Friday, September 16, 2011

Living Alongside Wildlife

A Softshell Turtle Found This Summer Outside
Everglades National Park
sciseekclaimtoken-4e7620cd64472  Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving home from the University, I noticed both a red-shouldered hawk and a belted kingfisher sitting on a powerline overlooking a large pond bordered on two sides by highway. As the cars raced around me to be the first to the next red light, I wondered if anyone had noticed these two animals. Neither represented particularly rare species, but they usually attract my attention when I see them. You can often hear kingfishers before you see them; they have a distinct rattling call that they may give as they fly over ponds and streams. They are most often found in these areas looking for fish, which they will dive into the water to catch. The kingfisher I saw was staring intently towards the water, surely looking out for its next meal.

            The red-shouldered hawk was also looking towards the water, but their hunting strategy is different. Although they are also often found near wetlands, they are most interested in feeding on the animals that can be found in wetland edges, such as small rodents or snakes.

            Just off the road, across from hotels, gas stations, and restaurants, some wildlife species have persisted in the midst of human development. I would like to think that we can eventually come up with a strategy of developing the landscape that allows all native wildlife to persist, rather than us just being content with the species that are able to hang on as we pave what we like. But in any case, until then, I try to appreciate the wildlife that is around.

            Of course, not everyone shares this sentiment. Earlier this summer I received a call asking for help getting rid of a large snake from a yard in a nearby neighborhood.  Upon arrival, I lifted an upturned garbage can to find a large and perhaps confused gray rat snake looking back at me. The homeowner had been doing some yard work when he came across the animal. After picking up the snake and showing it off, I began to deliver my talk regarding how these snakes were harmless and how they fill important roles in the environment. I pointed to the lightly wooded areas in the neighborhood and the small stream and tried to emphasize how fortunate the man was to be living in an area that still maintained some semblance of nature. He agreed with all the of the points I was making, but suggested that if the neighbors saw the snake they would kill it, regardless of his own personal enlightenment. After surveying the area and the proximity of the neighbors, I reluctantly agreed to relocate the snake.

The Pond, as seen from my patio.
            I often wonder how most of the residents of my condominium complex would react after hearing about the wildlife that can be found just outside. My unit overlooks a small pond that, although probably created for landscaping, has become an excellent spot for observing animals, like kingfishers, several species of herons, and even the occasional beaver. At night, I am serenaded by the calls of multiple species of frogs, depending on the time of the year I can hear Fowler’s toads, Green Tree Frogs, or Gray Tree Frogs, for some examples. The pond drains into a small creek that, although heavily impacted by the nearby road, still harbors some interesting creatures. I suspect some of the animals in the pond have crawled in from this nearby creek, which also intersects the University.

The Nesting Spiny Softshell Turtle, Taken From
a Distance to Avoid Disturbance
            A highlight occurred earlier this year, when I noticed some disturbance in the water. After some investigation, I managed to make out the shape of a large Spiny Softshell Turtle on the shore of the pond, at the edge of the closely mowed grass. It was digging a nest and flinging dirt into the nearby water, this was the small commotion that caught my attention. I could not believe that I was able to watch this turtle nest from my porch, minutes from downtown Auburn and in the midst of a housing development.  

    Somehow these animals have found a way. As I think of all the snakes I have been asked to relocate from nearby neighborhoods, and all the turtles I have moved off of the road adjacent to the pond, I wonder if we have lost ours.

A newly-hatched Florida Softshell Turtle

This is my 100th blog post. Thanks everyone for reading.



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