April 10th has been officially recognized as Gopher Tortoise Day!
The goal of Gopher Tortoise Day is to increase awareness and appreciation for these long lived, gentle reptiles.
Gopher tortoises are considered a “keystone species” because they dig burrows that provide shelter for 360 other species of wildlife, called “commensals.” These commensal species include the gopher frog, Florida mouse, eastern indigo snake, and hundreds of invertebrates like beetles and crickets. Without the gopher tortoise, many of these species would not exist.
Wildlife officials report that spring days are a good time to spot a gopher tortoise as the species becomes more active, foraging for food and searching for a mate.
Sanibel Island sustains a sizable population of gopher tortoises, which inhibit conservation lands, residential neighborhoods and commercial properties.
(Dina has one in her front yard, too!)
The species needs plenty of sandy sunny habitats with an open tree canopy to thrive and survive, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Officials advise that it is best to leave gopher tortoises and their half-moon shaped burrow entrances alone. It is illegal to disturb or harm them, their burrows or their eggs.
Habitat destruction is the main threat to its species’ population. CROW treats an average of 60-75 gopher tortoises annually, and their main reason for admission is from being ‘HBC’ (Hit By Car). As of April 5, CROW had eight gopher tortoises recovering in the hospital.
To help a gopher tortoise cross a road, pick it up and place it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. Remember that the tortoise is a land animal, so never attempt to put it into water.
CROW will host a “Patient Profiles: Gopher Tortoises” program on April 14 at 2 p.m. for those interested in learning more about the species and how the medical staff treats injured tortoises.
Another cool photo from Andy. Look closely! Can you see it?
It’s an Anhinga seen at The Dunes nestling in the sheltered water habitat they prefer.
You can often spot an anhinga perched on a branch with wings outstretched, drying its feathers. The fact that their feathers are less water resistant than other birds helps them to swim underwater.
Although not particularly fast swimmers, they are effective aquatic hunters, relying on their quick necks and sharp bills to catch prey. They target slower-moving species of fish and stalk them underwater, finally striking out with their long neck and spearing the prey with the beak. They then bring the prey above water and manipulate it in order to swallow the fish head first.
Did you know? Male anhingas have much brighter colors than their female counterparts. Males have black crests and greenish-black plumage overall, accentuated by silver-gray feathers on the upper back and wings that are edged with long white plumes. By contrast, females are brown with a light brown head and neck and are much less vivid.
Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world and worth more than $6 billion to the state of Florida alone. Corals, however, are dying at an unprecedented rate because of global and local threats such as climate change, ocean acidification, and disease outbreaks.
Mote Marine Laboratory scientist Dr. Erinn M. Muller aims to understand how these threats are impacting reefs around the world and identify corals that are resilient to the stressors.
On Friday, April 6, she will be presenting two free programs titled “Coral Restoration” at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., part of the 2018 “Ding” Darling Lecture Series at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.
The staff scientist and program manager of the Coral Health and Disease Program at Mote Marine in Sarasota, Fla., earned her doctorate in biology from the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., studying “Spatial and temporal dynamics of coral disease in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.”
Dr. Muller has written numerous published papers on coral bleaching and disease and has won several awards for her work, including the International Society for Reef Studies Young Scientist of the Year Award in 2015.
Seating for the lectures is limited and available on a first-come basis.
As usual, Wildlife Drive closes on Friday, but visitors are welcome to enjoy the free Visitor & Education Center, Indigo Trail, and recreational opportunities at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s official recreation concession located at its Tarpon Bay Recreation Area.
For more information, call 1-239-472-1100, ext. 241 or log on to dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/lecture-and-film-series.
Grabbing a few shots from Andy’s camera to share with you today!
He was all excited after his latest visit to The Dunes, where he saw hundreds of Lesser Scaups, a rare sight indeed. From everyone he talked to, the consensus was that it might have been the first time that species had ever been seen there.
Fun fact from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
The Lesser Scaup spend the winter farther south than any other diving duck in their genus (Aythya) — some go as far south as Central America and the Caribbean.
We know of at least one bird lover who was certainly glad these fellas made a pit stop on Sanibel!
“Count your rainbows. Not your thunderstorms.”
– Alyssa Knight
Should you have any photos you’d like to share, please email them to Dina@OceansReach.com.
Today’s Guest Photographer: Barbra Philips
On Thursday, April 5, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) will host a free “Meet the Artist” reception for bird photographer David Jeffrey.
Jeffrey, a talented amateur photographer who winters on Captiva Island, became seriously interested in bird photography in 2010, after retiring from a career in finance. The self-taught photographer took inspiration from Arthur Morris, author of The Art of Bird Photography.
“I feel a deep connection with the birds I photograph,” said Jeffrey, who lives in Massachusetts, but photographs regularly at the refuge. “I am particularly pleased if the bird is catching food, trying to attract a mate, building a nest, feeding its young, or trying to frighten off a potential rival…. I am also fond of the portrait-like quality of one or two birds expressing absolute peace. I feel that peace when I photograph them.”
Jeffrey is currently exhibiting 30 bird images at the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center Auditorium through April 30, 2018. The public is welcome to view Jeffrey’s images, about half of which he shot at “Ding” Darling, in the admission-free Visitor & Education Center during regular hours, daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The “Meet the Artist” reception on April 5th is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon.