Thursday, 30 April 2015

Lovers Key State Park - Florida Day 3

After a restful night at the Vester Field Station we set out to our first destination in the southern part of the trip being Lovers Key State Park.
Top to bottom -
Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis),
 Eastern Screech Owl(Megascops asio),
Brown Anole(Anolis sagrei),
Gumbo Limbo Tree (Bursera simaruba)

What is Lovers Key?

The Park is composed of 4 barrier islands and it gets its name from its history of young lovers with boats being able to come visit its lovely beaches for some… privacy. This was before the road bridge was built to the islands in the 1960’s.

From the 1960’s through to the early 1990’s the land was in the private ownership of an individual who wished to see it developed and with this in mind in the 1980’s a number of drainage canals and channels were dug into the mangrove swamps in order the drain the land.

However this plan quickly crumbled as it came to light that in destroying the swamp habitat he was violating several laws. So in order to get out of the trouble he had placed himself a deal was struck with the US fish and wildlife service in which all the land was donated to them to be ran as a state park nature reserve.

The park is interesting in an ecological perspective as it is a place where the the marine habitats meets with terrestrial habitats making this transitional area an ecotone. It is also home to a number of ecologically important species such as the Gopher tortoise which is considered to be a keystone species.

Our visit to lovers key started by taking the Black Island trail around an island that got its name because of its connection to a pirate known as Black Augustus who is said to of spent the rest of his days on the island after fleeing from the authorities.

Our Visit

The trial began on a bridge over one of the many drainage canals built by the previous owner and so began the manatee hunt. This saw the entire group stopping at every body of water to search for the large sea cows.

Unfortunately it was a search that proved fruitless for most, with the closest to a sighting for me personally being the large flat ripples created by a manatee tail as it swims.

Top-Manatee Hunt commences
Left- Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)
 foliage Right- Sea grape leaf (Coccoloba uvifera)  
However a number of vegetative species were much easier to spot. Around the water there was a high prevalence of salt tolerant species such as the Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) with its drop and prop roots at the waters edge and the Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera) higher up on the banks which at the end of the growing season would be covered in red grape like edible fruits.

As the path progressed inwards away from the water a number of other plant species began to appear including a number of palms, see species list (at the bottom) and what turned out to be a group favorite the Gumbo Limbo Tree (Bursera simaruba) or as its locally known the tourist tree due to its Red and Flaky appearance

We then came across a small garden area where a number of butterflies were feeding on the flowers. The majority of the butterflies were the Florida state butterfly being the Zebra Long Wing (Heliconius charithonia) but there was also one or two Mangrove hopper butterflies (Phocides pigmalion)

Some of our group capturing a 
Snap of the Zebra Longwing 
Butterfly (Heliconius charithonia)
Inside a hollow of a dead tree just beyond the garden was an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) roosting during the day time.

As we continued along the trail we started to come across a number of Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) and their burrows. As i mentioned earlier they are considered to be a keystone species. This means that they are essential to the ecological integrity of the environment around them, ‘why?’ because their burrows provide homes and shelters to many other species especially in wildfires which in a natural situation would be common during the dry season.

After we had completed the trail we set out on the foot path towards the beach again crossing over another drainage canal to find our way there.

As we moved towards the sea it was a lot more apparent that the environment was becoming both wetter and more saline because of the presence of mangrove swamps.

The Dense undergrowth from the combined
adaptations of the Red and Black
 Mangrove species
The areas of mangrove swamp were comprised of both the red and black species of mangrove and the view from the boardwalk made it very easy to see how the combination of the drop and prop roots from the red species and the pneumatophores from the black species create the thick barrier of roots that provide shelter and microclimates for a vast array of biodiversity not to mention sea protection for humans.

Some of that biodiversity could be easily seen as it crawled up and overhead being the mangrove tree crabs (Aratus pisonii) which live on the trunks and branches of the trees.

The final part of the of the day was spent on the beach which seemed to be an unnatural shape and layout (Too flat,high and straight) , i later learned that recently the beach had gone under a large restoration were sand had been brought in to replace sand lost through erosion. The benefit of this however is that larger areas could be fenced off to nurse a new generation of the endangered sea oat (Uniola paniculata) which grows in the sandy soil at the top of the beach.
While we were on the beach a number of bird species were also spotted, including royal terns (Thalasseus maximus) , brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) , ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) , turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) and finally a Great White Egret (Ardea alba) displaying unnatural behaviour by standing beside the fishermen waiting to be given their catch.

Panorama of the Lovers key beach. 

The day concluded by some ball games in the sea, sunning on the beach and canoeing back at the field station.

Species List


Common Name
Latin Name
Turkey Vulture
Cathartes aura
Pandion haliaetus
Eastern Screech Owl
Megascops asio
Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura
White Ibis
Eudocimus albus
Blue Heron
Ardea herodias
Royal Tern
Thalasseus maximus
Brown Pelican
Pelecanus occidentalis
Great White Egret
Ardea alba


Common Name
Latin Name
Strangler Fig
Ficus aurea
Sea Grape
Coccoloba uvifera
Red Mangrove
Rhizophora mangle
Black Mangrove
Avicennia germinans
Cabbage Palm
Sabal palmetto
Coconut Palm
Cocos nucifera
Royal Palm
Roystonea regia
Prickly Pear
Opuntia ficus-indica
Gumbo Limbo
Bursera simaruba
Spanish Bayonet
Hesperoyucca whipplei
Century Plant
Agave americana
Beach Sunflower
Helianthus debilis
Sea Oat
Uniola paniculata


Common Name
Latin Name
Brown Anole
Anolis sagrei
Gopher Tortoise
Gopherus polyphemus
Alligator mississippiensis
Black Racer Snake
Coluber constrictor priapus


Common Name
Latin Name
Needle Fish
Tylosurus crocodilus
Mosquito Fish
Gambusia affinis
Mugil cephalus


Common Name
Latin Name
Zebra Long Wing Butterfly
Heliconius charithonia
Fire Ants
Solenopsis invicta
Spiny Orb Weaver Spider
Gasteracantha cancriformis
Mangrove Skipper Butterfly
Phocides pigmalion
Mangrove Tree Crabs
Aratus pisonii

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