Saturday, November 22, 2014

St.Marks National Wldlife Refuge

This park was established in 1931 to provide a winter habitat for migratory birds.  One of the reasons we came was to see some whooping cranes.  For the past few years an ultralight aircraft has led the young ones from Patuxent Research Refuge to this refuge where they can mature in safety.  The hope is to reestablish a migratory eastern population of the birds.  However, for this winter they have not arrived yet in this refuge.  What has arrived are monarch butterflies.  Written information from the refuge indicates that in late October to early November they arrive, after a cold front comes through.  It is later in November, but the cold front was here.  We saw many of them during or time in the refuge.  A strong wind was blowing which did not seem to stop bother them at all.  They have to be tough for their long migratory journey!
The refuge encompasses about 70,000 acres of Florida counties, and is one of the oldest of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  It includes about 43 miles of Florida's Gulf coast.  The park has hardwood hammocks, swamps and pine flatwoods, and is dotted with lakes and tidal marshes.  We saw a lot of wildlife in the refuge, shortly after we entered the park a deer ran in front of our car and into the woods.  After a brief stop at the visitor's center we took a driving tour of the park and saw many waterfowl in the marshes.
With the above picture enlarged it is possible to see at least 6 black-crowned heron.  They are nocturnal feeders which may explain why they are hiding out in the brush.  What was out feeding was a great egret.
 We saw many other egrets as well as great blue herons.  After seeing so many of them it was exciting to
 see a little blue heron, pictured below.  We also saw many shore and wading birds, as well as one alligator.
Some of the wildlife we saw on a hike near the lighthouse.  St. Marks Lighthouse was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Bureau in 2013.  Since its beginning in 1842 it has had a remarkable history of surviving several hurricanes as well as fire and shelling during the Civil War.  In 1865 the Union Army safely landed 1,000 men near the lighthouse.  During World War 11 a submarine/U boat station was located at the lighthouse.  From this park we drove to Waukulla Springs and saw more wildlife.  I will save that story for my next posting


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