Return to Pine Island, June 1, 2014

At sunrise on Sunday, I drove out to the Pine Island Conservation Area to see how the area is like in summer. Although astronomical summer doesn’t “officially” start until June 21st, it’s important to note that just about everywhere in North America is in meteorological summer by early June.

In any event, as you’ll see by my species list, things have mainly stabilized here in central Florida as far as bird movements and the species that are present. You’ll see the same mix, more or less, through the summer until the early migrants appear in September. That’s not to say things can’t be exciting. There are chicks fledging and late in the summer some birds will start to gather in larger groups and move into different habitats.

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Plenty of cardinals about. I think this was a juvenile male.

For this trip to Pine Island, I kept off the path that I encountered a feral pig on a past visit. I stuck to the central and western portions of the park. Despite the closeness of the Indian River Lagoon and the pond and wetlands in the center of the park, many of the birds I encountered were upland species. The ecosystems change over short distances in this part of Merritt Island, which can lead to a wide diversity of wildlife at times.

Near a pump-house at the southern end of the North Pond there was a small gathering of Black Vultures sunning themselves before starting their day. This one was particularly obliging to my photo-taking.

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A very accomodating Black Vulture.

I went out to what a sign near the parking area said was a “wildlife blind.” The path clearly hadn’t been used in a while. Much of it was elevated wood planks. The blind itself seems oddly constructed. If you stand, there a trellis panel in the way of good observing, and if you sit to look through the area below it, there’s not much visibility except for the mangrove canopy. In any case, there wasn’t much to see so I came back out and decided to walk some paths I’ve not tread before at this park.

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The wildlife blind, as advertised. Plank walkway, as not.

Along the long canal path heading toward the lagoon, I could hear herons squawking and barking to my left, and I managed to flush several species out. Most stayed out of sight. I wonder if that is their rookery, but most of the birds seemed to be on the ground rather than in the tree tops.

This nervous Turkey Vulture let me take a few photographs before flapping off to its mate nearby. Vultures have a bad rep, and I sort of understand why. They eat dead things (and have naked heads to keep the blood from caking on), they poop on their own legs to keep cool, and they use projectile vomit as a weapon. Gross, right? Yeah, but I love them anyway. Vultures are an essential part of a healthy environment. They help clear away the dead and decaying animals, stopping the spread of disease and parasites.

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You don’t really appreciate how big these birds are until you’re this close. But there was no menace in its eyes at all. In fact it seemed intensely curious and a bit reserved.

The most obvious bird species of note were the Purple Martins. This year I’ve seen more of these birds than ever. At Pine Island it appeared that many were fledglings, testing out their flight skills and diving around the sky with their siblings and parents. A few were resting on some dead trees between the pond and the lagoon.

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Purple Martin youngsters taking a break.

Along the narrow shore of the canal, I kept seeing movement and hearing little splishes when my shadow fell along the water’s edge. I looked closer, and there were hundreds of tiny crabs foraging along the sand. They’d dart to the comparative safety of the deeper water in the canal if they felt threatened (like, say, the shadow of a large bipedal predator).

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One of hundreds of tiny blue crabs in the canal.

Out over the lagoon, there was a pod of dolphins, with some interesting industrial infrastructure as a back drop. I don’t know what these are, but they’d make a great movie setting or something.

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Power plant related things?

I also flushed a Southern Leopard Frog out from the canal. You can see that with its coloration and the spots/squares over its skin that is can actually blend in pretty well with sandy stream or pond bottoms and even dead palmetto fronds.

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Southern Leopard Frog.

While walking around I had all the usual summertime birds: Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, White-eyed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, various doves and more. Most conspicuously absent here, and from many areas this spring, have been birds of prey. There are plenty of Ospreys, to be sure, but very few hawks or falcons have been evident just about everywhere. This puts a little more credence behind the thought that it’s not just bad luck that make some populations seem so lackluster, but perhaps a real population dip in this area. No prey, no predators. It could be part of a natural cycle, or it could be an environmental indicator. Time, observation and experience will tell.

I did see this large stick nest. It seemed perhaps too small for eagles, but not really located well for an Osprey nest. It was unoccupied, but I may try to keep tabs on it through the fall and into next spring to see who takes up residence there.

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Nobody home at this impressive address.

By this point I had run out of water and headed back to the car to call it a day. The species list wasn’t too bad for early June.

  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren
  • Fish Crow
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Great Egret
  • Cattle Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Osprey
  • Purple Martin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Killdeer
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Brown Pelican

It’s getting to be that time of year where I’ll need to be up very early to catch most of the birds in action, as it’s just too hot even by 9am for both the birds and the birder. I went through 2 quarts of water before 11:00am.

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