The land on which A1A travels is essentially a series of barrier islands. These landforms help to protect the mainland from storms and tides. The Archie Carr NWR plays a vital role in protecting these islands and thus protecting the mainland by preserving and restoring the vegetation that holds the islands together.
One of the biggest players in the process of land conservation is the mangrove. Florida has three species--the red, black and white mangroves--and they are primarily concentrated along the south and western shores of the state. But the barrier islands that stretch from Merritt Island to right around Ft. Lauderdale are home to these amazing plants as well.
The day that I was out hiking in the sanctuary it was quite windy, so I was able to see first hand the importance of the mangrove. In places like this, where the mangrove was absent, the shore along the Banana River was eaten away and exposed to the waves.
But where the mangroves stood, the waves were dampened by the roots and branches of the trees, thereby protecting the shore from erosion. But the trees also help create new land by trapping sediment and and other detritus. I was reading that in Bangladesh, people have been able to create over 300,000 acres of land in the Bay of Bengal by planting mangroves!
Their power is in their root system. They possess an complex system for filtering the salt from the water and so are able to live in places where most plants dare not go. They sprout little fingers that poke up into the air which helps the plant to breathe, and they grow far-reaching roots that provide them with greater stability. They also provide habitat for wildlife, including birds, shellfish, snakes and schools of young fish. They are also food for deer and other animals and provide nectar for bees and bats.
I followed the trail along the shore of the Banana River and the mangroves until it forked, then made my way to the small pond, where I was hoping to see some birds and alligators. Yes, that's right, I wanted to see alligators! I emerged from the mangroves into this savanna-like plain.
I love open spaces. I like being able to see what's around, love the sky and clouds. The woods are nice on a windy day, but I generally prefer wide open spaces.
I came looking for birds, and birds is what I found. The air was full of them--the largest were of course the easiest to photograph.
I know a lot of people find this bird, the turkey vulture, to be rather repulsive, but I think they are magnificent. I miss them at home in the winter, as they migrate south for the season. It was quite a treat to see them again, soaring overhead on a six foot wingspan.
Now here's one we don't see in Michigan--the white ibis. This is a southern bird of marshlands, one of those gangly birds that somehow manages to nest in trees.
I could hear the osprey long before I saw one, their high-pitched screech piercing the air before I'd even made it to the pond. Not the sharpest photo but I like that the sun is glinting in its eye. The osprey also has a nearly six foot wingspan. I watched this one for quite some time, hoping it would spot a fish and go into a dive, but I had no such luck.
And last, the brown pelican. There was one drifting about on the pond, but I had several flyovers, and managed to get a few shots. I like this one as it shows it's massive seven foot wingspan.
As I neared the pond I saw what I was hoping for--waterfowl. I know next to nothing about waterfowl--I'd always assumed every duck-like bird I saw was a mallard. I knew nothing about mergansers and grebes and shovelers and teals....but I was about to learn.