A pair of sandhill cranes search for a meal
Birding opportunities abound at Half Moon Wildlife Management Area. Wading birds are especially prevalent along the edges of freshwater marshes and ponds. Migratory warblers are abundant in March and April and also during fall migration.
The trail system showcases the mosaic of natural plant communities and waterways and their diverse wildlife. The heart of Half Moon contains pine flatwoods with marshes and oak hammocks scattered throughout. The Gum Slough spring-run stream and its floodplain forest make up the northern edge. Scrubby flatwoods and the Mill Creek swamp comprise much of the eastern side. Half Moon also has pockets of sandhill and wet flatwoods. The Withlacoochee River and its hardwood swamp comprise the south and western borders of the management area. A viewing deck/fishing dock is located 2.5 miles inside the area along the main road. The trail system includes a boardwalk across Mill Creek.
Wildlife Spotlight: Scrub-Jays
Photo Credit: Andy Wraithmell
Distant cousin to the blue jay, the Florida scrub-jay is unique to Florida and found only in very specific scrub oak habitat. Scrub-jays are about 12 inches long and are mostly blue, with pale gray on the back and belly. The plumage of males and females does not differ, but only the female incubates eggs and utters the“hic-cup”call.
Scrub-jays are found only in Florida’s oak scrub, where low-growing oaks provide acorns, their most important winter food item. From August to November, each bird buries several thousand acorns just beneath the sand and retrieves them when other foods are scarce. Scrub-jays also eat a variety of insects and other small animals.
Scrub-jays form family groups of two to eight birds that include young from previous breeding seasons. Family groups defend a specific territory and each bird takes a turn as sentry, sitting atop an exposed perch to watch for predators or intruders. Scrub-jays build their nests in shrubs, mostly low-growing oak species, and construct a platform of twigs lined with palmetto or cabbage palm fibers. Nesting occurs from March through June.
Since the early 1900s, the number of Florida scrub-jays has declined by as much as
90 percent, primarily due to habitat loss from residential development, citrus production and exclusion of periodic fires necessary to maintain the oak scrub plant community in the low, open conditions favored by the birds and other scrub species. As a result, the Florida scrub-jay is listed as a Threatened species. Biologists are trying to help scrub-jays by restoring and maintaining quality habitat using prescribed fire and other management methods.