Friday, September 28, 2012

Urban Wildlife: September 28, 2012

We are in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida visiting my brother Jim.  You wouldn't expect much wildlife in Southern Florida, but we have spent the last three days exploring the natural areas around Jim's home.  On our first evening we took a walk to Frenchman's Forest Natural Area.  A cement walkway leads trough Oak, Palm and Pine forest.  One bush had brilliant purple berries which we later found out is called American Beauty Bush.

We walked out to a boardwalk through a Cypress Swamp but had to make a hasty retreat back to the parking area as the mosquitoes descended upon us.  Back at the parking area we saw a Black Racer snake slither off into the undergrowth.
The next day we drove up to Jonathan Dickinson State Park about 30 minutes north.  We had our choice of activities, kayaking, canoeing, hiking or biking.  We chose to kayak down the Loxahatchee River.  We were hoping to see Alligators but we didn't get far.  We heard thunder in the distance and decided to return to the River Store.  We drove to the parking area for the Observation tower.  Along the way was a gopher Tortoise grazing along the road.  We stopped to take a photo.
A park employee stopped and asked if we were seeing anything good.  I replied "a Gopher Tortoise".  He commented that "they are all over the place".  I said "what do you mean, they are an endangered species and we certainly don't see them in Vermont!"  We climbed to the top of an observation tower on Hobe Mountain.  At 86 feet, Hobe Mountain is the highest point south of Lake Okeechobee!  We had a nice view of the surrounding sand pine scrub.
Today we stayed closer to Jim's home and visited John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.  As we approached the Visitor's Center we came upon a White Ibis family probing in the leaf litter. 
Again we chose to kayak.  This time instead of a river we were kayaking in a brackish estuary.  We couldn't venture too far as the tide was going out and we didn't want to get stranded.  We saw many birds including an Osprey perched in the mangroves.
We got too close to a Little Blue Heron and he flew off squawking loudly, not before I snapped this photo of him.
There were many herons hiding in the Red Mangroves.  Many flew off before I could photograph them.  This immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron was an exception.  He allowed us to get quite close and take a photo.   No doubt we disturbed his daytime slumber as these birds are nocturnal.
We're getting this kayak thing down.  We don't zigzag nearly as much and manage to avoid most obstacles.  Although, we did bang into a cement piling of the pedestrian bridge.  Fortunately, we sustained a small scratch (on the boat) only.  Marc is looking like a real kayaking pro.

I was able to get a few more photos of birds.  The first is a Brown Pelican in the mangroves and the second is another White Ibis.

We did see other birds such as Tricolor Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Roseate Spoonbill and Anhinga that I was not able to photograph.  As the tide was going out we kept on getting stranded on sandy shoals in the lagoon. We headed back to the Visitor's center to return our kayak.  On the porch were many Golden Silk Spiders in their nests.
Although harmless, they look quite frightening.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.  In a place as crowded and developed as South Florida, animals and birds manage to thrive given a little protected space.   

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