waters of Grassy Waters Preserve

Limpkins inhabit freshwater marshes and swamps, as well as mangroves. The bird averages 25–29 inches in length, and boasts a wingspan of 40–42 inches. Primarily nocturnal, Limpkins are strong flyers and swimmers, and with their long toes, they are able to stand on floating vegetation — which also makes them easy prey for alligators. They wade and forage in the shallow waters, seldom submerging themselves more than halfway. Look for them probing for food in the clear waters, amid the vegetation.

These birds feed primarily on molluscs, and insects, frogs, lizards, and worms when needed. But their diet is dominated by apple snails, which the bird’s bill is perfectly adapted to, since it acts like tweezers. The best way to find Limpkins is to find apple snails — rarely broken in the quick feeding process, these giant snails are a sight unto themselves. Apple snails include species that are the largest living freshwater snails on planet Earth. They’re big.

The survival of the Limpkin depends on these snails — everything is intertwined in Nature. Disturb one facet, a chain reaction quickly begins, and all is upset.

Apple Snails, Riverbend Park

Limpkin Leftovers: Apple Snails in Riverbend Park. Or, as I call them: Giant Alice-in-Wonderland Snails

Fun Facts:

    • The Limpkin’s name is derived from a perceived limp when it walks.
    • These birds — Aramus guarauna — are the only surviving species in the genus Aramus and the family Aramidae.
    • Recent DNA studies have validated a close relationship with cranes, although the Limpkin is often confused with the immature American White Ibis.
    • The Limpkin’s cry is infamous: It has been used for jungle sound effects in the Tarzan films, and for the hippogriff  in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
    • Want to hear the echoing cry of a Limpkin, so very common to our area? Click here!
Limpkin, South Florida

Limpkin ready for his close-up in the protected wetlands

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