Saturday, December 28, 2013

Oxbow Center and Canal

December 28, 2013

Two of my favourite spots to visit are the St. Lucie County Oxbow Eco-Center, a 225-acre preserve on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River  and Savannas Preserve State Park, which has the largest basin marsh (water comes from rain only) in the southeast of Florida-1000 acres.  The latter includes another 5000 acres or so of pine-oak scrub and savanna, increasingly rare ecosystems in south Florida.  All this right in the center of the City of Port St. Lucie.

I spent some time at the Oxbow Eco-Center today. I met Joe and his daughter Sarah on the trails, and we shared some knowledge about birds, other aspects of natural history.  We traded info on good places to visit outside of the area.   Joe and Sarah suggested the Audubon  Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at Naples on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida.

I suggested they might like to visit Green Cay Nature Center, in Palm Beach County.

The Oxbow Eco-Center contains a wide diversity of ecosystems.  Just a slight change in elevation, and a change in the water table; or a small creek or ephemeral stream in a bottom land results in a moving a few feet into different natural worlds. If you go along the "Otter Trail", you come upon the ecological jewel of the region, the St. Lucie River. This unique river has been well protected by Floridians, and much looks so much like the Amazon, that it stood in for that river in the making of the James Bond movie "Moonraker".
Shore of the St. Lucie River with one of its more notable inhabitants

A trail will cross through the fire dependent Slash Pine-Scrub Oak savannas and scrub, dominated by the Florida Slash Pine, which has very long paired needles, and large cones.

Young Florida Slash Pine
 Add a little chance of more water, and the oaks and pine are replaced by Florida's State Tree, the Cabbage Palm, also called the Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto).

Large Sabal Palm at Oxbow


And in the understory amongst the scrub oaks (for example the Myrtle Oak, which grows up to about 15 feet,,,,,some scrub oak species don't reach 2 feet!), you may find an Oak Toad (maximum size, an inch and a half) and, perhaps, a Fetterbush, which blooms through the winter.
Oak Toad Adult-less than 2 inches long

Fetterbush in flower

A continuing problem through Florida is the presence of over 150 species of exotic plants.  One of these, an attractive invasive flowering shrub of bottom lands, is the Large Ardisia (Ardisia elliptica), a native of south Asia and the south Pacific islands.  Thanks to Jill at Oxbow, a member of the always helpful staff at Oxbow, for helping me to identify this plant, pictured below.
Fruit of Large Ardisia

Large Ardisia
Then, scattered amongst the Sabal Palms, where water is more available than in the oak-pine scrublands, we see the native, well-named  Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)..and YES the berries are edible.


At 5:00 PM, I arrived home and immediately went out to Leithgow and to SE Mariposa Ave and the local canal.  This 30 minute round trip walk yielded an interesting list of birds.  A bird on the wire on Leithgow was a Kestrel.  As I got to the canal, I saw a flight of birds approaching along the canal from the south:  7 Wood Storks, 8 White Ibis, and one Tri-coloured Heron.  I watched as they landed up the canal, and also noticed a Great Egret,  a Great Blue Heron, and 5 Mottled Ducks.

Wood Storks discussing local politics at the local canal in 2012
As I stood, I heard a low "cluck" repeatedly above my head.  About ten feet up on a large diameter cable, a Limpkin was looking me over!  Then, a Merlin flew into a grove of trees beside the canal, where, a few days ago, a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers were roosting.

Limpkin at Wakodahatchee, Palm Beach County in March 2011