NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND ~ WHERE THE ONLY ICE YOU SEE IS IN YOUR DRINK

On A1A, where bars and boatslips bustle around the clock and markets sell carambolas in outdoor bins, a mangrove forest invites you in for a walk on the wild side.
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I may be a greenhorn in these parts but it’s pretty obvious that Florida is a bird watcher’s paradise.  Loads of pinewoods and maritime hammocks, swamps, salt marshes and beaches provide vital breeding, overwintering, resting and refueling sites for wading birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. I discovered that there are 7800 lakes, 1200 miles of coastline, 825 miles of beaches and 11,000 miles of waterways, plus the showy Everglades. Heaven.

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I hiked the trail at the Bear Point Sanctuary near Ft. Pierce. ‘Hike’ in Florida has a whole other meaning. It’s so not about the climb. Surprisingly enough, even though the elevation might only reach 300 feet, pretty dynamic environmental changes occur. 

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As for terrain, sometimes there’s slippery mud. Oh, and unexpected wading, clearing the path of spider webs, and fending off problematic critters.

The sanctuary was purchased and restored with funds from St. Lucie County, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Communities Trust. Known for its large mangrove forest that is a habitat for fish and wading birds, it’s part of the 2,000-mile Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) that connects and unifies over 500 birding and wildlife viewing sites throughout Florida. 

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Tropical strays like the Loggerhead Kingbird and Thick-billed Vireo make their way onto birders’ life lists around here. If you’re alert (and lucky) you might even see a Rufous Hummingbird, a Groove-billed Ani or a Green-tailed Towhee.

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I follow the unpaved trail in pursuit of all things intriguing.  It leads to an observation platform on the impoundments and two great viewing spots along Bear Point Cove ~ an elevated viewing tower….

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…and a 500-foot fishing pier.

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Wood Storks, Great Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills are common in the canals and lagoon.  Reddish Egrets, Green Herons and Night Herons skulk in the mangroves. 

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I didn’t see a bear. Most folks haven’t. The sanctuary is named for the last recorded Native American Black Bear hunt on Hutchinson Island.  It’s also a mitigation site for enhancing water quality and wildlife habitat, lush with mangroves.

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The Black Mangrove sweats out excess salt through its leaves.  On a hot day, you can run your finger on the top of a leaf and feel the salt. (I’m a sucker for new words, especially scientific ones, in Latin, like pneumatophore, that pencil-like root you see above.)IMG_2168Red Mangrove trees shelter small fish and crustaceans.  You can identify a red mangrove by its prop roots that help it stand in water.

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I startled this guy on the trail, his gray body lifted up and took wing right under my nose.

Nota bene ~ the mystery and beauty that is Florida’s wild side.

 

Toni 1/30/14