Tag Archives: Florida State parks

Fire and water in the Savannas

I brake for gopher tortoises.

This one was crossing a sandy road in the section of the Savannas Preserve State Park off Walton Road, in St. Lucie County.

I parked at the Canoe Launch area. The launch ramp itself, pictured above, is closed (for repairs?) right now, but there is a small beach where it looks possible to launch a canoe or kayak.

The visitor center near the entrance is also not open right now.

Common Gallinule among the lilies.

This spot provides access to one of the park’s basin marshes. The 7,000 acres of Savannas Preserve State Park protects southeast Florida’s largest freshwater marsh system.

You can see the Canoe Launch on both these maps, posted to a bulletin board there. A few days ago I took a slow walk on the Yellow Trail, over two bridges, and looped back on the White Trail, around two miles of travel.

It looks like there was a prescribed burn maybe a few weeks ago. In Florida, we burn it before the lightning fires do.

My first “captured” bird was this Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis.

The name Dumetella is based upon the Latin term dūmus (“thorny thicket”; it thus means approximately “small thornbush-dweller” or “small bird of the thornbushes”.

I got a good look at a brown anole, near the trail. Males have dewlaps.

Brown anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas and an invasive species in Florida, taking over habitat especially from the native green anoles.

The weather was beautiful, warm with a light southeast breeze.

The lingering scent of the burn smelled like someone had a big campfire the night before.

Regular fires keep the understory open, preventing shrubs from becoming dominant in the pine flatwoods and scrub.

Two roads diverged in a burnt woods and I took the Yellow Trail.

I really appreciate the people who design and build bridges and boardwalks through Florida’s wet spots, so we can get a good look without getting wet.

Small flocks of Palm Warblers crossed my path a few times.

They wag their tails up and down constantly and spend a lot of time hopping around on the ground, which is weird for warblers.

I think this yellow-flowering plant near wetlands is in the tickseed/ coreopsis family.

The view from near the second footbridge.

Serene, right?

Looking down at lily pads. Their colors now, in the dormant season, remind me of autumn leaves.

This trail is still a little wet in the dry season. My daughter and I turned around here a couple of months ago, when the puddles extended too far and deep across this way.

New growth after fire.

This eerie landscape held signs of hope.

A burn actually promotes the flowering of saw palmettos.

Returning on the White Trail, one side had been burned and the other one not.

Antidote.

For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green. – J.R.R. Tolkien

From scrub to swamp at Seabranch Preserve

We went for a walk at Seabranch Preserve State Park. Is it weird that I think this landscape is beautiful? There was a controlled burn not many years ago.

“Sand pine scrub” is the name of this now-rare habitat, found on the ridges of ancient sand dunes along Florida’s central and southern Atlantic coast and in a small stretch along the Gulf Coast.

Watch out for prickly pear cactus along the narrower trails.

The scrub is a xeric plant community, very dry, though it rains as much here as everywhere else in subtropical Florida.

The habitat generally consists of open pinelands with an understory of various oaks, shrubs, and palmetto. The sandy soil is unable to hold water so rainfall and nutrients leach down through the sand, leaving a dry, nutrient-poor substrate. There is little or no silt, clay, or organic matter in the soil which is often called “sugar sand” because of its fine texture and light color.

It was a cold day on Thursday but the sun was warm in the late afternoon. We went out on the southern loop through the park. There are 8 miles of trails in total.

A rare silver variety of saw palmetto was calling out to be photographed.

I think this flowering plant is called sandhill wireweed, also known as largeflower jointweed. It’s a Florida native.

After I gaze at the beauty of this flower and its surroundings, I go home and my neighborhood yards seem a bit cluttered and “busy” with their layers of hedges and geometric shrubs, imported tropical plants, bright colors and thousand shades of green.

I would like to walk out my front door onto a sandy pathway past stunted pines and scrub oaks and a few scruffy wildflowers.

At the southern end of the park the trail bends around, heading in the direction of the Indian River Lagoon, then descends just enough that the scrub gives way to a “baygall community” of plants at the edge of a mangrove swamp, named for the loblolly and sweetbay trees and gallberry holly that grow there.

My 6’1″ husband poses, for size.

Baygall community from The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) is “slope or depression wetland with peat substrate; usually saturated and occasionally inundated; statewide excluding Keys; rare or no fire; closed canopy of evergreen trees; loblolly bay, sweetbay, swamp bay, titi, fetterbush.”

I think the trees are loblolly bay?

Loblolly-bay (Gordonia lasianthus), also called holly-bay, gordonia, and bay, is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree or shrub found in acid, swampy soils of pinelands and bays on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains.

Me for size (5’5″). You can see a burned trunk of a palmetto to the right, where fire-controlled scrub gives way to a lusher place.

The trail gets narrow, a bit mucky and damp (and it’s the dry season) and I sort of wished I had a stick for poking ahead of me and warning the snakes that I was coming. (We didn’t see any.) Cool moist air flows out from the plant-shade.

Lavender tasselflower, another Florida wildflower you probably won’t find in anybody’s tidy front yard. It’s also known as Flora’s Paintbrush and Cupid’s Shaving Brush. Give me a bouquet for Valentine’s Day!

(He doesn’t look like he needs to shave.)

We saw evidence of wild hogs, where they root around and leave muddy shallow holes, but not as much as we see at the Savannas Preserve. I’ve never see one “in person.”

Finally, a bird!

When we were almost back to the trailhead, I found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

This is a bird I know, a fairly common winter visitor here. I recognized the bird’s call before I saw it… “The nasal, wheezy, rambling song and insistent, squeaky calls are great first clues to finding them, particularly as these tiny birds can get lost in the generally taller habitats used in the eastern part of their range.”

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher‘s grayish coloring and long tail, as well as the way it mixes snippets of other birds’ repertoires into its own high, nasal songs, have earned it the nickname “Little Mockingbird.

This one is perched (for a brief moment) on a sand live oak, Quercus geminata, a common tree in Florida’s scrublands. The bird quickly resumed its hunt for tiny insects and spiders, and we went home for dinner.

Club Scrub-Jay

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Cool lake on a hot day at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, last Sunday, when I went on a solo trek to find scrub jays.

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I walked around this lake. It smelled a bit like a northern freshwater lake – cool, fresh, watery and alive!

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This narrow trail was shared by mountain bikers. Best to choose the trails marked for foot traffic only, I learned.

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Jonathan Dickinson preserves a large area of Florida scrub habitat.

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Florida sand pine scrub is an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion found throughout Florida in the United States.[4] It is found on coastal and inland sand ridges and is characterized by an evergreen xeromorphic plant community dominated by shrubs and dwarf oaks. Because the low-nutrient sandy soils do not retain moisture, the ecosystem is effectively an arid one. Wildfires infrequently occur in the Florida scrub. Most of the annual rainfall (about 135 cm or 53 in) falls in summer. It is endangered by residential, commercial and agricultural development.

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Can you see the mountain biker in the above two photos? There is an active club at the park, Club Scrub.

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But count me as a member of Club Scrub-Jay! (They should start one, right?) Here’s a Florida Master naturalist who is a big fan…

Why the Scrub-Jay should be Florida’s state bird, with Eva Ries

It has a beautiful dusty-gray breast, it has a gray collar around the back, it’s blue up top with a gray eyebrow, and it has the most unusual call. When they call to their compatriots, they make a rrih! rrih! rrih-rrih-rrih!

Video of Florida Scrub-Jay “happy song” while perched on a man’s hat! LINK

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They are not hard to find, when you are in their habitat. They are curious and the landscape is open.

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Audubon…

This bird is noteworthy on several counts. It lives nowhere in the world except Florida, it has a complicated social system, it has been the subject of very detailed field studies, and it is threatened by loss of habitat. Formerly considered just a race of the scrub-jays found in the west, it is now classified as a full species.

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Breeds in cooperative flocks. Each nesting territory is occupied by an adult pair and often by one to six “helpers,” usually the pair’s offspring from previous years. These additional birds assist in defending the territory and feeding the young. Studies have shown that a pair with “helpers” is likely to raise more young than a pair without. Nest site is in tree or shrub, usually an oak, with sand live oak strongly favored.

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I saw a total of three scrub-jays but just focused on getting decent shots of this one, close by and in good light.

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Range map.

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A bit jay-like appearance but without a crest. Here is the familiar and widespread (east of the Rocky Mountains) Blue Jay for comparison, from a little later that morning in the park…

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Blue Jays’ behavioral attitude seems a bit fussier and sassier, like they enjoy complaining and picking fights. I watched them a lot in New Hampshire, especially at my bird feeders.

jay-battle

From a Feb 5, 2015 blog post: Birds are avian dinosaurs 

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The Scrub-Jay seems a bit more peaceful, even elegant, especially for a corvid. Although maybe I need to spend more time observing them.

Saving Florida’s Friendliest Native Bird Matters

For the past 2 million years, Florida has been home to a superlative bird found nowhere else on earth. These birds are remarkably smart, with extraordinary memory and perhaps even the ability to plan ahead. Highly social yet quarrelsome, they’re like the stars of an avian soap opera. And they’re as brash and curious as precocious kids. Many a jubilant birdwatcher has turned to find one mischievously perched upon their shoulder.

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Park sign.

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I also got close to a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a thicket, a winter visitor to Florida.

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The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles. Its ability to use these fruits allows it to winter farther north than other warblers, sometimes as far north as Newfoundland.

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Yellow-rumped Warblers are perhaps the most versatile foragers of all warblers. They’re the warbler you’re most likely to see fluttering out from a tree to catch a flying insect, and they’re also quick to switch over to eating berries in fall. Other places Yellow-rumped Warblers have been spotted foraging include picking at insects on washed-up seaweed at the beach, skimming insects from the surface of rivers and the ocean, picking them out of spiderwebs, and grabbing them off piles of manure.

I bought an annual pass to Florida State Parks and I will be heading back to Jonathan Dickinson again soon!