Monday, June 15, 2009

Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) Field Trip

On May 1, friend Wayne ventured out of Brevard County to visit the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), a 365-acre preserve along the Indian River Lagoon in Indian River County, on the south side of Vero Beach, a short distance east of US #1. OSLO is owned by the St. Johns Water Management District and Indian River County and managed by the County. Indian River County is the next county south of Brevard. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Wayne filed the following trip report and provided his excellent photos for a slideshow (see right-hand column).
This was my first visit. I got a late start, so it quickly got too hot for me to do all the trails (note this was May 1). The trail map at the entrance kiosk showed a destination called "Awesome Tree, the largest Slash Pine in the world." That was something I wanted to see, so I headed there first. The trail goes through a very jungley hammock. It's almost all at ground level, but with several short elevated boardwalks. The trails being at ground level makes it easy to observe and photograph wildflowers and other plants. However, that also means the trails are wet and muddy in some places during rainy times.
The dense woods looked like a good place for birding, but I did not see or hear any birds. I think it was too late in the day and too hot.

Near the trailhead were several patches of brilliant red salvia. I found a small tree there (shown in the photo) that I did not recognize. It had droopy branches and leaves and panicles of white flowers. The flowers were unusual because they had six petals. Usually six petals means the plant is a member of the lily or orchid family. Later, using a plant species list for ORCA, I identified the tree as Lancewood, a small tree found along the coast in south Florida, the Keys, and the Caribbean.

I first headed to the Awesome Tree. At several junctions along the trail, there were signs pointing the way to the Awesome Tree, as well as to other locations. The anticipation built with each sign. I finally arrived at a small clearing with a sign indicating that this was the site of the Awesome Tree. I had expected a huge, standing, living tree, the one pictured on the left. Instead, what I found was a huge, lying down and very dead tree! Apparently the big tree was knocked down by a hurricane several years ago. In researching it later, I found a book, "Birding Florida," written by Brian Rapoza and published in 2007, that claims the big tree was felled by a recent hurricane. From the state of decay, it looked like the tree had been dead for at least 10 years.
(The "then" photo below is from the Indian River County web site listed below in Reference Links.)

Awesome pine then and now
From there, I doubled back and took the trail to the Coastal Wetlands, passing through the lower end of the Pine Flatwoods. This trail near its end went through all three types of mangroves - white, black, and red - ending at an observation platform overlooking a nearly dry pond adjacent to the Indian River Lagoon.

For those interested in a good hike through varied habitats, I recommend you visit ORCA, where you can see a coastal hammock, pine flatwoods, and coastal wetlands all in one trip. I like the closed-in jungly feeling of the trails. It appears to be a good woods for birds, early in the morning and is probably good for migrating warblers in spring and late autumn. (Editor's Note: Wayne is a tireless researcher with an interest in plants - he has provided some excellent sources of information in the Reference Links section below for those who want to do more research. There are several web sites devoted to ORCA.)

Wayne adds that the Florida Medical Entomology Lab (FMEL) is further east on Oslo Rd. Their web site has lots of interesting information of mosquitoes, including a small video of a mosquito hatching and a game called SWAT. (See Reference Links below. )

As always, we are indebted to Wayne for sharing his prodigious knowledge, his adventures, and his photos with us. Be sure to watch the slide show - it's a great education on vegetation.

Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA)
Just the Facts
"BIG PICTURE" LOCATION: Indian River County, Mainland, south (Indian River County adjoins the southern border of Brevard County)

WHEN TO GO: Public access facilities and trails are open sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year
HOW TO GET THERE: ORCA is located on the north side of Oslo Road (9th Street SE), east of US #1, on the south side of Vero Beach. The entrance is located immediately behind the South Vero Plaza, which is immediately south of the Vista Royale Golf and Country Club. (Click on map to enlarge.)

WHERE TO PARK: Signs will direct you to a small parking lot.

WHAT TO WEAR: This is Florida - bring water! Wear a hat and sturdy walking shoes, bring mosquito repellant, and protect against mosquitoes by wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. (I suspect they've located the mosquito research facility there for a reason - plenty of research opportunities!)

PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS: There are no restrooms, and it is not wheelchair accessible.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Wayne spent about an hour on his walk - he says he rushed a little because it was hot and he was ready for lunch.

WHAT TO DO: Facililties include boardwalks, an observation tower, a canoe launch, educational information, and hiking trails, so you can fish, hike, canoe, look for wildlife, and study the numerous types of vegetation in the varied habitats. Motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails. A boat luanch is located at the end of Oslo Road. Weekly nature walks are provided free by volunteer naturalists. Call 772-778-7200 for more information.

WHERE TO EAT AFTERWARDS: Wayne recommends TooJays, a New York-style deli. The first TooJay's was near Palm Beach, and now they have 27 locations. It was started by two fellows named Jay - I'm not sure why it was named TooJay's instead of TwoJay's. In any event, head north on US#1 to 20th Street, then turn east. TooJay's is on the south side of 21st street in the Treasure Coast Plaza. Vero roads are a little confusing, so keep a sharp eye out! map

HOW TO HELP: If you live nearby, volunteer (see the ORCA web site for information on volunteer classes). Be respectful of wildlife and nature, and don't litter.

ORCA web site
ORCA Recreation Guide
Indian River County ORCA web site
Florida Medical Entomology Lab (This is the mosquito web site with the SWAT game)
FMEL's ORCA web site (This site includes plants, snakes, and birds species lists, and Wayne notes that the plant species list is very comprehensive.)
Lancewood Tree

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