Guest message: Graham Williams, land manager, Bureau of Land Resources
Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park is a natural gem in urban central Florida
As the District’s South Central Region Land Manager, I have the great pleasure of getting to work on some truly amazing pieces of land in central Florida. People often ask me which one is my favorite. All of our District properties have some unique features about them and each one is special to me in its own way but the one that I connect with the most is Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park in eastern Orange County.
Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park protects approximately 9,000 acres of sensitive habitat, including some pristine pine flatwoods and about six miles of the Econlockhatchee River and its associated floodplain swamps and tributaries. The property is like an oasis in rapidly developing east Orlando, sandwiched between Highways 50 and 528 to the north and south and between Avalon Park and Wedgefield developments to the west and east. Despite its proximity to the hustle and bustle of the Orlando area, the Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park remains a true gem of a natural area with abundant wildlife thanks to a long history of frequent fire management that has kept the natural communities in excellent condition.
Because the Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park is named for the late Hal Scott, former president and executive director of the Florida Audubon Society, it only seems fitting that the property’s most famous residents are its woodpeckers. A population of the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker occurs in the frequently burned flatwoods here. This species is well adapted to fire and depends upon it to maintain the habitat in a condition suitable for them. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are the only woodpecker in our area that live exclusively in cavities drilled into live pine trees. They require old-growth pines, especially longleaf pines, that have developed a heart-rot that helps to soften the inner wood of the tree. The woodpeckers can spend months or even years drilling through the hard outer wood of a mature longleaf pine to reach the heart wood and hollow out a cavity. They also drill resin wells around their cavities to cause sap to flow onto the face of the tree. This helps to discourage predators such as ratsnakes from climbing up the tree trunk and into the cavity opening. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are truly an amazing species with some really unique adaptations to enable them to survive in the frequently burned pinelands of the southeast.
Since Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are a federally endangered species, we must closely monitor their population on our District property to ensure their success. One of the ways we monitor them is by banding each bird so that we can easily identify every individual that we encounter in the field. This is usually accomplished when the birds are tiny chicks in the nest. We climb the trees and use a little noose made of fishing line to carefully retrieve the baby birds from the nest cavity. After a few quick measurements and notes each chick gets a set of colored bands gently placed onto its little legs in a process I’ve heard aptly described as being a bit like “putting a little ring on a piece of al dente pasta”. Then the baby woodpeckers are gently returned unharmed to their nest cavity.
Each individual Red-cockaded Woodpecker has a single cavity that it calls home. Sometimes it’s necessary to know which bird is living in which hole. Getting this information usually requires an alarm clock set way too early and a bit of patience. During the day the birds are typically very active, moving widely about the forest in search of food. To determine “who’s living where” we do what’s called a roost check. This has become one of my favorite activities in my job.
A roost check usually begins with the sound of an alarm clock at around 4 a.m. or some other hour that should only be a “p.m.” To be successful, we must be in place at the cavity tree and ready before the birds awaken and leave the safety of their cavity around sunrise. As soon as they do, we quickly follow them and determine who they are based on the color combination of their leg bands. Each cavity tree has a unique tag as well, so we then know the individual bird that calls each cavity tree home.
One of my favorite experiences is that brief time in the early dawn while I’m waiting patiently at a cavity tree for the woodpecker inside to awaken. It usually begins as one of the quietest times in the forest when there is little noise but the occasional chirp of a cricket or the distant hoot of an owl. On a clear night the stars in the night sky can quickly make me forget that I’m just outside of Orlando.
On a recent roost check we trained our spotting scopes to the sky and saw the rings of Saturn! Things quickly change though as the light of dawn strengthens and sunrise approaches. The flatwoods begin to come to life with an incredible morning chorus of bird song. The first to appear are usually the Common Nighthawks calling loudly “peeeent!!” with excitement as they anticipate the approaching sunrise. Moments later the tiny Bachman’s Sparrows begin to sound off with their beautiful song, which sounds to me like they are singing “heeeeeere kitty kitty kitty”. Next Common Yellowthroats join with their “wichity wichity wichity” and then the Eastern Bluebirds with their warbled “WEEW wewidoo” and Eastern Towhees reminding me they are “tow-heee!” and then the Brown-headed Nuthatches come in with their high-pitched squeaks just like the sound of a rubber pork chop dog toy. In that brief moment just before sunrise, it’s as if the entire forest returns to life around you as you await the sound of “Seeeeeep!” from a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It is truly my favorite moment of the day whenever I get to experience the dawn song and the awakening of the pine flatwoods at Hal Scott.
(This article is part of a series focused on the district’s public lands, why they are important to protect water resources and why they are special places to work in and visit.
For information about district lands, visit www.sjrwmd.com/lands.)
Hal Scott morning chorus
Above-average rainfall continues across the district
Despite July’s patchy rainfall, 12-month rainfall totals remain above average across the district. A report outlining hydrologic conditions was presented today to the district’s Governing Board.
Stakeholder meeting for dispersed water storage pilot project on Aug. 22
The district will present construction details for one of the dispersed water storage pilot projects in progress in the Indian River Lagoon drainage area at a meeting at 10 a.m. Aug. 22 in the district’s Palm Bay Service Center.
Water conservation tip
We’ve had a lot of rain across our region and more is in the forecast. Remember: If it’s rained in the past few days, you can give your irrigation system a break. Learn about optimal irrigation techniques and watering restrictions at www.sjrwmd.com/water-conservation/savingwater/outdoors
This week in district social media
- Thanks to district staffers Ray McCain and Mat O’Malley for submitting photos and information this week.
- Swamp mallows are in bloom on the south side of Lake Jesup! Their scientific name is hibiscus moscheutos, but we sometimes call them “marsh mallows”… how about that for having s’more than one name?! #LakeJesup
- Middle and high school students within district boundaries had so much fun learning about water thanks to the Blue School Grant! Field trips to the St. Johns River and the Santa Fe River, augmented reality projects and aquaponics are just a few of the many ways students gained hands-on experiences. Head to the district website and navigate to the education page to watch the full-length video and learn more! Don’t miss your chance to apply for a grant. Deadline Sept. 7.
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