Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tracking Florida Scrub Jays

Yesterday, Junior FC had a track meet in Cedar Key, so I headed West to watch him throw the shot put with those powerful arms and run around the track with those powerful legs.





For once, the meet was in the direction of home and not in some far off location. I was grateful for that, since Cedar Key is not far from PFHQ.





It was a pretty spring afternoon ... late afternoon actually, with warm sun and a barely there breeze that was just chilly enough that you were glad for the long sleeves you thought to slip on that morning.





When his events were over he still needed to stay for the duration as part of his team, so I left for awhile to seek critters. The track was only a mile or two from Cedar Key Scrub State Preserve, so I figured it was my best shot since the sun was sinking towards the Gulf of Florida.





Inside the park, a fat mockingbird posed for a pic and I wrongly assumed that would probably be as good as it gets, since most of the trail ahead was pretty shady for photography.


Just as I was talking myself out of proceeding any further, I came to a trail juncture where one trail cut to the East.





The white sand of the trail fairly glowed in the late day light as it was in line with the rays and it cut through short scrubby oaks that were punctuated by the dead skeletons of taller pines.


Hoping to find a sunning snake at least, I headed down the trail.

Up ahead I could see this.


Could those be ... nah.... maybe ... scrub jays?




When I zoomed in all the way, I could see that yes, these were scrub jays!


Sweet! But ... oh so far away.





I shot them anyway, figuring that at least I could crop them and show them to you even if they were distant and grainy.

And then ...swoop!


One of them left the lofty perch and came TO ME!





It landed ten feet away on the ground and then started flitting all around me ... down to the sand, up to the branches, back to the sand ... it was wonderful!





It would have been more wonderful if the jay would JUST HOLD STILL FOR A FREAKING SECOND OR TWO!




And then it did!





And then my phone rang.





Arrrrgghhh!
Should I ignore it?

You just can't do that when you are a parent.

What if it was Junior? What if he got hurt at the track meet ...or it was over and he needed me to pick him up?




I looked at the phone. It was Mom.


Well, ... there's no way I'm not answering an off schedule call from my Momma.


I don't care if it's a Florida Panther eating an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, I'm answering.

So I did.

After it was clear there was no emergency, I said, "Mom, I am about 6 feet away from a scrub jay ... can I call you back?"

"Oh sure, Honey, get that picture!" ... and she was gone.

Let me tell you how great it is to have parents who love what you love and understand the ephemeral nature of nature photography.


Of course, almost as soon as I slipped my phone in my pocket, this happened.

Nooooooo! Come back!



It did!

Check out the cool ankle-wear this jay is wearing.
It's the latest style among threatened ice-age relic bird populations.

Tres chic!



The jay was really interested in something in the sand. At first I thought it was grabbing ants or maybe Doug's precious tiger beetles, but later a bit of video showed it digging up an acorn.




I was forced to use flash a few times ... sorry. The light was slipping beneath the nearby Gulf way too quickly.



If you live out west, scrub jays may not be such a big deal, but here in Florida, our isolated population literally is an ice-age survivor from a time when the Gulf Coast was much drier.
(Ice age = massive drop in sea level X coastline much farther out to sea divided by less ocean weather influence = drier inland climate)
That's FCalculus in case you were wondering.

Today, Scrub Jays only survive in any sustainable numbers where we have set aside their dry, scrubby habitat as parks and preserves.
It's not enough to just protect their habitat from development, you have to manage it with controlled fire so that a towering mature shady forest does not happen over time. Scrub jays need open areas with low ... well, scrubby actually, bushes and trees.
They are a fire adapted species if there ever was one.

I did make it back to the track meet in time to pick up Junior by the way.
... Okay, I was about 5 minutes late, but he's not Mom, ... HE can wait.
I got a minute or two of Jay video also, but Blogger doesn't seem to want it right now, so stay tuned and I will find a way.
THIS JUST IN!
My Macrobrachium rosenbergii babies just arrived by FED EX!
Sweet!
I'll tell you about them tomorrow, but you can Google all you want in the meantime.



24 comments:

Anonymous said...

What cool birds! What can we do after we get the house built to help keep these little guys around?
Lightnin

Anonymous said...

Hi FC,

As usual great photos! My favorite is the one of him flying away

Macrobrachium rosenbergii?

Getting ready for Trolls throwdown?
hee. hee

Anonymous said...

Forgot to sign my name.....patio

Felicia said...

Great post! The Scrub-Jays at that reserve are really bold and not at all afraid of people, as you've seen. Western Scrub-Jays are known to stash hundreds of acorns for later consumption, and are able to remember where each and every one is! They're also smart enough to avoid hiding them (or even to move them) if they think another bird is watching! It looks like Florida Scrub-Jays operate in much the same way.

Deb said...

Excellent pictures, and wonderful story as usual! What an encounter!

Dani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dani said...

oops. :)

YOU LUCKY MAN!!!!!!!!!!What a very special treat!

And really how cool is it that we have parents that don't mind getting hung up on?!

cinbad122 said...

I don't care what you say, even the shot of him flying away is a great shot!

robin andrea said...

It's true, we see scrub jays out west all the time. They don't quite look like yours and they're not endangered (well no more so than any other living thing at the moment). Your scrub jays are really beautiful. They're a much softer and lighter blue. Great shots. Your mom knows her son!

floridamom said...

They are beautiful aren't they? We see them often around here at Canaveral National Seashore. It almost seems as if they like to pose for photos.

Florida Beach Basics said...

FC - great pix. had an artist visitor during the Space Coast Birding Festival - her first experience with scrub jays. She did a beautiful field journal sketch of one you might enjoy - http://vickiehenderson.blogspot.com/2010/02/florida-scrub-jays-specialist-species.html

marge

edifice rex said...

I've never seen a scrub jay before. How dapper he looks with his little white jacket and ankle wear!

myamuhnative said...

Scrub Jays are way cool!

You really took me back when you mentioned Macrobrachium.
I helped care for a display tank full of them many moons ago .They can be very aggressive so give them lots of room. Are you going to be keeping them at home?
Did you order them from Dan?

SophieMae said...

OK, I'm officially jealous! Last time we drove through there, we spotted nary a scrub jay... not much of anything, actually. Have you tried to find out how to read the bands?

Caroline said...

Sara N. Dippity has surely paid you a visit! How cool is that!

Miz S said...

There. I got my FC fix for the day. Nice pics, Nature Boy.

Cathy S. said...

These are beautiful!

TROLL Y2K said...

They're great little birds and HARD to photograph. There's a good amount of suitable space for them in Troll County.

Aunty Belle said...

FC, these is remarkable! Wish't I could command birds the way ya did these lovely we jays.

Kudos to Mom fer an understandin' attitude. Yore Mama is a cool lady.

Sayre said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! That jay sure was cooperative. Was there an ulterior motive?

threecollie said...

Wonderful! I love seeing exotic birds, that simply don't occur here.

LaDivaCucina said...

LOVE these photos. Are the scrub jays out my way in Miami too?

Floridacracker said...

Thanks y'all! I was totally stoked over this encounter, because I so was not expecting it.

Some specific answers ...

Diva, They go as far south as Polk county I believe, but I really don't know their range off hand.

Myamuh,
Ordered them from Craig Upstrom at Texas Aquaculture. We are placing mesh substrate in the tank so they have room to get away from each other.

Lightnin,
Your land is too beautifully wooded to support them.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks y'all! I was totally stoked over this encounter, because I so was not expecting it.

Some specific answers ...

Diva, They go as far south as Polk county I believe, but I really don't know their range off hand.

Myamuh,
Ordered them from Craig Upstrom at Texas Aquaculture. We are placing mesh substrate in the tank so they have room to get away from each other.

Lightnin,
Your land is too beautifully wooded to support them.