Like every day at Blue Spring, first thing on the agenda is to see the manatee. The temperature last night was a brisk 38 degrees so I’m pretty sure lots of manatee will be hanging out in the spring run and perhaps as far up as the spring itself. Not to worry though, it’s predicted to climb to 70 today.
A foggy morning greets us to testify to the difference between the air temperature and the 72 degrees of the water. I love the look it gives the spring run.
Sure enough, lots of manatee. Since I’ve shown pictures of them on my last two posts I try for some difficult to get nose shots.
Manatee come up for air, take a breath and go back under water. Manatee can stay under water for 20 minutes but they often don’t. When the glare in the water is severe, I can tell where they are by listening for their breathing. It sounds like a bigger version of when I take a deeeeep breath through my nose. Still it’s hard to get the camera to the breather, get it focused and take a shot in time.. If you aren’t really quick, they are under the water and all you have are rings. I do love doing it and sharing the results. They are all so different.
Close ups reveal hairs on some of their noses. Wonder if they get longer and more bothersome as they age. <grin>
We walk up the board walk to the head spring and are surprised by what we find along the way.
I hear something moving and stop to look around. It doesn’t sound like a squirrel. When it moves again I spot a wild piglet rooting around. Now I don’t like these terribly destructive, hard to remove, invasive species but this one is pretty cute.
A group of people come along who are talking loudly and of course scare him away. Their loss, they didn’t get to see him.
We also spot the counter from the non profit Save the Manatee Foundation. Every morning two people come out to make the over night count. One is on land like we are and one lucky one is in a canoe. Not sure whose job is easier. From above they are easier to see than when you are right down next to them. But the sun glare makes it hard from the land and less so from the water. The fog hasn’t cleared as she paddles slowly looking deeply and carefully into the water.
We reach the head spring and sure enough there are at least two groups that I can see.
Looks like someone is getting a triple hug.
These are the sights as we walk back down to the spring run mouth.
By the time we get to where the spring run flows into the St. Johns River, a group of kayakers, possibly a tour, is clustered at the edge of the legal limit hoping to see the gentle giants swim out to graze.
As the boaters leave, the cormorants pay them no mind.
Although perhaps you could call this showing off for the audience.
We’re on the floating dock when we see the houseboat from yesterday making his way toward the river to head on its way.
Sure looks like a lovely day to be on the river. Too bad we have other plans.
Guess he’s a member of the crew, not the captain whom I hope is steering the vessel.
We were at Blue Spring in March last time. We didn’t see as many manatee but we had a great time with the Florida Scrub Jays so we’re going back to see if earlier in the winter they are as friendly and as funny as they were then.
The Lyonia Preserve is in nearby Deltona Florida. It’s a short drive of about 10 miles. It is a joint project of Volusia County, the Volusia County School Board, and the State of Florida to provide environmental education to the public and restore and maintain habitat for scrub dependent species, including the threatened scrub jay and gopher tortoise. The preserve is named after the scrub plant rusty lyonia and consists of 360 acres of restored Florida scrub habitat.
The scrub ecosystem in Florida is itself an endangered species having been bulldozed as useless for years. It is found on high sandy ridges and is dominated by short oaks and other low vegetation, numerous open areas of white sand, and very few tall trees. Many of the plants and animals living in the scrub habitat, including the Florida Scrub Jay, are totally dependent upon these characteristics for their survival and success.
Three trails loop through the scrub habitat of Lyonia Preserve. We set out to hike a portion of all three and specifically to get back to the red trail where we previously had our encounters with the jays.
The trail begins in an area of taller trees and bushes but quickly moves into shorter scrub habitat..
Scrub Jays are known to be attracted to shiny things so last time I wore my black sequened ball cap. This time I give it to David and wear a blue one. W'e hope being shiny will encourage the jays to come take a look. Seems we cut off my chin but it’s the hats that count. His looks particularly sparkly in the picture.
We walk up and down and around. We know we would definitely not like to do this walk in the middle of a summer afternoon. But it’s a perfect day today.
We encounter obstacles.
But we don’t encounter even one jay until we are almost back around to the trail head.
David spots him right about here.
According to the National Audubon Society, the last word on birds, the Florida Scrub Jay was once considered a race of the scrub jays found in the west but is now considered its own separate species.
They are an endangered species because of their inability to live anywhere but in this habitat which has rapidly disappeared. They apparently have a very complicated social system. In 1990 the population was listed as 4000 pairs, a reduction of more than 90% from their original numbers. NINETY PERCENT! Loss of habitat has been the main problem. Prime Florida oak scrub is maintained by occasional fires, so fire prevention has added to the effect of ongoing development in squeezing out the jay's habitat.
They forage on the ground and in trees, usually in flocks. They harvest large numbers of acorns and bury them, returning to retrieve and eat them later. Acorns make up most of their diet but they also eat a wide variety of insects, especially in summer, as well as a few spiders, snails, berries and seeds.
We catch sight of only two today after being almost surrounded by them the last time. These two are busy foraging and not at all interested in us or our fancy hats.
We visit the Center after our hike to ask about them and are told that there are perhaps as many as 8 families of 4 to 5 birds each here on the preserve. A family usually consists of a nesting pair and often one to six “helpers” usually the pair’s offspring from previous years. They assist in defending the territory and feeding the young.
After doing the whole hike and neither seeing nor hearing any jays, we feel really lucky to have our afternoon saved by the pair we see at the end.
We ask why there might have been so few if there are so many families and perhaps as many as 40 birds here. The woman in the center speculates that perhaps being here earlier in the day or later might help since it is mid afternoon now. But more likely they are all busy building their nests since this is nesting season.
It was a lovely afternoon for a hike through this endangered landscape and although we didn’t see many jays and they weren’t their usual social selves, we’re glad we came and recommend you give it a try too. We certainly will be back next time we are in this area.
I hope some day to be able to compare the western scrub jay and see if they are equally as handsome as the Florida Scrub jay.
If you missed the post when we visited last time and the Jays were on our heads and entertaining us with their antics, you can find it here. If you look at it, post a comment so I’ll know you are interested in these past post links.
Tomorrow we are off to Visit The Mouse!