Deerfield Beach, FL.

February 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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By now I’m sure anyone reading past posts of mine can guess that I’m a South Florida girl. This is one treasure I’m honored to have in my own backyard – Deerfiend Beach. Standing on the beach looking out to the water, one may never guess the beauty you will find only yards away. This is my favorite local snorkel location! It’s easy to get to and always full of activity. With the weather warming up (and for those of you about to visit Broward County for Spring Break or any other reason), this is one place I highly recommend everyone check out!

It doesn’t matter how often I see them, every time I see a sea turtle I get giddy with excitement. And it doesn’t matter who you are or how hard you may be to impress, you’ll be excited when you see them out there too! I have yet to go to Deerfield Beach and NOT see a sea turtle while snorkeling. They’re always in the same area, usually eating but sometimes just goofing off (I have video footage that’s adorable – one of a sea turtle using a rock of a back scratcher, another of a turtle itching itself while spinning in circles like a dog chasing its tail) They’re graceful, they’re beautiful, they’re just plain fun to watch. Perhaps one of the things I find most exciting about seeing them is knowing that they’re on the endangered species list, yet here they are swimming beside you and usually out numbering you. It makes me smile to realize there is hope for endangered animals out there.

Look out below that sand! You may not see a frequent visitor to Deerfield unless you get really close, despite their massive size. The Atlantic Stingray is usually around on cooler days, but sometimes you’ll get lucky and spot them in the summer. If you’re fortunate enough to come across one, don’t worry, the water here on the reef is deep enough where you don’t have to worry about stepping on one. They’re a truely beautiful, graceful animal. Watching them swim reminds me of a flying bird.

If the much larger Atlantic Stingray freaks you out, maybe you’ll like this little guy better. The Yellow Stingray is very common here at Deerfield Beach and much smaller than it’s big cousin. They tend to be a little on the shy side so seeing them is extra special, especially if you can move slowly enough to get close to one. If you can get at eye level with one, watch their bodies ripple as they swim, it’s fascinating.

Also not terribly uncommon here in Deerfield is several types of Eel. Trust me, they’re down there, though you may not see much of them. The disadvantage to snorkeling if you want to see an eel is that they’re usually tucked away under a ledge or in a crevis. Sometimes, like with this guy here, you’ll see them on the move out in the open.

This was my one and only Sea Horse I’ve ever seen at Deerfeild. It’s not something I would have seen from the surface, but because I like to dive down and see what hiding in plain sight, I was rewarded with this precious little guy. Sea horses are slow movers, slow eaters, and generally defenseless so you don’t typically see them out and about. That doesn’t mean they’re not there! Another great place to be on the lookout for them is, believe it or not, in floating seaweed. Seaweed is full of life, in there you’ll find fish, crabs, and shrimp… Shrimp that is the perfect meal for Sea Horses.

Like I mentioned, keep an eye on that seaweed! See the fish above? While I’m a little embarassed to admit that I have no clue what it is I’m glad I found it! Mother Nature is amazing, look at how he blends right in, protecting himself from predators and hiding himself from prey.

Without a doubt, the most common Angel Fish you’ll see out at Deerfeild is the French Angel. You’ll see them in singles and in pairs, from the size of a silver dollar to the size of a dinner plate. They’re a sirprisingly inquisitive fish. Many times when I dive down to get a closer look I am greeted by one directly up in my face, not in an aggressive manner, simply checking me out the same as I do to them.

You’ll find a lot of other fish on any given day here in Deerfield Beach – Boxfish,  Porcupinefish, Parrotfish, Wrasse, Sgt. Majors, Tangs and Surgeonfish, Porkfish, and Damsels to name just a few. Though some are a little more shy than others, there are fish you won’t have to search hard for, they’ll be all around you once you reach the reef.

Even though you’ll have fish surrounding you at any given moment, and you’ll be distracted looking around for the next sea turtle, don’t forget to take time to look in less obvious places to see some cool sea life! If I wasn’t so nosey I would have missed so much! The Star Fish wrapped around a ledge, little Blennies sticking their heads out of tiny holes in the rock, a Hermit Crab in what I thought was just a giant shell, and a school of little bitty Cuttlefish. Secret little gems are hiding everywhere! Look under a ledge and maybe you’ll see an Arrow Crab hiding under it, sometimes even a Lobster!

Something to look out for without a doubt is where you put your hands. Though touching the reef in any way, shape or form are certainly frowned upon, sometimes people look under a rock and grab the edge so as not to float back up. Be mindful, the Scorpion Fish calls Deerfiend Beach home, and it packs a mighty venomous punch! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “beware of attack fish” or anything of the sort, the Scorpion Fish is actually a very docile, calm fish. But let’s face it, if Godzilla grabbed you and you had venomous spines all over your body you would surely let him have it. This fish is no different. They’re not looking for trouble, but they will defend themselves. The best way to protect yourself if to watch what you’re doing and not touch anything.

Another thing to be mindful of is that the pier just north of the reef is full of fishermen. With catches available like Barracuda, Snapper, Grouper, Tarpon, and (it is the ocean after all) even Sharks, what sportsman wouldn’t be out there fishing? Now calm down, sharks aren’t a big deal here. At times you’ll hear the frantic blow of the life guards whistle to get out of the water because a shark has been spotted. Be thankful that this is a guarded beach and someone is looking out for you. To be honest though, it’s not a common event. Of all the times I’ve been (which is a lot, swimming is the ONLY for of exercise I was allowed while I was pregnant, I snorkeled 2 or 3 times a week right up to 8 and a half month pregnant) I have NEVER been called out of the water because of a shark and I have only seen one shark there, a Nurse Shark, which is so harmless that you can actually swim with them at Disney and Sea World parks. This isn’t to say that I recommend finding one and kissing it on the lips, they still have teeth and only so much patience, but a Nurse Shark (like most other sharks) isn’t looking for trouble.

IF YOU GO…

Remember to check the tide and ocean conditions before you head out.  It’s best to go as the tide is heading in, on the closer end to high tide. Yes, the water is deeper at this point, but with this beach being in such close proximity to an inlet high tide brings in beautiful, clear, deep ocean water. Visibility is without a doubt best at this time. I also don’t suggest going if the ocean is too choppy, you’ll be fighting the waves and the water will get murky. No sense in having a miserable time. This is a public beach and life guards are on duty. These guards also request that you head out to snorkel from a very specific point on the beach – there is a small strip of private beach in the middle of the public beach (just south of the pier) that you need to head out from. You can come back in from anywhere. Also, I HIGHLY suggest bringing a dive flag. This is the ocean and a fishing hot spot. Lifeguards yell at boats or jet skiis that get too close, but better to be safe than sorry. The reefs are designed in rows, there are 3 rows heading outward to the ocean. Snorkeling is allowed on the first row, sometimes you can get away with the second row, but unless you’re diving (which is also permitted with through beach access) the life guards don’t like to see anyone out too deep at the third row. Don’t be mad, this is for your own safety. When you head out, if you’re looking for the Sea Turtles, go to the first row, just South of the private beach where you must head out from, and past the first break in the reef (if you look to shore you’ll be around the bathrooms), this is the most popular spot for the turtles, I always see them here.

Enjoy your snorkel!

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Green Cay (Again), Boynton Beach, FL

February 13, 2012 at 5:47 am | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Yesterday, after changing our original plans to visit to Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge due to their biggest event of the year (I’m not one for big crowds when it comes to wildlife viewing), my husband, son and I decided to take a walk around Green Cay again. Sure, I know what you’re thinking… “You don’t like crowds but you bring your kid everywhere with you?” Well, my son is better behaved than most adults and if you need silence from him you can toss his some Cheerios. I still have yet to figure out how to get blabbing people on cell phones tone it down. But I digress…

Immediately, I was happy with our destination decision. I had been wanting to see a Purple Gallinule for quite some time, and here one was, about 2 feet away from us. I was already thrilled that I was able to check something off my “never seen” list.

While the Woodstorks were nowhere to be found today, the Great Blue Heron we out and about.  Just as I had seen in Wakodahatchee, they were nesting. I’m eager to return over the next few weeks to see if I can get a peek at the babies as they hatch! I could only imagine that they would be goofy, awkward, “so ugly they’re cute” hatchlings.

Just as they always seem to be, the Tri-Colored Herons were all over. These little birds are always entertaining and never shy. They’ll put on a show from just a few feet away. My husband had a great time showing our son one fishing.

Another bird I have been wanting to see but never seem to catch sight of is the Little Blue Heron. Check another off my list for the day! These little birds are usually pretty shy, which is likely why I hadn’t seen them before. They’re quite pretty, similar in size to Tri-Colors, and from far away it’s easy to get them confused. Since you don’t always get to see them from the front to determine who’s who, an easy way to tell is the color on the face. (Tri’s have yellow, Little Blue’s are dark)

As you can tell, we came during lunch time. This Great Egret was on the prowl for anything it could get its beak on. Of course, while they weren’t busy eating…

… they were busy cruising the wetlands looking for the next hot spot to hunt in. They’re always an impressive sight to see at flight.

Speaking of taking flight and meals, we kept on seeing flocks of birds take off together like these Ibis and Blue-Winged Teal Ducks. Something was clearly concerning these birds. Once we caught sight of what was scaring them off we clearly understood their concern.

This Red Shouldered Hawk had all the smaller birds feathers ruffled. Quite understandable, there were a few times I worried for the survival of my sons toy as it swooped over the boardwalk, sometimes so close to people I wondered if they could feel the breeze of it’s wings. This bird was a persistant hunter. While I never caught a sight of it flying off with something clutced in its talons, it did disappear several times. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see it fly off with a trophy, but thankful my son didn’t have to witness it flying off with an adorable Swamp Bunny.

On the opposite side of the park, another Red Shouldered Hawk rested as it was perched above a bare tree. I honestly hadn’t noticed it at first, distracted by another bird. Once I hear it shriek though I was drawn right to it. We had also seen one along the Turnpike on a post on the way to the Wetlands. With January being the beginning of their nesting season, it’s no wonder they seem to be out in increased numbers.

Our first time around the boardwalk, this big guy was out trying to get what little sun and heat he could. With a cold front moving in (cold for South Florida, that is), I had a feeling he might be getting some company from other alligators trying to keep warm.

I guessed right. Our second time around, this big girl had crawled up to keep warm in the now shining sun as well. Sure, I usually refer to most of the animals as “he”, so how is it that I know this is a female?

No, I didn’t run out and lift her little gator skirt. This photo of the same gator from a different angle reveals my secret. What I didn’t notice until I got home and started messing with my pictures from the day was that this girl wasn’t alone. Look closely above her head. See that? That’s right – this is a proud momma gator sunning with her little ones. I’ve always been amazed at what great, nurturing mothers alligators make. They’re not the beasts they’ve been made out to be.

These two, however, were quite the beasts! I was watching two Gallinule’s run across the water after each other when I caught this at the right moment. Yes, I said “two”, and I know you only see one bird. At this very moment the second bird caught up with the first and literally ran over him, trampled on him like a stepping stone, and shoved him under water! Hey, it made my son laugh. 🙂

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