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Today we’re continuing our exploration of wildlife and habitats in Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve with my Florida Master Naturalist class (Coastal Systems module).
As mentioned in my previous post, Estero Bay is very shallow. Sunlight penetration allows for the growth of sea grasses (they’re green, they need sunlight for photosynthesis), and sea grasses provide an excellent nursery for marine life, which in turn provides excellent feeding grounds for birds and bigger marine life.
See how it works?
If you speed through and your prop tears up the grasses, then you’re destroying habitat and the whole ecosystem is compromised. So, always pay attention to the “no wake” and “low wake” signs – they are there for a VERY good reason.
As we rounded a corner and emerged from under the Big Carlos Pass bridge, we saw tall high-rise buildings standing sentry over a stretch of unraked beach – kind of unusual, since beachfront high-rise residents usually want to see an unblemished expanse of sand, not dune vegetation. This beach is unraked because it is a bird breeding ground. While we were floating out here discussing the habitat, we saw two people haplessly wander into the breeding ground and get dive-bombed by the birds defending their territory. It was a perfect example of this type of protective, territorial behavior. The people ran for cover; I think they were probably totally innocent and didn’t realize where they were.
We could hear the leader of this tour speaking to the group; they might have been eco-tourists too, just like us. It’s actually fortunate that we took this ride in June. During “season” here in Southwest Florida, these waters would have been pretty well jammed with all sorts of recreationists.
No sooner had we taken leave of the jet skiers and headed out of Big Carlos Pass then we saw this … I’m not sure what it is but it looks like fun! It’s a regular water sports and recreational paradise down here in Southwest Florida.
I believe we are now heading into what our intrepid boat captains referred to as “Spoon Lagoon”, the location of which we swore never to reveal. I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you…. It’s called “Spoon Lagoon” for reasons that will become obvious soon. This is a tricolored heron. You might be thinking, “Hey wait a minute, didn’t she just tell us that kind of bird was a little blue heron?”. Nope, I didn’t. See the white underbelly? Not a little blue!
Here’s a sight I love, although I haven’t quite figured out why yet. This tangled mess is actually a the prop root system of the red mangrove tree. It’s a vast and intricate network, like a very complicated work of architecture or sculpture. I just get lost looking at it, and not unpleasantly so. Well, as it turns out, the prop roots ARE somewhat of an architectural feature. They serve as braces for the tree, to hold it up. They also collect and hold sand and silt, so an island forms under and around the mangrove. Finally, they pipe air down to the actual roots of the tree. Pretty useful, huh?
I feel a little sorry for this bird. It doesn’t have any neck to speak of, and it must feel a bit dowdy as compared to the other, more graceful-necked herons. This was the first time I’d seen the black-crowned variety; I’ve had a close encounter with a yellow-crowned night heron before, years ago in Ding Darling. It was doing yoga and smiling at me. Good times, good times 😉
And now we come to the rhyme and reason of naming “Spoon Lagoon” – it’s the roseate spoonbill, which our captain has known to hang out in this particular spot in the bay. Along with our spoony friend is a white ibis.
The spoonbill uses it’s bill to sweep along the mud for delectable morsels to nom-nom-nom, while the ibis has a bill more appropriate for probing down into the mud.
One of the things this class is teaching me is that my camera is woefully inadequate for these purposes. Perhaps Santa Claus will do something about that…
Sights such as this one are common in Florida. As habitat is lost, the osprey often improvise, as we have seen previously with the nest on top of a channel marker sign. They are also frequently given a perch like this one. You see these platforms a lot along a certain stretch of the I-4 interstate, where the birds had been building on poles close to dangerous power lines. The chicks would fall out and fry themselves. Conservation groups come along and build these platforms to encourage a safer location for the nests. I’ve also seen these man-made perches back home on Long Island, specifically in the area of the Connetquot River in Oakdale, NY. It’s kind of cool – like building a bird house, only open-air.
This reddish egret’s head nearly blends in with the reeds from far away. We recognized him by his lively hunting technique – he flaps and hops and jumps, chasing his prey all over the shallows. We enjoyed watching his antics
I am in love with the Southwest Florida sky. Clouds are endlessly fascinating to watch as they morph and change before your eyes. I am so lucky to live here, and I know it.
Our friend the cormorant strikes a regal pose atop the manatee sculpture that sits on a sign,which says: “The basis of environmental recovery lay in oneness with creation and with ourselves. Enjoy it.” The sign below it says, “Friendship Sentry”. I guess the cormorant is taking his job seriously!
This pretty much concludes the Estero Bay field trip. It was a wonderful excursion, a great way to spend a Saturday morning, and I highly recommend my classmates and boat captains for this trip, Good Time Charters. They are knowledgeable, skilled and generous tour leaders and no, they didn’t pay me to say this LOL 😉
Fear not – there are more Florida Master Naturalist adventures to document here! NEXT TIME: Lovers Key State Park !!!