Pine flatwoods dominate the landscape at Branan Field and species adapted for this fire dependent community are abundant. Look for the mounds of sand that mark the entrances of gopher tortoise burrows. Animals such as indigo snakes, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, gopher frogs and Florida pine snakes find refuge within these burrows. Look for them near burrow entrances or observe tracks left behind in the soft sand.
Eastern bluebirds, woodpeckers, pine warblers and brown-headed nuthatches are common residents of pine flatwoods. Listen for the distinctive calls of the eastern towhee and Bachman’s sparrow. White-tailed deer and wild turkey are occasionally observed.
Wildlife Spotlight: Bachman's Sparrow
The elusive Bachman’s sparrow rarely flushes from cover. Photo Credit: Andy Wraithmell
The Bachman’s sparrow is one of the signature species of mature, open pine forests, once the predominant habitat across a broad swath of Florida and the southern U.S. Over the last century, the extent of these forests has drastically declined due to logging, conversion to other uses and fire exclusion. As a result, there have been large population declines of the Bachman’s sparrow and other species that occupy this same habitat, including the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Bachman’s sparrows occur in Florida year-round. Their preferred habitat is mature pine forests with an open, grassy understory of wiregrass, palmetto and broomsedge, a composition typically maintained by regular burning. These forests provide sparrows with grass seeds and insects to feed on and the conditions necessary for successful nesting.
With its gray-brown coloration and habit of disappearing into dense groundcover, this shy and secretive sparrow is difficult to see. The best viewing opportunities occur in the spring and summer when the males sing to attract mates and establish breeding territories. The beautiful and distinctive song, often delivered from an exposed perch, is usually a long whistled note followed by a trill. It may be heard from February or March through the summer, mainly in early morning or late afternoon.
The range of the Bachman’s sparrow extends from Palm Beach County in Florida, north to southern Virginia and west to Oklahoma and Texas. This species is highly dependent on frequent prescribed burns that provide ample seeds and insects for food and the low, open groundcover needed for successful nesting. This management regime also benefits red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises and other fire-dependent species.