Malabar Scrub / Turkey Creek Sanctuaries

One of the benefits of lonely birding is flexibility and last minute changes without having to negotiate or “vote” on anything. I originally planned on just heading straight to Turkey Creek Sanctuary, but at the last second (literally) I decided to head a little bit more up the road and head in to northwestern-most part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, then over to the portion of Turkey Creek Sanctuary across the creek from the boardwalk. This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought, as that portion of the parks is more primitive. It did yield up a Yellow-throated Warbler and some American Redstarts, though.

A lot of Blue Jays were present, and this juvenile went through a whole gamut of imitation calls. First, it tried to scare me off with a Red-shouldered Hawk call. Then it started in with what sounded like a vireo or warbler. When that got old, it started with grackle-like clicks and “chucks”. Then it sounded like a giant Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (which was interesting because there were actual gnatcatchers in the vicinity at that point. Then it just let loose with some honest-to-goodness Blue Jay calls before flying off.

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The Talented Mr. Blue Jay.

I worked my way to the creek itself, on the opposite side from the boardwalk, but aside from some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, it was fairly quiet (except for insect noise, lots and lots of insect noise). I backtracked and then went down some other paths, seeing some Northern Cardinals and more Yellow-throated Warblers. The warblers were always single individuals; I did not see any more than one at a time. By the time I came to the kayak launch area, the sun had come out from the earlier morning fog, and there were butterflies just about everywhere. This beautiful specimen landed on the mud by the launch ramp presumably to drink up some moisture and minerals.

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Large Eastern Black Swallowtail taking a breather…or maybe a mudder…

Eventually I worked my way to the boardwalk and did a loop, with a diversion out toward the weir and Scrub Trail. The gnatcatchers were here in force, as well as more cardinals. At one point they all scattered when an Osprey soared overhead.

At the weir there were a number of different heron species. I saw several Little Blue Herons, a Green Heron,a Tri-colored Heron, a Snowy Egret and Great Egret. There were a couple of Anhingas swimming after fish, and a pair of American Coots foraging nearby as well.

There were some more Yellow-throated Warblers, and a Black-and-white Warbler as well. On the way toward McKinnon’s Way I heard a very resonant drumming. This Pileated Woodpecker was at first hammering on a utility pole (which was really carrying the sound. It sounded like a motorcycle), then hopped onto a palm tree.

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Pilated Woodpecker, a.k.a. Mr. Jack Hammer

After getting back on the boardwalk, I saw another Pileated Woodpecker foraging on some logs off the side and below the boardwalk.

Pileated Woodpecker.

Further along the boardwalk I did finally see some Northern Parulas (I had heard them earlier). On the way toward the exit, there were more Yellow-throated Warblers, as well as a White-eyed Vireo. The vireo even flew right over my head, but I was unable, again, to get any photograph of it. Trying to get a decent photograph of a White-eyed Vireo is becoming a quest at this point.

With the noticeably cooler weather, there were a lot more families and groups coming into the Sanctuary, and it was near noon. I headed out and for home.

Something I’d noticed earlier this year, was a cell tower that was cleverly disguised as a large conifer. Here’s the effort:

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C is for Conifer, over 500 kinds.

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Palm Bay now has a metal Sequoia?

I don’t know what the birds think of it, but it does manage to blend in fairly well, all things considered.

Turkey Creek Heats Up As Things Cool Down

It seems now that September is here and some slightly cooler morning weather has arrived, that things are picking up in Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Notable and active birds seen today inlcuded:

  • American Redstart
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Swainson’s Warbler (new for me!)
  • Northern Parula
  • Blue Jay
  • Caronlina Wren
  • Northern Cardinal (was there a doubt?)
  • Downy Woodpecker

Voice-only IDs included Hairy Woodpecker (more monotone and deeper version of the Downy’s calls), White-eyed Vireo (again!), Pileated Woodpecker. There was also a Belted Kingfisher that flew overhead at one point. The day was not very good for soaring, though. I saw no hawks or vultures in the air over the park at all.

As you can see from the list above, warbler activity is on the rise as we get closer to the fall migration. 

Today, I tried shifting my birding to Saturday monring (instead of Sunday). As expected, there were a lot more people in the sanctuary than I am used to. As I was on my way to the new Turkey Oak Trail, a woman came down the path and asked me if I knew how to tell the difference between a King Snake (non-venemous) and a Coral Snake (venemous). Various incomplete versions of the rhyme designed to help tell the difference went through my head, which was no help at all. In any case, whatever snake she saw was no longer present, so we both walked and talked along the entirety of the trail. 

Thus ended my first Saturday morning birding adventure of the year.

Mid-May at Turkey Creek

I went out to Turkey Creek this morning with the threat of rain looming ahead, but the morning seemed nice enough. The birding was a bit flat most of the morning, but I had a nice outing.

The Sand Pine Ridge Trail was quiet for most of the length. At the western end, some activity picked up with a couple of female American Redstarts flitting in the brush. As I stepped onto the boardwalk at that end, I could here some warblers calling ahead in the canopy. At the first creek overlook, I saw some adult Northern Parulas feeding their fledgling chicks. I tried to get some photographs, but the brush was too thick and they were moving too fast. It was really neat, though, to see the chicks in almost full adult plumage. 

A bit further down, a White-eyed Viero began calling, rather frantically. As I watched from the end of the boardwalk, I could see an argument brewing between the vireo and a pair of parulas. I don’t know what got everyone so worked up, but I didn’t realize such small birds could make that much noise!

After they calmed down, I traversed the rest of the boardwalk in comparative silence. I could here the ubiquitous Northern Cardinals off in the distance, and the insect noise was quite loud.

The creek was very pretty, especially as the water level is up a bit from my last visit.

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Turkey creek by Tree House

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One of the creek loops.

As I rounded one part of the boardwalk toward the canoe deck, I surprised a family of raccoons. Before they could all run off, I got a quick photo of one.

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Baby racoon watching mom and sibs trot off.

The paths near McKinnon’s Way and the jogging trail were quiet, but I caught some very brief glimpses of more American Redstarts. Near the Harris radio tower I came across a rather handsome Gopher Tortoise!

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“I *am* smiling!”

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For anyone wondering where these venerable creatures live, here’s a shot of a Gopher Tortoise hole I took a little later in my walk

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“Home sweet home.”

Click here if you want to see a shot with the inside a bit visible.

Near the Scrub Trail I came across a couple of interesting critters. First was this Six Lined Racerunner (actual name!) checking me out. I found out that these lizards can run 18 miles-per-hour! Not bad for animal under a foot long!

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Six Lined Racerunner, racing stripes standard.

Then there was this creepy fly. It’s hard to tell by the photograph, but it was about 3.5cm long (almost 1.5in). Apparently it (she?) was laying eggs in the sand. You can see her abdomen curled down and the tip stuck in the sand.

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Creepy fly. Not much else to say.

Squirrels were abundant, quietly gathering food. This one’s tail is a bit sparse, but he seemed happy enough.

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Got nuts?

I circled back to McKinnon’s Way, passing this prickly pear cactus.

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Yes, Florida does have cacti.

This lovely flowering bush was pretty.

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Colorful finale.

At this point, the few intermittent sprinkles gave way to more steady rain and some thunder, so I made my way out of the park to head home.

Warbler Jackpot

I had a strange outing today at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. I was really in an escapist mood, and I hoped a combination of the weather (gloomy, showers  had just passed) and it being Sunday morning (a lot of folks at church in the morning) would mean I was unlikely to bump into too many people on the trails. Ultimately this wasn’t meant to be, but I rolled with it.

To start off, on the Sand Pine Ridge Trail, I saw this osprey tending to its catch.

Catch of the day!

I got a couple more shots before I basically scared it away, fish in tow. While this was happening, I heard a White-eyed Vireo in the nearby brush and got a few good glimpses.

At the base of the tree the osprey was in, I saw a Black-and-white Warbler scaling up and down the trunk. He let me get fairly close and I was struck by how its movements a mix of those of a chickadee and a woodpecker.

This made me think of the 1960s Batman show when Batman and Robin scale the buildings in an obviously tilted camera shot. No celebrity cameos here, though.

Black-and-white Warbler striking an epic pose.

Further down the trail, I caught a glimpse of a female American Redstart and what ultimately turned out to be a female Blackpoll Warbler (a first!). I also got great binocular views of a Prairie Warbler and a Northern Parula before more redstarts and Blackpolls flew in. I took a few throw-away shots of what I realized were female Black-throated Blue Warblers (first this year).

At this point, as I neared the boardwalk, I ran into my first group of birders, all equipped with the equivalent of the Hubble Telescope for camera lenses. A couple even had lighting rigs that would make night-time shrimpers envious. I have to admit (and I am slightly embarrassed to) that I felt pretty inadequate in the camera department, so I missed what would have been a couple of great shots of a male Black-throated Blue. I was annoyed, though I had no right to be, that my lonely birding had been interrupted. I continued down the trail and along the creek overlooks. I calmed myself down and had a look down.

Hello, gorgeous!

This Florida softshell turtle was fairly large. Maybe about 15” across (there was an even bigger one just barely visible through the murk). Further down the creek I caught this pair of Florida red-bellied turtles sunning themselves as the first rays broke through the overcast.

Sunbathers in a half-shell!

I was feeling better, until I ran up upon another pair of birders with Overcompensatingly Large equipment setups (ok, I am being a bit mean there, forgive me – it was just my state of mind at the time).

I saw this Carolina anole (a.k.a. green anole) displaying below the overlook I was standing on, and used him to center my mind again. He’s a beaut!

image“Can I help you?”

This time, I stuck it out and took a few shots of my own as we were in the midst of a mixed flock of Blackpolls, redstarts and Black-and-Whites.

Blackpoll Warbler, peeking out to say hey.

imageAmerican Redstart fanning his tail at me. Yes. He did.

I manged to mostly shoot between the thick brush along the boardwalk.

I went my separate way again, managning to get some more binocular and unaided-eye views of more Black-throated Blues (this was THE bird of the day) and some Black-and-Whites. There was a quick glimpse of a magnificent Pileated Woodpecker, too.

I then bumped into the first group of birders I had encountered earlier (plus more) and finally determined that I wasn’t going to miss any shots I might take of my own. My equipment is fine, thank you very much! Plus, I realized these birders had every right to be there, as I did. So together we watched the antics of more American Redstarts, Blackpolls, Black-and-Whites and yes, I finally got my Black-throated Blue Warbler shot!

Parting shot.

Then it was up and out, and another great day, in the end. Sometimes it’s easy being a lonely birder. Sometimes it isn’t. But in the end, it’s all about the birds.

Red and Redstart

This morning I went to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, which is a property adjacent to the Turkey Creek Sanctuary. In fact, the first place I stopped was technically in Turkey Creek, but on the opposite side of the creek than I normally visit.

Far side of the creek than I am usually on.

Apart from a lot of leaping fish in the creek (I think that happens more on overcast mornings, like today), there wasn’t too much going on. The trails are for mountain bikes, and I did see a few riders on the trail. I did get a good glimpse of a warbler, but positive ID was tough. A lot of these birds are in the midst of getting their breeding plumage, so there’s generally a wild mix of colors and patterns that most field guides just have to skip over. My best guess would be a Magnolia Warbler, based on the wing pattern and the emerging black about the throat.

I did hear a few White-eyed Vireos, but did not get any visuals (and of course, the hordes of Northern Cardinals were in evidence). White-eyed Vireos seem to be very plentiful this year.

Bike trail at Turkey Creek in the morning gloom.

With not much going on, I drove the short distance to one of the trailheads for the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. The Sanctuary and surrounding property are great to have as conservation land, but it comes with a little bitterness. Originally, the Sanctuary was to help with the local Florida Scrub Jay populations; however, with the rise of the adjacent residential developments and population increase in and around Palm Bay, the necessary operations (i.e., FIRE) to keep the scrub in a state that the Jays would thrive in were halted. Much of the property has grown over and isn’t suitable for Florida Scrub Jay habitat. There is a good variety of habitat, though, including some gorgeous open grassland areas.

Some of the diverse landscape types in the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary.

One persistent Northern Cardinal did present himself well enough for some decent photographs.

I give cardinals a bit of rough time in this blog, but they are pretty.

Here he was listening to his mate, who was gathering nesting materials nearby. In all honesty, the red of male Northern Cardinals is stunning.

While setting up the shots of this guy, I was pleasantly surprised by a non-stop flutter of black and orange. An American Redstart! He was actively foraging with his mate. These birds do NOT sit still very often. Here’s the only decent shot I got of him. You can see a bit of the characteristic wing and tail drooping of the species. They flutter down and around like falling leaves, which is pretty neat.

He stood still just long enough to get this.

Other than a few more ear-only catches (White-eyed Vireos) I got some good binocular views of a dark grey-ish bird with a faint black necklace of streaks that I can’t identify. I’ve seen them before, and cannot figure out what they are. The day was heating up, the sun came out and I headed out. I did get a quick glimpse (finally!) of a Carolina Wren in some thick palm scrub.

The trails at the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary are very well kept

Not the most prolific outing, but it was nice and I had fun – which is what birding is all about!