Malabar Scrub / Turkey Creek Sanctuaries

One of the benefits of lonely birding is flexibility and last minute changes without having to negotiate or “vote” on anything. I originally planned on just heading straight to Turkey Creek Sanctuary, but at the last second (literally) I decided to head a little bit more up the road and head in to northwestern-most part of the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary, then over to the portion of Turkey Creek Sanctuary across the creek from the boardwalk. This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought, as that portion of the parks is more primitive. It did yield up a Yellow-throated Warbler and some American Redstarts, though.

A lot of Blue Jays were present, and this juvenile went through a whole gamut of imitation calls. First, it tried to scare me off with a Red-shouldered Hawk call. Then it started in with what sounded like a vireo or warbler. When that got old, it started with grackle-like clicks and “chucks”. Then it sounded like a giant Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (which was interesting because there were actual gnatcatchers in the vicinity at that point. Then it just let loose with some honest-to-goodness Blue Jay calls before flying off.

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The Talented Mr. Blue Jay.

I worked my way to the creek itself, on the opposite side from the boardwalk, but aside from some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, it was fairly quiet (except for insect noise, lots and lots of insect noise). I backtracked and then went down some other paths, seeing some Northern Cardinals and more Yellow-throated Warblers. The warblers were always single individuals; I did not see any more than one at a time. By the time I came to the kayak launch area, the sun had come out from the earlier morning fog, and there were butterflies just about everywhere. This beautiful specimen landed on the mud by the launch ramp presumably to drink up some moisture and minerals.

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Large Eastern Black Swallowtail taking a breather…or maybe a mudder…

Eventually I worked my way to the boardwalk and did a loop, with a diversion out toward the weir and Scrub Trail. The gnatcatchers were here in force, as well as more cardinals. At one point they all scattered when an Osprey soared overhead.

At the weir there were a number of different heron species. I saw several Little Blue Herons, a Green Heron,a Tri-colored Heron, a Snowy Egret and Great Egret. There were a couple of Anhingas swimming after fish, and a pair of American Coots foraging nearby as well.

There were some more Yellow-throated Warblers, and a Black-and-white Warbler as well. On the way toward McKinnon’s Way I heard a very resonant drumming. This Pileated Woodpecker was at first hammering on a utility pole (which was really carrying the sound. It sounded like a motorcycle), then hopped onto a palm tree.

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Pilated Woodpecker, a.k.a. Mr. Jack Hammer

After getting back on the boardwalk, I saw another Pileated Woodpecker foraging on some logs off the side and below the boardwalk.


Pileated Woodpecker.

Further along the boardwalk I did finally see some Northern Parulas (I had heard them earlier). On the way toward the exit, there were more Yellow-throated Warblers, as well as a White-eyed Vireo. The vireo even flew right over my head, but I was unable, again, to get any photograph of it. Trying to get a decent photograph of a White-eyed Vireo is becoming a quest at this point.

With the noticeably cooler weather, there were a lot more families and groups coming into the Sanctuary, and it was near noon. I headed out and for home.

Something I’d noticed earlier this year, was a cell tower that was cleverly disguised as a large conifer. Here’s the effort:

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C is for Conifer, over 500 kinds.

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Palm Bay now has a metal Sequoia?

I don’t know what the birds think of it, but it does manage to blend in fairly well, all things considered.

Pine Island Conservation Area

This is part 1 of my birding adventures this weekend. I decided to scout out the Pine Island Conservation Area for future trips, since I hadn’t been there before.

Pine Island is very pretty, but as I elected to park on the west side of the lake, I was looking into the sun most of the time I was there. Then, after only a few photographs, my batteries gave out on my camera.

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Pretty, but headache-inducing lighting.

The most significant sightings here were 2 new life-listers!

  1. Dark morph of a Short-tailed Hawk on a bare nest platform outside the park
  2. Least bitterns (including 2-3 chicks!) in the reeds (more on that below).

Conservation areas like this are usually multi-purpose. Pine Island is advertised, somewhat, as a sport fishing spot, and that is what most of the people I saw there were doing. I have mixed feelings on fishing, as I do with hunting, livestock farming and the like. I do my best to integrate my ideals with reality, and it’s possible many of my more activist friends feel that’s not enough. In any case, i was heartened to overhear a conversation between two fishermen that went something like:

“So, I make sure I have these hooks. They break-down pretty quickly and don’t stay in the fish’s mouth.”

“Oh, I hadn’t ever thought of that. I hate it when you step on or accidentally grab an old rusted hook, too.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s better for the fish and the environment.”

That was somewhat heartening.

There were Barn Swallows making periodic runs along and over the lake, and quite a few Ospreys. Watching the Ospreys soar overhead really made the sky feel open and free.

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Osprey commanding a endless sky.

I also saw one Common Gallinule (I so keep wanting to call these birds Common Moorhens, but such is the way with the IOU), a pair of Snowy Egrets, some Common Ground Doves, Boat-tailed Grackles and a Turkey Vulture.

Then, my eye caught some motion in some reeds in the lake. Though quite backlit, the silhouette of a small heron was unmistakable as it flew from one clump of reeds to another. Then, I saw more movement the first bunch of reeds. Through my binoculars I could make out the same small heron shapes, but with a noticable amount of downy fuzz. The only reasonable photo I got was at the limit of my camera’s zoom. Least Bittern chicks!

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Baby Least Bitterns!

They and at least one adult were straddling and climbing through the reeds. The only reason I could reliably pick them out was the backlit haloing of the down on the chicks. Otherwise they were very hard to spot. This is how bitterns avoid preadators.

It was at this point that my batteries went out. That, plus the really bad sun angle convinced me to head out and drop by the nearby Enchanted Forest Santuary and see what was happening there. I’ll have a separate post for that.

Warbler Jackpot

I had a strange outing today at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. I was really in an escapist mood, and I hoped a combination of the weather (gloomy, showers  had just passed) and it being Sunday morning (a lot of folks at church in the morning) would mean I was unlikely to bump into too many people on the trails. Ultimately this wasn’t meant to be, but I rolled with it.

To start off, on the Sand Pine Ridge Trail, I saw this osprey tending to its catch.

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Catch of the day!

I got a couple more shots before I basically scared it away, fish in tow. While this was happening, I heard a White-eyed Vireo in the nearby brush and got a few good glimpses.

At the base of the tree the osprey was in, I saw a Black-and-white Warbler scaling up and down the trunk. He let me get fairly close and I was struck by how its movements a mix of those of a chickadee and a woodpecker.

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This made me think of the 1960s Batman show when Batman and Robin scale the buildings in an obviously tilted camera shot. No celebrity cameos here, though.

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Black-and-white Warbler striking an epic pose.

Further down the trail, I caught a glimpse of a female American Redstart and what ultimately turned out to be a female Blackpoll Warbler (a first!). I also got great binocular views of a Prairie Warbler and a Northern Parula before more redstarts and Blackpolls flew in. I took a few throw-away shots of what I realized were female Black-throated Blue Warblers (first this year).

At this point, as I neared the boardwalk, I ran into my first group of birders, all equipped with the equivalent of the Hubble Telescope for camera lenses. A couple even had lighting rigs that would make night-time shrimpers envious. I have to admit (and I am slightly embarrassed to) that I felt pretty inadequate in the camera department, so I missed what would have been a couple of great shots of a male Black-throated Blue. I was annoyed, though I had no right to be, that my lonely birding had been interrupted. I continued down the trail and along the creek overlooks. I calmed myself down and had a look down.

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Hello, gorgeous!

This Florida softshell turtle was fairly large. Maybe about 15” across (there was an even bigger one just barely visible through the murk). Further down the creek I caught this pair of Florida red-bellied turtles sunning themselves as the first rays broke through the overcast.

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Sunbathers in a half-shell!

I was feeling better, until I ran up upon another pair of birders with Overcompensatingly Large equipment setups (ok, I am being a bit mean there, forgive me – it was just my state of mind at the time).

I saw this Carolina anole (a.k.a. green anole) displaying below the overlook I was standing on, and used him to center my mind again. He’s a beaut!

image“Can I help you?”

This time, I stuck it out and took a few shots of my own as we were in the midst of a mixed flock of Blackpolls, redstarts and Black-and-Whites.

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Blackpoll Warbler, peeking out to say hey.


imageAmerican Redstart fanning his tail at me. Yes. He did.

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I manged to mostly shoot between the thick brush along the boardwalk.

I went my separate way again, managning to get some more binocular and unaided-eye views of more Black-throated Blues (this was THE bird of the day) and some Black-and-Whites. There was a quick glimpse of a magnificent Pileated Woodpecker, too.

I then bumped into the first group of birders I had encountered earlier (plus more) and finally determined that I wasn’t going to miss any shots I might take of my own. My equipment is fine, thank you very much! Plus, I realized these birders had every right to be there, as I did. So together we watched the antics of more American Redstarts, Blackpolls, Black-and-Whites and yes, I finally got my Black-throated Blue Warbler shot!

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Parting shot.

Then it was up and out, and another great day, in the end. Sometimes it’s easy being a lonely birder. Sometimes it isn’t. But in the end, it’s all about the birds.