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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Valuable Cypress Wetlands

So many times when engaged in my gardening I'm quite distracted by the birds, butterflies, bugs, and just about any crawling, hopping, or flying creature around me. Why just the shadows & sounds overhead are enough to prompt me to stop what I'm doing below to take a gander at what's going on above. And the truth is I never mind ... quite the opposite. It is part of the pleasure and joy of gardening. Not only that but it is my intention to attract wildlife of all kinds in my garden.

Spring growth on a Cypress Tree.

At the end of my street, which dead ends into a cul-de-sac, two of my neighbors' large backyards border a cypress head conservation area. There is a fairly wide drainage swale that runs between to the two houses allowing for clear vision to the water beyond from the street.

I've lived on this street for 24 years and never have I walked beyond the street down the length of the swale which opens to the water supplying the cypress stand. It is technically easement that belongs to the county but walking down it is kind of like walking in someone else's backyard... if you know what I mean.

Oh, one more tid-bit about the water... I can see it in the distance from my back patio and often I have noticed large birds flying over or foraging in the waters edge for food. It is far enough away that I can't necessarily identify the birds or distinguish the variety of species hanging out 'down there'. I've always kind of assumed they were the common Great Egrets.

Which brings me to the point of my tale today.

This morning, while taking my morning jog which I do up and down my street, I rounded the cul-de-sac. Nothing out of the ordinary. Next, also part of my routine, I take a gander out to the water beyond the easement to see what I can see. All these years and all I've ever seen from the street are ducks or occasionally groups of white ibis or perhaps a Great Egret.

You can imagine my shock as I spotted these three birds (above photo) wading together and fairly close to the beginning of the open water area. I just kept jogging to my house -4 houses away -right into the house to get my camera and back to hopefully get photos of these amazing creatures. And they were in my neighborhood! The sight of the wildlife was empowering me all of a sudden to cross the boundaries I had set for myself all these years.

Not in all the time I've lived here have I seen a Wood Stork or a Spoonbill from my streetside vantage point to the water. The sight of them drawing me down the path and into what felt like another world to see what else I might be missing by obeying my imaginary boundaries. I found a whole new place I never knew nor would have imagined so beautiful and well occupied...

I trailed along the length of a wooden fence about 50 feet to where the water opens up beyond the swale/easement. This (above) is what I saw to my left as I neared the end of the fence and rounded a small grassy area to the open water. Now imagine I have seen those same cypress trees from my back patio for all these years and THIS is what it looks like on the other side of them.

Did you know? Cypress (Taxodium distichum) wetlands like these are extremely valuable ecosystems because they filter pollutants from water, provide habitats for wildlife, and recharge groundwater.

Standing 20 feet away from me was this grand and beautiful Wood Stork(above photo). An endangered species because of its sensitivity to water levels during the nesting season, but its numbers are stable. In order to feed their large young over the protracted nesting period, Wood Storks need receding water levels 6 to 10 inches deep to concentrate prey in pools and other easily accessible areas.

The Spoonbill is really what I got excited about currently fascinated by their beautiful tufts of pink feathers covering their body and tail AND the unique way they forage moving their bills from side to side. This was as close as I could get. (By the time I returned initially with camera in hand the three birds I had spotted had moved to the far side of the water.)
**The sun was shining brilliantly so some of these photos are hazy & fuzzy because of the angle of light as well as the distance to my subjects being a hindrance.**

I looked to my right and there was a lone Little Blue Heron foraging through the lily pads.

The entertainment continued as I looked further out to my left and saw another sight I've never seen. A Sandhill Crane sitting down. They are typically strolling up and down our street foraging in the ground or flying overhead audible by their very loud rattling call. I'm certain she is nesting.

Mallards are a common sight flying overhead and in the ponds and lakes around here. Even so, I never tire of seeing them sporting their gorgeous coloring and watching their peaceful moves as they travel along the water.

There's more. I flushed out a Great Blue Heron which I didn't see sitting in some brush near where I was crouched snapping photos. I don't like to do that if I can help it. I try always to respect them and keep my distance when photographing wildlife.
Near where the Sandhill Crane was resting, the above Great Egret has just caught a wiggly thing in its beak which it quickly gobbled down the hatch.
Later this evening and after I had written most of this post, I walked back down the end of the street to talk to my neighbor. They did give me permission to walk back there anytime I want to. Now I won't feel like I'm trespassing.

The Great Blue Heron (above) was back.

I managed to get a little closer to the Roseate Spoonbill, too.

So, tell me, would you get as excited and downright silly about a few birds wading in the water for their morning breakfast? Maybe there's something else that causes you to interrupt your routine to run grab your camera. I'm learning so much better these days to take in the moments... To notice the world around me with fresh eyes and to appreciate what's right in front of me. What about you?


  1. A great adventure story with a lot of info. Pics are great. Love it.
    But keep in mind gators. I use to go into woods & look. I miss it.
    I enjoyed your blog. Will visit again.

  2. Roseate Spoonbills! How exciting! You held out WAY longer than I ever could have. 8-} Keep us posted on the cranes. They have the cutest babies.

    I need to nudge Duller again about clearing a path through the woods to the cypress stand. We tried to work our way back there once, but it's awfully dense.

    I hope you do make it in time to see the dogwoods. I think it gets more beautiful every year.

  3. That is so exciting! I love going to the wetlands here to see the migratory birds...I can't imagine seeing all these at the end of your street! And so many that we never see this far west. Those are wonderful pictures.

  4. HA, when you got to the part about continued jogging into your house, I can really see it, never breaking stride, grabbing the camera. We need to keep those cameras on a leash around our necks to be ready for what may pop into our field of vision. Your title is so apt, valuable is the word, for the trees, the water and the birds. You must truly live in paradise. Imagine the view the people who live next to the wetlands have of the life that abounds there. Or do they? We want lots of photos, now that you have discovered the magic!
    Frances at Faire Garden

  5. Hi lola, To tell you the truth, I was watching for big black moccasins that we have seen around here before but gators could be there too. Thanks for visiting Hoe&Shovel and please do come back.

    sophie: WAY longer than ANYONE should have-- now that I realize it. I am going to talk to my neighbor again when I have more time to get the scoop on how long the spoonbill has been visiting. She did say all the birds are more common now that the levels are low (not great for other reasons- low rainfall) which makes it possible to get to all the 'good stuff' as they wade through.

    My son is taking photos for me just in case I miss the dogwoods- his are just coming into full bloom so hopefully we won't.

    Leslie, All the birds in this post are resident to our area but I usually visit parks and beaches to get snapshots of them... it WAS way more fun than I expected to have on my morning jog.

    Frances, if only there was a way to keep the camera on my neck at all times. I've missed many opportunities having to "get back to the camera". At least I've learned to keep it in my car most of the time- just in case.

    Yes, the two homes bordering this ecosystem have perfect views from the back of their homes. Their back yards actually merge with the edge of the waters- one on either side of the swale.They have each managed to fence it off in a way that keeps one from seeing from the street yet giving each of them total privacy and sprawling views.

    It truly was like walking through an imaginary door to another place once I got beyond the fence and the vista was broadened.

  6. Oh Meems, my heart is going pitty patter just reading your post. If I actually saw them up close and personal I would be turning flips and taking pictures if I could calm myself.

    Spoonbills are one of my favorite birds. I think they and the Wood Storks look prehistoric. The unusual pink color of the Roeseate Spoonbills is what really catches your eye along with the "spoon" bill.

    You will have to check this area more often. It is quite beautiful even without the spectacular birds.

    Maybe you will have some little rusty colored Sandhill chicks strolling through your neighborhood with their parents soon too. That would certainly be picture worthy. such fun.

  7. Wow Meems! How awesome to have an enchanting place like that almost literally in your own back yard.

    To think you've lived there almost a quarter of a century without realizing what a treasure you had just waiting to be discovered right down the street. . . beyond exciting!

    I can imagine it - finding a spot like that in my own neighborhood would be a dream come true.

  8. What a great story and what a terrific story teller you are...from the beginning I was drawn into your adventure, I wanted to be there and see these fabulous birds myself...


  9. Hi Meems,
    Yes, 60 is warm here...we rarely need an air conditioner in the summer. I can't remember if I mentioned that I used to live in Ft I know what the summers are like there. Your winters are pretty much like our summers, only we have sunshine from about 5:30 in the morning until 10:30 every night. We pack a lot of sun in a very short time!

  10. Holy moly, of course I'd be excited. Those are some amazing birds! Thanks for the great pictures. There have been heron sightings in my neighborhood, and the whole listserv is lit up. Imagine if we had all these birds!

  11. Oh yes, I would be very, very excited! How amazing that all of this is so close to your own property! I'm glad you'll be able to go back and visit :)

  12. Meems,
    Your new blog look is BEAUTIFUL!! I loved the story of your discovery and would love to see it sometime, not so much for a look at the birds but more so for the journey along the "swale"!!! That just sounds too fun!

  13. Lisa:Staying calm is the trick at times.I can't tell you how intrigued I am that the variety of birds feeding in that one place is so close to me.It is quite thrilling.Those baby Cranes are quite the sight following their parents around... I do hope we get to be introduced to them when they arrive.

    garden girl: it is kind of 'dreamy' almost fairy tale-ish.I couldn't get back down there today but I just have to go back tomorrow to see what I can see- you know --make sure I wasn't dreaming the first time. :-)

    gail: gee, thanks. I've never really thought of myself as a good story teller but I'm glad you liked it.I sure wish I could take you with me so you could see them yourself. :-)

    jean ann: oooo... if we had that many hours of sunshine I might never get anything else done but gardening.

    Vertie: Herons are wonderful creatures. Thanks for stopping by Hoe & Shovel... I'm thinking your climate might be much like ours???

    Hi Amy: It is kind of a wonderful feeling to know my neighborhood has this kind of sanctuary to support the wildlife I found there.

    Pat: Well that would be just "swale" if you could walk along with me AND you'd get the bonus of seeing the birds too. :-)

  14. You'd better believe I'd get excited about that! What fabulous photos you got! That last spoonbill photo is WONDERFUL! Well, they all are, but I especially like that one.

  15. I've never seen any Storks 'alive' and I can very well understand your excitement about seeing all those birds! A very interesting post! Thanks for sharing! /Katarina

  16. PS. There's an award for you at my place...

  17. Oh... Meems, I can completely understand how you felt that morning :-D

    Since writing my blog my eyes have really been opened to what I have walked or driven by too. I found myself walking along a river one day and spotting some birds I had never seen too. I also have returned with my camera. Like you I cannot beleive they have been there all along :-D

    Enjoy your weekend - remember to take your camera. I'm of into the garden to get some work done :-D

  18. Kylee: Isn't the Spoonbill the most fascinating pink fluffy bird?Until recently, I didn't realize they were in our part of the state. Just to think they are enjoying my neighborhood!

    Katarina: Birds are part of the outdoor excitement for any gardener I think. The world comes alive as we notice the life around us. Thanks again for the award.There are so many great blogs out there I will be thinking about who to share this new honor with. hmmm... I wonder who doesn't already have it?

    Shirl: For me, it has been a matter of learning to take photos that make me notice more of what's around me. Seeing the big world through a lens helps me think about what's important -- not sure if I'm explaining that correctly but I think you'll know what I mean. The beauty of those birds and the fact that they are drawn to this spot as a sanctuary is quite wonderful.I know you would love it too with your great love of birds!
    I've been in my garden this morning and now I'm supposed to be cleaning house- ugh! :-)

    Enjoy your garden and weekend.

  19. I just love the cypress swamps. I recently had an opportunity to tour a 10,000 acre ranch in the middle of the state and it was dotted with stands of old growth cypress. It is such a cool world. Thanks for the photos. FYI watch out for the gators...they love the area too!
    Rees Cowden


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

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