Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Palm Beach County Jewels

January 2, 2014  Full sun, 85F 30C

Palm Beach County, Florida, is best known for opulence, luxury and the former spring training ground of the Montreal Expos.  Those attributes may describe the cities of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. The County is much larger than those two places.  It stretches west to the Everglades, Florida's immense wide, slow, shallow river. Most of south Florida's water is derived from the Everglades.  Also, a large area of the Everglades is committed to agriculture, mostly sugarcane.

In pursuit of better water management, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department and Park and Recreation Department have collaborated to create two large constructed wetlands and parks: Green Cay and Wakodahatchee. From the Green Cay Website:

"Water Reclamation
In addition to providing educational and recreational opportunities for the public and habitat for wildlife, the Green Cay Wetlands have been designed to naturally filter several million gallons of highly treated water each day from Palm Beach County's Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility. The wetlands also help to recharge groundwater resources and keep water in the earth's water cycle. To accomplish this, Green Cay incorporates 86 different species of trees, shrubs, grasses and aquatic vegetation. "

From the Wakodahatchee Website:

"Every day, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department's Southern Region Water Reclaimation Facility pumps approximately two million gallons of highly treated water into the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. By acting as a natural filter for the nutrients that remain, the wetlands work to further clense the water.
Traditional methods for disposal of treated wastewater have included deep injection wells or ocean outfalls. More recent emphasis has been placed on highly treating and reclaiming wastewater. The Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department is a pioneer in the fields of wastewater treatment and reclaimed water distribution for irrigation purposes. The Wakodahatchee Wetlands are yet another example of the Department's innovative and forward-thinking management philosophies."

Canadian municipalities have a lot to learn from this approach to water reclamation and management.

Today, I visited two of the Palm Beach County jewels: Green Cay, and  the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.  The latter protects 221 square miles of the Everglades.  The former is a 100 acre constructed wetland (compare to the typical storm water pond at home in suburban Kanata....each one is an acre or two).  Green Cay is covered by a large diversity of native plants, creating a large constructed wetland, through which extends 1.5 miles of boardwalk.  It has an interpretive center. The park attracts hundreds of visitors every day.

The diversity of habitats is a haven for many species of birds which move through or stay at the wetland in large numbers. Thirty-one species were noted during my 2.5 hours at Green Cay today.

Some of the highlights included the stunning Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

A little further along, an elusive Sora Rail showed itself.
Sora Rail

In the marsh, a Tri-coloured Heron was feeding.
Tri-coloured Heron
Pied-billed Grebes were actively feeding throughout.  One was too focused on food to emerge completely-it popped its head out for a breath of air before diving again.

Two views of Pied-billed Grebe
The sun today made the Glossy Ibis' so radiant!

Glossy Ibis

South of Lake Okeechobee, a most stately palm asserts its presence. A hammock at Green Cay is planted with them.

Royal Palm
Leaving Green Cay just before 4 PM, I made my way West along Atlantic Avenue to US441/SR7, turning north, and then turning into Bedner's Farm Store (I prefer eating local when  I can) where I "picked my own" as shown here.  The Strawberries should be ready in about two weeks!

While at Benders, seven Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) flew over.  It is estimated that 100, 000 of these introduced birds are now in Florida.

Just down the road from Bedners is the entrance to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.  After walking the Marsh Trail which fills with birds as the sun dips, I visited the small boardwalk where canoes and kayaks may be rented for a better tour of the Loxahatchee. My daily bird list expanded with a Peregrine Falcon, but no Snail Kite was seen by me.

At the boardwalk, a small crowd had gathered to see one of the Loxahatchee's best known residents, a 14 foot bull alligator lovingly called George by Refuge staff and volunteers.  Emily, the almost as famous soft-shelled turtle, didn't appear this time.

One of the group photographed your blogger at the rail - George's photo didn't rate.

The Pastel-coloured Sky and the Everglades with Blogger
The Bald Cypress grows in slightly raised habitats throughout the Everglades.

Bald Cypress
A flock of White Ibis fly towards their roost in the Loxahatchee.

A very good first nature trip in 2014.  A cold front will move through tonight dropping the temperature 30 degrees, with little recovery expected tomorrow.  Perhaps a good surprise or two will arrive with the fresh breeze.  A la prochaine.