Monday, January 20, 2014

I Can't Say that my Life has had No Egrets

Jan. 19 Full sun, 70F

Pelican Island National Wildlife Sanctuary

Last week, the focus was on barrier islands. At that time, my exploration had gone no further than Round Island, on Hutchinson Island in Indian River County. That range is now expanded with the inclusion of the USA's oldest National Wildlife Refuge, created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Roosevelt was a visionary and a pioneer in North American conservation. His accomplishments were the inspiration for all that followed:  the expansion of parks and refuges; and legislative/administrative innovations.

The full history is a most compelling story. Read about the first caretaker. Pelican Island deserves its own biopic.

There are three trails in current day Pelican Island NWR. The trails extend for 7 miles. I traversed the full 7 miles.

The first trail, Bird's Impoundment Trail, is a path through the Indian River Lagoon mangroves. There are three mangrove species (plus Buttonbush, which is a cousin): Red, Black, White.

 Red Mangroves, Rhizophora mangle, are in the harshest inter-tidal environment, with their prop roots anchoring the plants in the very salty waters of the lagoon. The prop roots enable the plant to spread and occupy most of the shoreline in an appropriate lagoon environment. In turn they create, with their prop roots, and foliage density, an excellent nursery and safe haven for most species...thus enabling the bio productivity and diversity of coastal Florida.

The Red Mangrove's close relative, Black Mangrove, Avicennia germinans, lives in the slightly less harsh layers on the near shore. The distinguishing adaptation of the Black Mangrove is long horizontal roots and root-like projections known as pneumatophores. These projections cover the ground amongst the trees, enabling rapid growth of new Black Mangroves should some be taken out. Both of these trees are so dense, that they create, as well as safe haven, a modified micro climate. Brutal summer heat, hurricanes and winter cold are all tempered by Mangroves.

Remarkably, the Red Mangrove excludes salt at the root surface, thus absorbing only fresh water. The Black and White Mangroves excrete salts at the leaf, White Mangrove through glands at the base of each leaf, and Black Mangrove on the upper leaf surface. If you walk along this trail and see the lighter green leaves of the Black Mangrove, note that the upper leaf colour is dependent on excreted salt concentrations. After a dry winter week, you may see salt grains on the leaves. Even after a dry day or two, lick a Black Mangrove upper leaf, and you will notice a very salty taste.

The White Mangrove, Laguncularia racemosa, is not common along the Pelican Island trails. It occurs at the highest elevations of the 3 major species. It is not common here since it is the least cold tolerant. It also has no visible aerial roots.

Both Red and Black Mangroves reproduce through unique structures called propagules. These are “mini” trees, ready to grow immediately. In a previous edition, I included a photo of a Red Mangrove propagule on a local beach. Currents distribute them throughout the tropical oceans. Here are some at various stages of development on the tree on the trail:

Red Mangroves in Lagoon Shallows

Many Mangrove Buckeyes were seen, then this butterfly appeared.  It was rather beat up. Even so, I was happy to see it, as it was the first Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta,  of this stay in Florida.

It continued to be an unexpected butterfly day with another trip and Florida first: a Julia, Dryas iulia, which was behaving as the textbook claims, flying along the path visiting every Bidens alba,  Beggars Ticks, the white flower seen here.

Botany fans, much special for you too on this trek.  Another pantropical plant, the Caesalpinia bonduc or Yellow Nicker, a bean. Touching the unripened pods, shown here, is not recommended.

At one of the few spots I could see out into the lagoon (only where water management culverts are installed), the reason for the title of this edition:

Followed by yet another southern butterfly (clearly they were enjoying the modified climate amongst the mangroves)...this one is a Great Southern White, Ascia monuste.

I then moved on to the 3-mile Joe Michael Memorial Trail. Joe was another remarkable man central to the additional lands that now make up the Pelican Island NWR.  Beginning in 1959, Joe, a local citrus grower, began an 8 year campaign to stop State-sponsored development and dredging of the Lagoon and organized local conservationists to gain federal protection of the lands that make up the modern NWR.  Remarkably, there is a spot called Joe's Lookout on this trail.  It is a well chosen spot.

Here it is:

Here are some of the winter residents:

No Egrets....Joe's winged friends include Lesser Scaup, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper and Northern Shoveler. Thanks Joe, a true man of action.

Not to be outdone by birds, the local mammalians sent forth one of their own to make an appearance.  I expected a Marsh Rabbit, and I was surprised to see a Cottontail.

Then two surprises towards the end of Joe's trail. The first, a bird that is difficult to photograph, a Ground Dove.

Just like the finale of a fireworks competition, the trail ended with a true sensation:

The Spotted Beebalm, Monarda punctata, is seen in small numbers throughout much of Eastern North America, including Ontario and Quebec.  In Florida, it blooms  in January. A fine day with some egrets.