Happy World Sea Turtle Day

June 16, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Posted in Creature Feature, Endangered Encounters | Leave a comment
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Happy World Sea Turtle Day, creature lovers! It’s not exactly easy to be a sea turtle. From the moment they hatch, they face the struggles of artificial light disorientation and being eaten by predators, to growing up and facing the dangers of ingesting litter and being struck by boats, all the way to having their nests poached when its their time to return to the beach from which they hatched to lay their eggs. Humans really seem to have turned out to be their worst enemy. But no matter where you are in the world, you can help. Help save our turtles, and the oceans they live in! Pick up trash, say no to plastic bags, make the switch to environmentally friendly lighting to reduce sky glow. Lets save what we have left for future generation to enjoy! A turtle that hatches today could still be around for our great grandchildren to enjoy, let’s be sure they are.

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!

Green Cay Wetlands – Boynton Beach, Fl.

January 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Posted in For the Family, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Last week, my friend and I took our boys to Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach. It was my first time there and the whole time I found myself asking “Why have I never been here before?” Green Cay is simply wonderful! The land on which the preserve sits used to be a bell pepper farm some 40 years ago. It was donated to Palm Beach County by its owners, Ted and Trudy Winsberg, and turned back into it’s natural state. Now it is home to a 1.5 mile boardwalk loop, a 9,000 square-foot nature center, and more wildlife than I ever expected to exist in Boynton Beach.

We came across two alligators this day. The first was happily sunning himself, only about 3 or 4 feet long. He was suppounded by birds, who seemed unconcerned that they could have been a potential meal.

The second alligator was saw was a bit smaller than the first, cruising around in the water toward the end of our walk. He was certainly more active than the first, and any bird in it’s part made sure to move out of the way.

This soft shelled turtle was one of the very first critters we saw. I was amazed for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t believe that all we did was walk up, look over the edge, and BAM, there he was! I hadn’t even managed to put my lense on my camera yet. Luckily he was as relaxed as everything and everyone else at the park and wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere too fast. 2. I couldn’t believe how clear the water was! I guess I’m just used to murky South Florida canal water? The water was crystal clear, you could see right to the bottom, and it was a very refreshing surprise to know that not all of South Florida is polluted beyond control.

Green Cay is home to many other turtles as well. You’ll find a variety of aquatic turtles here such as red ear sliders, yellow bellied, and painted turtles. But don’t just look in the water for them. (Even though you’ll find them there) Keep an eye on the shore line and on fallen logs, they’re almost always out sunning themselves. (Or, as we call the turtles on the log to the kids, “doind a turtle conga line”)

Green Cay is home to more birds than any other animal. They were everywhere you looked! There were flocks upon flocks of these American Coots, all making quite a chatter, eating, playing, bathing, and fighting. The only kind of bird that seemed to rival them in numbers were the White Ibis.

Some of my favorite water fowl that we saw that day were the Blue-winged Teal Ducks. They were beautifuly colored and just plain fun to watch. It may be because I’m easily entertained, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them! All of them that we saw were in pairs, I don’t recall seeing a single one by itself at all. We must have come at dinner time, because they were all very busy hunting, sticking their little ducky-hineys straight up in the air.

For being listed as federally endangered, the Wood Storks were sure out in powerful numbers. Which, of course, is great! We must have seen at least a dozen of them – singles, pairs, even in groups of 3. They were as far away as the distance and as close as directly beneath the boardwalk. For an animal nerd such as myself, seeing this endangered bird in such strong numbers brought a smile to my face.

Without a doubt, the Most Popular Award of the day goes to the Red-shouldered Hawk. Photographers had their tripods set up all over the board walk, snapping away shots of this beauty. He didn’t do much at all, but with looks like this, he really didn’t have to. It was a treat for us all and certainly a memorable sighting for my first visit..

A quite uncommon, but very exciting visitor this day was this Roseate Spoonbill. Perched up high on a bare tree, this beauty was just preening away. I can only imagine he didn’t have a crowd of tripods and photographers surrounding him because they all got stuck at the hawk. Their loss was our gain, we had front row seats to watch this little pink bird. Spoonbills are endangered, once hunted to very low numbers for their pink feathers.  This was the highlight of my visit.

What narute walk in South Florida would be complete without a Great Blue Heron? We almost missed this guy, we were busy looking at the second alligator toward the end of the walk and just happened to catch him on the other side of the boardwalk. I’m so glad we spotted it though, there giant birds are just beautiful.

The Great Blues weren’t the only Herons present this day. We saw quite a few little Tricolored Herons. Much smaller than the Greats, but very adorable.

Reminding us that it is in fact winter down here in tropical paradise, the Snowy Egret was also out and about today. We only saw a few, but they were quite close to the boardwalk.

Even if you’re not in to the scaley or feathery types, you can still enjoy the cute and cuddly! My friend and I thought for sure that this was an escaped pet (or, as I had joked “gator food”), but sure enough he belonged here! I didn’t realize that the Marsh Bunny even existed, this was my “something new” learned today. Also in the furry category which we did not see this day, sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll spot river otter or bobcats. Guess who’s going back to Green Cay with a mission?

We saw plenty of birds, lets not forget the bees! This bee house was set fairly close to the boardwalk, but not so close that I worried for my 1 year old child. These are the good bees, honey bees, not aggressive at all. Quite honestly, if they even noticed us, I don’t think they could possibly care any less about our presence.

IF YOU GO…

Adding to the natural beauty of the park, there is no cost to enter! (If it’s free, it’s for me!) The loop of the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Check the Nature Center hours if you want to go inside, they have odd hours (they were already closed when we got there at 3pm.) Due to the nature of the park and it being a wildlife preserve, dogs are not permitted. It is a very lovely walk, it was easy to maneuver with our strollers, and there are restroom facilities present, as well as a water fountain and (I think, but don’t hold me to it) a soda machine. As usual, keep this park beautiful and don’t litter! There are plenty of trash cans available throughout the walk. Should you get tired walking along the boardwalk, there are also frequent observation areas with benches so you can rest.

Enjoy your visit!

http://www.pbcgov.com/waterutilities/waterfacts/green_cay.htm

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