Saturday, April 7, 2012

Heading Up the River on the Calusa Queen

One of the great things about being a member of the Isles Yacht Club is that I can plug in to lots of fun activities without having to do any planning.  (I know, eventually I will have to step up and take my turn, but for the moment I'm enjoying just being along for the ride--literally in this case!)  This week featured a trip up the Peace River on the Calusa Queen pontoon boat to visit some local rookeries.

Inquiring minds were very curious about what we were going to see on our outing.   As we headed up the River, Captain Will shared some interesting eco-facts with the group.  The Peace River was originally named Rio de la Paz (the River of Peace) by a Spanish cartographer who had never been here.  Later the Seminoles named it Talakchopcohatchee (the River of Long Peas) because of all the pea plants along the river.  So, one want or another, this waterway was destined to be called the Peace River.   Because the River is such an important water resource to this area, much of the land along the River is owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  As a result, the land along the River has not been developed, so you get the feeling that you are heading back in time as you head up the River.  

After about 45 minutes, we got to the rookeries where a number of types of birds make their homes.  The featured species was the wood stork, which is the only stork that is native to North America.  Wood storks are not the most attractive of birds but their chicks are awfully cute.   We learned that the wood storks mate for life (which is about 20 years) and that the parents share all responsibilities equally (other than actually laying the eggs!)   When the chicks are little, the parents will spread their wings to shade them from the hot Florida sun.   It was interesting to see the birds flying to and fro with materials for their nests, which they maintain throughout the season.

Some great white egrets also call one the Peace River rookeries home, which led Captain Will to tell us the story of the plume wars.  After the Civil War, the plumes of many birds, including the great white egret, were a fashionable inclusion in women's hats.  In less than sporting fashion, hunters plundered rookeries and killed the birds nesting there in order to obtain their plumes to sell to milliners.  By the end of the century, Florida's bird population was close to extinction, leading to President Teddy Roosevelt's declaration of Pelican Island on the east coast of Florida as the first bird sanctuary.  (During his tenure, 55 other national wildlife sanctuaries were also established.)

It was an incredibly pleasant outing, and if the "oohs" and "aahs" of the ladies were any indication, a good time was had by all.  The next time you're heading up by boat to the Nav-A-Gator Grill to see Jim Morris, leave a few minutes early to stop by the rookeries and check out a slightly different type of wildlife.   Why not take the time to appreciate what's in our own backyard?     

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