SCBWF 2015 : January 22 : Diceandra Scrub Sanctuary, Chain of Lakes Park, Fox Lake Park at Night

The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival kicked off on Wednesday, January 21st, but I didn’t have my first event until Thursday morning. There was a morning excursion to the Diceandra Scrub Sanctuary in Titusville. The main goal of this particular trip was to see the endangered Diceandra Mint (sometimes called the Titusville Mint) which is endemic to the sanctuary. Much of the focus of the trip was on scrub ecology and how it related to the plant’s presence there.

A flock of birders descend on Titusville.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate ecology and biology in general. I’m an environmental geographer and conservationist, but I was there for the birds. Many were singing, and we got some decent views of the Florida Scrub Jays that live on the property. Unlike the jays at either Malabar Scrub Sanctuary or at the Cruickshank Sanctuary, these jays were wary and kept their distance.

Florida Scrub Jay on the lookout
This jay was acting as a sentinel as it’s family members foraged below. The jays insisted on being between us and the sun, making photography a challenge for me.

Our trip leader was very interested in the mushrooms and other fungi we saw, and stopped to explain the various types. I was surprised by how many wild mushrooms are edible, We didn’t come across any overtly poisonous ones, though.

Here’s the list of species identified on the property.

  • Eastern Towhee
  • Blue Jay
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Carolina Wren {♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Fish Crow
  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Gray Catbird
  • Palm Warbler
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Black Vulture
  • Common Grackle
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • American Robin
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Tufted Titmouse

After heading back to Festival HQ (at Eastern Florida State College – Titusville) for a quick lunch, I decided to take a walk to the park area behind campus. Chain of Lake Park consists of some artificial lakes (or large ponds, more accurately) with paths, boardwalks and footbridges around and through the park. On the adjacent fields between it and the EFSC campus were several dozen Killdeer and one medium flock of Ring-billed Gulls.

The variety of bird life was an unexpected pleasure for a suburban-type park. The ponds I walked around had Blue-winged Teals, Mottled Ducks, and even a Lesser Scaup. I flushed at least 3 Wilson’s Snipes from one side of the first pond I walked along.

This Lesser Scaup kept looking over his shoulder at me. It’s not paranoia if a birder really is taking photos of you, is it?

There is even a pair of nesting Bald Eagles nearby. I could hear them making their squeaky and giggly calls from the EFSC campus. They appear to be building up their nest in anticipation of some eggs and chicks later in the spring.

Eagle in flight with a bundle of roots
At first I thought this Eagle was bringing food for its mate, but upon closer look, it appears to be a clump or roots or driftwood for nesting material.

The list of bird species at Chain of Lakes Park:

  • Killdeer
  • Cattle Egret
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Mottled Duck
  • Anhinga
  • American White Pelican
  • Fish Crow
  • Palm Warbler
  • Great Egret
  • American Robin
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Black-and-white Warbler

Finally, on Thursday, I participated in a nocturnal nature hike at Fox Lake Park. I had such a good time last year at the Owl Prowl at Sams House at Pine Island Sanctuary that I immediately signed up for this field trip when I registered for the festival in November.

For this trip we were seated in a flat bed trailer (like what you might ride on in a hay-ride, minus the hay) and driven to a few places to try and call some owls.

First, the trip leader used a recorded Barred Owl call to attract an owl to our vicinity. It worked! A Barred Owl flew in only a few meters over out heads. They don’t seem very bothered by spotlights, so the trip leaders spotlit the bird while many of the people took photographs with their smart phones. I wasn’t expecting that any photos would come out, so I left my camera in the car. I really regret that, but I got some amazing unaided eye and binocular views of the owl. After a few minutes, it called out and got a response from another owl (probably its mate) and got to hear some pretty wild barking and whooping calls.

After they moved off into the distance, we went to the next location to try and call some Eastern Screech Owls. We did not get any responses; however, one of the Barred Owls (perhaps the same one as earlier) followed and watched us for a while. We tried another location, but the Barred Owl continued to join us. Owls are known to be pretty vicious with other owl species, so it’s likely the presence of the Barred Owl kept any Screech Owls from calling out or getting close to us.

It was a beautiful night in any case, and we did some star gazing along the way. Part of the park had been burned as part of a management effort to control the scrub vegetation, so a few places were a bit smoky, but that small annoyance was well worth putting up with for a great night hike.

After that, my first day at the festival wrapped up and I headed home to rest for the next morning.