Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

The Big Florida Hunt of 1869

Posted on: September 25th, 2016 by MB No Comments

The year of the big hunt was 1869. Florida had been part of the United States for only 48 years and Pinellas County was just getting its start. In fact, it was not yet called by that name. It was a wild, and as yet untamed area in that year. Wild animals roamed freely; too freely for those trying to settle in the area, and into the development of the area emerged the idea for a major hunt. To picture the area properly, however, you must first undo the infrastructure that spreads across what is now the state’s most populated area.

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Pinellas County’s namesake was the pine tree, its name originating from the abundant scrub pines that grew across the area. It was a very different place back then, the only roads carved through the palmetto palms, oaks, and pines. After clearing, carts and early automobiles still had only the soft sands of Florida to drive across. The hot and humid weather offered no reprieve, other than measures pioneers built into the homesteads, such as breezeways, doors facing the prevailing winds, and kitchens built separately from the houses. Mosquitoes did as they pleased and the original population of alligators ruled the inland waterways.

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Ranchers discovered Florida and liked it. Grass grew in a frenzy, invigorated by frequent rains, providing ample food for cattle and horses. In fact, the first cowboys in the Unites States worked their trade in Florida. With livestock came the struggle against predators. Panthers and black bears roamed the region, unchecked by the fledgling settlements that sprung up.

Florida_black_bear

While Fort Harrison occupied a central location, the region had yet to gain its first incorporated city. The road from Tampa, then known as Fort Brooke, was long and arduous. Despite the hardships, people continued to arrive to settle. Just two decades earlier, the U.S. had opened the way for land grants in the regions not yet settled with the Armed Occupation Act. The American Civil War had just ended four years earlier and the people were eager to create new opportunities.

heritage-village-house-aged

So it was that the people of future Pinellas County decided to make the land more inhabitable for people and livestock. Hunting parties were organized with the goal of eliminating the threat of bears and cougars. One can imagine that ranchers joined the ranks eagerly. The sound of gunfire would have echoed across the palmetto palm flats and through the forests of tall scrub pines. In the end, the two species were driven back, leaving the peninsula that forms the shape of Tampa Bay open for development.

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In the present, the region has grown into the most populous area of the state of Florida. The well-known cities of Tampa, St Petersburg, and Clearwater occupy the terrain now, drawing new visitors regularly to their beaches and other attractions. The sandy roads of old are covered by pavement but still sometimes travel past broad swaths of pine and palm forests. Kitchens are now inside the house, chilled by the wonder of air-conditioning. Horse and cattle ranching still thrive in Florida but have moved to other parts of the state where the lands are broad and open. But what of the Florida panther and black bear? They survived the attempted extermination, though in greatly reduced numbers. The black bear inhabits scattered forests throughout the state while the panther has been relegated to the most southern regions where the fairly untamed wilds of the Everglades and its adjoining wilderness areas create a safe habitat. Through management, their numbers continue to return from the brink, leaving those of us in the present with the satisfaction that a piece of our world’s natural past yet survives.

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Life among Florida Mangroves

Posted on: September 20th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Mangroves trees are a common sight along the coast of Florida, some growing only to the size of bushes while others reach heights of fifty feet or more. But who really cares about mangrove trees? If you knew more about them, you might be more interested. Not only do they create a habitat for a host of animal species but they also protect the shores of Florida from erosion. In fact, they are durable enough to withstand hurricanes, and that makes them important. So keep reading to learn more. The next time you’re in Florida, you’ll know that a gathering of bushes along the coast is actually quite a bit more.

Caladesi Island mangroves

They are easy to recognize thanks to their root systems, which are designed for living in saltwater shallows. The longer you stay in Florida, the more likely you might be to notice that not all mangroves are alike. You will also surely notice that mangroves are perfect places for animals to take refuge. And, while a coastline of mangroves might not be as nice as a beach, the trees play a vital role in protecting the land.

eagle-point-park roseate spoon bill Florida

Florida has a number of varieties of mangrove trees but some only exist in the southern half of the state that does not experience freezes. The two varieties that have spread throughout the state are the red mangrove and the black mangrove. While that might not seem important, if you enjoy testing your knowledge in the real world, you can easily identify the two of them on your own.

magroves and foot bridge

Red mangroves are only red on the inside. You can see the color when you remove the bark. So how will you know one when you see it? That’s easy. They are the ones up on stilt-like roots. Array of a roots in a red mangrove forest is amazing to see. Those roots are also very attractive to animals. Fish and shellfish live underneath of them, birds will hide among them, and crabs love to climb them. There is even a type of snake that can live its life perched on the stalks. If that sounds creepy-crawly, well, okay. That’s hard to argue against. When you consider, however, that you are never going to successfully walk through a red mangrove forest, it puts it back into perspective. The reason they are such good hiding places is because it’s nearly impassable terrain. Larger predators, including alligators, are not going to negotiate the thousands and thousands of closely placed roots. Residents and visitors to Florida can enjoy the red mangrove forests from the outside. Thanks to their design, it is easy to see into the forest. That is best done from a small boat, where the gentle sea breezes can keep you separated from one of the less pleasant denizens of the mangroves, which is the no-see-ems.

Red mangrove

Black mangroves live up on the shores, rather than in the water like the red mangrove. You can identify them by their breather roots. If you ever find yourself by the shore and see a tree or bush surrounded hundreds of straw-sized stalks protruding from the mud, sand, or water, then you are looking at a black mangrove tree. Those actually are breather roots, drawing nitrogen for the unseen root system below. The trees will often sit right at the shore where they experience the ebb and flow of tides.

black mangrove roots

Here in Tampa Bay area, we have warm enough winters to also have the white mangrove growing on our coastlines. It is not as easy to identify as the other two because its roots are all below the ground. On the other hand, it is usually found hanging out with its cousins, the red and black mangroves. They tend to grow taller and, more importantly, they grow on higher ground, preferring to avoid the tidal waters. Florida parks often have boardwalks that pass through mangrove forests. If you see a mound with a tree growing from it, it is probably a white mangrove. Vice versa, if you identify a white mangrove, look down and you will see it is on higher ground.

white mangroves

Once you are very familiar with mangrove trees, you will know that their leaves grow differently and have different shades of green. Once you know that, you can actually spot the rise and fall of coastal lands from aerial photographs, which is handy for boating and fishing (and Google Maps enthusiasts).

black mangroves on Florida island

Mangroves are so important for the preservation of coastline that cities have legal codes regulating their pruning. Chopping down all the mangroves on your property so that you have a water view might seem like a nice idea but your waterfront will then be open to erosion and very vulnerable during major storms – and your neighbors as well.

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So, the next time you are in Florida and you see a shoreline of bushes and think, “I wish that was a sandy beach,” don’t be so sure. Mangroves play an important role in keeping Florida safe.

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Discovering the Artificial Reefs of the Florida Gulf Coast

Posted on: August 17th, 2014 by admin No Comments

Pinellas County Artificial Reefs

coral on reefLittle known to most tourists at Clearwater Beach, St Pete Beach and the various tourists stops of the Central Gulf Coast are a series of artificial reefs located just off the coast. The reefs vary in distance from the shore, some being only a few hundred yards out while others are as far as 38 miles out in deeper waters. The artificial reef program was started in 1975, growing to the present day total of 42 sites. Most of the reefs, 29 of them, are close to shore. These inshore reefs were set down to help with beach replenishments. After sands were taken from the seafloor to help bolster area beaches between Sand Key and Treasure Island, the reefs were set down at areas where sands were removed. The 13 offshore reef sites are in deeper water and consists of larger materials than those close to the shore.

Both types of reef share a similar life cycle, growing barnacles and other sedentary sea life within just weeks. Fish arrive soon after to feed on these stationary creatures. Coral completes the reef community around the one year mark.

The purpose of the artificial reef program is to enhance fishing opportunities and to provide diving sites for scuba enthusiasts. The reefs also help to disperse the recreation areas of the Florida Gulf Coast, a very popular vacation destination. The increased number of diving and fishing sites offer visitors and locals greater opportunities for sport and play.

 

Materials for Gulf Coast Artificial Reefs

Deploying artificial reefsThe materials for the Gulf Coast artificial reefs ranges from the unique to the mundane. Many of the reefs are constructed from relatively simple items, such as pipes, pylons, and deconstructed bridge debris. Other sites contain treasures such as sunken barges, sunken ships, and even obsolete military tanks from WWII. The reef building materials have to pass an inspection for hazardous wastes and have to be relatively large in size. While it might seem that builders would simply drop the items into the water and be done, it is not so. The reefs are constructed with careful planning, intentionally creating openings that differ in size. The construction technique creates habitats for the various species that will arrive as the reef matures.

Diving on Florida Gulf Coast Artificial Reefs

Scuba diving on artificial reefsWhen we questioned divers regarding the artificial reefs of the Gulf Coast we were surprised to find out that even the simple reefs created from construction debris were popular dive sites. It seems that the attraction of many reefs is the sea life that surrounds them. Grouper, sting rays, eels, sea horses, sharks, coral, sponges and more find homes on and around the reefs. Lucky divers might also encounter sea turtles or dolphins. The visibility changes with Gulf conditions, giving views through 15 to 60 feet of water. Unique dive sites include the large barges and fishing boats, which divers can enter. The WWII tanks are also a popular dive.

Fishing Florida Gulf Coast Artificial Reefs

Fishing Gulf of MexicoThe other inspiration for the artificial reefs on Gulf Coast of Florida is to increase the fishing opportunities. The reefs not only provide good fishing destinations, they also create habitats for bait fish. Fishermen start at the reefs, casting their bait nets to scoop up the smaller fish. They can move on from there or stay, trying for the larger fish that troll the artificial structures below. Some of the more popular fish to catch are grouper, snapper, amberjack, and Spanish mackerel. The reefs closer to the shore are all marked for fishing on the maps, while those in deeper water are designated for mixed use. With the overwhelming popularity of fishing along the Gulf Coast, these new habitats provide additional locations for local fishermen and tourists to cast their lines.

How to Locate Gulf Coast Artificial Reefs

Artificial reefsModern technology makes finding the reefs quite easy. Each one is marked on the official maps, with GPS coordinates included. The intra-coastal waterways of the Florida Gulf Coast are shallow, creating a need for depth finders aboard pretty much every boat that plies the local waters of Clearwater Harbor, Boca Ciega Bay, or St Joseph Sound. Purchasing a GPS to have on board your boat is a good idea, although the more expensive devices come with both depth sonar and GPS. The reef program is no longer creating new sites but those that already exist are being maintained. Florida artificial reefsThat includes, in a few locations, buoys to mark them. If you are not interested in trying to find the reefs on your own, try a local dive shop. Guided tours will take out to the reefs and allow you to dive. Local fishing charters will know where the reefs are, naturally. It is their job to give the best fishing experience possible, which is an easy task on the Gulf of Mexico.

 

 Enjoying the Artificial Reefs of the Florida Gulf Coast

Fishing artificial reefsThe artificial reefs of the Florida Gulf Coast are there for the enjoyment of fishing and diving, creating locations that would otherwise be unavailable. The artificial reefs supply an added bonus for an area already full of recreation opportunities. With Tampa Bay, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg being very popular Florida vacation destinations, it makes sense to expand the resources. If you are looking to take your Gulf Coast vacation a step further, why not give them a try?

 

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How Big is your Vacation Activity Zone?

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Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Posted on: March 29th, 2014 by admin No Comments

What is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park?

Florida manateeHomosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is home to a variety of animals native to the state of Florida. The park is home to a many rescued animals, along with its other exhibits. The animals are displayed in open areas which make viewing easy. The park walkways wind among tall trees, providing plenty of shade for Gulf Coast’s warmer days. A bayou extends into the park which is frequented by manatees, one of the park’s main attractions. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park emphasizes natural Florida Manatee at Homosassa Springsand the preservation of native species. It is a worthy stopover on a Gulf Coast vacation, especially for those who want to see manatees, alligators, or other native Florida species. The Homosassa Springs is a great place to spend the afternoon and makes great entertainment for kids.

Where is Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park?

Homosassa Springs boat rideHomosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located seventy miles north of Clearwater Beach. It is south of Crystal River Preserve State Park and north of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Crystal River, Homosassa Springs, and Chassahowitzka are all located on the coastline known as the Nature Coast of Florida. The park is situated on a bayou branching off from the Halls River. You will find the park in the community of Homosassa Springs off of Hwy 19 (Suncoast Blvd), or by taking the alternate route on Fishbowl Drive, which is a very scenic back road. An old sugar mill is nearby on the Fishbowl Drive route, for those interested in history. Homosassa Springs FloridaBoth parking areas leads to the same entrance but the large parking area off of Hwy 19 includes an informative and beautiful boat ride over to the parking area on Fishbowl Dr. We recommend the boat ride, because it starts at an interesting info center and gift shop. Plus, on your ferry to the park entrance, you can see the natural Florida environment and a good number of native animals living in the wild. The address of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is 4150 South Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL 34446.

What to See at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Homosassa Springs hippoOur first recommendation for things to do at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the boat ride to the park entrance. If you miss this ride, you’ve cut out a vital part of the complete experience. You will hear plenty of interesting tidbits from the boat captain as you wind down the slow moving water channel. You might also learn some history, such as the names of famous movies filmed in the area, and about the only non-native animal in the park, Lu the hippopotamus, granted official state citizenship so that he could stay in the park after the end of his Hollywood movie career. You will find gift shops at either end of the boat tour.

Homosassa Springs manateeOnce you enter the park, where you go is up to you. The walkways wind in different directions throughout the park, displaying both native plants and animals. Any walk along the waterway should be done with your eyes alert. You will undoubtedly see manatees swimming in the bayou. Even better is the underwater viewing room where you can see schools of fish and any nearby manatees. Your chances of seeing the large marine mammals is very good, because park rangers feed them at regular intervals from above. You might also find a number of manatees inside of pens on the others side of the waterway, recovering from illness or injury suffered in the wild.

Florida pantherThe park is essentially a zoo, displaying Florida’s native species. You will see just about any bird you can imagine, plus some others. A few of the larger species are egrets, bald eagles, owls, and even turkeys. You can also view of deer, black bears, wolves, cougars, bobcats, alligators, and otters.

While the park has a concession stand, it is also a great place for a picnic. You also won’t want to miss the ice cream stand just past Lu the hippo’s pool. Alligator at Homosassa SpringsThe park makes for a great afternoon on a Florida Gulf Coast vacation and is just over an hour from Clearwater Beach, making it a great outing for the day. If you are going to strike out from the beautiful beaches of the Central Gulf Coast, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is one of the best attractions out there.

Other blog posts you might like:

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

Places to See Alligators on the Florida Gulf Coast

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Sunset Deer Sightings

Posted on: January 20th, 2014 by admin No Comments

Gulf Coast Local Secret #15

Large Deer Population in Florida

Florida deerFlorida rarely drops below 50 degrees in the winter, making it a great place for wildlife. While this attracts species that don’t tolerate cold easily, it also makes a perfect environment for just about everything else. Florida has a thriving deer population. While it might seem difficult to see deer in an area as populated as Tampa Bay, you might be surprised.

 

Where to See Deer Every Night

Florida deerDeer sightings on a nightly basis can be almost guaranteed for our local secret #15. Well-known by locals, Chesnut Park is a great place to visit any time of the day. The park has endless picnic spots, more hiking trails than most other parks, and has lakefront access and a boat ramp onto Lake Tarpon. In addition to the possibility of alligator sightings, you can also see the local deer population. The park is home to dozens (if not more) of deer which come out of their hiding places in the forest when the sun goes down. The park closes officially after sunset but you still have time to watch the deer come out. Keep your eyes sharp toward the edge of the forest. The baseball field is one of favorite sunset hangouts. Try this park out -it’s a great place to visit –and then wait for the sun to set. You should get to see quite a few deer.

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Clearwater Beach Seagulls

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