Tag Archives: Florida wetlands

Hungryland and Florida’s weirdest hawk

My sister and I were texting and she asked what I was up to for the rest of the day. I said, “We’re heading out in the Jeep to a place called Hungryland.” She said, “Is that a restaurant?” Ha!

It would be a great name for a restaurant but it’s actually a WEA, a Florida Wildlife and Environmental Area. A restaurant for wildlife!

The John C. and Mariana Jones/Hungryland WEA comprises more than 16,600 acres in Martin and Palm Beach counties, seven miles west of Jupiter. Google maps location HERE.

From Wild South Florida

Jones Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area is a series of vast wet meadows and slash pine flatwoods, places that are wet even at the height of the dry season. The WEA and surrounding lands are part of the historic Hungryland Slough, an inhospitable place that gave refuge to Seminoles fleeing the U.S. Army during the mid-1800s. Later, it became cattle country and in the 1960s, was the proposed site of a housing development; builders dug a canal network through the site in an attempt to drain the land. Fortunately for us, they failed to file proper plans, Martin County successfully sued to stop the project and the land eventually ended up in state hands during the 1990s as the John C. and Mariana Jones Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area, preserved for all time.

More on Hungryland from Wild South Florida HERE.

We were Jeeping along next to the main canal when I spotted a raptor overhead and called for my husband to stop.

I snapped a few quick photos and this was my best shot…

It was a Snail Kite. I believe this is a juvenile, or maybe a female. Adult males are slate gray with white underneath.

It’s a bird that birders who travel to Florida definitely want to add to their life lists. Here is the range map for Snail Kites…

What is most notable about Snail Kites is that their diet is almost exclusively snails. Yes, escargot is on the menu at the Hungryland wildlife restaurant.

From All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

The highly specialized Snail Kite flies on broad wings over tropical wetlands as it hunts large freshwater snails. These handsome gray-and-black raptors have a delicate, strongly curved bill that fits inside the snail shells to pull out the juicy prey inside. Unlike most other raptors, Snail Kites nest in colonies and roost communally, sometimes among other waterbirds such as herons and Anhingas. They are common in Central and South America but in the U.S. they occur only in Florida and are listed as Federally Endangered.

A snail-eating hawk? The world is full of wonders.

Snail Kites do not plunge into the water to capture snails and never use the bill to capture prey. Rather, they use their feet to capture snails at or below the surface of the water.

Snail Kite habitat consists of freshwater marshes and the shallow vegetated edges of natural and manmade lakes where apple snails can be found. Snail Kites require foraging areas that are relatively clear and open so that they can visually search for apple snails. Dense vegetation is not conducive to efficient foraging. Nearly continuous flooding of wetlands is needed to support apple snail populations that in turn sustain foraging by Snail Kites. Disposal of domestic sewage through septic tanks and runoff of nutrient-laden water from agricultural lands degrade the water quality and promote dense growth of exotic and invasive plants such as cattail, water lettuce, water hyacinth, and hydrilla, thereby reducing the ability of Snail Kites to locate apple snails.

Clean water is good for everybirdy.

Good water

An Osprey soars overhead, looking for fish.

This is a restored wetland in the east section of Haney Creek Preserve. (I’m usually in the north section, where there’s a dog park and a nice 1-mile trail through sand scrub and pine flatwoods.)

How did this lovely place come to be? According to this 2017 article “Stuart Completes Wetlands Restoration Project”…

Work on the entire property began in 1999, when the city received grants from Florida Communities Trust to purchase the land. Additional grant money from the St. Lucie River Issues Team and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection augmented the work, which included removal of exotic plants and an engineered wetlands area for natural water filtration.

Yesterday and the day before I visited the newer East Trail, in the section outlined in yellow on the kiosk map at the entrance, off Dixie Highway. (There is no real parking here, but I have been told that the nearby TC3 Church allows use of their large parking lot.)

Here is a LINK to the MAP location.

Haney Creek itself flows south into the St. Lucie River. The restoration of the wetlands, with improved stormwater management, will help protect and improve the health of the estuary. Good job, City of Stuart and Martin County!

It looks like Pond Apple trees were planted at the water’s edge as part of the restoration. It’s a Florida native commonly found in the Everglades. It likes its feet wet, as they say.

As they get bigger, pond apples provide good nesting and roosting places for birds.

Fresh water flows under the bridge and joins brackish water on the west side of the preserve, which eventually flows into the St. Lucie River.

There are mangrove trees growing along the banks of the brackish tidal creek.

Pickerel weed, a native aquatic plant, helps stabilize the banks of the freshwater pond.

This is a Caribbean Scoliid Wasp, identified via iNaturalist. Is it pretty, or creepy? That’s my feeling about many insects.

I think the flower is Marsh Fleabane.

Turkey Vultures flew over while I was there.

I’ve been mostly ignoring vultures because they are so common here in winter, but I decided to immortalize this one.

The large shrubs are Carolina willows growing along the berm that was built up for the pond’s edge. The trail is just grass here, before it gets to boardwalk over a marshy area.

In the shade of the willows, I spotted pretty red flowers on a plant that looks like a member of the hibiscus family.

The boardwalk.

On the north side of the pond, there is a broad creek that flows into it. It is so peaceful here, even though the preserve is along Dixie Highway and busy Route 1 is not far away.

I found laurel oak growing in cool wet woods. We have laurel oaks in our (dryish) front yard and I think they would be happier here.

You can make the trail a loop if you come back along the sidewalk, just outside the fence. I think this “east area” of Haney Creek will connect to more sections and trails in the future.

I thought I would see more birds… ducks, gallinules, wading birds? But this was a degraded wet area that has only recently been restored so maybe… if you build it they will come?

In the photo above you can barely see two birds that were getting on with typical bird behavior – a couple of male Boat-tailed Grackles were having a singing and perching contest.

“I’m the man!”

“Nope, sorry. I’m on the highest spot and therefore I’M THE MAN.”

Hey birds, maybe it’s this guy who’s the man. Jeffrey Krauskopf served as a city and county commissioner for a total of 30 years. His efforts led to the purchase of the land for this preserve. Save the land, save the river.

Martin County: Water Conditions and the St. Lucie River

St. Lucie River Water Sampling Report

Florida wetlands fashion photography

A pink hibiscus and a green orchid bee, how lovely!

I was excited to get this shot yesterday as I was prowling around the edge of a restored wetland at Haney Creek East, in Stuart.

I was just about to take a picture of this hibiscus at water’s edge when the bee flew into the picture and hovered for a few moments before disappearing into the flower.

Green orchid bees, Euglossa dilemma, are native to Central America but were found a couple of counties south of us first in 2003, probably having hitched a ride from Mexico in a nest on a wooden pallet.

Green orchid bees are a quite conspicuous and charismatic species. This is mostly due to their large size and bright metallic-green coloration. They are roughly the same size to slightly smaller than a honey bee, usually about 1.3 cm in length. The wing membranes are darkened, but transparent. Green orchid bees are very fast and agile flyers, and can be seen quickly darting from flower to flower separated by long periods of hovering.

The pink and green colors of this flower and bee remind me of a popular Florida fashion brand, Lilly Pulitzer.

My new camouflage pants for Florida nature photography?