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Posts tagged ‘wetlands’

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


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

Part of:

Gentlemen of the Wetlands

Wood storks (Mycteria americana) — or American Wood ibis — are large wading birds native to North America, found from the coast of South Carolina, throughout Florida, and west to Texas. These guys are unmistakable — standing at three-and-a-half feet tall, with a wing span of at least five feet, they’re a stately presence in our wetlands. They have heavy, long curved beaks and a nearly featherless head, and are covered in white feathers, with black feathers on the wings and tail. They can be awkward in flight, but graceful on land, daintily and slowly placing one leg in front of the next as they make their way through the shallow wetlands.

Wood stork of the Florida wetlands: A gentleman

As one might imagine given their size, Wood storks are plentiful eaters, especially during the breeding season. They use their feet to stir the bottom of the shallow waters to collect their food, including fish, crayfish, lizards, tadpoles, shrimp, frogs, insects, and baby alligator. Feeding in waters no deeper than their beak, they use a technique known as “grope feeding” — because Wood storks don’t use their vision, but rather touch, to collect food.

Wood stork “grope feeding” in the shallow waters

Sadly, this gentleman wader is endangered: In the 1930s there were an estimated 60,000 Wood storks in the United States, but only 10,000 live today, mostly due to habitat loss and/or disruption of their environments. Like so many other species, the disappearance of the Wood stork would signal the loss of a crucial component of our wetlands.

Save the wetlands!

Fun Facts:

  • The reflex of a Wood stork’s bill after it touches food is considered the fastest of any reflex in the vertebrate world!
  • A typical Wood stork greeting involves both birds raising and lowering their heads, with bills agape.
  • Wood stork courtship involves bill clapping. Sometimes bill clapping is on the part of a male challenging other storks who may come too close to his chosen nesting site; other times, the loud and distinctive bill clapping can be heard throughout rookeries when the male uses his bill to strike the bill of the female.

Storms over the Wetlands

I love to take advantage of cloudy weather — one quickly learns to appreciate the clouds of South Florida, especially on longer hikes. But a sublime dark afternoon can quickly turn, forcing one to skedaddle for safety. But NOT before visiting with some perfectly wonderful critters. Here, in the protected wetlands I spied a momma gator and her 2-week old babies, and some lovely preening waders, preparing for their evenings. Images forthcoming; I was happy to contend with the rain for them!

Approaching storm over the Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Cloud cover isn’t dissipating. Hm. But I’m still with momma gator…

Florida’s clouds are fantastical and fabulous

Sigh. Guess it’s time to leave… Lightning over the Everglades, approaching the wetlands

Always a show

Tuxedoed Stilts

Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) are abundant residents of coastline, estuarine, and wetland habitats. They’re found across the country, from California to Florida, and through to Peru, northern Brazil, and the Galapagos islands. The Northern populations migrate south in the winter months.

Adult Black-necked Stilts have long pink legs, a thin black bill, and are white with a black cap, neck, and back. They forage in the shallow waters of our wetlands, wading and probing for aquatic invertebrates and small fish. It’s a common sight to see them resting on the small “islands” of our wetlands, surrounded by water. The nests are constructed by both the male and the female, at ground-level and often close to the water’s edge, in semi-colonial formations (loose clusters), with peak nesting activity in June.

Here, I came upon a young stilt carefully guarded by its parent. I didn’t stay long, because my presence — despite my great distance on *dry land* — was disturbing the adult. I love seeing these guys in our wetlands: always in pairs, tuxedoed, debonair and elegant, but oh-so-shy.

Fun fact: Proportionate to their bodies, silts have the second-longest legs of any bird — exceeded only by flamingos.

Black-necked Stilt (Adult) guarding its young

Black-necked Stilt (Adult) guarding its young

Black-necked Stilt (Juvenile)

Black-necked Stilt at dusk in the wetlands

Black-necked Stilt foraging for grub in the wetlands

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