The most bizarre and perplexing Florida habitat, for me, is the combination pine and palm forests. I don't know if these habitats are transplants, offspring from transplants/terraforming or just natural to the area, but seeing the two trees growing side by side is very strange. In Arizona, you don't really find pines naturally below 5,000 feet, and since palms don't grow here naturally, they're only ever in residential areas.
Anyway, there was a swathe of this interesting pine and palm mixture at the afore mentioned Lake's Park. While they didn't have roosting herons or Gallinules, I was still hurting from the fact that, after three days of birding, I had only found three warbler species. Where better for Pine and Palm Warblers to be that in a pine palm forest?
The dense foliage was perforated with dirt trails, most of which were overgrown/underused. There was plenty of nature noise, always an encouraging sign, but not a lot of visibility. One call was particularly repetitive. It was familiar, and yet unlike any call I could recognize. At this point in the trip, I had been surrounded by serenading Wrens and Cardinals enough to know their sounds, and this was different, though similar to the latter. Most excitingly, it was clearly coming from lower in the brush, so I might actually have a chance to see and photograph a non heron/egret bird on the trip. I still needed Brown Thrasher, and maybe it'd be a migrating Thrush or something else super cool!
With beads of sweat reaching critical mass and trailing down my face, I stalked and creeped with great skill (don't ask me how I became a skilled stalker/creeper) until I zeroed in on the vocalizing bird. I pushed down a palm frond, peered through an opening and...
FOILED! This doe-eyed immature Cardinal was practicing/butchering the Cardinal song. He'd thrown me for a loop. I'll admit, he's pretty darn cute, but Cardinal was not atop my list of Florida Must See birds. I couldn't spend too long sulking. A racket broke out in the canopy of nearby Slash Pine (?) trees, with three bellicose Blue Jays mobbing a raptor and robbing it of its perch.
You can see the raptor's tail feathers in the photo below. Any guesses???
After an hours of humid hiking I had little to show for my efforts, but the foray into the pines did allow for a brief photo shoot with a Blue Jay--perhaps one of the aggravated assault offenders from before--when it perched on a hand rail (many on the trails in Florida seem to be constructed with the pre-conceieved notion that everyone hiking them will fall and drown in the mud if there aren't handrails).
I must ashamedly admit, this is the first time I've photographed a Blue Jay. True enough, you won't see them in Arizona, but between Pennsylvania and four years in Dallas, well...there's no excuse, only recompense. It was a fun little detour, but at this point I had resigned myself to the reality that all the best birding and photography was to be done at the water's edge. That's where we'll head next.