Better Luck at Fay Lake

Today I tried heading off to somewhere other than Turkey Creek. Since I normally only go on a birding trip once a week, it can be difficult to balance repeat observations at one location (like Turkey Creek Sanctuary) and trying out different places for variety and seeing how other places are faring.

I decided to head to Fay Lake Wilderness Park. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as the entire park was created around an artificial pond, but it does border the St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge, and they manage most of the land by burning, rather than by tilling under the vegetation.

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Gorgeous day!

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Ooooh.. park got burned! (sorry).

The park has a variety of trails. There are paved walkways and boardwalk overlooks for the more pedestrian visitors. There are also wide dirt paths (frequented by ATVs and dirt-bikes on one side of the park) and some more “primitive” paths through the mostly naturalized vegetation.

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Choose your path.

There were still a good number of “winter” and resident birds in the park, but I did have a few FOY birds, including some Blue Grosbeaks and a Northern Flicker (red-shafted variety, based on my brief glance at its red “moustache” mark).

The first birds I encountered were some rambunctious Carolina Wrens, singing out in the open and chasing each other either for territorial or mating reasons (or both!). I don’t think I’ve seen as high a concentration of these birds anywhere before. There were at times 6 within close earshot (and several more in the background).

The Eastern Towhees were quite active and vocal, preferring to sing on exposed perches even as I drew near.

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Eastern towhee.

The stretch of paths along the St. Johns Wildlife Refuge had a nice mix of Gray Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, White-eyed Vireos, and as I mentioned, Blue Grosbeaks. The arrangement of habitat was quite good for all these species, ordered, from my right to my left, pond, reeds, brush, field, and “park land” (almost savannah like, with herbaceous cover interspersed with groves of trees).

At first I thought there were House Wrens singing, but something about their voices didn’t sound “right.” It turns out that Blue Grosbeak songs are similar to the House Finches’, and it was the grosbeaks I had been hearing.

I spent about 15 minutes watching a Pileated Woodpecker chiselling out bugs along a tree limb. He also let me get close before reluctantly flying away when I lingered a bit too long.

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Pileated Woodpecker.

In some ways this park is similar to Pine Island, but on a slightly smaller scale. That helped with the walking, as I am still on hold regarding this persistent issue with my knee.

The complete species list for the morning:

  • Mourning Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Blue Jay
  • Fish Crow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue Grosbeak (FOY)
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Carolina Wren
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • White Ibis
  • Snowy Egret
  • Reddish Egret (FOY – white morph)
  • Great Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker (FOY)
  • Common Grackle
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Osprey
  • Killdeer

I count today as particularly successful because I saw every bird I heard today, which is pretty rare. I wish I had seen more migrants, but all in all I had a good time.

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

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!