Tag Archives: sand pine scrub

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.

Haney Creek list

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Green Heron!

Not an uncommon bird, but hard to spot. This is my first sighting since we moved to Florida.

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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.

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The first to greet me: a couple of Gray Catbirds.

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Meow.

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Next, a non-bird.

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A slow-moving Gopher Tortoise was grazing at the edge of the path.

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On the fence at the dog run, an Eastern Phoebe.

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“Phoebe!” it said, helpfully.

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I expected to see more wading birds in the wetlands but only came up with this immature Little Blue Heron.

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That is a school just beyond the wetlands.

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The Little Blue is starting to get its adult colors.

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Why do they start off white and turn slaty blue-gray? I don’t know.

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On the hunt.

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Mirror, mirror.

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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.

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Next I walked a trail through sand pine scrub.

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There were little birds calling but I only got a good look at a few, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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There have been a ton of butterbutts around this winter. I’m almost getting sick of them.

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More info on Florida sand pine scrub, an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion.

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Another gopher tortoise out for a stroll.

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Finally an animal that can’t outrun me, or fly away.

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Lots of Northern Cardinals around.

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I think it’s nesting season for them.

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Chestnut cap helps identify this (out of focus) Palm Warbler.

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Who doesn’t love a Green Heron??