Audubon Florida News

Topic: FL Special Places

Florida’s Special Places: Crandon Park on Key Biscayne

posted on June 18, 2012 in FL Special Places

This week’s nominee for Florida’s Special Places comes from Sean Rolland, Audubon Florida’s Summer Law Clerk. Sean is a rising 2nd year law student at University of Florida Law School and we are happy to share his nominee for beautiful Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. Have you visited this special place? Let us know what you think in the comment section below or on FacebookEnjoy:

Trying to figure out what to do this weekend?  Why not visit Crandon Park?  If you have never been or just have not found time to visit in a while, this hardly hidden gem is well worth the 10 minute detour from Downtown Miami.

While many tourists (as well as what appears to be most of South Florida) swarm to Crandon Park during the world-renowned Sony Ericsson Tennis Tournament, and others to come to partake of the Crandon Golf course, the best attractions lie on the opposite side of Rickenbacker Causeway where the beach and nature preserves are found.

Crandon beach is a popular location for music videos and photo shoots for a reason. The long and wide beach, soft sand, coastal dunes, hardwood hammock, and clear and calm waters are picturesque.  These features as well as the extensive boardwalk, cabanas, barbecues, athletic fields, and children’s playgrounds make Crandon Park perfect for all ages. Walk out to the beach and sunbathe, or walk into the water, where an extensive sandbar allows you to stay in shallow water hundreds of yards from shore.

If just sitting on the beach is not your style, do not panic, you can go to EcoAdventures and rent a kayak, kite board, or paddle board. And for those, like myself, who are more frugal with their funds, I recommend bringing a skimboard if the tide is low (the sandbar makes it a skimboarders’ dream) and your snorkeling gear if the tide is high (yes, there is sea grass and fish in this water, unlike South Beach).

But do not be fooled, Crandon Park has much more than tennis, golf, and a beach. There is also a nature center where you can learn about the local ecology, like the sea turtles who lay their eggs here every year. Also, on the north end of the park is an expansive nature preserve with forested paths to walk or ride through, a boardwalk over mangroves leading to a fossilized reef overlook, and a long stretch of completely undeveloped beach.  The highlight of the south end is a former zoo, now a beautiful park complete with diverse plant-life, canals, turtles, iguanas, a wide variety of birdlife, and even the occasional crocodile.

A paradise for runners, bikers, sun-worshippers, bird watchers, snorkelers, swimmers, and connoisseurs of general happiness, Crandon Park is worth the detour.

Florida’s Special Places: Big Lagoon State Park

posted on June 7, 2012 in FL Special Places

This week’s nominee for Florida’s Special Places comes from Annelise Reunert of Francis M. Weston Audubon Society. Annelise has nominated Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola as her special place. What is your experience with this beautiful piece of natural Florida? A big thank you to Annelise for her wonderful nomination! Enjoy:

The water is warm along the shallow beach. A handsome conch shell moves along at a good clip propelled by its resident hermit crab. Across the water I see Johnson Beach, the narrow eastern tip of Perdido Key – just sand dunes with a fringe of sea oats. Right now  Johnson Beach is teaming with Least Terns. A little sailboat tacks elegantly against the wind. A mullet jumps clear out of the water attracting an Opsrey looking to feed its family. I follow the beach to a sand spit. It changes size and shape according to wind and currents. A single Black-bellied Plover winters here watching the visiting ducks. A tall look-out tower named for the Pensacola naturalist, Francis Weston, affords a gorgeous view of this special place.

In the distance tall condo buildings rise above the Gulf. Inland the dead and falling pine trees are reminders of the 2004 Hurricane Ivan. Eden? Perhaps not – but my favorite, special place in North West Florida, the Big Lagoon State Park on the Gulf Coast.  Come share it.

Florida’s Special Places: Big Sabine Point

posted on May 25, 2012 in FL Special Places

Our latest nominee for Florida’s Special Places is comes from longtime Francis M. Weston Audubon Society leader Lucy Duncan. Lucy is an avid birder and has nominated Big Sabine Point for Florida’s Special Places. Thanks to Lucy and others lovers of natural Florida for working so hard to ensure that special places like Big Sabine Point are protected for the generations to come. Enjoy! 

The Big Sabine is a 150-acre parcel of beachfront owned by the University of West Florida (UWF). Situated between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach on Santa Rosa Island, comprised of pristine coastal dunes and marsh, sandbars and shallows, it is among Florida’s remaining barrier island expanses – a special place cherished and enjoyed by hikers, kayakers, fishermen, hunters, and birders. And UWF proposes to sell it. Once lost, it cannot be reclaimed.

Big Sabine’s coastal vegetation undulates across dunes reaching northward to Santa Rosa Sound from the roadway that bisects this narrow barrier island.  White as sugar, born of eroded granite from the Appalachian Mountains and then carried toward the Gulf of Mexico by creeks and rivers, the quartz crystal sands sing as you walk. The rise of large dunes hosts magnolia, Cherokee plum, palmettos, bayberry, yaupon and live oaks, and looks north across a network of marsh and sinuous inlets. The dunes are beguiling, however, as some are bowl-shaped and harbor a variety of unexpected plants within their sheltered walls.

From a vantage point atop these dunes, you can look out to the shallows and sandbars that encircle the estuary known as the Big Sabine. Shorebirds probe the mudflats in winter while flocks of Redheads and other bay ducks ply the fertile marine grass beds nearby. Reddish Egrets oft comically dance along the shallows while threatened piping plovers feast on invertebrates.  On the southwest of the Big Sabine, and also part of the University of West Florida property, a stand of pines holds sentinel shading an understory rich with birdlife. Many pines there are skeletal reminders of Ivan, a category 3 hurricane that swept across this fragile island in 2004 destroying structures and vegetation alike in its fury. Now, a quiet walk through the pines is likely to surprise a Chuck-will’s-widow or Common Nighthawks. A freshwater marsh there echoes in spring with the song of Common Yellowthroats and the Red-wing Blackbird’s kon-ka-reeee.

Once sold and “developed,” there is no going back, no way to reclaim the breathtaking beauty, the open space or the serenity of this special place.

Florida’s Special Places: The Mangrove Gardens at Carwill Oaks

posted on April 30, 2012 in FL Special Places

This week’s entry for Florida’s Special Places comes from Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper. Please enjoy his nomination of The Mangrove Gardens at Carwill Oaks:

Last week I joined David Cox of Pelican Island Audubon Society and Carolyn Stutt of the Mangrove Garden Foundation for a quick but exciting tour of the The Mangrove Gardens at Carwill Oaks.  This one-of-a-kind sanctuary is created largely out of a group of spoil sites along the Indian River Lagoon and connected by boardwalks through a managed mangrove forest.

Especially remarkable are the hundreds of orchids that Carolyn maintains on the property.  But even more remarkable is her passion for conservation and way of thinking about conservation a different way.

Taking an area that was greatly altered by human action, she has created a series of representative gardens including a rainforest and exotic palms. Carolyn has demonstrated that mangroves can be managed (including trimming) to be part of the structure and setting for landscape of endless interest.  An otter family occupies the site and during the tour a Mangrove Cuckoo made an appearance.

Florida’s Special Places: Cockroach Bay

posted on April 20, 2012 in FL Special Places

Great news! Rehabilitation on Cockroach Bay in the Tampa area has been officially completed. People can now enjoy fully the beauty of natural Florida. Hiking trails, kayaking, nature watching, and other activities are waiting for you. Have you visited this special place? Let us know in the comment section below or on the Florida’s Special Places Facebook Page.

From MyFox Tampa Bay:

In the past, that part of the bay was essentially used as a dumping ground. But for 50 years, several agencies have been working to clean it up.

It’s become one of the largest, most complex coastal restoration projects in the Bay Area. But the wildlife aren’t the only ones benefiting — visitors are enjoying it too.

Take Action: Defend Florida’s Iconic Silver Springs

posted on April 13, 2012 in FL Special Places,State Government,Water Issues

Silver Springs, an iconic symbol of natural Florida and a nationally known tourist destination since the mid-1800s, could become the next Florida springs casualty.

The St. Johns River Water Management District is in the early stages of evaluating permit applications submitted by Adena Springs Ranch. Developers want to turn 30,000 acres of relatively undisturbed springshed land into a dense “cattle finishing” operation and slaughterhouse. The size of this project is approximately the same acreage as the City of Ocala. Further, the 13.2 million gallons of water this massive industrial cattle operation wants to draw from the aquifer near Silver Springs is just about the same as the water use for all of the existing development in Ocala.

With flow down by more than 50% over historic amounts and nutrients feeding the growth of algae, the system is alreadydangerously compromisedTake Action: urge Governor Rick Scott and the members of the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Management District to deny permits related to the Adena Springs Ranch project

Please click here to learn more about this important issue and learn how you can help defend this iconic natural area.

Florida’s Special Places: Rice Creek to Etoniah Creek State Forest

posted on April 11, 2012 in FL Special Places,Land Conservation

Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper submits this post from his time spent with the amazing Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. Eric’s journeyed with the team from Rice Creek to Etoniah Creek State Forest – a great 12 mile trek. You may recall that Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray also spent time with the expedition back in March. We wish the team the best of luck on their adventure. Enjoy:

On Saturday, April 7, I finally got the chance to hike with the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. I invited Adam Kent (President of Florida Ornithological Society) and Gina Kent to join us at Rice Creek to look for some birds and meet Carlton Ward and the expedition crew. Adam and Gina identified 27 birds including Hooded Warblers.

I was pleased on arrival at the Rice Creek Conservation Area camp site to see Robert Christianson of the St. Johns River Water Management District.  Getting to spend time with Robert walking and talking was one of the treats of the day.

We hiked out of the bone dry Rice Creek floodplain and walked along the Florida Trail beside SR 100 for several miles before turning north to find Etoniah. Once in those beautiful woods we were treated to the splendor of a well preserved deep creek ravine system with old growth trees and clear running water.  The best view of the day was a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites soaring over the forest.

As we walked I got a chance to have long conversations with Elam Stoltzfus and Mallory Lykes about their experiences over the previous 80 days. The crew seemed interested in how to leverage the expedition to gain support for land and water conservation.

I left my companions to camp at Etoniah, tired, fulfilled and inspired.

Florida’s Special Places: The Ocklawaha River

posted on April 4, 2012 in FL Special Places

Karen Ahlers has been a voice for the Ocklawaha River for many years. She has organized more than 20 guided tours during the recent draw down of Rodman pool with assistance from Captains Erika Ritter and Karen Chadwick. The tours included visits to some of the dozens of springs visible only during the periodic draw downs that occur every three to four years. Please enjoy Karen’s wonderful Florida’s Special Places nominee for the Ocklawaha River:

Sand boils….the essence of the river. Cool, clean, clear, tiny springs bubbling up from tiny fissures in the rock below.

I like to sit on the rock ledge and hold my feet a few inches above them wiggling my toes. The sugar sand tickles, the fish come close and nibble.

The grandmother in me is called to protect small things. I am drawn to these babies in the spring pool.

I cherish the short window of time every three or four years when the backwater pool behind the dam is partially drained. The flood waters subside and allow the head pressure below to overcome the head pressure above and these small wonders appear.

One day they are happily bubbling and boiling then the dammed water backs up and they disappear….again.

More than two dozen springs give life here. From the gusher at Silver Springs to the tiny sand boils at my special place, the Ocklawaha River.

Florida’s Special Places: Fort Pickens Beach on Gulf Islands National Seashore

posted on March 6, 2012 in FL Special Places

This nominee for Florida’s Special Places comes from Lucy Duncan of Francis M. Weston Audubon Society in Escambia County, who nominates Fort Pickens Beach. Lucy is on her chapter’s board, is an avid birder, and makes many visits to our federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore. Please enjoy her nomination:

Fort Pickens, a section of Gulf Islands National Seashore, is as varied a special place as they come no matter what the season. Trails wind through coastal oak and pine forests, while open spaces of low white sand dunes are punctuated with dark green Florida Rosemary and dwarfed live oaks.

One favorite trail edges freshwater marshes where Least Bitterns and Common Yellowthroats breed. Otters play in the canals while Ospreys and Bald Eagles watch from aloft. Bird migration in spring and fall brings surprises in small packages – from tiny warblers of every hue to flashy tanagers and orioles. A vital stopover for migrating birds, each tree and shrub offers a haven of food and shelter for the birds. Winter season brings its own marvels amidst quiet landscapes highlighted by flashy red Dahoon Hollies and occasional rare avian visitors. And then there’s summer and the most gorgeous beaches in the world!

Imagine wiggling your toes in the fine, white quartzite sands on your favorite beach….blue green waves racing up to tickle your ankles with frothy foam….reaching down to pluck a perfectly shiny wet seashell from the sand. Imagine tasting salty air on your lips, and seeing the distant horizon that pulls you away from the mundane to places where your thoughts wander unfettered by the traffic of modern life. Feel the wind smack you right in the face or soak in the warmth of the sun. This could be almost any pristine beach, but for me, it’s the shores of Gulf Islands in Northwest Florida, a place to relax, reflect, retreat, and now to restore.

Fort Pickens and other Gulf beaches and communities could be the beneficiary of funds generated by the RESTORE Act. If passed 80 % of the Clean Water Act fines levied against BP as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster would be directed back to the five Gulf states impacted by the spill. The legislation co-sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is currently moving through Congress.  Should the legislation fail the funds will likely go to the General Fund and will be spent on unrelated projects.


SWFWMD Says No Hunting on Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve

posted on February 29, 2012 in Birds in the News,FL Special Places,Land Conservation

The Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) voted today to retain longstanding land management policies and not open Halpata Tastanaki Preserves 8,146 acres to public hunting and the use of motor vehicles. See Audubon’s alert on this issue here.

Over 40 people appeared at the district governing board meeting, most of whom were opposed to changing the management of land on all 4 SWFWMD tracts where management changes were being considered.  The board also decided to retain current management policies and declined to allow hunting in the 5,677-acre Chassahowitzka River and Coastal Swamps Preserve.

Two other tracts, part of the Weekiwachee Preserve, and the Lake Panasofkee tract were approved for limited public hunting activities.

Audubon Florida had objected to opening parts of Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve to hunting and vehicles which might interfere with the healthy Florida Scrub-jay population there, one of the few places on state land in Florida where endangered jay populations are on the increase.  Previously, SWFWMD district staff responded to Audubon’s concerns by recommending that hunting be excluded from the scrub jay habitat areas.  The SWFWMD board, however, after listening to persuasive arguments from birdwatchers, hikers, equestrian enthusiasts and property owners neighboring the Halpata and Chassahowitzka tracts, decided not to allow hunting on the properties.

Audubon Florida does not oppose hunting, but in the case of Halpata, we believe that the health of the scrub jay population is too important to take any risks.

Of significant concern, the proposal for hunting on Halpata included first-time allowance of private vehicles on the narrow unpaved internal road network. Additional intense recreational use on the property at a time when SWFWMD budgets have been slashed could mean impacts to the resources could not be mitigated or even monitored. Even before the final vote, SWFWMD board members immediately agreed with Audubon that those roads must remain closed.

Charles Lee, Audubon Florida’s director of advocacy stated:

“The SWFWMD board put good management first and pressures for more recreational use second, and that is a very good thing”.

Thanks to all of the Audubon chapters and members who responded to our request for attendance at the SWFWMD meeting  or who sent emails and comments to the district and its board members.  

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