Cameron Preserve, July 27, 2014

It’s been a wild few weeks here at the Lonely Birder Perch, but after a solid week of heavy rain every afternoon and weekends full of non-birding fun, I got back to birding this past Sunday at the Cameron Preserve in Palm Bay. It’s taken me a while to get this post up, so thanks for hanging in there with me!

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the Cameron Preserve is an area of protected land between the East and West Malabar Scrub Sanctuary parcels. I’ve crossed the northern edge of it while traversing both Malabar and the Turkey Creek Sanctuaries. On Sunday I decided to have a closer look at the Preserve itself.

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Believe it or not, this was one of the drier parts!

At first glance, the areas away from Turkey Creek (the hydrological feature) would seem to be filled what environmental biologists call “obligate” upland species of plants. That’s just a fancy way of saying that due to certain environmental features (like ground water level, elevation, slope, soils, etc.) one would expect species that must live in dryer, higher places. For the most part, the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary is full of obligate upland plants, once you move away from the creek. Much of the Cameron Preserve is contiguous with Malabar, but if you look carefully, some areas have what are called “facultative” wetland species. That’s another fancy term environmental biologists use. It means that usually those plants are found in wetland habitats, but sometimes they are found in upland settings.One reason these plants survive slightly drier times in the uplands is because the ground water level (or water table) remains high enough for long enough in the year to support them. Extended periods of drought can take their toll on these plants, though.

With the copious rainfall over the past week there was a LOT of standing water in the Cameron Preserve, and the “usually” wetlands plants were loving it. I’m not very good with my Florida wetland plant identification, but there were various reed-like plants and broad leafy ground cover that during dryer spells might blend in, but because of the water, they were really standing out.

In any case, I began my hike from the eastern part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary and made my way into the Preserve. My intent was to circle around in the Preserve and make my way back to where I started. Somehow, I got myself into the Preserve but when I tried to make my way back, I kept running into huge flooded areas or impenetrable scrub.

As I slogged around, I saw some Scrub Jays and Eastern Towhees, and several species of woodpeckers.

I find it interesting that while during the past couple of years the bird population density has been much lower than “normal” in the area, and that this has coincided with a decline in Northern Cardinals and birds of prey that hunt song-birds (like Sharp-shinned and Coopers Hawks, for example).

There were some loose flocks of Fish Crows, some with missing primaries (wing feathers), most likely as they molt and replace them.

The relative peacefulness of the morning ended abruptly, however, when a low flying helicopter passed over the Preserve and began circling over the Turkey Creek Sanctuary. This had the immediate effect of scattering most of the birds (an probably other animals) away from the sound.

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I’m pretty sure a whirlybird isn’t really a bird…

After further investigation i found that this is a Brevard County Sheriff’s Department helicopter. It’s equipped with pontoons for water search and rescue. I don’t know what was happening, but the helicopter circled and hovered for 20 minutes or more before either finding somewhere to land (not sure where that might be in that area) or heading off for a while. After about 15 more minutes, it returned for a few more minutes before heading out of the area.

Soon after the helicopter left, a group of Swallow-tailed Kites (click to see them in my previous photoblog post) came swooping over. I think it’s possible this was a family unit. It seemed like 2 adults and 3 juveniles, based on the tail length and the way they flew (the 2 adults were much more graceful).

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I hope you get a sense of how perfect these birds are in the endless sky.

Because I could not find a way around the flooded areas, I walked down a residential street out to the main road. From there it was a relatively short walk to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary East, where I got back to my car and headed home.

  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (♫)
  • Blue Jay
  • Fish Crow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Osprey
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Black Vulture
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • White Ibis
  • Great Blue Heron

Apart from the lovely sight of a Swallow-tailed Kite family and some unexpected aircraft, I got two ankles full of fire ant bites to commemorate my hike this week.

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