Robin’s Have Invaded Green Cay

March 19, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Posted in The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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It was another beautiful day in South Florida.  Not to be wasted, my son and I wen’t for a quick walk at Green Cay to enjoy the cool air.  Turns out we weren’t the only ones loving the beautiful South Florida weather this day, but we’ll get back to that later…

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Most of the usual suspects were out and about today.  There seemed to be a larger than normal number of Blue Winged Teals and they were rather rowdy, making all kinds of noise and flying about.  Perhaps they were displeased with the Red Shoulder Hawk that had perched itself upon a Wood Duck nesting box.  I don’t entirely blame them in that case, that seems like cheating to me.  All of the usual (but no less beautiful) Heron’s were out and about looking for breakfast too.

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Toward the front was The Breakfast Club, the usual group of birds that always seem to be hanging out and feeding together consisting of White and Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, different kinds of Egret, and the sometimes a couple of Tri-Colored Herons. (On lucky days this group will even have Spoonbills hanging with them, no such luck today.)  They all wade together, sifting through the water looking for that lucky catch…

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One lone Ibis seemed to have hit the jackpot.  Biting off more than it could chew didn’t seem to have this bird down and it played with the large frog it had captured trying to figure out a way to eat it without choking.  How does one eat food larger than it’s head anyway?  By the time we continued walking on, it was still trying to figure out how to deal with its super sized meal.

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Now about that enjoyable South Florida weather I spoke of earlier…

While I enjoy seeing all of the usual birds and animals I see at places I always love to see new and different things.  This day there were what had to be hundreds of Robins in the parking lot of Green Cay.  While this area of Florida is technically part of their range we very rarely see a Robin in our parts, they usually stick to more Northern parts of the state.  Luckily for those of us who don’t usually get to see them a cold front had moved through North of us, seemingly pushing flocks of Robins down into warmer weather.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw one fly in front of me at my car!  I though for sure I was seeing things.  I heard other photographers along the boardwalk talking about the robins so I didn’t feel quite as crazy.  I consulted with a fellow Bird Nerd via text messaging and she told me she too had seen one at her bird feeder and she too thought she was seeing things.  We got into the car and drove around to the back side of the parking lot where the Robin I saw was headed.  It was back there that I was in the middle of what I’m sure was a few hundred birds.  They were everywhere – flying back and forth, perched in trees, foraging along the floor… literally everywhere.  They were a very pleasant surprise, they reminded me of my home town of Chicago.  I do hope that next winter they remember how lovely it was here and decide to return.

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Who Comes Out To Play On A Cool Day – Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

November 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Endangered Encounters, The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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It was a chilly week here in South Florida last week!  And by chilly, I mean it was in the 60’s.  But it’s a nice change of pace for those of us here who crave cooler weather.  With the cooler weather comes more activity with wildlife, so it seemed like a good time to head out to Green Cay and see who else was out and about enjoying the beautiful day.

My first thought about the cooler weather was that surely the alligators would be out sunning themselves, keeping their cold blood warm.  Boy was I right!  There was a gator right by the boardwalk right at the first bend and their presence didn’t stop there.  All together, 7 alligators made an appearance that day.  There was one that was easily 7 feet long basking on an island as well, one swimming toward what could have potentially become a meal (we’ll get to that later), and the remaining 4 babies that hatched last year and still stick together close to their nest.

There were also several Raptors out today too.  A Red Shouldered Hawk sat perched upon a barren tree trunk, seemingly uninterested in hunting.  There was also an American Kestrel perched by the sparrow houses as if it was a birdy drive-thru.  I can’t decide if him waiting for a sparrow to come out was just unfair or incredibly genius… it seems it was a bit of both.

Also making a big appearance today were many different types of Herons.  We saw nearly all of the Heron species that call Florida home, the only one missing was the Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  The normally shy Green Herons were all over and quite active.  There were a few Little Blue Herons out as well, which are usually hit or miss here.  The always popular Great Blue Heron and Tri-Colored Herons were everywhere, as usual.  On the way out, much to my excitement, I even spotted a Black Crowned Night Heron!  This was the first time I have seen this bashful Heron, it was just calmly and quietly roosting next to the Nature Center. (Side note, I can update my Heron post now that I have photos of all Florida Heron species! Woohoo!)  To my luck, as I was driving away, I saw my second Black Crowned Night Heron… flying… almost into my windshield, but luckily we avoided a car/bird meet.

Just as numerous as the Herons were the number of Egrets.  Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Cattle Egrets seemed to be at nearly every waters edge.  While the Great Egrets were loners and doing their own thing, the Snowy and Cattle Egrets joined the flocks of Ibis who were in feeding frenzies.

The White Ibis are always very popular at Green Cay.  They’re always there and they’re usually everywhere.  So it was nice to see the Glossy Ibis thrown into the mix with them.  Of course there were nowhere near as many as the whites, but there were quite a few here.

Amongst every group of Ibis and Egrets was usually a Wood Stork.  This goofy looking bird feeds by opening its mouth in the water and waiting for prey to swim into its beak, sometimes kicking to scare small fish in that direction. (You can see this in the top picture above.)  It’s always nice to see the Wood Stork when it makes its way down for the winter.  Walking through Green Cay and seeing them nearly everywhere, it’s hard to believe this bird is federally protected as an Endangered Species.

Joining one of the flocks of feeding birds on the back side of the wetlands was a small group of Roseate Spoonbills.  All the comotion of whatever was so great to eat must have attracted some of them close to the boardwalk where we were all able to get a great view.  Dare I say it, Spoonbill sightings seem to be becoming reliable at Green Cay.  Usually, I see one flying overhead or napping somewhere far away where it’s almost difficult to recognize them, but their beautiful pink plumage gives them away every time.  This was a lucky day for me that they were so close by as the Spoonbills are probably my favorite birds to see here.  Not because of their pretty pink feathers, though that certainly does make them popular with everyone who sees them, but it’s that odd spoon shaped beak that does it for me, I can’t help but love their faces!

Also becoming an oddly reliable sighting is the family of Black Bellied Whisteling Ducks that has taken up residence here.  I always spot them on the North side of the park, usually at a distance, but every so often you get lucky and one might be literally sitting on the boardwalk waiting for you.  I will never forget the first time I saw them there – I heard their odd whisteling noise coming from one of the islands and there they were, chasing galinules all over the place.

As we were admiring the sleeping Whisteling Ducks, an Anhinga surfaced in the water next to us.  We had seen ripples in the water where it had been swimming quickly below the surface chasing a fish,  When it popped up, it had captured its lunch, and it was stuck to its beak!  After struggling for just a few seconds, the bird flipped the fish off its beak and town its throat.  The photo above with the fish mid air was a lucky catch on my part!

Luck was certainly on my side today.  Toward the back side of the park was an American Bittern out walking around.  This was another first for me, I had never seen one before.  From speaking with someone else there, they’re apparently very shy birds and don’t tend to come out into the open much, particularly around people, and usually feed by standing within the reeds with their heads up and beaks open, ready to catch their next meal.  But here he was, out for a stroll and hunting.

Winning the “Awwww” award for the day was the family of raccoons we encountered on toward the end of the walk.  A mother was out with her 3 babies and they were just as adorable as can be!  We watched them wrestle each other, pick food off of plants, and chase birds while their mother would peek out of the plants and closely watch the approaching allogator who was inching nearer and nearer.  Of course, I wasn’t about to stick around and see just how close the alligator got.  That’s something I would imagine my 2 year old son might find a little horrifying.

And so it was another beautiful day to be outside enjoying nature.  South Florida, we have some more cool weather headed our way!  Get out and enjoy it!

Pic of the Week – 11/3

November 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Pic of the Week | Leave a comment
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Photo taken with my Nikon D3100

In an effort to keep my posting more regularly, I have decided to add a “pic of the week” feature.  This weeks Pic of the Week was taken on Thursday at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach.  The Spoonbills have been around pretty often, but usually sleeping, flying by, or far away.  This day was a great day for Spoonbill watching!  There was a small flock of 4 wide awake and foraging for food near the boardwalk.  After listening to photographers waiting arounf for a sleeping Spoonbill on another day talk about how difficult it could be to get action shots of these lazy birds I realized this active day was more of a treat than most people knew.  This bird in particular had been wading with the Spoonbill you can see in the distance behind him but decicded to take a closer look at what the Ibis and Egrets were feeding on.  The result – this weeks Pic of the Week!

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. 🙂

Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Fl

January 26, 2012 at 2:36 am | Posted in The Wild Side | Leave a comment
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Yesterday I took my son for a walk at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray. (It’s a good thing I took a picture of the sign, otherwise I never would have been able to spell it! You would get a good laugh out of me trying to actually pronounce it.) This wetland area has about 2 million gallons of “fresh” water pumped into it daily, making it’s name, “Wakodahatchee” (Seminole for “created waters”) quite appropriate. The water being pumped in is reclaimed water from it’s neighboring water treatment plant. At least it’s not getting dumped into the oceans where we swim, right? Regardless of where the water comes from, the animal residents here are happy as pigs in, um, freshly recycled poopy water. (I joke, but in all seriousness for those of you just getting to know me, the animals really are very happy here in their home and the water is being pumped in is more clean than some swimming pools)

Just like at Green Cay, our welcoming committee was a soft shell turtle. No, wait, make that two. Hold on, there’s three and four… OK, let me try this again – the welcoming committee was made up of a whole bunch of soft shell turtles. As soon as we looked over the edge at them they quickly came swimming up. Even though the rules for the park clearly state “No feeding the wildlife”, these guys were clearly begging! I know begging, I have two large dogs. They had the same reaction to everyone who looked at them, hoping that someone would take pitty on the poor starving turtles.

As soon as we walked around the bend in the boardwalk to the first big opening in the water we saw this guy basking in the sun. Quite happily too, look at that gator-smile! I could over hear some people, who were clearly regulars at the park, saying things like “Look, there he is again” and “Oh he’s always at that same tree”, which leads me to believe this is his throne. From here, he gets a good view of everyone coming and going, and those of us on the boardwalk get to see a beautiful alligator.

One of the things I found really cool about this park was all of the nesting birds. They were literally EV-RE-WHERE! There are a lot of “islands” made up of old trees in the middle of the water, all covered with bifferent kinds of nesting birds. Herons, anhingas, cormorants, ibis… all peaceful neighbors on these trees that remind me of birdy apartment buildings.

Aside from the usual ibis, coots, and moorhens, the bird I seemed to notice the most today was the Great Blue Heron. Some were down in the water hunting but most were roosting away in the trees.

The Great Blue’s weren’t the only herons making big numbers. The adorable little Tri-Colored Heron seemed to be around every bend too, and typically very close to the boardwalk. I don’t think they even noticed all the people around them… or the woman walking the boardwalk who was talking on her phone so loud that I’m fairly certain my best friend in Atlanta could have faintly heard her.

While not present in the large number of it’s much larger heron cousins, this single little Green Heron was a nice find. He was creeping through the trees, looking for his next meal. I never knew the bottoms of their feet were so colorful!

There were also a few Great Egrets at all ends of the park aw well, most in the shallow water, looking for their next big catch.

There are a few other kinds of turtles present here other than the soft shells. The back side of the park seemed void of a lot of action but was full of turtles. Of course, the loud woman on the phone had walked this path just before me, so the turtles might have been the first brave beings to come out of hiding after listening to something they probably thought was the shrieking of a giant predator.

There were quite a few beautiful breeze ways throughout the park. Sometimes you’ll find marsh bunnies hopping through or grazing in them, somethimes they’re empty. I happened to be lucky enough to find these two beautiful Wood Storks strolling through this one.

This park isn’t just home to big birds. You’ll also find several types of Warblers here in all types of environments (reeds, trees) as well as the Red Winged Blackbird. Some of the Warblers had me fooled, I was looking for Cardinals with the sound they were making, instead I found an itty bitty impersonator. The Red Winged Blackbirds, by the way, are much less obnoxious than te regural Blackbirds you’ll find begging for french fries in a McDonalds parking lots and are absolutely beautiful when in flight. (If you’re on the right side of them to see their brightly colored shoulders.)

Soon after walking past the cute little Warblers, we spotted this Osprey circling in the sky. He was beautiful, he was huge, he was clearly hungry and looking for a meal… I quickly pulled forward the cover on my sons stroller and I kid you not, he flew away. Of course, there’s no way he could have ever actually grabbed my tank of a child, and I don’t honestly think it was more than a coincidence, but I still didn’t want to have to fight with a bird of prey, especially one as majestic looking as this.

Our smaller gator at the front of the park wasn’t the only one we saw. When we were looking at the smaller one at the beginning of our walk two women asked me “Did you see the big one yet?” They told me he was toward the end of the walk (or beginning if you go left at the split) and “looks like a pile of mud”. By the time we made it around, there was the big ol pile of mud, fast asleep, with birds practically about to crawl over him.

Toward the end of our walk, quite possibly as tired as my son, we saw this pair of Blue Winged Teal Ducks napping under a couple of trees. They were the first pair I had seen all day and I was happy to have stumbled upon them, I like these little guys.

As we were walking out and watching the poor starving turtle show we noticed ripples in the water moving fast. It was this little cormorant speeding after fish. At one point he bumped into a turtle, who was not entertained, and must have bit at him because it was followed by a big splash and resulted in this guy fleeing the scene faster than he had been chasing the fish.

IF YOU GO…

Bonus, this is another FREE park! Don’t be surprised if it smells a little, well, birdy. Birds are everywhere, therefor birds poop everywhere, it’s a fact of nature. This is another park where the pets need to be left home. (Do you really want Fido becoming gator bait?) There are restrooms at the enterance of the park, but that’s as extensive as the facilities go. You may consider bringing a snack, certainly water. There are stops along the walk for you to sit and rest in a covered pavillion. What this park does lack is frequent trash cans, so don’t be a slob and hold on to your garbage until the end of the walk where you can get to a trash can. Also, don’t be like that loud mouth woman who let all of the park visitors know her business, if you’re going to ignore the nature around you and blab on the phone just do it quietly, remember that other people are there to enjoy the wilflife.

Enjoy your visit!

http://www.pbcgov.com/waterutilities/wakodahatchee/

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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