Category Archives: Nature Center

Thousands of photos snapped at Okeeheelee’s Raptor Day

Cassandra Jean (2)
Photo Credit: Cassandra Jean

Thousands of photos were snapped at Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center on Saturday, January 30, as photographers of all ages captured the majestic beauty of nine birds of prey, aged 3-20 years old.

OKNC sold out of tickets for its Raptor Day photography event, welcoming 50 photographers to the facility – ranging from 11 to 93 years old! Photographers from all over the country traveled to Palm Beach County to take advantage of this unique opportunity, traveling from Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and New Jersey, just to name a few. The event even drew in some international guests.

“This was a very unique opportunity for people to see all of our birds at the same time and that’s certainly never been done and never been done for photographers,” said Callie Sharkey, the Nature Center’s manager.

The fundraising event for Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center provided the photographers with a unique opportunity to showcase all of the raptors at the facility – various owls, hawks, falcons and others – during private sessions with the birds. The birds sat outdoors for natural lighting on real wood perches, a natural background was set up behind them, allowing the photographers to play with a more natural setting. According to Sharkey, all of the birds were cooperative for the entire event, and all of the photographers were respectful of the birds. Some of the birds even took to roosting and preening, signs that they were comfortable with their environment.

Seven of the birds were from Okeeheelee Nature Center, while the other two were from Daggerwing and Green Cay Nature Centers. All of the birds photographed during the event are cared for at Palm Beach County’s three nature centers as they are non-releasable. Each bird has been through rehab for various reasons, whether they have been wounded by humans or arrived at the nature center as a fully imprinted bird.

Matteo Cappella
Photo Credit: Matteo Cappella

Sharkey said the Nature Center would like to plan this event again in the future, as it allows photographers – both professional and amateur – to gain a respect for the animals they’re photographing and become further educated on why the animals are being cared for at the nature centers, which leads to further conservation efforts. Promoting stewardship of nature and natural sites is a core service of the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department.

Okeeheelee Nature Center is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and is located in Okeeheelee Park at 7715 Forest Hill Blvd in West Palm Beach.

We’d love to see your photos! If you have a photo taken at the Raptor Day event, you can share it on the Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfOkeeheeleeNatureCenter/

Check out the photos submitted below, and be sure to keep checking our blog for more photos as they come in!

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Annual Migration Celebration attracts 1100 to free lectures, activities, animals and more

Adults, kids and bird lovers alike packed Green Cay Nature Center on Saturday, November 14 to learn about migratory birds returning to the wetlands, along with reptiles and the Seminole Wars. Kids took part in various animal-related activities like an interactive puppet show and arts and crafts geared toward education and conservation. Bird lovers of all ages spent the day watching for dozens of different birds at the nature center – and at the end of the day, two peregrine falcons were released by the South Florida Wildlife Center.

Green Cay Nature Center is Palm Beach County’s newest nature center that overlooks 100 acres of constructed wetland and provides educational opportunities about this unique habitat. The wetland features 1.5 miles of elevated boardwalk featuring interpretive signs about the habitat. The nature center includes a lecture hall, gift shop and live animals in an extensive exhibit room that highlights wetland attributes.

Green Cay Nature Center is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and is located at 12800 Hagen Ranch Road, west of Boynton Beach. Promoting stewardship of natural, archaeological and cultural sites is one of the core services of the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. For more opportunities, visit www.pbcparks.com.

Okeeheelee Nature Center assists with Gray Fox release

In September, three Gray Fox kits were released into the wild at Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center in Okeeheelee Park, as part of a joint effort between Palm Beach County and the South Florida Wildlife Center.

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The Gray Fox Kits

Before arriving at Okeeheelee Nature Center (ONC), the three fox kits were taken in as orphans by the South Florida Wildlife Center (SFWC).

Two of the foxes were sisters, arriving at SFWC in May 2015 from Hollywood Hills High School at just a month old and weighing about 300 grams each. They were bright, alert and responsive. The other fox was picked up – also at a month old – from Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in June, having been found at an unknown location in Miami-Dade County. He had a degloving wound on his tail, whereby the skin and fur are essentially torn off the bone. The wound was treated for about a month. All of the foxes were treated for parasites, vaccinated and hydrated.

During their 6-month stay in the rehabilitation facility at SFWC, the foxes learned essential survival skills  in their enclosure and were regularly vaccinated. Human contact was very limited to avoid imprinting, which is a serious problem when wild animals become accustomed to humans and lose their fear of people. Imprinted animals cannot be released into the wild and must spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The Soft Release

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The fox kits were 7 months old when they arrived at ONC in September 2015. They were released that same month in an area on the nature center’s 90-acre preserve. The release was coordinated by SFWC’s Release Specialist, Shelby Proie, as well as ONC’s Manager, Callie Sharkey.

The “soft release” process involved putting a temporary enclosure in the area where the fox kits were located, and feeding them for two to three days. During this time, the kits became accustomed to their new surroundings, allowing them to easily establish a territory soon after the doors open.

Wildlife trap cameras were put up inside the enclosure, as well as on a nearby tree in order to track the fox kits’ activities. When the doors opened, the foxes left after about 15 minutes. One fox returned three days later to observe the space, but didn’t stay. Volunteers and staff have seen tracks in the area, but not the actual foxes – which is a very good sign of their successful transition into the wild.

A release of this kind was a first for Okeeheelee Nature Center. Okeeheelee’s pine flatwoods habitat made it an ideal location for the fox release, since it’s reasonably protected and there’s plenty of food for the foxes to hunt and forage to survive on their own.

Okeeheelee Nature Center is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and features 2.5 miles of trails winding through 90 acres of pine flatwoods and wetlands. Highlights of the center include hands-on exhibits, animal encounters, and more. Guests can marvel at birds of prey, touch a live snake or prowl for owls during one of the many programs scheduled throughout the year for families, youth and adults.

This was a pre-approved and joint effort by the South Florida Wildlife Care Center, which is affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States. Palm Beach County’s three nature centers DO NOT serve as rehabilitation centers, nor can they accept injured or stray animals on site. Please contact the South Florida Wildlife Care Center directly [954-524-4302] if you find an injured or stray animal.