I’ve been in Florida for just about six months once again working for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and this is the first time I have ever spent an entire summer in Florida for an extended field season. The humidity is no joke down here; in late June I was sure that a slow death by dehydration was upon me. It is hard to stay hydrated and it makes you feel like you’ve got an extra 30 pound pack on your back. The heat can also be completely disorienting. It has been this way since early June, but I can FINALLY see that summer is going to be coming to an end soon, with cooler evenings and cooler mornings. I must say that I give major props to anyone who can complete an entire summer of field work down here in this grueling weather!
It was indeed a busy summer! In June I participated in the annual “jay watch” surveys in Ocala National Forest for about three weeks, surveying scrub stands for family groups of Florida Scrub-Jays, and in particular hatch year birds (for more info about scrub jays, see http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/msrppdfs/floridascrubjay.pdf). A few weeks after, I began trap-taming Florida Scrub-Jays as part of a habitat management study in the forest (Please note that it is illegal in Florida to feed Florida Scrub-Jays or any other species listed as threatened or endangered and only allowable with permit). I’m now banding any jays that will allow it, which can be a slow process during this time of year as jays begin caching acorns (peanuts are no longer highly valued).
In addition, in late July, I did the last checks of our Levy and Marion County Southeastern American Kestrel nest boxes, wrapping up loose ends with nest success and fledgling kestrels. I am happy to report that yes, Southeastern American Kestrel chicks are still adorable.
It’s also been pretty exciting to see migrants pass through Ocala National Forest. I was actually a little surprised to find a great hawk watching spot in ONF; at first, I thought I just stumbled on a group of migrants passing over, but on subsequent visits to this same location, there is always some kind of raptor migrating high overhead. On ideal thermal production days (most days in Florida), I’ve seen Osprey streaming over very high in the sky, and on less ideal days, Osprey are actually flying quite low over Ocala National Forest, easily spotted for looking so out of place, and often calling. Along with the Osprey have been Bald Eagles, Mississippi Kites, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks (the last two of which are clearly spending time eating lots of feathered snacks in the scrub). Here is the location of the magic spot if any of you are ever thinking, “Man, would I love to hawk watch in the middle of nowhere in Florida!” I’m not sure what it is about this spot, but it is reliable for migrants. It can be found in the forest just northwest of Pittman and Lake Dorr.
Another benefit of working in ONF right now is seeing Black Bears nearly every day! I am a bit infatuated with these large fluffy critters and I love seeing them lumber across the road in search of more food, just walking around like they own the place. Unfortunately I usually don’t take my camera in the field with me due to the high temperatures. So here is a picture borrowed from my friend Kyle Titus of a lazy Black Bear stopping for a nap in the middle of a forest road in ONF.
And of course there are always the usual suspects to see in ONF, including the “white-eyed” subspecies of the Eastern Towhee, plenty of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and more White-eyed Vireos than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I have once again had a great field season in Florida!