THE REAL TREASURE OF THE TREASURE COAST

Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety—

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

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I’m trying to be more like Mary Oliver.

Happiness, check.

Kindness, check.

Waking early, well, I’m working on it.

Like today.  Hello, morning.

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I wanted to get out into the lagoon.  Motivation enough to rise and shine early.  OK, earlier than usual.

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I’m on board The Sunshine Lady with Captain Nancy ~ Coastal Master Naturalist, certified marine mammal observer and wildlife monitor.  Her mission, her passion, is to promote a healthy, sustainable environment for coastal and marine wildlife through research and education.

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Nancy came to Florida. She got a captain’s license, bought a boat and started Sunshine Wildlife Eco-tours before most people knew what ecotourism was.

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The Indian River Lagoon, the most diverse estuary in North America, is Captain Nancy’s life radius. And it’s my backyard. The estuary is home to more than 4,000 species of plants, birds, animals, and fish ~ bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, sting rays, otters and manatees. There are even oyster beds. “Each adult oyster bed cleans 50 gallons of water a day,” she explains, “which got me to wishing I hadn’t eaten a dozen raw oysters the previous night.” She also explains that the estuary is under assault from development, pesticide and fertilizer run-off, and dredging. 

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Don’t try to honeyfuggle Captain Nancy when it comes to the lagoon.  This activist knows it inside and out.  The once pristine estuary is under serious pressure from industry, agriculture and human negligence. But she knows it’s not too late to save it. “People don’t pollute because they don’t care, they pollute cause they don’t know better,” she says.

 

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Nancy’s boat is designed so that it does not harm sea grass beds or the endangered manatees that make their home in the lagoon. 

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I barely noticed the coastal mansions that edge the lagoon. I was too caught up in Captain Nancy’s stories. She shares her opinions, experiences and observations on everything from run-off into the lagoon~ “I’m proud of Martin County for having more stringent fertilization restrictions than the state” ~ to boating ~ “Manatee Zones are blatantly disregarded” ~ and sea wall construction ~ “What are they thinking?”.

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The 40-foot Sunshine Lady pontoon stops at Bird Island, one of the most diverse rookeries in the state. At least 14 bird species roost and nest here, including roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons and the American woodstork, one of the threatened/endangered species on the island. 

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While we cruise, Captain Nancy passes around manatee and pelican bones and talks about water quality issues. After trolling a small net, she empties her ‘catch’ into small scopes that magnify plankton and zooplankton and we examine what she calls the nursery of life.

622113405“There were once 3,000 manatees in the estuary and now we’re not sure what the population is.” The water is only three feet deep in spots, making it impossible for them to avoid propellers. Posted signs tell boaters to restrict their speeds but not many slow down. You know we did.

Captain Nancy says there’s some good news for the Indian River Lagoon. Mangrove restoration projects are progressing and several counties passed stringent ordinances to restrict the use of fertilizers.

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I think the best news is that Captain Nancy is steadfastly going the distance to defend the fragile balance of the lagoon.  She’s the Indian River Lagoon’s Propagator of Good.  Star of the lagoon, best preacher that ever was.

Toni 3/7/14

STALKING THE SANDHILL CRANE

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I’ve come to the Indrio Savannahs Preserve to catch sight of a sandhill crane.

IMG_2320 297 acres of scrub, flat woods and a lake. Three and a half miles of trails through pine, palmetto and scrub oak. It’s bewitching. 

The preserve is a jumbled mess that looks like it’s either just past its prime or not quite there yet. Spindly oaks that are hundreds of years old sway in the breeze.  Saw palmettos wave at the sky, waist-high scuffles of Stegosaurus-like plates. Every so often, a bare patch of fine white sugar sand carpets the trail.

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Along the lake and depression marshes, birders come to see waders, migrant ducks, bitterns, and sand hill cranes, scrub jays, bald eagles, osprey, and roseate spoonbills.

IMG_2328You might say it’s a case of arrested development. Indrio Savannahs was a gleam in a developer’s eye more than a decade ago, but the subdivision never got off the ground.  Only a mile from the Indian River Lagoon as the heron flies, the savannahs of Indrio are expansive freshwater wetlands that are an important stopping point for migratory birds and a gathering place for wading birds at dusk.

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It’s also home to Florida scrub-jays.  I haven’t seen one yet, except for a painting on the outbuilding. They’re certainly not shy.

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The Florida scrub-jay is the state’s only endemic bird species and an icon of the parched, sandy hills on the island. This bird is a bundle of contradictions: a jay that’s afraid of flying; a suburban bird that can’t survive in the suburbs; an endangered species that will perch on your head. Unlike its adaptable jay and crow relatives, this species seems incapable of surviving anywhere except in the scrub.

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The loop trails are actually rectangular because the entire property was plotted – and roads built – for the development that never happened.

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Welcome!

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There are the usual trail notes ~ be prepared for sun, excessive heat, or sudden thunderstorms; make sure you have plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellent; trails are uneven, so be cautious and aware of your surroundings.

And then, this ~ You may encounter an American alligator, feral hog, or a poisonous snake. Please observe all wildlife at a safe distance.

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Well. That put my brain in high def. But, look around.  It’s Eden refreshed. Besides, I’m totally confident there’s a sandhill crane around the bend. What are the chances that I’ll have a bare-knuckle encounter with a fearful tough Florida beast?

Does this count?

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I didn’t see a snake, hog, or alligator. Or a sandhill crane.

Driving through a neighborhood on my way home, I slowed down to admire some aquatic mammals.

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Guess what? Even sandhill cranes are sweet on Moby-Dick-size manatees.

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IMG_2278Toni 2/24/14

Focus. Forage. Focus. Forage. (WATCH OUT FOR THE HAWKS, THOUGH) But, Yes, By All Means, Forage For Both Seeds and Those Health Care Law Benefits and Platform Fixes. And Do It at Warp, or at least, Junco Speed. (Another 420 Character, 9-Line Poem by Patty)

Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)
Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Focus. Forage. Focus. Forage. For Both Seeds and those Health Care Law’s Benefits and Platform Fixes. And Do It at Warp, or at least, Junco Speed.* Plus: watch out for those Sharp-Shinned Hawks of both the Human and Raptor Kind. (Another 420 Character, 9-Line Poem by Patty)

(Can you believe it? There’s a new documentary that helps make my point–the part about the Junco, not the Affordable Health Care.)

Female Dark-eyed Junco, slate-colored race (Ju...
Female Dark-eyed Junco, slate-colored race (Junco hyemalis), taken in Urbana, IL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t want to miss anything,

sort of like what I imagine is the gist of the Dark-eyed Junco‘s high chip notes

he mutters while foraging or flying low for cover

from the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Like me, he’s a creature of the ground,

hopping around the bases of trees and shrubs or even out onto the lawn.

Check. Seek. Double-check.

Take a note from this bird, ye fixers of the Health Care Platforms.

Don’t miss anything.

PATTY

* And see the movie!

I HOPE IT ISN’T MID-WINTER BEFORE THE PLATFORM’S FIXED, BUT IF IT IS, THERE WILL BE OTHER FORAGERS.