Friday, January 17, 2014

Barrier Islands, Birds and Botany

January 17, 2014 Sunny 66F

On warm days, the local barrier islands beckon. There are two: Hutchinson Island and Jupiter Island which are separated by the St. Lucie Inlet. Hutchinson Island (Jensen beach to Vero beach) contains many public beaches, preserves and parks. Some of these visited to date are Walton Rocks, Bathtub Beach (south end of the Island), Round Island (in Indian River County, as far north on the Island as I have been), and Fort Pierce State Park. 

Cultural note: Hutchinson Island is where the original base and training facilities were for the US Navy UDT, founded during World War 2. In 1962, President Kennedy changed the UDT into the US Navy SEALS special force. SEAL, by the way, is an acronym for Sea, Air and Land. An excellent museum has been built on the original site. People will recognize in the museum yard two “practice” space capsules, as it was the UDT-SEALS who recovered astronauts who landed into the Atlantic after their missions.

Jupiter Island, at its north end, is the major part of the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is contiguous with the St. Lucie Inlet State Park. Further to the south, in the middle of the very upscale homes is the Nature Conservancy's Blowing Rocks Preserve, carved out of land donated by Jupiter Island residents.

Cultural Note: many celebrities live in this community. You may see a famous golfer at the local golf club; a Quebec chanteuse; and a film actor known for his centerfold photo in Cosmopolitan.

From the north end of Hutchinson Island to the south end of Jupiter Island, enough climatic change occurs to create a significant difference in the biota, with more tropical species at Blowing Rocks. One may assume the 50 miles distance is responsible for this. This has a small influence, Much more important is the Florida Current, a warm ocean current which emerges form the Gulf of Mexico, and is, even in winter, close to the shore at Jupiter Island, but 20 miles off shore at the north end of Hutchinson Island.

At Round Island, you see a natural large area of Mangroves. Red Mangroves and their White and Black cousins, create, within the lagoons and quiet beach areas, the cradle and the safe haven for life to develop, multiply and feed. Most of the biological diversity owes its existence to the modifying climatic and habitat features of the Mangroves. Across the Indian River Lagoon at D J Wilcox County Preserve, fish, fish-eating birds and dolphins abound. I always take the opportunity to explain to fisher people that the excellent local fishing is entirely due to the great job of preservation of the mangroves by public bodies, notwithstanding great development pressures.

Jan and I met Tony and his friend Roy at the D J Wilcox fishing/wildlife viewing pier. While we chatted, Tony hooked and landed a very exciting large fish, seen here. I have seen fishing shows dedicated to this species. Many fishers spend thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars to catch one. They are highly protected under Florida law, and Tony did the honourable thing-he released it as it is out of season.

Readers, I leave it up to you to identifying this fish (comment or email). I will let you know who gets it right, and reveal the species name then. Tony isn't eligible!

Barrier islands along the south Atlantic coast and through the Gulf of Mexico, attract a lot of resort and vacation development, so conservation is a challenge. The islands and the lagoons between them and the mainland, are some of the riches and most biologically diverse sets of ecosystems on Earth.
An excellent web resource about North American barrier islands:
These Sanderlings, a bird that nests at the northernmost extremity of terrestrial Canada, but spends most of its time on North American beaches, at Bathtub Beach. Also, my nominee for Canada's cutest bird:
Often mixed with the sanderlings on beaches is the Ruddy Turnstone:
And the larger, peripatetic Willet, a Prairie nester:
Chasing larger fare, there are many Osprey inhabiting the Lagoon:
And, at D J Wilcox, the salt water pond behind the Lagoon has exposed mudflats at low tide, where the Least Sandpiper feeds:
While a roosting Yellow-crowned Night Heron emerges for an instant to take a look (Round Island):
And the Mangroves are also home to the Mangrove Buckeye butterfly:
At Blowing Rocks, Canavalia maritima, Beach Beans climb onto the Sea Grapes (not pictured). While, on the lagoon side, Pithecellobium keyense, Blackbead abounds this time of the year. This plant is native in North America, ONLY to SE Florida, and most are seen here and south. The "keyense" species name refers to the Florida Keys:
And for the marine mammal fans, the above Common Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncates, enjoys chasing fish at D J Wilcox's part of the Indian River Lagoon.
Thanks to Jan's keen eye, we spotted these tracks on the D J Wilcox trail.  Guess what they are. Answer in the next edition. Extra points for probable candidate prey, evidenced by the scat at the lower part of the photo.
Let me know if you have preferences for future editions. Enjoy the weekend.