Tag Archives: Pine Warbler

Walton Scrub, dragonflies, seed-eating warblers and a most deadly plant

This is a post about a walk in Walton Scrub, a 33-acre preserve in southern St. Lucie County. We were there around noon on Sunday, February 21.

The interpretive trail is half a mile long. Brochures are at the kiosk near the small parking area. My husband stuffed one in his back pocket and we forgot to look at it.

“Scrub” is a Florida plant community growing on sandy soil that does not retain moisture well. It’s dominated by sand pines, shrubs, and dwarf oaks.

My husband loves hickory trees and recognized this as one right away. Weird to see one in the scrub, we thought. But then I looked at the brochure online later.

Most hickories like moist woods and riverbanks, but Scrub Hickory, Carya floridana, grows in the white sand scrub of central Florida.

This walk lacked a diversity of bird species, but I did see three different kinds of dragonflies. I posted their photos to iNaturalist.org to get help with identification.

This one is a Blue Dasher, a dragonfly in the skimmer family. Love the name, love the color! I would like to paint one room of my house the color of this bug’s eyes.

This skimmer dragonfly is called a Red Saddlebags.

This green fellow is a Great Pondhawk. I can almost taste this color green.

The preserve abuts the Florida East Coast Railway on the west side, which has been in use since the 1890s. Freight runs through here, but they are working on the tracks to get ready to run the passenger service Brightline all the way to Orlando from Miami.

All of Walton Scrub was a pineapple plantation beginning in the 1800s. Before the railroad came through, they would haul the pineapples down to the docks on the Indian River Lagoon.

Pineapples are gone but a few of their bromeliad relatives live here now, like this ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata.

Ball moss is an epiphyte growing in trees that likes high humidity and shady low light.

Giant airplant, Tillandsia utriculata, does look a bit like a pineapple growing up high.

A flock of birds was moving through the pine trees but I had a hard time getting photos. At last I got a dim view of a yellowish bird with two white wing bars.

I’m pretty sure these are Pine Warblers flitting through the pine trees.

A bird true to its name, the Pine Warbler is common in many eastern pine forests and is rarely seen away from pines. These yellowish warblers are hard to spot as they move along high branches to prod clumps of needles with their sturdy bills.

Pine Warblers tend to stay high in pines and can be obscured by tufts of needles, but a bit of patience is likely to be rewarded.

The Pine Warbler is the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines. This seed-eating ability means Pine Warblers sometimes visit bird feeders, unlike almost all other warblers.

Most warblers leave the continental U.S. for winter, but the Pine Warbler stays in the Southeast and is one of the first to return northward in spring.

My first Pine Warbler was in April of 2015 when we lived in New Hampshire. The next year, at the end of March, I attracted a Pine Warbler with my delicious homemade suet dough on a porch railing. In January of 2018 in Florida, I got a look at one in the pine trees on a walk through Atlantic Ridge Preserve.

Here was the craziest thing we found here and there on our walk through Walton Scrub, I realized when I looked it up later. These attractive red seeds are from the Rosary Pea. From WildSouthFlorida.com

Rosary pea, Abrus precatorius, ranks among Florida’s worst invaders, arguably among the world’s worst. It’s also, indisputably, among the deadliest.

Rosary pea is an unassumingly slender vine, with delicate-looking leaves and lovely pink to lavender flowers. However, it grows like crazy, and can smother small trees and shrubs and even challenge larger trees. And it reproduces explosively.

Thing is, the whole plant, but the seeds especially, contain a toxin called abrin, and it doesn’t take much of the stuff to kill a human being. It’s estimated that as little as 0.000015 percent of abrin in ratio to body weight is enough to cause death, whether it’s ingested, inhaled or injected. That’s one seed’s worth. Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science ranks rosary pea with castor bean, the source of ricin, as the deadliest plant toxins.

What! Shouldn’t we all know this plant, and know to avoid it??

It was planted as an ornamental and it’s highly invasive. I feel like some people got a little carried away when they moved to Florida and realized what they could grow here.

We spotted a few more non-native ornamentals near the end of the walk. This is an Orange Trumpet, or flamevine, native to Brazil.

Kalanchoe pinnata, also known as air plant, cathedral bells, or life plant is from Madagascar.

The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was an amateur naturalist of some repute, was “passionately fond” of this plant and liked to give the baby plantlets as gifts to friends who visited his home. He also discussed his air plant at length in an essay titled: Geschichte meiner botanischen Studien (“History of my botanical studies”).

I imagine he would have had an interesting blog.

Surinam Cherry is also native to tropical South America.

It has a small, attractive red fruit that is edible, but I guess it’s flowering season now! Florida has strange seasons that take some getting used to.

Nature! … We obey her laws even when we rebel against them; we work with her even when we desire to work against her. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A walk in Atlantic Ridge Preserve

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Sandhill Crane photographed through the windshield as we drove to Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park in Stuart, FL. There are a lot of these big birds in this riverside neighborhood off Paulson Road. They have a certain nonchalance.

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It’s a big park, 5800 acres in southern Martin County. It’s barebones too. If the phone line is busy to the Jonathan Dickinson State Park ranger station, as it was when we called, then you can’t get the code to the gate at the park entrance and you have to climb over the fence (and throw your dog over too).

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There is a map available in a box at the entrance.

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Our first bird sighting inside the park was this sweet little Eastern Phoebe at a marshy spot in the wet prairie.

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Phoebe fun fact: “In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern Phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years.”

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Eastern Phoebes sit alertly on low perches, often twitching their tails as they look out for flying insects. When they spot one, they abruptly leave their perch on quick wingbeats, and chase down their prey in a quick sally—often returning to the same or a nearby perch.

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Bird #2 was a Bald Eagle! Slow flapping flight over wetlands.

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Speaking of wetlands, there were ditches on one or both sides of the flat sandy track and our dog stayed well-hydrated.

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Radar soaks his feet.

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Jungly, in that wet-dry Florida way.

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The view.

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Tracking. We saw signs of deer and wild (or feral) pigs but no encounters.

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A couple of miles in, John gets a phone call. Can’t we ever get away from it all??

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Wild thing.

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Sign in the middle of nowhere.

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Vegetation. Kind of monotonous in a beautiful way.

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Saw palmetto everywhere. Which is ironic because we want to plant some on our property and can’t find it available in local nurseries. Someone told us that the state buys a lot of it from the wholesalers because they have to plant a large percentage of native stuff when they landscape roadways etc.

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Pine Warbler in a pine tree.

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This is my first Florida sighting of a Pine Warbler.

I first encountered one in April of 2015 in my New Hampshire backyard, visiting a suet cake I put out: A warbler. And then again in March of 2016 nibbling my homemade suet dough on a porch railing: An Easter visitor.

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Tracks on the trail.

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We heard this hawk calling and calling and when it finally flew off its distant perch I couldn’t believe I got the photo with enough detail to ID it: it’s a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Whether wheeling over a swamp forest or whistling plaintively from a riverine park, a Red-shouldered Hawk is typically a sign of tall woods and water. It’s one of our most distinctively marked common hawks, with barred reddish-peachy underparts and a strongly banded tail. In flight, translucent crescents near the wingtips help to identify the species at a distance. These forest hawks hunt prey ranging from mice to frogs and snakes.

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Also spotted, a solo Blue Jay keeping an eye on us.

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This common, large songbird is familiar to many people, with its perky crest; blue, white, and black plumage; and noisy calls. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

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We walked along a large canal at one point, the “Seawind Canal” according to our black and white paper map. (We also used Google maps on my phone to not get lost.)

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A nearby committee of vultures took wing and became a kettle of vultures as we walked by. Lots and lots of them, seeming to really check us out.

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Black Vultures have the white wingtips.

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During the day, Black Vultures soar in flocks, often with Turkey Vultures and hawks. Their flight style is distinctive: strong wingbeats followed by short glides, giving them a batlike appearance.

It was a 4.5 mile walk in total, with some pleasant vistas and a nice collection of birds. We will go back to Atlantic Ridge.

A warbler

pine warbler!

Pine Warbler, looking up at a suet cake.

Two of these lively little warblers have been in the neighborhood for a few days.

Pine Warblers are often difficult to see as they usually stay high up in pines. Insects make up most of their diet, but they also eat fruits and seeds. They occasionally forage on the ground or come to feeders. Males sing even, rich trills from the tops of pines.

And…

The Pine Warbler is the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines. This seed-eating ability means Pine Warblers sometimes visit bird feeders, unlike almost all other warblers.

Most warblers leave the continental U.S. for winter, but the Pine Warbler stays in the Southeast and is one of the first to return northward in spring.