Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published Mar. 16, 2014 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Snail Kites

Snail Kites have been seen scoping out the new Lakeside Ranch site for possible nests.

Clean Water

Masked Duck, maleMasked Duck, femaleIn Colonial America it was called the “Necessary Room” and it was in the back garden, where many a citizen endured a cold night walk to use it. In the late 1800’s, with the advent of indoor plumbing it morphed into the “bathroom,” a euphemism still very much in use. And now everyone knows exactly what you mean when you ask, “Where is the restroom?”

The treatment of human generated wastes has also changed, from simply covering it with dirt, to disposing of it in a nearby stream or river, always downstream from the upstream intake for drinking water, (God help the residents of the next village/town/city downstream, doing the same thing), to the construction of treatment plants, now sophisticated enough to produce safe drinking water from the treated sewage effluent. Do you think that Astronauts, now spending months in the International Space Station, carry with them the four gallons of water per day, per person, that is considered the appropriate minimum for proper survival?

Blue- and Green-winged TealsIn Florida, a parallel problem arose, when the early settlers found millions of acres of potential farm and cattle land perpetually covered with water and inhabited with alligators, snakes, mosquitoes and Seminoles. The solution was to channelize the meandering rivers and build canals for the drainage of the land and make it suitable for productive purposes. (Three Seminole Wars solved the Indian problem, but that is another story. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seminole_Wars ) But the land reclamation projects, like so many panaceas with unforeseen consequences, created other problems, as the fertilizer run-off and cattle waste washed into the rivers and canals, polluting downstream estuaries, lagoons, and coastal tidal areas, in many instances causing environmental havoc.

Great and Double-crested CormorantsYou may ask: “What does all this have to do with birds?”  Here in Florida one partial solution to both of these water treatment environmental problems has been the construction of large scale water detention areas covering hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of acres where the polluted water is retained in progressively cleaner cells, to be naturally filtered by native plants that extract the pollutants, until the water is deemed clean enough to return to the environment. These waste water treatment areas are euphemistically called “Wetlands,” while the farm land treatment areas are called “Storm-water Treatment Areas” or STA’s for short. These Wetlands and STA’s are a paradise for birds, as well as alligators, turtles, otters, bobcats, birders, photographers, joggers, walkers, and any number of additional critters.

The most sophisticated of these wetlands is Green Cay in Boynton Beach, which has a Nature Center as well as a 1.5 mile boardwalk. A mile away, also in Boynton Beach, is the older, original model for such wetlands, at Wakodahatchee, with a ¾ mile boardwalk. Well known similar Florida wetlands with drivable berms include Viera, in Viera, Blue Heron in Titusville, and walkable Orlando in Christmas, and Indian River County in Vero Beach.

Eared GrebeSTA’s are owned and managed by The South Florida Water Management District, and are open on a limited basis to birders and photographers by partnership arrangement with Audubon chapters in the counties where they are located. STA-5 is the best known and most popular STA, and birding is managed by Hendry-Glades Audubon Society; STA-1 birding in Palm Beach County is managed by Audubon Society of the Everglades; and birding in the newest STA (16 months at this writing) at Lakeside Ranch in western Martin County is managed by the Martin County Audubon Society.

While virtually all of the common and expected bird species, as well as many uncommon species, can be found in these water impoundments, most years one or more rare and unexpected species arrives to the delight of birders and photographers from all over the United States. For example, Viera has hosted both female and male Masked Ducks (top) in two different years, and one winter, a Great Cormorant mingled with the Double-crested Cormorant flock. In 2007 (above, left) , an Eared Grebe (left) wintered at Green Cay, and STA-5 features the newly recognized Purple Swamphen (below, left), and several pairs of endangered Snail Kites.

It also seems to attract an array of kingbirds. See: http://stlucieaudubon.org/hartBeat/hb2012/hb120508kingbird.html, to Tropical Kingbirdwhich article can now be added the Tropical Kingbird (right), seen in 2013. At Green Cay and Wakodahatchee, birders and walkers sometimes jostle each other as they attempt to use the same boardwalk space for their separate purposes. But the birds have become so acclimated to all the people in close proximity that they often offer up close and personal inspection.

Swamp HensThe newest STA at Lakeside Ranch has only recently been planted with the pollutant gobbling vegetation that also attracts birds, and therefore is still being discovered by both birds and birders. However, Snail Kites have already been observed exploring the area, undoubtedly for appropriate nesting sites and awaiting the development of the Apple Snail population.

So the next time you have the need to use a “Necessary Room” or a less eloquently named  “restroom,” particularly in or near one of these water treatment areas, think of it as contributing to the well-being of our bird friends. While birds may not fully understand or appreciate the valuable service you are providing to their benefit, I’m sure birders will increasingly welcome the opportunities provided by your input, or more correctly, “output,” to these fantastic birding areas. Now, if only St Lucie County would construct one of these “wetland” facilities so that we could contribute regularly to the cause. (3/16/14)

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