The warm winter weather (we all know winter isn't really until January, right?) has kept the gopher tortoises happily roaming about the sandhills. Volunteer Sam and I were treated to three juveniles ranging from 4 to 9 inches in length browsing about in the eastern sandhill around 11am yesterday morning. We think we might have figured out the ideal times to see them foraging…mid morning around 11:30 am then again in the afternoons around 2:30 pm. Although it is great to catch a peek of them roaming about, they are foraging during these times and easily disturbed. Their good eyesight tends to send them scurrying down the nearest burrow should they catch a glimpse of anyone trying to catch a glimpse of them. So please, enjoy your tortoise sightings from afar!
The milder weather has also increased the armadillo activity. It is not uncommon now to run across an armadillo ambling down the trail or turning up the duff in plain sight. As armadillos see and hear very poorly, it is easy to get a close look at their unique armored exterior. But stay upwind of their sensitive nose or you will be treated to a defensive leap into to the air and a bounding escape to a near by burrow.
Evidence of raccoon presence is notable at several areas along the trail. It is common for raccoons to defecate in the same place night after night. Distinct piles of sabal palm berry filled poo turn up daily on the same spots along the trail day after day. A close look to either side of the trail and you can usually detect what we like to call a “critter run” or frequently travelled path nearby.
The bird life in the Back Woods always surprises me. It often seems more notable this time of year when the resident population starts to be supplemented by winter visitors. Dozens of nearly indistinguishable sparrow and and wren sized birds are gorging themselves on the bounty of wax myrtle and American beautyberry berries. The ever present population of woodpeckers with the diminutive Downy Woodpeckers leading the flock create a pervasive racket in the canopy as the scour the bark and branches for insects. Early morning strolls to the western side of the woods guarantees you will at least hear if not see our resident pair of Great Horned Owls.
As always we invite you visit MOSI and take a stroll in the Back Woods. Bring a pair of binoculars, maybe a guidebook, and plan to stop along the trail for a quiet moment or two. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of life you will find surrounding you in our little preserve. And don’t forget to look past the obvious, try to seek out those more subtle signs (scat, tracks, burrows) along the trail that indicate some critter was there.
*The gopher tortoises at MOSI are all affectionately known as “Fred”…;D