Fay Lake Wilderness Park

My birding adventure this Sunday was a damp one at Fay Lake Wilderness Park. It has been fairly rainy in this area through the week, and the park was still wet from the previous day’s showers. It was mostly overcast, too, which helped keep the temperature down and I didn’t need to squint much.

The park is pretty, with mostly wide paths (looks like they use a 4-wheeler to keep things clear) and a series of wooden overlooks around the lake perimeter.

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Fay Lake.

What struck me first upon entering the park trails was the almost unbelievable cacophany of tree frogs. When walking by a grove of palms when the frogs were calling, this has to be the loudest natural sound I’ve heard since the 17-year cicadas in Wheeling in 1999.

Like most of Brevard County’s parks, Northern Cardinals were just about everywhere. I like this shot of a singing female. In the bird world it’s rare for the females to sing, but for cardinals, both males and females sing regularly.

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Female Northern Cardinal singing. This shot looks way too much like a winter scene up north!

Another constant companion throughout the morning were these grasshoppers. Some friends over on the Gulf Coast call the large grasshoppers there “lubbers” and the ones out there I have seen can be over 4 inches long. A few of these approached that size, but most were about 2-3 inches in length. I’ve been calling them “mini-lubbers.” photo mini-lubber1.jpg
Mini-lubbers were everywhere.

There were plenty of butterflies and skippers, too. I counted at least 6 different species. This one obliged me by sitting still for a while so I could get a decent shot.

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Gulf Fritillary.

This about a close to a Turkey Vulture as I’ve ever been. Vultures get a bad rap for eating carrion and lurking about dead things, but they provide a crucial service in “recycling” dead animals.

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Turkey Vulture.

I got some good binocular views of an Eastern Towhee and a Red-shouldered Hawk, a brief glimpse of a White-eyed Vireo, and at least one Common Ground Dove. At one point a Little Blue Heron in mid-molt from white to blue flew overhead. It looked like it was marble.

I noticed that just about every square foot of the park showed some evidence of burning. The park sits just to the west of the interstate and adjoins the St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge, so regular burning is easier here than in many other parks.

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Scorch marks and new growth.

The area shown above was the sight of a little bit of action, too. Some grackles were trying to harrass an adult Cooper’s Hawk and managed to drive it away. As I was watching that (sorry, no pics!) I was lightly pelted from something above me. A squirrel was having a pine cone breakfast. photo squirrel.jpg
Squirrel!

As I said, the park borders the St. John National Wildlife Refuge, and the border was marked by some barbed wire and signage. The barbed wire was not continuous, and the path systems of the two parks intersect and merge here and there. I found myself on the “wrong” side of the fencing a few times and had to back-track out. I could hear Bobwhite calls deep in the Refuge area, but was unable to see anything in my binoculars. The Refuge looked pretty, if a bit empty of visible animal life.

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St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge.

That was about it for the morning. The paths back toward my starting point were very wet at this point and the tree frogs were nearly deafening. I’d like to stop back to this park in the fall and definitely next spring before the hot weather sets in. Here’s a parting shot of one of the mini-lubbers.

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Mini-lubber says bye!

Scrubbing it Up in Malabar

I spent the morning in the central part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. My post from April 14th discusses how much of the sanctuary was overgrown too much for the Florida Scrub Jay. The central part, however, is being managed to keep the habitat more amenable to the jays and other scrub-adapted wildlife.

The Malabar Scrub Santuary was set up in the early to mid 1990s, using a failed housing development from the 1980s.

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Malabar Woods Blvd. You can’t have a more exclusive address

Here are a few photographs of what post-burn scrub habitat looks like from ground level. I am not sure exactly when this was burned, but probably some time this year. Vegetation grows back very quickly; these plants are adapted to fire. photo scrub2.jpg
Burn-managed scrub.

You’ll notice the lower part of the tree trunks are charred, but there’s no evidence of buring in the upper part. Management fires, like the natural fire they mimic, are fast moving and low to the ground. The taller trees here are relics of pre-management days. Left to its own devices, a scrub habitat would tend to be devoid of any taller trees. You can see that the burns have caused many of these taller tress to die, though. photo scrub1.jpg
Lack of shade is par for the course in scrub country.

There were some Blue-grey Gnatcatchers calling in their wheezy-complaining way along the paths off the paved boulevard, but as I walked down the defunct street, I noticed something ahead that excited me a bit. I couldn’t be sure until I got closer, but yes! Florida Scrub Jays! One was acting as a look-out on top of a dead sapling while another foraged on the ground. The foraging jay actually came within 2 feet of me and was very curious. I know that many people tend to feed them (which is illegal), so I don’t know if this jay is habituated to hand-outs or if this was just a normal level of curiousity seen in the species.

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Sentinel.

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The blue coloration was very varible, depending on the sun angle. This shot shows it to best effect.

photo jay-close.jpg Hello neighbor!

I walked along some of the paths that led into the more forested parts of the sanctuary. I saw a White-eyed Vireo, but wasn’t able to get a photo (again!!), but was hearing what sounded like an Eastern Towhee. I know that the White-eyed Vireos in this area love to mimic towhees, so I was skeptical. It took some careful and lonely stalking, but sure enough, there was male Eastern Towhee singing in the shade of a tree. The race of Eastern Towhee here in Florida has white eyes (rather than the red eyes of northern bretheren) and a slightly less musical and slurring voice.

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Eastern Towhee singing his heart out.

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Pause for breath.

At this point the sun was really beating down and I started to head back out. I saw a few more jays and another towhee. I noticed on my way back out to the scrub habitat a six-lined racerunner and creepy flies (like I’ve seen at Turkey Creek Sanctuary).

The only other resident I saw before exiting the sanctuary was this small Gopher Tortoise. It was about the size of a small bagel, but I don’t know how old that would make it, but I expect pretty young in turtle-years.

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Looks like the kids play outside in this neighborhood.

Both the Florida Scrub Jays and the Eastern Towhees are firsts for this year, bringing my 2013 total to 132 species.