Sunday , December 21 2014
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Florida’s Coastal Friends

A tri-colored heron enjoys the hunt along a grassy shoreline. PHOTOS BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Hello, Mother Nature, and thank you”! This is the anthem I sing when visiting any portion of the state’s coastline. From the panhandle beaches on around to Marco Island to the northernmost points of our ocean areas, there is an abundance of plant and animal life to be appreciated. It would be easy to write several books about this topic and cover the entire coastal region. Because I get writer’s cramp very quickly, this brief space will be dedicated to the live treasures found on Marco Island. It is appropriate to start with the plant life ... Read More »

Controlled Burns: Fighting Fire with Fire

Deer cross a break line heading from an overgrown area to a controlled burn area to forage for food. PHOTO BY NATALIE STROM

By Natalie Strom “South Florida is the largest lightning receptor in North America, which is why the vegetation in Florida is all fire adaptive and fire dependent. It needs fire, it’s learned to evolve itself around fire over time, and if we don’t mimic the natural fire regime we’re going to have overgrown vegetation.” Cass Palmer knows his way around a wildfire. He also knows more than just a thing or two about the importance of controlled burns throughout southwest Florida. The District Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is assigned to the entire portion ... Read More »

Southwest Florida Nature Festival

Ted Below, avian expert and former National Audubon Warden, will be on hand to discuss ospreys in southwest Florida. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Submitted Don’t let the flock pass you by! Registration still is open for dozens of guided field trips to wildlife hot spots around southwest Florida in celebration of the 10th Annual Southwest Florida Nature Festival Jan. 17-19. Specialty trips cover all modes of transportation, including bike rides, buggy rides, canoe trips, swamp tromps and boat tours that shine a spotlight on the amazing conservation lands and waters across the region. Take advantage of opportunities to explore off-the-beaten-path locations such as Sandfly Island in Everglades National Park, CREW Bird Rookery Swamp and Big Cypress National Preserve. Get to know the wildlife ... Read More »

Guided Canoe Trips at Collier-Seminole State Park

Visitors paddle down the serene Blackwater River on a guided canoe tour. PHOTO BY NATALIE STROM

By Noelle H. Lowery Want to learn a little more about the flora and fauna along the Blackwater River? Want to see ancient mangroves and royal palms? Want to know how the Semi-nole Indians survived in the swamps of southwest Florida? Then take a guided canoe trip at Collier-Seminole State Park. Now available Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, beginning at 9:30 AM, the guided tours explore a 13.6-mile canoe trail that twists and turns down the Blackwater River through the state park. The cost is $30 per person for ages six years and up, and each trip is ... Read More »

Comment Period Extended for Backcountry Access Plan Scoping


By Bob DeGross Big Cypress National Preserve Big Cypress National Preserve has extended the public scoping period for a backcountry access plan and environmental impact statement (EIS) being prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The comment period will be extended until Feb. 28, 2014, in response to a request from the public for additional time to review and comment on the scoping newsletter. The purpose of the plan will be to provide off-road vehicle (ORV) secondary trails, non-motorized trails and a camping management approach that protects the Preserve’s natural and cultural resources while providing ... Read More »

2013’s Excellent Environmental Endeavors

Burrowing Owl by Jean Hall.

PROTECTING &PRESERVING Nancy Richie This past year, Marco Island’s environment had exciting conservation efforts and thrived despite increased construction and tourism and limited funding. It’s a precarious balance of people and the environment on this small barrier island in the Ten Thousand Islands, but with the community’s awareness and support, the wildlife and its habitat is holding its own. Looking back in 2013, here are a handful of projects that improved and maintained our environment: • Volunteer Beach Stewards: Launched in 2012, this award-winning program has continued to improve steadily in both numbers and messages to protect the Marco Island ... Read More »

Water, water everywhere!

Everglades National Park. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Stepping Stones Bob McConville From the freshwater rivers of Alabama and Georgia that flow into our state to the rain produced sheetflow of central Florida and the showers The Everglades send to our local area, there is a consistent supply of clean water for us to enjoy and utilize. More than 100 rivers crisscross our state; many of which are protected and preserved. These tributaries nourish the surroundings and give us the beautiful and diverse landscape we enjoy today. The panhandle region and extreme northern border boast lush forests that provide a home for deer, bear, turkey and a variety ... Read More »

FWC, partners offer reward for info about suspicious panther death


By Bob DeGross Big Cypress National Preserve, Chief of Interpretation and Public Affairs The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are looking for help from the public with an investigation involving the suspected illegal take of a Florida panther that was recently found dead in the Turner River Unit of Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County. The dead panther was found with a suspected gunshot wound last weekend. For information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for killing the panther, the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Association ... Read More »

Bring in the New Year with Eaglets

photo by John Parravani

Submitted The holidays are upon us, and New Year’s Eve is approaching quickly. There are many traditions to celebrate the New Year; for a few, this includes fireworks. Fireworks may be a festive, but they are illegal on Marco Island. Moreover, the light, noise and explosions are bad tidings for Marco’s local wildlife. In fact, in Florida, the only legal fireworks for use by consumers — who don’t possess a special permit — are “sparklers”, which include sparklers, fountains, snakes and glow worms. Illegal fireworks include Roman candles, bottle rockets and any other fireworks that act as projectiles. While consumers ... Read More »

Giving back to wildlife, our way of life

Friends of the Fakahatchee Tram Tours. SUBMITTED photo

PROTECTING & PRESERVING Nancy Richie As the rest of the country is shoveling snow, commuting dangerously on icy roadways and bundling up in scarves and coats, we are walking the sunny Marco Island crescent beach in flip-flops or even barefoot, gift shopping in shorts and t-shirts and asking for an iced peppermint latte to cool off. What a wonderful time of year! Most of us, if not all of us, live and visit here for the beauty and wildlife life that is just out our backdoors. From boating, fishing, beachcombing, tennis, golf to just our easy way of living ... Read More »

Upland Adventures

White sand banks of the Blackwater River, a result of quartz  erosion from the Appalachian Mountains. PHOTO BY BOB MCCONVILLE

Stepping Stones Bob McConville I’m always telling my family and friends that the two best months of the year in Florida are November and April. So, when I woke up on November 13 and it was 30 degrees outside with a windchill of 24 degrees, I thought, “What!!! In Florida?? Mid November!?” You bet. Along with my wife Cathy (also a Master Naturalist and a full-time nurse at Physician Regional’s Marco Island Clinic), I took a trip to Florida’s panhandle to explore a few upland habitats. We experienced that cruel weather while staying in the Destin area. When we stepped out ... Read More »

Rookery Bay Welcomes New Staff

Kevin Cunniff. Julie Drevenkar. Submitted Photos

By Natalie Strom Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is more than just a great place to enjoy one’s day and learn about our areas ecosystems. Guest speakers, art exhibitions and outdoor exploration are all a part of the great experience that is RBNERR. The facility’s main focus, however, is on research. Research staff study myriad subjects within the 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters protected by the reserve, including water salinity, mangrove health, fish sampling and much more. As such, RBNERR is always looking for qualified scientists to assist and coordinate in said research. This is where ... Read More »

Weather Wreaks Havoc on Wildlife

By Natalie Strom The week of November 25 through December 1 was a strange week on the beach for many of the city’s volunteer beach stewards. A recent storm front and some odd activities led to an unusually large amount of marine mammal life to be washed ashore on Marco’s beaches. First up, octopi. In one day, a beach steward found eight stranded on the shore as he monitored the beach. Another one was found on Sand Dollar Beach in the same week. Of the nine, six were still alive and were able to be returned to the water. ... Read More »

Marco Island’s Woman’s Club Cleans Beach

By Nancy Richie Despite an overcast, breezy November day, the Marco Island Woman’s Club turned out in large numbers to clean the Marco Island beach on Saturday, November 16. City of Marco Island Beach Advisory Committee chairperson and President of the Marco Island Woman’s Club, Debbie Roddy, led the group, in their matching custom t-shirts, to collect twenty bags of debris and trash between South Beach and Tigertail Beach Park. Many found the beach to be very clean with no large pieces of trash, but did find plastic wrappers, bottle caps, cigarette butts, as well as over 100 plastic straws, ... Read More »

Talking Turkey

Turkeys by type population and range map. Courtesy of National Turkey Federation

PROTECTING & PRESERVING Nancy Richie The day after the third Thursday of November every year, many of us who celebrate Thanksgiving look forward to eating leftovers that include tasty turkey sandwiches. Many find this the best part of the holiday! Unless an avid sportsman is in your family, the turkey that filled your home with the heartwarming aroma while roasting all morning, came from a commercial turkey farm. As we sit down with family and friends, giving thanks for all the gifts in our lives, there are about seven million wild turkeys in the United States giving thanks that they ... Read More »

Bird Watching at Tigertail Beach

Friends of Tigertail learn about bird migration. SUBMITTED PHOTO

By Barbara Parisi On Saturday, November 2, 2013, Friends of Tigertail Beach hosted their Fifth Breakfast & Birds event – Welcome Back our Northern Nesters. FOT welcomed attendees who brought their own breakfasts and binoculars. The event was lead by Susan Kubat and Fran Huxley. The morning commenced with a group of 27 people gathered at the beach pavilion. Susan explained the incredible journeys our migratory shorebirds undertake yearly as they travel from here in the spring to their summer nesting grounds in the north and their return trip here for the winter. Her presentation was punctuated by the use ... Read More »

Putting the Puzzle Together

The 10,000 Islands - a maze of mangroves and mystery. PHOTOS BY NATALIE STROM

Stepping Stones Bob McConville Ah, Florida! Myriad ecosystems working together to bring us all a world of astonishment. From the coastal regions to the rivers, swamps and marshes, to the upland areas, Florida is truly magnificent. We are privileged to be here and I am honored to work with a team of passionate professionals as a part of the Dolphin Explorer team. These naturalists, environmental scientists and our marine biologist inspired me to improve my knowledge of Marco Island’s coastal region and the 10,000 Islands in order to better serve the public and to complete our team profile. This led me ... Read More »

‘Tis the Season…For Stone Claws

Many live stone crabs have been spotted
spending time at Tigertail Lagoon.

PROTECTING & PRESERVING Nancy Richie Check the calendar! You might have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or “season” marked. In our house, the calendar marks October 15 through May 15 every year. This means it’s time to crack some claws and enjoy a tasty meal of the South Florida delicacy – the stone crab. This season got off to a rocky (or should it be called “stony?!) start with some pricing conflicts in Everglades City, the hub of Florida’s commercial stone crab fisheries. But all seems to have adjusted and the catch keeps coming in. Lucky us! Let’s eat! Florida actually has ... Read More »

Burrowing Owls and Brown-Eyed Owls


PROTECTING & PRESERVING Nancy Richie Phew! It rains and rains and that grass grows and grows! Have you noticed that this past summer? Ever since the 2013 Burrowing Owl nesting season ended in late June with the chicks fledged (can fly and survive on their own), a handful of volunteers have been managing and maintaining the 117 Burrowing Owl burrow sites documented on Marco Island. What does this mean? Well, the Marco Island Burrowing Owl population is not migratory. Much to common misconception, the owls DO live here year round. Due to the high groundwater table that affects any burrowing ... Read More »

Keeping our Parks and Lakes Healthy

Some local kids stopped by to watch the fish release

By Nancy Richie Environmental projects were completed this year to improve water quality to support native wildlife populations and recreational uses of the Mackle Park Lake and Lee Plummer Park Lake. The project methods are to improve and stabilize water quality, to increase lake management, install a fountain (at Mackle Park only), stock fish and plant native plant species along the banks of each lake. City contracted, EarthGuard Lake Management, continues to monitor the lakes on a monthly basis to ensure water quality standards are consistent and stable. The monitoring includes water testing for dissolved oxygen, chlorides, conductivity and turbidly. ... Read More »