Visitors receive a 'natural' connection with this Florida bird
What started as a curious find near their native plant nursery blossomed into a natural attraction unlike any other in Central Florida.
The tandem of former television executives, Bruce and Cathy Brown, started their new business in the countryside of Clermont, Fla., helping customers build unique landscaping plans with bird sanctuaries and butterfly gardens. In the spring of 1997, a small family of Florida scrub-jays caught their attention.
“We found a nest of three babies and two adults,” Bruce said. “We watched it diligently for a while. We were infatuated with this bird that was taken to people.”
The Florida Scrub-jay, the only species of bird endemic to the state, is limited to a number of small areas that have dry, sandy soil with oak scrub trees. The unique, inquisitive and intelligent species are friendly birds that mate for life and live in multigenerational families.
“We started studying their habitat and we realized they were moving from one place to another,” Cathy said.
To help attract and protect the threatened species, the Browns opened The Florida Scrub-Jay Trail in Clermont, Fla., in April 2003 with a grant from the National Wildlife Federation. Visitors can experience The Florida Scrub-Jay Trail Saturday through Wednesday each week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. On the first Saturday of the month there is an orientation from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. giving an in depth look at the Florida scrub-jay and its habitat. On the fourth Saturday of each month, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., volunteers and visitors, who are referred to as “trailblazers,” work to improve the habitat.
“We’ve taken what was a fallow orange grove and turned it into a scrub habitat,” Bruce said.
The Browns, along with dozens of dedicated trailblazers, have planted 600 to 800 trees and vegetation to emulate the scrub habitat. The process of land management is slow. The group is constantly planting and caring for wildflowers, scrub palmettos and oaks.
“The trailhead is just the beginning,” Bruce said. “It continues connecting scrub-jay habitats throughout the state.”
The Florida Scrub-Jay Trail is a thrilling experience because it allows visitors the opportunity to view the scrub-jay and other unique local animals, such as the Sherman fox squirrel and gopher tortoise, while doing their small part to enhance their local habitat. The trail is particularly popular with avid birders, vacationers and families interested in a service-learning experience.