|Gainesville's Newest Nature Park|
|7am and Ready to Go!|
|View of the Park Taken in April, Before Opening Day|
Thanks to my very fruitful trip to La Chua the day before, I had chalked quite a few items off of my list, so I had just a few target birds for this trip--Killdeer, Coot and Swallowtail Kite. I had a nice surprise, though, as I got started. I saw several of my birding friends standing with their scopes trained on some trees across from a bridge. When I got over to them, Rex asked if I wanted to take a look. He had a Yellow Crowned Night Heron in the scope, a bird I would probably not have found on my own. Much of the fun of the June Challenge is the way birders share with each other, reporting unusual or hard to find birds so that everyone can experience and learn. Yes, the June Challenge is very competitive, but it is a friendly and nurturing competition.
|Birders on the Bridge|
My first stop was on the boardwalk to see a Killdeer I'd seen the week before (when it didn't count!). I found her right away and got several great photos. If you've never noticed it before, Killdeers have amazing eyes. While I was looking, another friendly set of birders helped me find her beautifully camouflaged eggs in the sand near a palm tree. A little further down the boardwalk I found some Coots splashing and bathing, and missed my chance at the best Purple Gallinule photo ever because of a camera malfunction (read: operator error.) Grrr.
|Well Camouflaged Eggs|
|Purple Gallinule, Just a After the "Perfect" Shot|
|Boat-Tailed Grackles Squawking|
|Anhinga and Water Lotus|
This philosophy is almost exactly the opposite of what the head of the Florida State Department of Environmental Protection, Governor Rick Scott, and the Florida Legislature want to do. They are proposing that the State take "empty" sections of Florida's fabulous State Parks (such as Myakka, near Sarasota) and make them "self sustaining", opening up parks for cattle grazing, logging and cell phone towers, so that they can generate money. As if generating money what the parks are for. They completely miss the point of conservation and preservation, of disappearing habitats and endangered species. They miss the point of spending time in peace and tranquility, with fresh air and water. Every hour, every minute, the world loses more natural habitat. The world is a much sadder place without nature and natural areas. We need to protect the wild places that we have if we are going to have anything left for future generations. What these government officials fail to realize is that natural areas are healthy and good for people, as well as for the animals and plants, and that they bring lots of money to the state in the form of hotels, restaurants, eco-tours and equipment rentals. People come to Florida's parks and natural areas to get away from the city and development. They want to see snakes, alligators and manatees, migrating birds, wildflowers and pristine beaches. No one wants to take a vacation or special trip to see a cattle ranch or logged out forest.
|Wetlands Hard At Work|
And you can't just pop cattle into a park or log a section without having consequences. Smaller habitat or encroaching development will change what animals can survive in a certain area. Grazing and logging don't constitute good land management. This is land exploitation and development. People who want to develop our parks ignore that fact that we already have lost most of our wild land. Cutting away a little more leaves a smaller percent of an already small percent. We need more preservation, not less.
|Common Gallinule Family with Photo Bomb from a Least Bittern!|
Which brings me back to the Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Few people would be interested in visiting a waste water treatment area. But make it attractive, with native plants, walkways and boardwalks over the wetlands, and people will flock to the same waste water treatment area to see the local wildlife. They will willingly pay $5 per carload to get in. This should be a model nationwide. Build more parks and the people will come! If the State is really concerned about the future of the parks, they could charge a little bit more for park entries. But I don't think that's really the issue. They say that the parks are taking limited money away from education and other important programs. But I know there are other ways to stretch that budget. It's a matter of prioritizing, and right now, our State Government puts a very low priority on our environment.
|There are Limpkins Nesting in the Cattails|