Range Tracking

Realm of the Fox Squirrel

Two days of visits to the Padgett Creek Ranches, made up of the Long Shadows Ranch and the Triple S Ranch in Indian River County, did not provide the bonanza of wildlife photos as in the past. Most likely due to the extreme cold weather that befell the first day and was still lingering around on the second. A conservation easement protects 1,600 acres around Padgett Creek, part of the headwaters to the St. Johns River that flows northward up the Florida peninsula to its natural outlet at Jacksonville. The easement helps retain some of Florida’s pristine habitat while protecting the watershed itself from development.

As part of the requirement of the conservation easement, the ranches are opened up for tours once a year. Here Ken Gonyo of the Indian River Land Trust provides background information on the ranches and the easement to one of the tour groups.

My previous visits have only been walking tours. These visits featured a ride around the ranches atop large buggies with the guests sitting atop like Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. While the buggies afforded the chance to see more of the ranches and their different environments than one would see on foot, their loud noise, coupled with constant swaying, and ability to find every pothole in the road meant wildlife observations, and especially photography, would be minimal.

The area bordering Padgett Creek is heavily wooded.

The Padgett Creek Ranches are working cattle ranches. The ranch owners can continue raising livestock alongside the protections for the environment offered by the conservation easement.

It is hard to imagine this peaceful little bit of water in Padgett Creek will eventually become the mighty St. Johns River as the water flows northward.

We often saw Wild Turkeys.

Another view of the heavily wooded area around Padgett Creek.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker takes flight.

The Padgett Creek Ranches specialize, like most of Florida’s ranches, in cow-calf production with the calves eventually making their way into the beef market once they gain enough weight. For a time, though, the calves and their mothers have this bucolic landscape to call their own.

Some more birds seen on the trip, taken while on foot and away from the vehicles. From clockwise at upper left: a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Cattle Egret, a Black Vulture, and an Eastern Kingbird.

In keeping with good Florida land practices, parts of the ranches are routinely burned to ensure healthy, fire-tolerant habitats which are essential for much of Florida’s native landscapes.

Here come the Vultures! As the morning air warmed, kettles of Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures rode the thermals in swirling flocks over the ranches.

A palmetto and pine landscape.

A true delight is the possibility of seeing a Fox Squirrel since many of their preferred habitats, open woods, pine and cypress stands, and mangrove swamps, occur on the ranches. Sadly, only this one individual was seen from a distance during one of the visits.

The Fox Squirrel bounded up a fence post for a better look.



Habitat loss and habitat fragmentation due to development have impacted the Fox Squirrel population in Florida making it a species of special concern.

The road ahead. Thank you to the Indian River Land Trust and to Padgett Creek Ranches for providing these tours!

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