Join the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and the Palm Beach County Library System at Okeeheelee Nature Center as they introduce you to pollinators and read poems by Emily Dickinson through a virtual walk & talk.
Did you know that because Anhingas lack the oil-producing gland that many birds have, they can dive deeper in the water for food? Learn more about Anhingas, including their easy-to-remember scientific name, in this episode of Animal Encounters!
This year’s Purple Martin (Progne subis) nesting season at Daggerwing Nature Center was a success! In the second year since our nest houses were installed as part of an Eagle Scout project, we have noted an increase in our nesting population and the number of fledglings produced.
The first Purple Martin of the season was seen on February 14, 2020 and nesting was apparent on March 7. The first recorded egg was noted on April 4. In total, there were 39 eggs laid throughout the season and 26 fledglings were successfully raised. This total success rate of 66.7% is higher than the 40% seen in 2019! The nest houses were occupied until vacated on June 19, 2020. We are hoping for an even busier nesting season next year!
Raptor Day for Photographers was held at Okeeheelee Nature Center (ONC) on January 18, 2020. Sponsored by Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center, this annual event provided 50 photographers with an opportunity to take close-up portraits of birds of prey. This year, ONC partnered with the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center (TCWC) to ensure a diversity of species for the participants to photograph. The birds displayed included two species of hawk, three species of owl, a kestrel, and a crested caracara. The birds are placed on outdoor perches so the photographers can capture images of the animals in natural light and in front of wooded backgrounds.
All of the raptors live at educational facilities under human care because they have an injury that prevents them from returning to the wild. Although many of the birds have visible imperfections, the talented photographers were able to bring out their best features and highlight their natural beauty.
ONC staff and volunteers were present throughout the event to provide information about the birds and answer questions. Participants were also given a brochure that included facts about the raptors and explained a little about each bird’s history.
Feedback from the participants was tremendously positive. Irwin Goldzweig wrote to share some of his beautiful photos and say, “Thanks to you, Heather, and your staff and volunteers. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Raptor Day. It was professionally organized and implemented which made it totally enjoyable for us as visitors. The staff and volunteers were wonderful, informative, and very helpful. We look forward to the next one.”
Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center sold out the event within two weeks, raising over $1,200. All proceeds benefit the programs, exhibits and animals at Okeeheelee Nature Center.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
Hundreds of animal species call our parks “home.” From wild birds to tortoises and bobcats to alligators, every animal plays an important role in each ecosystem found throughout Palm Beach County’s park system.
Watch this video to find out how you can safely enjoy our parks while helping to ensure our wild inhabitants enjoy their home.