A naturalist friend and I hosted a few of my students on a field trip to a local sanctuary, home to several families of scrub jays, a bird that only lives in Florida. Its chosen habitat is high and dry, making it a prime target for development in this swampy state. Scrub jays are endangered as a result, because they can only live under those specific conditions. I hope conservation efforts will be enough to save them.
Scrub jays need vegetation that's no more than 4 feet tall. Otherwise the hawks have too much of an advantage, sitting in the tall trees and then swooping down for a kill. These big pines are on the edge of the preserve, but the rest of it is no taller than what you see in the foreground here.
It has to be managed now, to keep it low, because near houses and businesses, we don't allow fires to sweep through and knock everything back. Controlled burns and a big machine called a chopper maintain the height so the scrub jays can survive. (Not easily visible, thanks to my phone camera, is a scrub jay near the center of this picture.)
Here's a better look! These birds have been studied quite a bit, so they are fairly used to people. They will come and check you out to see if you have any peanuts, which makes for a great photo op!
The native lupines are blooming now. The sandy soil around them reveals that thousands of years ago, when the ocean was much higher, this was the beach. Given that we are about 8 miles inland, that's pretty impressive to think about.
The lyonia, a native shrub, is blooming, too, festooned with little pink bells. Or in some cases, little white bells. Such delicate blossoms on a very hardy plant. It has to be hardy, to survive in this dunelike environment.
Mr./Ms. Gopher Tortoise was undisturbed by our staring from a distance (this photo is cropped, because we stayed quite far away). He/she looks to be a mature adult and is about the size of a dinner plate.
Gopher tortoises are also endangered and protected, so you can't mess with them in any way. But a photo doesn't hurt.
As the saying goes, we took only photos (plus some stray beer cans we found) and left only footprints.