Malabar Scrub Sanctuary

December 2017 Outtakes!

A collection of photos that didn’t quite make the blog. Roll over each photo to see captions, click to enlarge…

Cameron Preserve, July 27, 2014

It’s been a wild few weeks here at the Lonely Birder Perch, but after a solid week of heavy rain every afternoon and weekends full of non-birding fun, I got back to birding this past Sunday at the Cameron Preserve in Palm Bay. It’s taken me a while to get this post up, so thanks for hanging in there with me!

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the Cameron Preserve is an area of protected land between the East and West Malabar Scrub Sanctuary parcels. I’ve crossed the northern edge of it while traversing both Malabar and the Turkey Creek Sanctuaries. On Sunday I decided to have a closer look at the Preserve itself.

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Believe it or not, this was one of the drier parts!

At first glance, the areas away from Turkey Creek (the hydrological feature) would seem to be filled what environmental biologists call “obligate” upland species of plants. That’s just a fancy way of saying that due to certain environmental features (like ground water level, elevation, slope, soils, etc.) one would expect species that must live in dryer, higher places. For the most part, the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary is full of obligate upland plants, once you move away from the creek. Much of the Cameron Preserve is contiguous with Malabar, but if you look carefully, some areas have what are called “facultative” wetland species. That’s another fancy term environmental biologists use. It means that usually those plants are found in wetland habitats, but sometimes they are found in upland settings.One reason these plants survive slightly drier times in the uplands is because the ground water level (or water table) remains high enough for long enough in the year to support them. Extended periods of drought can take their toll on these plants, though.

With the copious rainfall over the past week there was a LOT of standing water in the Cameron Preserve, and the “usually” wetlands plants were loving it. I’m not very good with my Florida wetland plant identification, but there were various reed-like plants and broad leafy ground cover that during dryer spells might blend in, but because of the water, they were really standing out.

In any case, I began my hike from the eastern part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary and made my way into the Preserve. My intent was to circle around in the Preserve and make my way back to where I started. Somehow, I got myself into the Preserve but when I tried to make my way back, I kept running into huge flooded areas or impenetrable scrub.

As I slogged around, I saw some Scrub Jays and Eastern Towhees, and several species of woodpeckers.

I find it interesting that while during the past couple of years the bird population density has been much lower than “normal” in the area, and that this has coincided with a decline in Northern Cardinals and birds of prey that hunt song-birds (like Sharp-shinned and Coopers Hawks, for example).

There were some loose flocks of Fish Crows, some with missing primaries (wing feathers), most likely as they molt and replace them.

The relative peacefulness of the morning ended abruptly, however, when a low flying helicopter passed over the Preserve and began circling over the Turkey Creek Sanctuary. This had the immediate effect of scattering most of the birds (an probably other animals) away from the sound.

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I’m pretty sure a whirlybird isn’t really a bird…

After further investigation i found that this is a Brevard County Sheriff’s Department helicopter. It’s equipped with pontoons for water search and rescue. I don’t know what was happening, but the helicopter circled and hovered for 20 minutes or more before either finding somewhere to land (not sure where that might be in that area) or heading off for a while. After about 15 more minutes, it returned for a few more minutes before heading out of the area.

Soon after the helicopter left, a group of Swallow-tailed Kites (click to see them in my previous photoblog post) came swooping over. I think it’s possible this was a family unit. It seemed like 2 adults and 3 juveniles, based on the tail length and the way they flew (the 2 adults were much more graceful).

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I hope you get a sense of how perfect these birds are in the endless sky.

Because I could not find a way around the flooded areas, I walked down a residential street out to the main road. From there it was a relatively short walk to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary East, where I got back to my car and headed home.

  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (♫)
  • Blue Jay
  • Fish Crow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Osprey
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Black Vulture
  • Carolina Wren (♫)
  • White Ibis
  • Great Blue Heron

Apart from the lovely sight of a Swallow-tailed Kite family and some unexpected aircraft, I got two ankles full of fire ant bites to commemorate my hike this week.

Out in the Flat

My wife and I had a guest the past few days, named Stanley. Flat Stanley. He was mailed to us (on account of a bulletin board flattening him in class one day), which seems a darn great way to travel. I took Stanley out to Turkey Creek and Malabar Scrub Sanctuaries so he could experience some of central Florida’s natural world.

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Flat Stanley chilling out by Turkey Creek.

We started the day at Turkey Creek, but I had us do most of the park in reverse order from my usual walks. I started by heading out to the weir, but recent heavy rains washed most of the mucky debris behind the orange flotation barrier. This is where most of the wading birds would hang out, but there was just one Green Heron skulking along the shore. There were plenty of bird songs along the rest of the walk. Stanley and I identified quite a few birds by voice and by sight.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker feasting on ants.

After exiting via the Sand Pine Trail, we drove to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. Stanley wanted to do the “Red Loop Trail” and I thought that was fine. We identified more birds and even saw a large snake! About midway around the trail we came across a loud group of Florida Scrub Jays. Stanely was excited to see them, as I had shown him my photos from last week in the sanctuary.

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Florida Scrub Jay. Unlike last week, this was just one of about a dozen we saw in 2 separate family groups.

One of the area middle schools built an educational platform in the heart of the sanctuary. Stanley and I learned a bit more about Florida’s scrub habitat and had a nice view of the surrounding landscape.

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Educational board showing how “flat” Florida is.

The second half of the trail was through some habitats I hadn’t seen there before, with lots of scrub oaks making archways over the path, and pockets of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers here and there.

Here is our list of bird species for both parks (loosely grouped by family rather than order seen).

  • Mourning Dove
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Carolina Wren
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Fish Crow
  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Blue Jay
  • Ovenbird (♫)
  • Yellow Warbler (♫)
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Wood Stork
  • European Starling
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Common Grackle
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Osprey
  • Green Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Cattle Egret
  • Great Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • White Ibis
  • American Brown Pelican
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Eastern Kingbird (FOY)
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Chimney Swift

It was great having Stanley around, but he has to leave early tomorrow. We’re having him head home in style, though, in a USPS Priority envelope, along with photos and descriptions of his time with us here in Florida.

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Me (actual photo!) and Flat Stanley at Turkey Creek Sanctuary.

Turkey Creek and Malabar Scrub Sanctuaries: May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers’ Day! Today’s birding adventure had me ranging farther that I’ve done recently, now that my knee has been feeling better. I spent the first couple of hours at Turkey Creek Sanctuary, mainly south of the creek itself. For most of this first portion of the hike, I could hear quite a few bird species, but it was difficult to see any. I had voice hits on Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, White-eyed Vireos and various woodpeckers, among others.

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If you look closely, you can see the red feathers on the belly that give this woodpecker its name.

There was one sweet spot along the trail in an upland section, adjacent to some homes, that had quite a few American Redstarts. Unlike last week, when there was a good mix of adult males and adult females, this week I think most of the birds were first year males. They had some black feathers coming in, but for the most part were yellowish, but displaying like males. I’ll have to check if this is usual for how this species migrates.

Near the end of the path along the creek I did hear one, solitary Black-throated Blue Warbler among the Northern Parulas and general background noise of the cardinals (yes, they’re getting up to that point where they’re drowning out other species again).

I neither saw nor heard any evidence of Blackpoll Warblers today.

The full species list for the Turkey Creek side of my hike follows:

  • Morning Dove
  • White Ibis
  • Blue Jay
  • Common Grackle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Carolina Wren
  • White-eyed Vireo (♫)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler (♫)
  • Great-crested Flycatcher (♫)
  • Chimney Swift

I backtracked to where I parked and then crossed the road and entered the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary for the second part of my hike. For the first while, I had more voice hits and very little visual identification. This started to change as I crossed from the western part of the Sanctuary, through the Cameron Preserve and into the eastern section of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary. Many of the same species were present as in Turkey Creek, plus some Fish Crows, Eastern Towhees, and a pale morph of a Red-shouldered Hawk.

I made another loop back to the car and decided to drive down to the southern portion of the sanctuary to try to see Florida Scrub Jays. On the way there, I saw some Ospreys, An American Brown Pelican and a Wood Stork.

Once back in the sanctuary I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite flying low. It actually passed within 20ft above me! I managed to get off a couple of camera shots (neither great, but hey, my first!). I was so excited.

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Florida’s Bird of Awesomeness.

Then I made my way to the area I had last seen some jays and taken some photos. Sure enough, a single adult scrub jay was there. It let me get very close and even hopped down on the ground right at my feet for a while!

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As awesome as Swallow-tailed Kites are, many people believe this should be Florida’s official bird.

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Despite the overcast sky, it was very warm and humid, and I was sweating through my clothes. At this point I also ran out of water, so I made my way back to the car. In the park near the parking area there was a Sandhill Crane family (2 parents and 2 chicks) walking nearby.

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A mother Sandhill Crane and one of her chicks. Happy Mothers’ Day.

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A not very happy Dad. Time to move along.

The final identification I got was a pair of Northern Rough-winged Swallows over the car as I was getting in. All in all, my Malabar Scrub Sanctuary list was:

  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Pileated Woodpecker (♫)
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Northern Cardinal (♫)
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Fish Crow
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Common Ground Dove (♫)
  • Blue Jay (♫)
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Brown Pelican
  • Osprey
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Combined list of the two sanctuaries.

  • Mourning Dove
  • White Ibis
  • Blue Jay
  • Common Grackle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Carolina Wren
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler (♫)
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Chimney Swift
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Pileated Woodpecker (♫)
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Fish Crow
  • Common Ground Dove (♫)
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Brown Pelican
  • Osprey
  • Wood Stork
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Florida Scrub Jay
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Anhinga
  • Black Vulture

Historically and statistically, the spring migration ends around mid-May, but there may be stragglers.  The summer residents will be setting up house and raising families, and there’s always room for surprises.

Malabar Scrub Sanctuary: March 2, 2014

I apologize for the delay in getting this post up, but here’s a summary of my last birding excursion, this past Sunday.

My last visit to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary was memorable, in part, because of how close I got to some Florida Scrub Jays. To be honest, my main goal was to see some of these birds again.

The sanctuary itself is divided into two main parts, an eastern and western section, with the Cameron Preserve in the middle. This forms a more or less contiguous open space ranging from low scrub to mature second-growth forest.

I started the morning in the western section, nearby the Turkey Creek Sanctuary. This part of the park is mainly forested with a semi-closed canopy. Northern Parulas were numerous and vocal. Almost everywhere I saw or heard Northern Parulas, Yellow-rumped Warblers were nearby. The males are molting into their breeding plumage and are looking quite sharp! The warblers tended to move through the trees just ahead of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

The Northern Cardinals are ramping up their activity as well. Most years, the cardinals in this area only show a slight decrease in activity through the winter. Some years I have even seen fledgling birds in late January, meaning at least some of these birds are nesting and breeding through the winter. This year, however, the cardinals have been more laid back and quiet through most of the winter. Things are changing now, though, and soon I expect these handsome birds will be singing and chirping their way to distraction, as always.

At one point, I heard a distinctive bird-like chatter up in the trees and looked up at some tall pines, trying to find what was making the sound. I heard a similar response about 100 feet away in another treetop, but could not see anything. The first noise came from a tree with a nest in it, though I could not tell if the nest was occupied. The nest was 2-3 feet wide and make of sticks. I’ve embedded this video below, mostly for the sound recording. If anyone knows what this is, please let me know.

Mysterious chattering call. Does anyone know what this is?

I heard several small groups of American Goldfinches at various places, and the constant calls of the Carolina Wren at times challenged the cardinals for predominance. In both sections of the sanctuary I heard White-eyed Vireos singing their odd, semi-mimicked songs, but the one I did see was too quick to grab a photograph (if you follow this blog, you’d know it took almost a year for me to actually photograph one of these birds, despite hearing them almost the entire spring and summer).

After completing one of the loop trails through that part of the sanctuary, I drove to the eastern portion, where I saw the scrub jays last year. They did not disappoint. After one “false alarm” by this Northern Mockingbird, I was visited by a couple of jays, who let me get quite close and seem to be people watching as much as I was birdwatching.

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Perhaps I was being silently mocked?

Florida Scrub Jays are intensely curious birds, and also quite social (like most corvids). One pair hung around the tree I was near, trying to catch a glimpse of a bird that was noisily rustling in the brush along the trail. One of the two let me get within a few feet of it (the rustling turns out to have been Eastern Towhees foraging in the leaf-litter).

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When I said, “I don’t have any snacks for you,” this bird actually did turn up its nose.

Further along the trail this bird followed me and let me get closer and even take a short video. The video starts when the jay notices a large wasp flying around. The loud sound at the end is the camera’s zoom mechanism.

Florida Scrub Jay goes after a wasp (not in frame).

When it flew off and ran around, it was chasing the wasp, which it then summarily caught, dismembered and ate after scurrying into the brush. I managed some photographs after the meal was complete, but I love the picture shown here because it shows off the beautiful blue plumage on this handsome bird.

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Florida Scrub Jay after just eating a large wasp.

After a few more minutes, the jays got bored with me and flew off (I heard several other individuals in the vicinity).

During the wildlife festival in January, a group of us were talking about various state birds, and it was mentioned that Florida’s state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. I offhandedly said I voted for the Swallow-tailed Kite, but Laura Erickson immediately piped up and said, “I think it should be the Florida Scrub Jay.” And she’s right.

The Florida Scrub Jay is completely endemic to the state. No other Florida bird is as emblematic of the struggle in Florida of wildlife and open space vs. development or of natural Florida vs. the tropical paradise we’re trying to force it to be. While it might lack appeal for citizens for whom the Scrub Jay is not found nearby, any benefit the species might get by elevating it to official status would be welcome, in my eyes.

I finished up the morning by walking to the end of the paved road before turning around and walking back out. One pleasant surprise there was a trio of Brown-headed Cowbirds on the powerline.

Once again, here is the species list from Sunday (including the drive to and from the sanctuary):

  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Fish Crow
  • Brown Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Florida Scrub Jay (FOY)
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Osprey
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (FOY)
  • Palm Warbler
  • Carolina Wren
  • Northern Parula
  • Blue Jay
  • Pileated Woodpecker (voice)
  • Tree Swallow
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Goldfinch (voice)

Coming up Next: Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, March 2, 2014

I had a pleasant outing at the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary yesterday, with some decent photos. I’ll be getting a post together some time later today or this evening. In the meantime, here’s the species list, including the drive there and back:

  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Fish Crow
  • Brown Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Florida Scrub Jay (FOY)
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Osprey
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (FOY)
  • Palm Warbler
  • Carolina Wren
  • Northern Parula
  • Blue Jay
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Tree Swallow
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Goldfinch

More to come.