Sunday, February 27, 2022

Nature Journal - February 2022

   February was a month defined by birds, plants, friends, and more BIRDS!   

West Regional Waste Water Treatment Plant

        February started off with a BANG when I visited one of my favorite birding spots, another waste water treatment plant 😅 This treatment plant is one of many that have been engineered to filter our water before it's released back into the Indian River Lagoon.  After it is cleaned chemically, it's filtered through this system of man-made wetlands filled with cattails and bullrush, which are masters at sucking up excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphate that can create toxic algae blooms in our lagoon.  On top of cleaning our water, it's also a huge attractor of wildlife, and included in the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

    I've been here many times, and every time is a completely different experience.  Sometimes I don't see any wildlife until I walk deep within the reeds, but this time I was greeted by a chaotic mess of wildlife within the first few feet.  In one little section I was stopped by a red-shouldered hawk wrangling a corn snake from the water, two snail kites flying above hunting for apple snails, and a pair of bemused sandhill cranes with a river otter trying to play with them!!  I haven't seen an otter here in years, so it made my heart very happy<3

Ancestral land of the Seminole and Ais people.

Evening Beach Strolls

           Again I made a few trips to the beach for sunset this month, including one time with my parents who haven't been to the beach in a while<3  I also did a couple night work shifts for EAI this month.  No turtles, and lots of mindless podcast listening, but it was surreal watching the big dipper move from the horizon to the top of the sky 🌟

Stranded juvenile Northern gannet :'(
baby sea oats<3

Grant Flatwoods Sanctuary

        I never knew how much I loved pine flatwoods until this year.  I've been enjoying exploring them alone, taking advantage of the chilly mosquito-free evenings before the rain and heat come, and just watching the sun change the trees from bluish-brown to golden pink.  Even though I'm not excited for the bugs to arrive, I can't wait to see what flowers pop up in spring.

Ancestral land of the Seminole and Ais people.

The highlight of this hike was a group of these tiny Bog Violas sprinkled along the trail<3

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

        This month I was BLESSED to meet up with my old grad school friend Rob and his wife and sister in Cocoa Beach!  I wanted to show them everything the Space Coast had to offer, so our first stop was Merritt Island NWR.  The history behind this preserve is interesting as it started as acquired land by NASA to build the JFK Space Center!  After they realized they didn't need all the land, the remaining 140,000 acres were split between this NWR and the Canaveral National Seashore.  This refuge contains a wide range of habitats, including coastal dunes, salt marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrubs, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks (and is also part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail).

    Sadly this year has been tough on the birds (for reasons unknown), and the Space Coast Birding Festival had to be canceled, so I was curious what we would see if anything, but we were happy to see lots of tricolors, squeaky gallinules, northern shovelers, feeding snowy egrets, spoonies, invasive wild boar, armadillo, AND Rob's favorite dinos - alligators.

Ancestral land of the Seminole, Timucua, and Ais people.

Helen and Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary

        After we explored Merritt Island, I had to give them a real Wild Florida experience and take them to meet the feisty Florida scrub jays at Cruickshank Sanctuary.  Scrubbies are a naturally curious bird, but the individuals at this place are EXTRA bold and love to land on your head!  Unfortunately it might be due to people feeding them (which is never okay), but within seconds of entering this tiny trail there was a scrub jay on all four of our heads lol.  These birds have so much character, and I'm always happy when I can introduce others to them, spreading the love for these critically endangered birds.

        This was definitely an unforgettable experience, and another rare-bird moment shared with Rob (first being our hike at Pinnacles National Park to see endangered California Condors!)<3 

Ancestral land of the Seminole and Ais people.

TM Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area and Micco Water Management Area

        I've been trying to go to this spot with Kate all year and we finally went right before duck season dies down!  This preserve is a good example of the destructive history agriculture has had with Florida's ecosystems, and the efforts conservationists have made to reverse the damage.  Since the early 1900s, most of the floodplain marshes in the upper St. John's River Basin had been drained for citrus, cattle, and sod production.  These actions threw a wrench into Florida's natural water flow, destroying wetlands, decreasing water supply, increasing floods, and overall depleting our state's water quality.  But in the early 1970's, the St. John's River Water Management District has been restoring these wetlands, and in the 1980's this land was acquired and became Florida's first and only waterfowl management area!  Now these 6,270 acres are managed to be a welcoming environment for migrating and residential waterfowl and other wetland critters.  And of course, it's another spot on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail!

        Someone on eBird recently said they saw 6,500 ring-necked ducks here 😱  We didn't see nearly that many birds, but we did see huge flocks of black skimmers and white pelicans<3  I also saw my first (invasive) grey-headed swamphens, a well camouflaged water snake, a Wilson's snipe, and lots of other familiar faces.  After driving through this area, we moved our legs and hiked a little through the Micco water management area (which was very uneventful except for one slider turtle sunning 😅).

Ancestral land of the Seminole and Ais people.

North Sebastian Conservation Area

        This preserve is fairly small, with only 407 acres that was protected in an effort to restore our quickly disappearing scrub habitats.  Scrublands are Florida's mini deserts, seated on the highest elevation in the state, and in being so dry have been the most desired habitats on which to develop urban landscapes.  Now Florida's scrubs are specs of islands dispersed throughout the state, and continue to be threatened to the brink of extinction, along with all of the endemic species of flora and fauna that live within them, like the charismatic Florida scrub jay.

        I'm thankful for places like these, no matter how small they are, that fight to protect this enchanting ecosystem.  Every time I walk through them, I think of what ancient Florida use to be, with these spiky deserts spreading as far as you could see without the interruption of powerlines, railroads, and cities.  It was hard to imagine as I heard cars and planes zooming by throughout the preserve, but I dream of a day when our scrubs are admired by all, and honored as the unique ecosystems (found nowhere else on earth) they are, and they have the ability to heal beyond the specs we've reduced them to.

Ancestral land of the Seminole and Ais people.

DeLuca Preserve BioBlitz

        My final nature trip in February was the first citizen scientist BioBlitz event at DeLuca Preserve.  This 27,000 acre area was recently rescued from development and donated to the University of Florida for conservation research (there's an amazing 5 part series of articles about it's history here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  It's one of the last natural areas of its kind, encompassing untouched scrubs, flatwoods, prairies, pastures, and wetlands that represent real ancient Florida.  Many critically endangered species rely on this land for survival, including the gopher tortoise, Florida scrub jay, and the most endangered bird in North America - the Florida grasshopper sparrow.

        This BioBlitz was arranged with a focus on plants, and over 100 people divvied into teams for each habitat.  Me, Steff, and Kate chose #TeamFlatwoods, and were so happy to find two of our other internet nature friends in the same group, Emily and Betsy!  I'm still a big newbie at plant IDs, but these lovely ladies me train my eyes for what to look at, even when I don’t know what I’m looking at, and iNaturalist was there to do the rest.

        Flatwood habitats are characterized by a piney canopy above an understory or shubby vegetation, often dominated by saw palmettos, but the diversity or plants goes far beyond that with their varieties of soil types, hydrology, topography, and frequency of fire.  We saw so many wildflowers, including lots of bearded grasspink orchids and hooded pitcher plants, shrubby oaks, longleaf pines of all ages/sizes, insects, and ended the day with the most beautiful yellow rat snake I've ever seen<3

        I’m still trying to absorb how great this day was. Being in a natural place rescued from development. Surrounded by people who all have the same love for nature. And learning new ways to view these places I’ve seen my whole life. Even though this was just a tiny spec in the grand scheme of the world, it gave me hope in so many ways.

         If you'd like to see all the species observed by the AMAZING naturalists that attended, check out the DeLuca February 2022 BioBlitz project on iNaturalist. I'm def gonna be doing this again 😁🌴🌸🌾🌿

Ancestral land of the Seminole people.

No comments:

Post a Comment