***Anyone can claim this cache, but to be eligible for the Taking Flight Tracking Tag, you’ll need to look at the maps included in the cache and answer the following question in your Taking Flight GeoTour Passport Book: How many scrub jay families were found in this Jay Watch survey area in 2011?***
Welcome to the scrub! The land here is one of the oldest ecosystems in Florida, a remnant of the ancient sand dunes when much of modern day Florida was covered in water. Careful observers will notice that the habitat here has few tall trees; rather there is a low canopy of oak trees, some mid-sized shrubs, and a lot of low ground cover. Keep an eye out for wildlife – many rare and unusual creatures can be found here including gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. The soil here is very dry and well-drained, making many of the plants that grow here rare too. In fact, over half of the plants and animals that are found here are so rare that they are endemic, or found nowhere else in the world. One animal in particular, the Florida scrub-jay, has become the spokes bird for this rare and rapidly disappearing habitat.
Florida scrub jay at Duette Preserve. Photo by Lauren Deaner
This beautiful blue and gray scrub-jay is only found in the Florida scrub and is considered to be a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. But why are there so few birds? The scrub jays are quite clever, living in tight-knit family groups that work together to help one another survive. The groups stage sentry birds to look out for any troublesome predators like hawks or snakes, and older birds from past year’s nests will remain with the breeding pair year round to help the parents raise their young and defend the territory. Once the helpers are old enough (2-3) they will leave the group in search of a mate and a territory. They will eat anything from insects, snakes, and frogs to their absolute favorite food of acorns and are, in fact, even better than squirrels at saving acorns for the colder winter months. How can a bird that is a supreme survivalist in the scrub be disappearing?
The disappearance of the scrub-jay is linked directly with our own love of living high and dry. Scrub habitat is some of the best land to build upon, and much of the jays’ habitat has been transformed into homes or agricultural areas for humans. The jays need the scrub habitat for their home, but they also need a large acreage and regular fires in the landscape to keep the scrub oak trees at the low level they prefer. David Gordon, the scientist from Quest Ecology who helps track and study Duette’s jay population, explains ‘Without large tracts of scrub that are burned regularly to maintain the low structure provided by scrub oaks, jays will go extinct in those regions. The situation is dire for the scrub jays and even though this bird was listed as Threatened in 1987 its numbers have fallen range wide every year since then.'
But there is hope! Duette Preserve’s scrub habitat restoration is a great example of a successful attempt to restore and manage the scrub-jays’ preferred land habitat. This area was overgrown and suffered from years of fire exclusion and suppression. Through the use of prescribed fire management and the removal of the taller trees, the habitat became prime scrub-jay territory. In 1997 Duette’s jays were predicted to go extinct, but now there are more than 15 families living throughout the preserve! Each year, volunteers help to count the jays within one small area, at the cache site, in order to track the arrival of new jays and bird families are literally flocking to the site!
Jay Watch 2012 volunteers spot a scrub jay. Photo by Melissa Nell
Anyone can claim this cache, but to be eligible for the Taking Flight Tracking Tag, you’ll need to look at the maps included in the cache and answer the following question in your Taking Flight GeoTour Passport Book: How many scrub jay families were found in this Jay Watch survey area in 2011?
Please note: Duette Preserve is accessible by car on Saturdays during non-hunt weekends only for a minimal fee. To check hunt schedule please visit the Duette Preserve webpage or call 941-748-4501 ext. 4602. Duette Preserve is open daily to walk through and bicycle traffic. This cache can be reached by bike or hike, but it will be a long route. You can reach it by car, but we recommend 4 wheel drive after rain storms as creek crossings and trails may be flooded.
Visit the sites along the Taking Flight GeoTour (TFGT) and learn about Manatee County’s wild spaces and the amazing feathered friends that live in them. Along the way, you will be challenged to become a citizen scientist, a preserve ranger, a detective, a historian, and of course an excellent geocacher in order to find all of the caches in the trail. Caches are located in birding “hot spots” throughout Manatee County’s publicly accessible conservation preserves. Each one highlights a specific bird species or aspect of bird life providing you with opportunities to learn more about these creatures and what we can do to help them survive. Caches also focus on protecting the region's waterways, bays, and natural watersheds, and habitat areas for many of our area’s feathered fliers.
The Taking Flight GeoTour includes 15 caches within Manatee County. A custom Taking Flight Geo Tour trackable geo tag will be awarded to the first 300 geocachers, while supplies last, for locating at least 12 TFGT caches. To be eligible for the tag, geocachers must download a passport
from the TFGT Website or pick one up at the Manatee County Natural Parks & Natural Resources Department office at GT Bray Park 5502 33 rd
Ave. Dr. W., Bradenton, FL., Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Geocachers must log at least 12 finds, answer the question from each cache on their passport, and complete any additional requirements for specific caches (such as posting photos for earth caches). After finding a minimum of 12 caches, participants can have their passports validated in person or via mail at the Manatee County Natural Parks & Natural Resources Department office at GT Bray Park 5502 33 rd
Ave. Dr. W., Bradenton, FL 34209, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. News and updates on tag availability and validation hours can be found online at the Parks & Natural Resources Department's website
Thank you for assisting with the Taking Flight GeoTour: