Friday, December 12, 2008

For the Birds!! Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Delray Beach, Florida
December 4, 2008

Well, once again, I'm posting one week after our outing, it takes alot of discipline to sit down and write. Traveling to Orlando, to the land of plastic, delayed my time even more. I know there are beautiful things near Orlando (like all of the springs and lakes), but where we were was all mini golf, water slides, and chain stores. Next time we are going to the springs!

Anyway, back to Wakodahatchee Wetlands. I would rather go there any day!! What an amazing and gorgeous place. It was as if I had called ahead and ordered all the animals to be out frolicking. The wetlands are bursting at the seams with birds, turtles, alligators, and iguanas. Such a tremendous amount of wildlife for a place that just a few years ago was just a water catch for the local utilities company. Well, it still is, but now it is flourishing. A bit over 10 years ago the Palm Beach County Water Utilities decided to recreate wetlands that had once been dominant in the area. In 1996 the task was completed.

Now, about 50 acres of land is designated as wetlands and serves to further filter the water while also providing a beautiful place for native plants and animals. Every day about 2 million gallons of treated water is pumped into the wetlands. The water continues to be filtered as it runs and sifts through the native flora. Plants such as: Pond Apple, Alligator Flag, Pickerel Weed, Duck Potato, Cord Grass, Muhly Grass, Water Lily, Duck Weed, Cypress, Willow, Red Maple, and Buttonbush, make up the wetland plant communities. Along the outside, on the higher ground, you will see Sabal Palm, Live Oak, Dahoon Holly, and many more.

We started our walk with a game, called "Did you know, or D'Juno". I had some cards with rhymes on them, directing the kids to different areas along the boardwalk by clues. When the kids found the area, they had to read the inside information, which was an interesting fact about the wetland ecosystem. For example, one card may have said: "D'juno that "Wakodahatchee" translates to "created water" in the Seminole language? The game was great fun, occupied the kids while also relaying important knowledge. Next time I'll do more, they wanted to keep it up.

As soon as we walked onto the boardwalk, we saw birds. Right along the edge were some cute little Common Moorhens scooting around and yelling at us. The Moorhen is black with a red beak and they make quite alot of noise. Then we noticed something in the water, it was a Soft-shelled turtle coming up for a little peak. Once we noticed that one, we saw maybe 50 turtles, maybe more. The majority were Soft-shelled and the others were Florida Cooters, Yellow-bellied Sliders and maybe some Alligator Snappers that were hanging out on the bottom. The Florida Cooters were lined like sentinels along most of the logs that were sticking out from the water, sunning themselves to warm up and get energy for the rest of the day.

Down below the boardwalk as we walked, we continued to see bird after bird... Purple Gallinules climbing the alligator flag to eat their favorite seeds: little, cute Grebes bobbing in and out of the water; a lone Green Heron fishing along the stems of the reeds; and beautiful, ducks with blue on their wings, called Blue-Winged Teals stopping in along their migration. Up, overhead, an occasional Tri-colored Heron could be seen swooping across the water to land in a favorite hunting spot - no longer visible as its colors melded into the colors of the reeds. Great Egrets and White Ibis dotted the green grasses with their white backs; the Ibis pecking at the ground with their beaks feeling for whatever tasted good; and, the Great Egrets standing still in their silent hunting meditation, preparing to strike as quick as lightning when a fish swam by.

As we stopped to get some shade under the gazebo, we noticed a beautiful and giant Great Blue Heron perched up high in a Pond Apple tree just to our left. At first I was sure it was a Night Heron because its head was all scrunched down, but then it stretched its lovely, long neck and we saw its true form. Later we saw her flying back to her roost with a long branch - an amazing sight. She's setting up her nest. The herons and egrets all have their breeding plumage right now and will be nesting over the next few months -setting up roosts all over the trees. The kids were in awe of this bird and how close we were to her. I thinked they were shocked at how big Great Blue Herons are.

Speaking of big, as we were walking further we saw the king of the skies (or so I think), the Wood Stork. The Wood Stork is not the most gorgeous bird while on the ground and standing still (in fact it is really quite ugly and prehistoric looking), but when the Wood Stork takes off and soars through the air, it is a most remarkable and beautiful sight. Their wing spans can be up to 6 feet long and they are striking with their black and white markings and their long beaks. We only saw one stork while there, which is not encouraging as they are endangered. They make their way to Florida and south every winter to breed.

Now the other king of the wetland is the Alligator. There was a huge, big daddy alligator sunning himself on the bank right in the middle of the first section of wetlands. They are cold-blooded and therefore need to thermo-regulate to become warm and to get enough energy for later - just like the turtles and the iguanas. We also saw another alligator close to the trail, seeming to be people-watching very slyly out of the corner of her eye. I say "her" only because she was smaller than the other, but it's really hard to tell female from male.

Later, as we walked and enjoyed the plants and the abundance of wetland birds, we were treated to two Red-shouldered Hawks cavorting in the skies above us - probably setting up nest. High above them was an Osprey playing in the currents. And even further up were the Turkey Vultures. Turkey Vultures can soar higher than most and can smell death from 10 miles away, so they were on the hunt circling and searching.

The children were fascinated and truly loved the beauty that was shown to us this day. Kim, Lauren's mom fell head over heels for this place, we'll need to get her back there, AND out to the Everglades!

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