Nestled into the urban sprawl of Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and Stuart is a quiet and scenic retreat – perfect for viewing manatees, birds, turtles and alligators from a canoe or kayak.
Blue-headed Vireo with a backdrop of Spanish moss. These migratory songbirds heading north soon for breeding season.
Vireo is a genus of small passerinebirds restricted to the New World. Vireos typically have dull greenish plumage (hence the name, from Latin virere, “to be green”), but some are brown or gray on the back and some have bright yellow underparts.
Virere, “to be green.” Nice.
Wildflowers along the trail. This is a Climbing Aster. It lives in woods and wetlands in the coastal plain from Florida to North Carolina.
The trail had a magical, peaceful, old Florida feeling about it. Good for the soul!
The cabbage palms get really tall near this river, I’ve noticed.
Is it because they are well watered? Or competing for sunlight?
The trail is there-and-back, not looping, and on the way back I saw my little catbird friend again.
Back at the parking area, I noticed a pair of nesting Ospreys on a platform.
Gray Catbird perched in the Dracaena marginata in our backyard.
Someone planted a couple of houseplants from Home Depot a number of years ago and now we have a little dragontree forest.
“Gray Catbird” was one of the voices I recorded and identified this morning using Sound ID on the Merlin Bird ID app. From about 7 to 7:30 a.m. I recorded the birds off and on and watched the different bird IDs pop up on the screen.
It highlights the bird names as it’s hearing them, in real time, which helps me learn the bird songs and calls.
Birds I heard in my backyard this morning over the course of half an hour and one cup of coffee: Northern Parula, Northern Cardinal, Pileated Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Carolina Wren, Fish Crow, Osprey, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Hawk and Great-crested Flycatcher.
Male Gray Catbirds sing a long, halting series of short notes collected into “phrases,” which combine to make a song. One whole song can last many minutes. Sounds include whistles, squeaks, gurgles, whines, and nasal tones. The notes often are imitations of other birds as well as of frogs and mechanical sounds. The series of sounds is random, but certain notes are often repeated. While mockingbirds tend to repeat phrases three or more times, and Brown Thrashers typically sing phrases twice before moving on, Catbirds usually don’t repeat phrases. Females sing infrequently, and when they do, their songs are sung more quietly.
The most common call is a raspy mew that sounds like a cat. Catbirds also make a loud, chattering chek-chek-chek and a quiet quirt.
I also play Wordle first thing in the morning. I can only hope that someday the word will be QUIRT.
Catbirds are abundant in Savannas Preserve right now.
I could hear them more than see them, but sometimes one or two would pop up out of the shrubs and palmettos and perch in plain sight.
Catbirds are gray with black caps and a telltale rusty red patch under their tails.
This is gallberry, in the holly family of plants.
A catbird’s diet is about 50% fruit and berries. They also eat a variety of insects, spiders, worms and ants.
Catbirds nest in much of North America and are winter visitors to Florida and Central America. It is likely that the Florida birds nest in the mid-Atlantic and New England and Midwestern birds head south to Mexico and beyond.
A lot of human snowbirds are flocking here this winter from other states. But there were no other cars in the small gravel parking lot of the southern entrance to Savannas Preserve State Park, off Jensen Beach Boulevard in Jensen Beach just after 8 a.m. this morning.
I had been up since 5 a.m. since I love mornings, new days, fresh starts, new years.
The Gray Catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.
The preserve was intensely peaceful this morning – just the sound of distant traffic and the close-by gentle mewing of these birds. (Sometimes the sound they make is more like the waah of a quiet-ish baby.)
It’s a mewing time of year for catbirds, not a singing time. In nesting season the males are as creative in their songs as other members of the mimid family.
Holly berries (food for catbirds) are Christmas-seasonal here in Florida too. I think this is Dahoon holly.
Here is where I took a detour off the main trail in search of the edge of a wetland and maybe a Wilson’s snipe, a bird that has been eluding my efforts to photograph it for a few years now.
New year, new bird was my plan. Alas! I did not find a snipe. So much for my Snipe hunt.
Low sun and a misty morning made spider webs visible. It’s been warm and humid for early winter.
Some webs were more geometric than others.
The edge of the first wetland was too muddy and so I tried a second trail that branched off the main trail.
The combination of crispy dry plant life and mud underfoot is characteristic of the lower-elevation seasonal wetlands in the Savannas.
I saw signs of wild pigs on my walk, and I found a couple of what looked like pig traps. There was a bit of grain left in this one, but the “gate” was held open with a strap and a couple of S hooks, so I’m not sure how the trap works.
Feral pigs are a problem in the Savannas and pretty much all of Florida.
…the problem can be traced to 1539 when Hernando DeSoto brought hogs into southwest Florida, and some of them found freedom in the New World. Nearly 500 years later, there are some 3 million descendants of these “pioneer pigs” across the nation.
Something made a slippery splash near here, like a small gator, big snake, maybe an otter. Or a small pig? I did not see it but I remained quite vigilant, stepping carefully, scanning near and far.
I believe this type of attention to our surroundings is something we are losing to screens and the Great Indoors, so I like to refresh my skills now and then.
When the trail degraded into a network of pig paths, all dug up and snout-rooted, I decided to backtrack to more comfortable walking.
One of the many problems caused by the pigs…
Rooting — digging for foods below the surface of the ground — destabilizes the soil surface, uprooting or weakening native vegetation, damaging lawns and causing erosion. Their wallowing behavior destroys small ponds and stream banks, which may affect water quality.
It was growing in the middle of one of the lesser-used trails I walked this morning. It’s a Florida native annual herbaceous wildflower, and so named because it was thought that milkwort growing in cow fields would cause cows to give more milk.
I think it looks like a little yellow fireworks explosion. Happy New Year!
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. – John Muir
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.
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.
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
Not an uncommon bird, but hard to spot. This is my first sighting since we moved to Florida.
I went for a walk at Haney Creek yesterday late morning. I kept track of the birds I saw and heard and posted an eBird checklist for the first time in a while.
The first to greet me: a couple of Gray Catbirds.
Next, a non-bird.
A slow-moving Gopher Tortoise was grazing at the edge of the path.
On the fence at the dog run, an Eastern Phoebe.
“Phoebe!” it said, helpfully.
I expected to see more wading birds in the wetlands but only came up with this immature Little Blue Heron.
That is a school just beyond the wetlands.
The Little Blue is starting to get its adult colors.
Why do they start off white and turn slaty blue-gray? I don’t know.
On the hunt.
Last time I was at the dog park at Haney Creek (two days before), there were a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a pair of Great Egrets having a turf battle. I did not have my camera. I was hoping to see them this day but no luck.
Next I walked a trail through sand pine scrub.
There were little birds calling but I only got a good look at a few, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler.
There have been a ton of butterbutts around this winter. I’m almost getting sick of them.
Gray Catbird perches on the birdbath behind Audubon of Martin County yesterday at the Possum Long Nature Preserve in Stuart, FL.
I am still learning year-round vs. winter residents. Looks like catbirds are snowbirds in Florida.
Resident along the Atlantic Coast; otherwise migratory. Catbirds from across North America spend winters along the Gulf Coast from Florida through Texas and all the way down Central America and the Caribbean.
They would arrive at our old house in coastal New Hampshire in early May, when tree flowers were blooming and insects were out. Contrary to popular opinion they were not shy. But I did serve them a fine feast at the feeders.
Catbirds are mimids, members of the Mimidae family which includes mockingbirds and thrashers, notable for their vocalizations and ability to mimic other birds and outdoor sounds.
Yesterday I attended an Audubon class on Songbirds and Woodpeckers. Catbirds are songbirds or, more scientifically, Passeriformes or perching birds. Of the 10,000 species of birds in the world, about half of them are “songbirds” possessing the vocal cords and brains that allow them to sing, not just vocalize or call.