Florida struggles to balance the demands of land developers who are on the prowl for another spot to erect a housing subdivision, golf course, or hotel with the needs of those who lived here first: the flora and fauna that make Florida such a special place. Over the years wealthy environmentally inclined nature lovers have pooled their resources to purchase plots of land to keep them out of developer's hands. Often they are much too late and these plots of land are too small to support much animal life. Sometimes these EEL (Environmentally Endangered Lands) sites are traded with developers to combine and create habitats that are larger and can house a more diverse collection of animals and plants. The Cruickshank family is famous around here for using their fortune in this way.
We met an Audubon guide at a tiny wild spot surrounded by housing divisions on three sides that were rarely out of our sight as walked. The 140 protected acres were large enough to support about eight scrub jay families and that's what we were there to see on a 40º day, wearing our warmest clothes. Wearing a COVID mask actually felt good! We barely got out of the car and the welcoming committee arrived. Everyone in our group enjoyed at least one bird on their head. We saw a few peanut shells on the ground, which made us conclude that these birds had high hopes for a feast, but even when we did not give them anything, they continued to make regular visits. The jays like to live in family groups. When mom and dad lay a new clutch, their older children stay nearby to babysit for at least another year. A much better approach than the owls we enjoyed on our campsite a few years ago who worked nonstop all alone for weeks to raise one baby.
When you hike with an Audubon guide, they try to spot as many birds as possible, but some are impossibly far away even through binoculars, so we had to take his word for it when he said we saw about twenty species. The woodpeckers and mockingbirds were close enough to us to enjoy and they tended to stay put as we drew ever closer trying to get that perfect shot. Perhaps because they live so close to man in this sanctuary they have learned that the people who come here do them no harm. If COVID limitations last much longer, we are going to turn into serious bird watchers.