Some photos of my reptilian friends from yesterday’s walk through Turkey Creek Sanctuary.

  • Florida Red-bellied Turtle
  • Southern Black Racer (long shot and a close-up)
  • Gopher Tortoise in its burrow
  • a different Gopher Tortoise with a pen shown for scale (a smallish individual)

Click to enlarge images.

Do You See What I See?

Today was a pleasant day at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. The winter and year-long residents seem to be settling into their routines. The overall bird density was still low, but the number of species was greater than any point since the summer. 

Most importantly, after almost an entire year, I finally managed to get that elusive White-eyed Vireo photograph! I almost missed it and I had time to fire off one shot in the shadows of the underbrush before it dashed off. But my quest is at an end! 

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A photograph 11 months in the making!

Speaking of vireos, I had a somewhat mysterious encounter with one near the start of my walk. I managed to observe the bird for a good while (sorry no pics – too busy birdwatching 😉 ), and my visual assessment doesn’t quite match with anything in my Peterson guide. The bird was clearly a vireo by shape and size. It was an almost uniform gray with white wing-bars and white spectacles. The best fit is a Blue-headed Vireo; however, both my Peterson field guide and my Sibley guide indicate there should be some sense of yellow and/or greenish cast on the flanks and back. Here, some further explanation is needed.

During the late 1990s, the Solitary Vireo was “officially” split into 3 separate but closely related species, the Plumbeous Vireo of the intermountain west, Cassin’s Vireo of the Pacific coast and northwest, and the Blue-headed Vireo of eastern North America. Generally the three species form what Sibley refers to as a “cline” from east to west of decreasing contrast and color.

An illustration by Keith Hansen showing the plumage variation among “Solitary” Vireos.

I mention all this because as I was making careful observations of “my” vireo, I had the distinct impression that it was almost completely devoid of color and of fairly low contrast. Upon further review, it most closely resembles the plumage of a Plumbeous Vireo. I will note though, that Sibley says there is hybridization and overlap in all plumages and even voice. Where that leaves me with proper identification, I am unsure as this species has not been reliably recorded this far east.

As has been the case for most of the autumn, the most numerous and active birds in the Sanctuary are the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. If you haven’t had a chance to observe these birds, let me just say that they are the tiniest balls of energy you’ll see in a bird, surpassed only by some hummingbirds. Despite their often being within only feet of me, it’s nearly impossible to get a decent photograph. My attempts today did yeild a fairly unique image. It’s a bit blurry, but I find it fascinating. This was taken in the split second it takes one of these tiny birds to hop from one branch to another.

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Some other species that I observed today include the Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Palm Warbler, Tri-colored Heron, American Coot, Cattle Egret, and American Kestrel (the last four by the weir at the Melbourne-Tillman Canal).

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Hello, my monochromatic friend.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoying a little breakfast.

Today was extra active for the Gopher Tortoises that live in the Sanctuary. Here are a couple of examples of coloration difference within the species.

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This dark green tortoise had a shell about 12” from front to back.

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This larger tortoise’s shell was about 18” long. Notice the reddish coloration.

One very noticeable absence from the time I was at the Sanctuary was a total lack of squirrels. The last several trips there the squirrels were everywhere. Dozens and dozens. Today, I heard one scolding call deep in the underbrush, and that was it. I suppose all the frenzy of activity before could have been the squirrels fattening up for the “winter” here, and now they’re just lazing about, waiting for spring. But it was darn strange from my perspective! 

Enchanted Forest Sanctuary

This is part 2 of my birding adventures this weekend. Thanks to the generous help of one of the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary (EFS) volunteers, I had batteries for my camera and thus a lot more photographs to share.

I had last been to EFS during the Florida Birding and Wildlife Festival in January, so it was nice to go back now in the summer, although it was much more quiet (in terms of people and birds).

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Enchanted Forest Sanctuary

The first creature I encountered was a LARGE “Banana Spider” (Nephila clavipes, also known as a golden silk orb-weaver spider). In fact, they were all over the park, in paths and up in trees. Here’s a link to a photo album of some of the spiders. (I won’t post them directly  here out of respect for my arachnophobic followers).

The sanctuary has several “loop” paths through different biomes. I started on the Coquina Ridge path, which parallels an old unfinished canal cut. Remnants of the coquina that was removed are strewn throught this part of the park, some of them arranged as ornaments. The holes in the center are from natural erosion when the coquina was under water.

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Ornamental coquina

After dodging a few spider webs, I turned onto the Biodiversity Loop. The park was noticably more cool, humid and mosquitoey (but my bug repellant seemed to be working). The canopy had some dramatic draping of Spanish Moss and other plants hanging off the Live Oaks and other trees.

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Dramatic Spanish Moss is dramatic.

As is typical of late summer in Florida, the bird presence was pretty minimal, but there was still plenty of wildlife around, and the plants were pretty too.

Quite a few butterfly species were in evidence. They can be difficult to photograph without a really big lens on an SLR, so I did my best with my Kodak Easyshare Max Z990. I captured this Zebra Longwing early-on in the hike through the Sand Pine loop. photo zebra-longwing.jpg
Zebra Longwing enjoying some summer nectar, as one does.

Later in the hike I also shot this orange butterfly. My Internet searching hasn’t positively identified it, but if any of my followers know what it is, please let me know. photo orange-butterfly.jpg
One of many butterfly species and individuals at EFS.

Along one of the upland and sandy trails I came across a Gopher Tortoise and got some glamor shots.

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You never know who you might cross paths with!

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Head shot!

I know I’ve shot Beauty Berry a few times this summer, but they are a very photogenic plant. Here’s a bunch of those and some goldenrod which was quite prevalent along one of the trails. Plenty of flowering plants and other vegetation of the butterflies and other insects

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Beauty Berry, again
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A green cicada.
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Mini-lubbers were here, too.

Before heading for the exit (dodging spiders all the way), I caught some Blue-grey Gnatcatchers skulking along the trail.

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It is a birding blog, after all.

I expect both EFS and Pine Island Sanctuary will get busier with respect to bird activity as the month of October arrives, and I aim to visit both as the fall migration gets under way.

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Until our paths cross again.

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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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.

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.

I spent about an hour and a half behind the Pine Creek Ranch Saturday afternoon. It was just about 3:00, so things were quiet, as the sky alternated between overcast and mostly-sunny. I was bored and took a few shots of a Gopher Tortoise and some sort of skipper (related to moths and butterflies). I managed to see an American Redstart, too. But that was about it, until I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye, and saw this beautiful Barred Owl. I got a few shots of him, even as he deftly maneuvered through the branches and trees. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes with this awesome creature..

Click to enlarge and browse the photographs.