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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!
Solar Bear & Navigator