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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Telegraph Creek Preserve

One of the advantages of being stationed in LaBelle while working on Lake Okeechobee is that I can explore some of the natural areas in southwest Florida without driving 3 hours to do so.  This morning, I decided to hit Telegraph Creek Preserve, part of Lee County's Preservation 2020 program.  My county listing goal was to add Wild turkey and perhaps Brown-headed nuthatch to my Lee list.  To this end, I decided that the west trail entrance offered the best chance.  It is less hemmed in by developments and is adjacent to the Babcock Ranch Preserve in Charlotte County to the north.  The Yellow Trail offered a leisurely 4.7 mile hike through the flat woods.

I was immediately impressed by the county's efforts to remove exotic pest plants from the site.  I suspected that some of the dead vegetation was Downy Rose-myrtle Rhodomyrtus tomentosus, a species with which I have some experience in Malabar Scrub Preserve about 20 years ago.  Rose-myrtle is known to invade pine flat woods to the extent that it even crowds out Saw palmetto!  The fruits are packed with columns of seeds, stacked like parallel piles of pancakes.  The species is prized by some gardeners and conisuers of home made jellies for those very fruits.  I suspect it was such folks who may have led to the occurrence of the species in Malabar.  In Florida, the species is primarily distributed in southwest Florida where it's pink flowers disgrace the flat woods along many a highway.

Once in the interior of the site, I was further impressed with the effects of recent prescribed fires.  The pine flat woods of the preserve are in spectacular condition, use begging for Bachman's sparrows, inexplicably absent, to come back.  I don't know the specific history of the site, but I suspect it was not always so well managed and that the Bachman's sparrows were extirpated from the site during a period of fire suppression in the past when vegetation grew too dense for the likes of Bachman's sparrow.  Bachman's sparrows do occur nearby in Lehigh Acres and Babcock-Webb WMA and probably Babcock Ranch Preserve, so the possibility exists of recolonization from these nearby populations.

I found many species of birds on site including three different Red-headed woodpeckers, a single Eastern bluebird, carrying for for unseen young, and a pair of Northern (Yellow-shafted) flickers engaged in courtship behavior.  The latter species is increasingly difficult to find in Florida.  They are insect eaters, consuming a large number of ants.  As we humans have become more adept at controlling ants and other insects. species like the flicker often disappear along with the less desirable parts of our environment.  Non-birds of interest were a pair of Coyotes flushed from a palmetto patch and two different Alligators using the trails system to navigate from one pond to another.  One of them was stymied by the field fence on the north side of the property which was installed to the ground rather than leaving a gap at the ground level to allow wildlife to travel underneath.  The trail turned left before I bought up with this individual, so I was not forced to move this one along or turn back.  The second individual was either a female or a small male.  It moved off the trail, then stopped to take a stand.  I was not close enough to invoke a fight response, it merely hissed at me from it's position in the grasses off the trail.

This place is hard to find and not very inviting as you make the switchback off SR 78 west of Alva, but well worth the visit.  I will be back.

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