A Return To The Forest

Header Image: Florida Scrub Jay

It was a dark and stormy night. The day was bad, too. The last few days of September saw Hurricane Ian gain incredible strength in the Gulf of Mexico before roaring ashore in southwest Florida at nearly a Category 5 level with winds around 150 mph. Five months later, many areas of that beautiful coast are still reeling from the amount of damage the storm caused. Some lives were lost and many others were changed forever.

We live inland and had a very windy, rainy experience but were spared the brunt of the catastrophic storm. Our power remained on for the duration and we picked up tree limbs from the yard for a couple of days. For us, it was no worse than any other hurricane we have experienced in over 60 years. Our location in relation to Hurricane Ian’s path was key in our relatively favorable experience. Only 15 miles to the south, the storm cut a wide swath of destruction as it marched eastward across the peninsula.

One of our favorite spots to explore is the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. The tract was closed for a couple of months due to downed trees, flooding (24 inches in 12 hours) and washed-out roads. A few weeks ago, we returned to once again marvel at nature’s resilience.

The forest service did a great job repairing roads and trails. It was obvious that a great many trees had been lost. The flood waters had receded and streams ran clear and the tract’s one lake, Lake Godwin, was once again accessible. And beautiful.

Our entrance to the forested wonderland was met with an early morning ground fog which burned away quickly after the sun had been up an hour. The red clay hauled in to resurface the roads revealed who had been traveling this way during the night. Tracks of White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, Opossums, Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Coyotes, snakes, lizards and several unknown creatures were encountered every few yards.

Winter migration is still in full swing and there were bird sounds coming from the side of the road as well as from distant trees. The view of Lake Godwin shortly after sunrise was incredibly peaceful with not a ripple to be seen on its surface. The pine trees smelled great and were filled with small birds going about the business of surviving another day. We were treated to a dramatic battle for a dead tree snag. Gini reminded me I promised to rent a dump truck so she could fill it with millions of huge pine cones for craft projects.

Once again, we were in the forest, at peace, satisfied with life and all was right in our world.

Welcome to the forest.

Ground fog settled across the pine savannah.

The bright sun peeked through the fronds of a Saw Palmetto and then made short work of dispensing with the bit of remaining morning mist.

Lake Godwin provides a pleasant view of lily pads and pine trees. In the distance we heard the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes. The day was beginning.

It seemed spider webs adorned every available stalk of grass and tree limb.

The diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatches are our area’s earliest nesting songbirds. They typically travel in loose family groups. This morning we counted at least eight of the little balls of feathers probing every part of the trees in search of breakfast.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers visit with us during migration and will be gone from the forest by Easter.

Although we see many migratory Pine Warblers, Florida also has an abundant population of resident birds.

Another winter visitor, an American Robin, perched long enough for a picture before flying off to join a flock of dozens of cousins feeding in the distant pines.

Eastern Bluebirds breed in this area and they are attracted to pines with nearby open spaces.

(Warning: Flight Of Fancy Dead Ahead)

A Bird Tale

This is a fine snag“, said the Florida Scrub Jay. Her partner agreed.

Oh, no! A Common Grackle!”

I’ll get his attention while you attack from the rear!”

Alas, the Grackle was prepared and fought viciously!

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, there appeared a red-haired stranger! (Known to his friends as the Red-headed Woodpecker).

The ensuing epic battle seemed to last forever! (At least five minutes.)

At last, peace returned to the snag and the Jays relaxed with their new Friend.

The End

The Florida Scrub Jay is endemic to Florida and will only breed in very specific habitat. They can be found in higher and drier areas with Sand Pine and Scrub Oak (from 3 to 6 feet tall). Loose family groups help tend nests and young birds during their first year.

It is always sad to see destruction and injury from any cause. We are constantly amazed at how quickly nature can recover from severe damage. Returning to an area we love to find it in such outstanding condition was more than gratifying.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

(Note. Our blog posted on 10/23/22 described a trip I made with our grandson seven days before Hurricane Ian hit the area. https://ournaturalplaces.com/2022/10/23/a-grand-day-out/)

34 Comments on “A Return To The Forest

  1. This started with a sober recounting of nature’s power and humanity’s vulnerability but as you show and mention nature’s creatures are resilient. Lots of fine bird photos and enjoyed your dramatic flight of fancy.


  2. What a happily quick recovery. You must feel relieved.

    That upside-down nuthatch caught my attention.

    Having heard of saw palmetto as a medicinal, I looked up the plant and found that Serenoa repens is the sole species currently classified in the genus Serenoa.


    • Yes, we were amazed at how resilient the forest was.

      The behavior of the Nuthatch to forage down a tree trunk or along the underside of a branch is quite distinctive. It’s part of their charm which keeps us entertained.

      In addition to its potential medicinal qualities, the Saw Palmetto has many other very practical uses. As kids, we shaved the thorns from limbs and sharpened one end to a point for piercing marshmallows to roast over a fire. The green stems don’t burn before the marshmallows do so it is extremely valuable in that sense.


  3. I’m pretty jelly you were able to see and snap pictures of the brown nuthatch – I missed my earlier attempts at one (Lake Conroe, Texas), hoping I get lucky on an upcoming trip. Fantastic bird tale – got my ear full of Scrub-Jays (Woodhouse variety) while in Vegas last week. Never seen a Florida variety, fingers crossed I get to see one of those on our trip as well. Thanks for sharing another wonderful outing.


    • We’re lucky to have the nuthatches breed locally and they are a lot of fun to watch. Same with the Scrub Jays. Especially at this time of year with nesting in progress, both of those species are very loud and very active!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Stunning shots as always, Wally! I am envious of your beautiful Florida Scrub Jay. The three-sided snag skirmish is awesome!! Devastation seems overwhelming in nature after a major storm, but it somehow miraculously recovers which we are so thankful!


      • And I have been missing Florida for the past two winters so you have been my connection to the paradise of birds now. 🙂 We talked about taking a trip down to FL in January or February for a few weeks but a new grandson pulled too much at my heart. 🙂 We might be next winter though, been talking in last couple days on where to go to start booking now.


  5. Heh, “dozens of cousins” was nicely turned 🙂 Love the battle sequence, and I’m hoping the end result was that the grackle was sent on his way. The storm may have downed a bunch of snags that were previously homes, and the displaced residents will be out looking for new digs. Great visit to this recovering patch!


    • Thank you, Sam.

      The grackle was vanquished but you know how nature is. There will be more battles in the forest!

      This tract is one of our favorites so it was encouraging to see how well it was recovering.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I laughed when I saw your first photo. That road leading into the forest looks remarkably like the road leading into the Solo tract, and when I saw the second photo, with those pines and grasses: well, the phrase “the same, but different” came to mind.

    I loved the story of the battle for the limb. Bird behavior can be so interesting, and they clearly have certain priorities, just like people. I once watched a Mockingbird attempt to dislodge a Caracara from the top of a telephone pole. It was equally amusing. I didn’t realize there was a Florida Scrub Jay. It’s rather a handsome bird, and so interesting that it’s an endemic. I wondered how many species of jay we have in Texas, and it seems the number is ‘seven.’ In the process of learning that, I came across this tidbit; it seems we have our own endemic scrub jay species:

    “There are four species of scrub jays in the U.S., only one of which resides in Texas—Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay. Two subspecies of this jay are found in Texas, one in the Edwards Plateau and the other ranging from the Trans-Pecos north. Scrub jays prefer “a habitat of scrubby juniper or cedar and oak.”

    How about that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When we first lived in Texas, we were surprised at how similar east Texas was to our native Sunshine State pinelands.

      The quirky behavior of animals is what keeps us returning to nature. Apparently the same thing keeps teevee programmers employed.

      So many jays! Who knew?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. All these pictures, all these animals are simply wonderful. I’ve never been in Florida, I’m from Italy, but all there is very beautiful. I love this Nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grazie mille!

      Thank you for visiting us and for your very kind comments. We are very fortunate to live in an area which offers so many places to explore Nature. Sharing it with others makes us feel better.

      Enjoy your day!


  8. Thank you for showing us the loveliness of this place and its recovery from the hurricane. Your photos reflect the morning’s beauty and exciting battle for the snag. I hope the scrub jays will have a successful brood, alongside all your other breeders. The more avian offspring, the better!
    I’m very envious about your early (for us, not for you) migration. Winter here seems to last forever this year, and patience is hard to come by.


  9. Was there only ONE old snag in the forest and they all wanted to perch there at the same time? heehee! You know I love time in the forest…I feel so at peace when I get deep into the woods. How wonderful to see the Scrub Jays and write a story featuring them. They are so unique and there are so few flocks left. Enjoy your week and this fabulous weather!


  10. What a wonderful location, Wally. It must have been very upsetting when Ian did its dastardly act, but so uplifting to see it recover so well.

    The battle sequence was delightfully entertaining, thank you.

    For some reason, the name Florida Scrub Jay made it sound as if it was a rather dowdy bird (I guess it’s the ‘Scrub’ bit). The truth, however, is totally opposite to that – a real stunner!

    All is progressing nicely here.

    Best wishes to you both – – – Richard


    • It really is a very special place, Richard.

      The jay gets its name from the preferred habitat of Scrub Oak (Quercus inopina). Unlike its larger cousins, the Scrub (or Sandhill) Oak seldom grows more than 16 feet tall and typically remains around six feet.

      We get pretty excited at spotting the Florida Scrub Jay as their population continues to decline, mostly due to habitat loss. They are on state and federal endangered species lists.

      Take good care.


  11. Brilliant! The fight sequence is amazing, what a great capture. My favourite image is however the Pine Warbler, not as flash as some of your dendros but the whole picture works.


    • Thanks, Brian.

      I had several shots of Pine Warblers from which to choose, but, like you, I thought that one “worked”. Pine Warbler, looking for bugs in, of all things, a pine tree.

      Hope your weather allows you to be out and about more often. Well, that and all the projects around the new castle! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Looks like you had a good spot/tree to capture many feathered friends. Nicely done.


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