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LAUNCH OF AUDUBON BURROWING OWL WATCH PROJECT ON MARCO ISLAND: Public Invited to Special Presentation and Training

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Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) announces a new project called Burrowing Owl Watch, to monitor and protect Marco Island’s imperiled, state-listed Burrowing Owl population. On Saturday, March 5, from 9:00 – 10:30am at Rookery Bay Reserve, 300 Tower Road, Naples, a special presentation on Burrowing Owl Natural History will be given by Nancy Richie, former Environmental Specialist for Marco Island and current owner of Island Environmental and Marine Services. That will be followed by a Burrowing Owl Photography Show and brief training for attendees interesting in becoming owl monitors, by Jean Hall, Audubon Florida Volunteer of the Year for ... Read More »

Discover Pepper Ranch Preserve

COURTESY OF STEPHEN BRIGHAM 2015

Submitted Conservation Collier is offering free, guided hikes led by master naturalists at selected Pepper Ranch Preserve trails on Friday, March 18 and Saturday, April 23. Pepper Ranch Preserve is a 2,512-acre Conservation Collier preserve property that was acquired with the goals of protecting and restoring the native habitats for the benefit of wildlife, providing aquifer recharge, and to provide current and future residents an opportunity for nature-based recreation and education. Wildlife documented on the preserve includes the endangered Florida panther, gopher tortoises, crested caracaras, Florida sandhill cranes, white-tailed deer, bobcats, wild turkey and more! There are approximately 10 miles ... Read More »

Marco’s Magnificent Estuaries

A green heron hides among the mangroves to surprise an unsuspecting fish.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Ah, the beauty of those small islands surrounding Marco! Everyone wants to visit them, to see what hides among the roots and branches. Whether you get out by boat, kayak, an ecotour or paddleboard, they are a treasure to behold. The wide array of animals and plants in this area requires some very special adaptations from nature. The Gulf of Mexico lines our western border while fresh water flows from the inland regions to form a very magical combination. This is called an “estuary.” There are quite a few bays and lagoons in our area ... Read More »

Down Close and Personal

A mother and son explore nature by kayak at the Conservancy. SUBMITTED PHOTO

By Bill Rhodes, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer Visitors to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida love the electric boats, effortlessly gliding along the backwater estuary and into the Gordon River, with captains eager to share insights while pointing out interesting local trees and animals. What many may not know is that the Conservancy also offers kayak tours guided by trained naturalists, with as many as 15 people going at a time, using single and tandem kayaks. The tour lasts two hours, and, as one guide told me, offers visitors an unparalleled glimpse into the watery world around the Conservancy. Kayakers, sitting ... Read More »

International Support for Mangrove Restoration

Roy Lewis explains the effort.

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is partnering with China’s Rilin Group to help restore 225 acres of mangroves in Collier County. The industrial group has committed $5 million to restore and monitor the mangrove forest at Fruit Farm Creek within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR). RBNERR and its partners have been researching causes of the mangrove die-off in the area, which includes construction in the 1940s of state road 92, to develop a plan to restore environmental conditions such as historical water flows in the estuarine area. This project will enable implementing ... Read More »

The Original Snowbirds…White Pelicans

White pelicans are gregarious and will work together to gather fish.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist It is estimated that humans have been in the Florida region for more than 14,000 years. Naples became a destination point just over 100 years ago and Marco Island was a mosquito-infested area until development escalated in the 1950s. Long before northern tourists began visiting our beaches to seek refuge from the winter cold there was a different type of “snowbird”…the white pelican. This giant of the skies breeds primarily in the interior regions of North America and makes its way to Florida, Central America and South America for relief from the colder climate. They ... Read More »

Discovering Your Way: How We Learn From Nature

Lee Memorial Hospital staff participates in a leadership exercise. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Humans…the dominant species on the planet. We have evolved to a point that we don’t have to rely on other animals for our own wellbeing. We’ve gone from being hunters to farmers to producers of artificial substitutes for food. We’ve domesticated other species to provide nourishment for ourselves. Our social structure now demands that we depend on each other to maintain a sense of community, a balance among ourselves. Skills and instincts that we once had are now less valued. There is a hierarchy of managers, middle managers and laborers now, and the relationships among ... Read More »

Winter in the Big Cypress Swamp

Green heron hides among the mangroves waiting for its next meal.

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Ah, the harsh winter climate of South Florida! So blustery, so cold that I had to wear long pants twice last January! I don’t know how people can stand it! Actually our climate provides a safe haven for many of our northern visitors to escape the cold and snow. These humans will take advantage of the excellent beach conditions, boating opportunities and great eco-attractions to keep themselves entertained over the next four months. Some will also take the short trip, less than thirty minutes, and learn about the fascinating areas just west of the Everglades. ... Read More »

Prescribed Fires Made Possible Through Partnership

SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Prescribed fire is an important tool for natural resource managers in Southwest Florida. Within Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, thousands of acres of fire-dependent habitat are managed each year with the help of regional partners and crews from the Prescribed Fire Training Center (PFTC) in Tallahassee. “We rely on partners for a lot of what we do here,” said Resource Management Coordinator Jeff Carter, who is responsible for overseeing the reserve’s prescribed fire program. Rookery Bay Reserve staff coordinate burn activities with the Florida Forestry Service, and work with partnering land managers and local ... Read More »

Our Island Ecology

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By Chadd Chutsz New Year 2016 brings a new column to Coastal Breeze News- Our Island Ecology! Enjoy regular updates and insights on Marco Island nature and wildlife, straight from the desk of the City of Marco Island Environmental Specialist, Chadd Chutsz. Burrowing Owl Chicks Arrived! The first chicks of the season have been spotted by Owl Prowl volunteers! Three fluffy chicks along with mom and dad have made themselves at home on a sandy lot just a short fly from the beach. Writer Rosanne Pawelec is kindly donating a portion of sales proceeds from the book “Ollie Finds A ... Read More »

A Thankful Year in Review

It was a banner year for  baby dolphin births in our area; Mom Giza shows off her newborn, Freedom. Giza also became a
grandmother this year. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The realist adjusts the sails. ~ Wm. Ward   What a fantastic year this has been! I would like to thank the Coastal Breeze News for allowing me to be a part of their team. It has been an honor and I am humbled. I would like, even more, to thank those who read my contributions to this paper. Your positive feedback and constructive criticism have made me a better person (although I like the compliments more than the criticism). One of my ... Read More »

Losing Florida Wildlife

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STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Recently I submitted a column concerning the loss of many species around the planet and the idea, by some scientists, that we are experiencing the beginning of the next mass extinction. Several readers responded and asked that I address the loss of some Florida species, rather than just a generalization of global statistics. (This is good that I get such feedback, now I know someone other than my wife reads these articles.) Human expansion seems to be the main concern regarding some Florida animals, but climate change also plays a major part in the migratory ... Read More »

Southwest Florida Nature Festival

Birding for Beginners  field trip at Sand Dollar Island. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Leaves rustling on a light breeze in harmony with twittering songbirds. A mullet splashing out of a brackish bay. Slivers of sunlight dappling the leafy ground. There are many sights and sounds to enjoy in Southwest Florida. Throughout the seasons residents and visitors can enjoy nature hikes, paddling, birding and photography on hundreds of thousands of acres that are protected as conservation lands. As temperatures drop, the environment welcomes new arrivals from the north, many of which have flown here on their own two wings. Now in its 12th year, the Southwest Florida Nature Festival at ... Read More »

Going, Going, Gone! Extinction Rate is Faster Than Ever

Peregrine Falcons are slowly rebounding after near elimination. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist “It is a folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity.” ~ Joel Sartore A few weeks ago I was watching a morning news program that featured conservationist and National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. He is flying around the world taking pictures of thousands of animal and plant species and he is in a hurry. He displayed a few photos taken in recent months, and those subjects are no longer alive. They are gone, and gone forever. Mr. Sartore is in a race against time to ... Read More »

New Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk Tour

The new Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk tour stops at this gator hole. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Submitted A new naturalist-led tour of the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk is the newest Friends of Fakahatchee adventure offered at www.orchidswamp.org. The new tour uses high-tech two way headsets will help tour participants get the most out of their naturalist-led small group tour of the Fakahatchee’s Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The tour of the National Natural Landmark site on the Tamiami Trail is a morning stroll in dappled shade along the 2,220-foot boardwalk through one of the last remaining stands of virgin cypress trees in Florida. The tour will provide many photography and bird watching opportunities. Highlights include an old growth ... Read More »

Meet Marco’s New Baby Dolphins

Cosmo and her baby  Honeymoon play in a wave. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturalist Freedom. Honeymoon. Little Bear. These words do not describe a mountain getaway for newlyweds. They are, instead, the names of the first three baby dolphins seen in the Marco Island area this fall. This is birthing season for the bottle nosed dolphins in this section of the world, and we are hoping to see a few more “Young of Year” (YOY) over the next several months. As well as being an educational ecotour, the dolphin survey team onboard the Dolphin Explorer takes pride in monitoring the birth statistics in the area; which one is the ... Read More »

Sea Turtle Research in the Ten Thousand Islands

Greg Curry, left, and 
Dr. Jeff Schmid release a loggerhead sea turtle from their capture net. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Most Marco residents know that Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters on Southwest Florida’s coast, but few are aware that this outdoor classroom and living laboratory hosts hundreds of research projects undertaken by DEP staff, graduate research fellows, and visiting scientists from around the world to answer scientific questions about the wildlife, plants and habitats. The results of these projects contribute to the reserve’s overall understanding of local trends and often help guide future management and restoration efforts. One local scientist studying in the reserve is Dr. Jeff ... Read More »

Meet the Marco Dolphins

2-year-old dolphin, Anji. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Submitted Join master naturalist Bob McConville on November 19th in Rose History Auditorium for the first in a series of fun-filled lectures on young, bottlenose dolphins in Marco waters. The lecture, which is sponsored by the Marco Island Historical Society, begins at 7 PM and is open to the public. McConville will also continue his discussion of area wildlife on January 13, March 16 and April 13, 2016. Meet the dolphins and their calves, find out their names—Rangle and her baby Bubbles; Giza and her youngest Sammy; Skipper and Flag, among others— and get an update on how they are ... Read More »

Sea Turtle Research in the Ten Thousand Islands

Greg Curry, left, and 
Dr. Jeff Schmid release a loggerhead sea turtle from their capture net. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS Renee Wilson renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us Most Marco residents know that Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters on Southwest Florida’s coast, but few are aware that this outdoor classroom and living laboratory hosts hundreds of research projects undertaken by DEP staff, graduate research fellows, and visiting scientists from around the world to answer scientific questions about the wildlife, plants and habitats. The results of these projects contribute to the reserve’s overall understanding of local trends and often help guide future management and restoration efforts. One local scientist studying in the reserve is Dr. Jeff ... Read More »

Stone Crabs … Interesting Facts

Bob displays a male stone 
crab for guests to view onboard the Dolphin Explorer. PHOTO BY CAPT. MICHAEL TATEO

STEPPING STONES Bob McConville Master Naturali Yum! There they are, precooked, and on a plate right in front of me. Just a bit cooler than room temperature, with a side of drawn butter, as well as a mild mustard sauce, I can already taste them and I’m three feet from the table. Those delicious stone crab claws are back in season! Hundreds upon hundreds of crab traps were placed in position in the backwaters and just offshore during the first two weeks of October all around the Marco Island area. Traps were baited and commercial crabbers waited for the magic date ... Read More »