In suburban West Delray, there is a hidden oasis that will truly delight any bird- or nature-lover. Wakodahatchee Wetlands is a tranquil, man-made wetland that has naturally become a sanctuary for over 140 species of birds, as well as a variety of amphibious and reptilian species.
The first time I arrived at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, I was awe-struck by the cacophony of bird calls, and the diversity of birds all in one location. I have never been to any other natural setting where there were so many different types of birds that I could easily observe in their natural environment. There were birds nesting, floating, and soaring in every direction! It was a cinematic moment.
Using over 50 acres of utilities land, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Southern Regional Water Reclamation pumps nearly two million gallons of highly treated wastewater into the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. Instead of this land just being a nasty wastewater pond, or the wastewater instead being harmfully pumped into the ocean or injected into the ground, Palm Beach County (PBC) has found a way to harmonize with the natural environment. Instead of causing greater destruction, PBC has instead enhanced the lives of many birds who have lost their homes to the suburbs and development of the area.
Wakodahatchee Wetlands is a great example of how modern society can coexist with the natural world, and I think it is a place that other municipalities throughout the state of Florida and the US should tour to see how this man-made ecosystem is thriving.
Directions: The Wakodahatchee Wetlands are located on the east side of Jog Road between Woolbright Road and Atlantic Avenue (Exit Route 95 onto Atlantic Avenue West; continue to Jog Road; turn right; park is on the right) The site is on the southeast side of Palm Beach County Water Utility Department’s Southern Region Operations Center at 13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach.
*Tip*Go early in the morning when the birds are waking up and becoming active, and before the sun gets too hot. There are covered pavilions with sitting areas along the 3/4 mile boardwalk just in case.
What to bring: Bring a hat, sunscreen if you have sensitive skin, and definitely a bottle of water in a reusable container. There are covered seating areas if you need a respite from the sun on the walk, but most of the boardwalk is exposed. There is not really a place for picnicking, and it is best to bring as little with you as possible to reduce litter in this beautiful habitat.
After crossing the boardwalk over Lake Worth Lagoon at John D. MacArthur State Park in North Palm Beach, we made it to the beach side. You can either take the handicap ramp up the dune to the beach access, or the multilevel of stairs. We chose the stairs.
I climbed the first set of stairs. Everything was fine. On the next set of stairs, underneath the bottom step something caught my eye.
Finding refuge from the heat, a snake relaxed on the support beam underneath the step!
It was a red rat snake, also known as a corn snake! The Pantherophis guttatus is a common, non-venomous constrictor. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, red rat snakes are the best climbing snakes in Florida, which explains how it got up to its aerial secret spot!
This particular red rat snake was vibrantly colored. Their colors can vary from yellow to tan to orange. They feast on small mammals, lizards, eggs, and sometimes even a bird.
Red rat snakes are known to inhabit mangrove forests, rockland hammocks, and pine rocklands. They are highly adaptable, as they have learned to deal with human expansion by thriving in urbanized environments.
Golden Silk Orb-Weaver Spiders look like they could induce arachnophobia into the fearless, but worry not, these common little Nephila clavipes are basically harmless to humans.
Also known as Banana Spiders, you will definitely run into these gals if you walk along any densely treed pathway, whether it be near the beach or through the mangroves.
Once the heebie jeebies subside, examine the web of one of these creatures. Mature Golden Silk Spiders will weave a web that appears to be made of, you guessed it, golden silk! Their webs are extensive, semi-permanent structures, meaning they will rebuild a piece when it gets destroyed, but they won’t keep making new webs like other spiders do. So watch your heads, tall people, or you may come face to face with one of these beautiful spiders!
Gold Silk Orb Weavers will only bite a human if they are disturbed. The bite will sting, but will not be worse than a bee sting. There will be discomfort, redness, and maybe a mark, but other than that you should be fine. (An allergic reaction could occur, and if there are more severe symptoms, seek medical help immediately.)