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[ft-l] Amphibious Hiking

Today's hike was in Pine Island Conservation Area on Merritt Island.  This 
879 acre tract is jointly owned by the Brevard County Environmentally 
Endangered Lands Program and the St Johns River Water Management District.  
This might be called the Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Trail.  There were 
several problems.  The exotic plant Brazilian Pepper was crowding out other 
native species here.  One hopes an eradication effort is planned.  In several 
areas the trail is nothing other than a 5 foot high tunnel through acres of 
Brazilian Pepper.  It was irritating to have to be constantly bending over to 
avoid getting poked in the head by the quickly growing branches.  Another 
problem was litter, not the kind casual park users bring in, but stuff that 
indicates this land was once a popular dumping ground for both individuals 
and businesses.  I'm sure much of the stuff was carted away, but a lot of 
surface debris remains, discarded metal fabrications and old tires, tiles and 
shingles.  We encountered a lot of water on the trails, wading from ankle to 
knee deep though a significant percentage of the day's 4 plus mile hike.

Now that the negative stuff is out of the way, it's time to discuss the good 
stuff.  In several places the trail skirts open water, either the Indian 
River Lagoon or one of the many lakes, canals or creeks on the property.  I 
never tire of the scenery that a walk along water provides, be it the needle 
fish or horseshoe crabs, the mullet jumping, the osprey fishing with skill no 
human can match, the great blue heron on stilts patiently waiting a meal to 
swim by.  Though we didn't see any today, dolphins and manatees swim these 
waters too, providing memories for another hiker on another day, we hope.

Frogs were plentiful, bounding out of our way as we trudged or waded through 
the wet terrain.  A chameleon didn't escape our attention, though it blended 
in well with the palm frond it crossed.  A red headed woodpecker flew nearby 
and we watched it land on a pine and peck away for bugs.  Too far away to 
positively identify as pileated or cockaded.

In a swampy area we simultaneously heard a grunt ahead and a loud splash 
behind as we passed nearby.  Apparently we spooked a wild hog whose call then 
spooked an alligator.  We were wading calf deep at this point.  I saw a hog 
run up the trail ahead of us.  Wading around a bend, the hog again comes in 
view and scoots again up the trail.  A few minutes later, I again see 
something the size of a small hog run up the trail, but this time it flashed 
me a white deer-like tail.  Too low to be a deer.  Sandy suggests the 
possibility of a bobcat, but I just can't figure out what it was.

We saw two armadillos today.  They seem increasingly common on our hikes.  In 
standing water on the trail, I saw the head of a snake swimming toward us.  
As it emerged from the water 20 feet in front of us, we saw that it had 
yellow stripes on either side of its slender three foot body.  No time to 
worry about what else might be swimming in that black muddy water.  That was 
the trail, the only way to proceed.  This was most definitely NOT a dry sock 

In one place, a storm washed up dozens of horseshoe crabs ashore, leaving 
them stranded to die along the trail when the water receded, their shells 
bearing mute testimony of their demise.

As we walked on a jeep trail along a canal, a large alligator exploded from 
the opposite shore into the canal.  A bit further along the plunk of a turtle 
abandoning the near shore at our approach.

While this hike had its low points, I was pleased with the wildlife 
encounters and as long as a hiker understands the drawbacks, he or she can 
find plenty here to enjoy.  There are also canoe runs, bike trails and 
fishing here.  Come out and enjoy!

Happy trails,

Solar Bear & Navigator