American Alligators, the Florida State Reptile, are common in South Florida — and can even be spotted in some PBC Parks. In this episode of Animal Encounters, Daggerwing Nature Center Manager, Sean Mallee, shares some interesting facts about the American Alligator, including a number of useful adaptations the reptiles have! This episode features Nibbles, an Animal Ambassador at Daggerwing Nature Center.
Written by Autumn Horne, Asstistant Naturalist, Daggerwing Nature Center
Here at Daggerwing Nature Center, the bat houses are open for business! Our small homestead is accepting all qualified members of the Order Chiroptera with echolocation in good standing. Chiroptera, which is Greek for “hand wing,” is the order to which all bats belong, and we are excited to have collaborated with fellow hand-wing lovers Shari Blisset-Clark and John Clark of the Florida Bat Conservancy to erect a whole new bat housing development on the Nature Center’s grounds in Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park. As nocturnal species, native bats spend all day at home, and what a privilege it is to be able to provide our fellow airborne earthlings with a safe roost in which to rest their weary wings.
But bats aren’t the only beneficiaries of the arrangement, we humans win too! Bats play an essential role in keeping our ecosystem healthy and functioning, they’re great pest control, seed-dispersers, and pollinators. Plus bats are the only mammals capable of true flight, and it’s tough to beat an early evening sighting of bat-crobatics.
Here in Florida, we have 13 resident bat species (either found year-round or seasonally), two of which are listed as endangered: the Florida bonneted bat and the gray myotis. However bats can be found everywhere on the planet except in some extreme deserts, polar regions, and on certain isolated islands. Our Florida bats are all considered insectivores, and a single little brown bat can eat as many as 1,000 insects in just an hour! Told you it was a win-win situation. And after they eat all those bugs, what happens on the other end? Well, if you can make it past the ick factor, bat poop, also called guano, is some super sensational excrement. Guano is an amazing fertilizer, has little odor, is fungicidal, and is sometimes even sparkly…move over unicorn poop!
But why become a bat landlord? Can’t bats find their own houses? Currently nearly 40% of American bat species are in severe decline, or already listed as threatened or endangered. According to Bat Conservation International, “…bats are under unprecedented threat from widespread habitat destruction, hunting, accelerated climate change, invasive species, and other stresses. Without concerted international action, their populations will continue to fall, driving many species to extinction.” And as we know, bats fertilize, bats pollinate, bats disperse seeds, they keep the insect population in check, so by creating safe homes for bats, we are not only helping insure the survival of a fellow creature, but their survival ensures our survival as well! To quote John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
So here’s to all our chiropteran friends, and a huge thank you to Shari and John for the important work they do with Florida Bat Conservancy. If you’d like to learn more, stop by the nature center and have a chat with a naturalist, or visit floridabats.org.
Okeeheelee Nature Center, through the Friends of ONC, was recently honored to receive a grant from the Gopher Tortoise Council. The Donna J. Heinrich Environmental Education Grant was established to support organizations committed to developing educational projects about the gopher tortoise and the fascinating world in which it lives. Gopher tortoises are protected in Florida, and are considered a keystone species because the burrows they dig provide shelter to many other animals. Over 350 commensal species have been recorded in gopher tortoise burrows, especially during the periodic wildfires that are part of life in gopher tortoise habitats.
Protecting gopher tortoises, and teaching visitors about them, has always been an important part of ONC’s educational mission. Gopher tortoises have been living at Okeeheelee Nature Center since 1985, when 83 tortoises were relocated to the nature center’s pine flatwood forest from a retail construction site. Today, there are 90 to 100 gopher tortoises living in ONC’s preserve, including many of the original tortoises from the 1980s. They are commonly encountered by hikers and other nature center visitors, so education is key to ensuring that the tortoises and their habitat are respected.
Alex Melligon has been an Assistant Naturalist at Okeeheelee Nature Center since February of 2019. Her regular duties include animal care, teaching school and public programs, creating educational content, and interacting with visitors. When asked what she likes best about her job, Alex said, “I like that we can follow our curiosity. If we have an idea for a program or project, we are able to use our talents and creativity to explore, incorporate our interests and reach new audiences.” Since COVID-19 has put ONC’s in-person programming on hiatus and closed the nature center building, special project work has become the focus.
As luck would have it, the proposal for the Gopher Tortoise Council grant included two projects that were planned with Alex’s special talents in mind. You see, in addition to her skills as a naturalist, Alex is also a gifted artist! Since childhood, she has been interested in arts and crafts, including drawing, jewelry making, ceramics, and textiles. Alex explained, “To me, art is a fun way to express myself, and it’s a good feeling to create something with my hands, especially if it’s something useful.”
The first grant-funded project Alex took on was to design an educational gopher tortoise booklet for children. The ONC team helped brainstorm ideas for activities and content, and then Alex researched tortoise facts, wrote the text and drew all of the pages by hand. Through puzzles, games, reading, and coloring, the booklet helps children learn about the importance of gopher tortoises and how they can help protect them.
When asked what aspect of the project she was most proud of, Alex said, “I think the best part of the activity book is that it gives simple, concrete things for people to do to help tortoises, while also providing the whys behind it, and still being fun and engaging for kids.” The activity book will be available to children visiting the nature center and participating in any special programs that focus on gopher tortoises.
Alex’s second artistic endeavor took her a bit further out of her comfort zone. Another component of the grant was to create a 10 x 4.5 foot mural depicting life inside a gopher tortoise burrow. Alex said it was a challenge because, although she has always loved doing art, “I didn’t really consider myself a painter, and I had certainly never attempted a large mural.” However, she still remembers being fascinated by the beautiful ecosystem murals at her local nature center while growing up in New Jersey, so she was hopeful that she could create art that would have a similar lasting impact on Okeeheelee’s visitors.
Looking at how well the project turned out, no one would ever guess that this was her first attempt at a large scale painting! The mural features a tortoise at the entrance of a burrow that is opened in cross-section to show the burrow structure. It also highlights key features of tortoise habitat, including beneficial native plant species, and shows several commensal animal species that can be found inside tortoise burrows.
The mural provides a unique glimpse into the underground life of a gopher tortoise and the ecosystem it helps support. Since it is a visual education piece, it will spark curiosity and convey information to all ages and all types of learners. It will be displayed in ONC’s Children’s Discovery Zone, but it will also be mobile so it can be featured during programs and special events.
Alex explains that, “Teaching children about nature is important to me because I believe it is our best chance to keep our environment safe and maybe even make it better in the future.” She hopes these gopher tortoise projects inspire the next generation of young artists and conservationists in the same way she was inspired by the murals she saw as a child. Alex brings so much passion for the environment to Okeeheelee Nature Center, whether she is teaching, caring for animals, supporting operations, or contributing through her artistic talents.
All of her coworkers and volunteers feel very fortunate to have her as part of the ONC team!
Submitted by: Heather Moody, Okeeheelee Nature Center Manager
Welcome to the fifth episode of Destination Recreation! We take you through different Palm Beach County parks and facilities in each episode – giving you a unique peek at what you can experience at our more than 80 locations throughout the County.
On this episode, we take you around all three county-operated nature centers — Okeeheelee Nature Center in Okeeheelee Park, Daggerwing Nature Center in Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park, and Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands just west of Boynton Beach. These facilities are unique places where everyone — from kids to senior citizens — can bond with animals, learn about important ecosystems, and bask in the beauty of natural habitats – right here in Palm Beach County! The best part… they’re free!
Don’t miss an episode – follow pbcParks on WordPress or subscribe to our YouTube channel to see each episode of Destination Recreation, which is released monthly.
We make the quality of life for Palm Beach County residents and visitors better by providing diverse, safe and affordable recreation services, welcoming parks, and enriching social and cultural experiences. We achieve this by promoting wellness, fostering environmental stewardship, contributing economic value, and by improving our community every day for this and future generations.
“I cannot remember the last time I sat in a classroom for seven hours…and enjoyed every (exhausting) minute! Green Cay’s incredible Naturalist, Jessica Andreasen, taught a motivating, inspiring program, “Project Wild” to a group of educators, environmentalists, and others who cherish our wetlands. It was a wonderful and very meaningful experience! Jessica, you are an incredibly gifted teacher!”
-Shelley Hymowitz, Volunteer, Green Cay Nature Center.
Staff at Green Cay Nature Center are helping educators teach students HOW to think, not WHAT to think, when it comes to conservation and the environment. The nature center recently hosted a Project WILD workshop for Palm Beach County educators to help integrate wildlife-based environmental and conservation education in their classrooms.
On June 20th, Green Cay Nature Center welcomed 20 educators from the Palm Beach County School District, home school, Broward 4-H, AmeriCorps and several nature centers for an educational, fun and action-packed day-long training, hosted by naturalist Jessica Andreasen. Jessica taught Aquatic WILD and Flying WILD, which covers wetland and bird topics – making Green Cay a great venue for the lessons.
“When I remember all the people who inspired me to pursue a career in environmental education, I am proud to bring Project WILD to Green Cay as a host site and have this incredible opportunity,” Jessica said, adding that she is grateful for the opportunity “to not only teach children, but now guide educators towards incorporating these important topics into their classrooms.”
Jessica will hold a Project WILD workshop at least once a year, and already uses a lot of the activities for Green Cay’s school, public and specialty programs. Facilitators like Jessica must attend a certification program, a day-long “Train-The-Trainer” class, in order to host their own workshop.
In addition to Aquatic WILD and Flying WILD, a new topic will be introduced as continuing education for those who have taken the core workshops. Conserving WILD covers current conservation issues, environmental policy, and conservation-based activities that can be found in all four activity guides. This workshop will discuss the importance of incorporating a conservation message into every activity to help children not only learn about the topic, but to also understand the need for conservation and preservation efforts.
“It is my hope that by being an advocate for Project WILD activities, we can work with educators to find creative but easy ways to encourage the next generations to be passionate about wildlife, conservation and the environment,” Jessica said.
About Project WILD
Project WILD, which stands for Wildlife in Learning Design, is an internationally-used environmental education program aimed at arming both formal and informal educators alike with the knowledge and skills to teach environmental education in their own classrooms. These activities are ideal for many audiences: formal K-12 classroom instruction, non-formal teaching, and summer camp programs emphasizing the environment.
Project WILD Florida is sponsored by the Council for Environmental Education, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN). Through this sponsorship, all the books and materials for this workshop were free of charge, giving facilitators like Jessica the opportunity to reach a larger audience by being able to offer the workshops with no associated costs to the participants. The Friends of Green Cay Nature Center sponsored the workshop with refreshments.
For more information about Project WILD, visit these links:
For more information about the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, including efforts to promote stewardship of natural, archaeological and cultural sites, visit pbcParks.com.
Animals abound in #pbcParks! As stewards of natural habitats, Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation strives to maintain the habitats of a variety of animals that live in and frequent our parks and nature centers. Conserving these habitats makes visitors more aware of the ecosystem in Palm Beach County, and visiting children and families get a fun, educational experience that generates interest in contributing to conservation efforts. Find out where you can see all sorts of animals in our parks & facilities.
Interact with animals in our Nature Centers
- Okeeheelee Nature Center: OKNC is situated inside Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach. Parents and kids have a number of opportunities to see and interact with animals inside the facility, and spot plenty of animals around the park and nature center. The nature center offers programs like deer and raptor walks where parents and kids can get a behind-the-scenes look at the center’s deer and raptor compounds, and free guided nature walks through the Pine Flatwoods Forest to learn about the plants and animals living there. Reptiles, raptors and deer are just a few of the animals kids and parents can learn about while visiting OKNC exhibits, as well as while talking to our passionate naturalists.
- Daggerwing Nature Center: Venture out to Daggerwing Nature Center in Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park, west of Boca Raton, and explore the grounds to spot the famous Daggerwing Butterfly, turtles, birds, snakes and more, in and around the facility. Inside, visit the exhibit hall, where you can see live reptiles and more, a bee theater, leaf rubbings and a nature video. Outdoors, gaze at the Florida Federation of Gardens Certified Butterfly Garden, where you’ll find a variety of the beautiful winged creatures. There is also a 40-acre nature preserve outside the facility, as well as a 0.6-mile boardwalk and observation tower, which is a great opportunity to spot wild birds, turtles, insects and others in their natural habitats.
- Green Cay Nature Center: Located in Boynton Beach, Green Cay Nature Center is similar to Daggerwing and Okeeheelee Nature Centers. In addition to the animals you can see and interact with at the facility’s exhibits and during special programs, the mile-long Chickee Hut Trail and 1/2 mile-long Tropical Hammock Trail allows visitors to spot all sorts of wildlife livingin marsh, open water pond areas, forested wetlands, and tree islands. Waterfowl, diving birds, moorhens, sparrows and more thrive in these environments, and bobcats have been found hiding within the shrubbery. Visit Green Cay Nature Center’s Bird Checklist on pbcparks.com, and you’ll find there are dozens of birds to be discovered in and around the facility.
Live animals in popular #pbcParks
- Riverbend Park: A massive 665-acre park located in Jupiter, a trip to Riverbend Park will always be accompanied by a plethora of different animal species. Walk, bike or jog through the many trails where you and your family can spot deer, rabbits, turkeys, as well as other wild birds, insects and reptiles. Adjacent to Riverbend Park is Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park, where you’ll be able to see much of the same wildlife. Choose to go kayaking at Riverbend Park, and you’ll most likely spot some interesting fish, turtles, and other water wildlife.
- Regional Parks: regional parks such as John Prince Park in Lake Worth, Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach, and Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park in Boca Raton provide the perfect opportunities to spot squirrels, lizards and wild birds, which can all be spotted from safe distances. Walk through paved trails at each of these parks and find all sorts of beautiful and interesting creatures!
For more about spotting and interacting with animals in our parks and nature centers, visit pbcParks.com.
What would the One Penny Sales Surtax mean for Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Facilities? What this video for the facts.
For more information on the One Penny Sales Surtax, visit OneCountyOnePenny.org.
The mission of the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department is to make the quality of life for Palm Beach County residents and visitors better by providing diverse, safe and affordable recreation services, welcoming parks, and enriching social and cultural experiences. We achieve this by promoting wellness, fostering environmental stewardship, contributing economic value, and by improving our community every day for this and future generations.
Families who visit any of our 84 parks and facilities may find themselves experiencing a variety of mental, physical and social benefits that allow for greater bonding experiences. ”Families who play together, stay together,” is an important philosophy when it comes to enjoying our park system as a family. Check out exactly how a trip to our parks can improve your family’s well-being!
With thousands of acres of park land available for roaming, running and discovering, parks allow for plenty of physical activity for both kids and adults. Whether you’re a family that enjoys water activities like swimming at any of our six pools and aquatic facilities, splashing and sliding at our two water parks, snorkeling at Phil Foster or DuBois Parks – or if you’re a land family who prefers strolling along boardwalks and trails at our nature centers, mountain biking at three trail locations, or simply enjoying some daytime play on our colorful and interactive playgrounds, there are so many ways parents and kids can get moving together. The physical activity opportunities available in our parks are so fun, the kids won’t even know they’re exercising! Among the many benefits of physical activity are increased fitness levels and a lower risk of obesity, and healthier bodies lead to healthier minds. Getting exercise at our parks and facilities will not only benefit the bodies and minds of adults, but will be setting a trend for children to continue the lifestyle as they age.
According to the Florida Department of Health, there are a variety of mental health issues that both adults and kids in Palm Beach County face on a daily basis, including poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, tension and stress. However, studies show physical activity and interacting with nature can improve your quality of life. By simply walking through the many trails and green space offered at parks like Riverbend, Okeeheelee, John Prince and more, families have the opportunity to escape from the pressures of everyday life that they face at school, work and even home. Our parks allow for tranquil getaways with the ones you love. For instance, Palm Beach County is the perfect location for beach days and evenings, and we offer 16 beach locations [Peanut Island and Phil Foster are located in the Intracoastal] where you and the kids can feel the ocean breeze on your face and watch the waves crash, putting your minds at ease. Mental health also plays an important role in one’s ability to maintain good physical health, make better health decisions, and live as healthy, productive citizens. To watch a short video on the mental health benefits of visiting our local parks, click here.
If you and your family are looking for opportunities to bond on a social level, look no further than the Palm Beach County park system. Discovering new parks, trails, lakes and more will create a curious mindset in children. For instance, when visiting Okeeheelee, Green Cay or Daggerwing Nature Centers, kids can discover all sorts of animals and plants – and parents will have a blast learning along with their kids. Parents have the opportunity to teach and learn alongside their children, creating a bond kids will remember. There are so many opportunities to learn new things at our parks, from biking and kayaking to cultural and historical experiences, participating in these activities allow for asking and answering new questions, as well as unique chances for both parents and children to interact on a whole new level.
For park locations, visit www.pbcparks.com.
Did you know that our Nature Centers are the perfect field trip and camp destinations? Okeeheelee Nature Center recently hosted a week-long specialty camp, where kids canoed, built bird houses, interacted with birds and deer that live at the Nature Center, and more. During a field trip to Okeeheelee, Green Cay or Daggerwing Nature Centers, kids can enjoy some of the same interactive and educational activities, like owl pellet dissection and animal encounters.
Okeeheelee Nature Center is operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. We operate more than 80 regional, district, community, beach, and neighborhood parks, spanning several thousand acres. Our mission is to make the quality of life for Palm Beach County residents and visitors better by providing diverse, safe and affordable recreation services, welcoming parks, and enriching social and cultural experiences. This is achieved by promoting wellness, fostering environmental stewardship, contributing economic value, and by improving our community every day for this and future generations.
Visit pbcParks.com for more information.
It’s not often we get a chance to turn down the lights and take in the beauty that the night sky has to offer. On Saturday, February 27, over 2,000 Palm Beach County residents, tourists, adults, kids, and nature lovers alike did just that – for free – at the fourth annual Dark Sky Festival.
People of all ages visited Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center from 6-10 p.m. to escape the glowing lights we are so often bombarded by, to gaze at the stars, learn about animals, and enjoy the peacefulness of the dark while having fun with their friends, family, and loved ones.
Campfire, animals, movies & more!
The night was filled with opportunities for visitors to roam the grounds, enjoying the
darkness. Indoors, owls, snakes, lizards and turtles gave animal lovers a chance to learn about the animals that depend on the dark for survival. Curious kids took turns dissecting owl pellets, and visitors of all ages learned about owls and bats through presentations from passionate experts.
Outdoors, active guests enjoyed guided nature hikes through the dark, while others gazed at stars and planets through telescopes. An outdoor classroom allowed guests to soak in the beauty of the night sky, while listening to campfire stories and eating s’mores.
Benji Studt, the Environmental Program Supervisor with Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources Management, taught a workshop that introduced participants to Palm Beach County’s natural areas and the photographic and recreational opportunities that lay right outside our front doors. “I introduced participants to some tools to improve their composition skills,” said Studt.
Studt then handed the workshop over to local artist and FAU student Max Jackson, who taught the class about techniques to photograph the night sky. After the presentation, the class enjoyed Jackson’s new short film, “Pitch Black Light, A Journey Through America’s Darkest Skies”, which shows time-lapse footage of the stars passing by iconic landscapes from across the country. The film is a compilation of footage over the last two years, when Jackson spent his summers chasing the darkest skies in the country. Watch “Pitch Black Light, A Journey Through America’s Darkest Skies” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQdijzuCe3A
What is light pollution?
The goal of the event was to teach visitors about the negative affects of light pollution and to encourage better practices with lighting. Guided night hikes, a campfire and s’mores, outdoor movies, photography workshops, bat and owl presentations, live wildlife exhibits, among other activities, helped guests appreciate the darkness.
Light pollution is the “introduction of artificial light into the environment”. The event focused on the impacts of light pollution, and the benefits of having natural night skies. Excessive light pollution threatens humans and many animals, including sea turtles, owls, bats, and others that depend on the dark sky for survival. Excessive light pollution may also waste electricity and destroy the beauty of the night sky.
Why should we “turn down the lights”?
Various experts, photographers, and astronomers were on hand Saturday to explain the dangers of light pollution.
“Turning down the lights helps us all,” said Studt. According to Studt, light pollution impacts a variety of animals. “The natural light provided by the night sky gives sea turtle hatchlings the ability to find the ocean when they hatch.”
Furthermore, Studt explained that migratory birds use the night sky as a roadmap to their seasonal destinations, and humans feel effects to their circadian rhythm as a result of light pollution.
“We are literally losing our stars because of light pollution,” said Callie Sharkey, manager at Okeeheelee Nature Center, who also cited research that links artificial light to breast cancer, while Studt explained, “artificial light pollution is now being linked to human disorders such as obesity and depression.”
What can you do to help?
In addition to educating the public on the effect of light pollution, the event aimed to increase awareness on what steps can be taken to help fix the problem. You can start helping today:
- Check your home lights – is glare hiding potential intruders? Do your lights shine down, or out and up where energy is wasted?
- Turn off unnecessary lights – and use motion sensor switches for effective deterrence.
- Shield and lower lights, and use dark-sky friendly fixtures.
- Spread the word – tell businesses when you see that their lights are bad. Bad lights aren’t just unpleasant, they’re harmful, especially in coastal areas where turtles nest.
An annual event
Each year, thousands of enthused visitors make their way to Okeeheelee Nature Center to gaze at the stars and learn about what they can do to make the night sky more visible for humans and animals the depend on it. “We had people from all ages and demographics, and the response is overwhelmingly positive…people were impressed with how unique the event was,” said Sharkey.
This annual event is one of the largest dark sky events in the country; it was made possible through a partnership between the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, Environmental Resources Management Department, International Dark-Sky Association, among others.
For more information on how you can help fix the problem of light pollution, please visit the International Dark-Sky Association, www.darksky.org.