When a housing development is created, it is rarely good news for wildlife. But something amazing has happened on eastern Cape Haze where one good wildlife habitat has been substituted for another as the land was cleared. The areas sometimes designated as Rotonda Meadows and Rotonda Sands were originally cleared for sale as lots many years ago, but grew up into a dense area of wax myrtle due to neglect. These wax myrtles produced immense amounts of fruit, which attracted huge flocks of tree swallows during the winter. These flocks numbered in the uncounted thousands and were a remarkable sight.
So it seemed an ecological disaster when the lots were cleared again recently and the wax myrtles were completely removed. Yet something good has sprung from this like a “phoenix from the ashes.” A remarkable prairie- like habitat has grown up among the many platted lots and mostly empty streets. My photo illustrates the open terrain with only a few trees. Along with this prairie have come animals that prefer this habitat, which is uncommon in eastern N America.
Chief among these prairie animals is the borrowing owl, which has not previously been seen in western Charlotte County. Since the open areas are densely grown with grasses, the owls find suitable areas for digging burrows primarily near the water hydrants. Since the owls are diurnal they are observed scanning the terrain for small food prey and watching for predators.
Another rarely seen bird in Charlotte County, but now common in Rotonda Meadows is the meadowlark. Its beautiful song and striking yellow breast are now a feature of this development. An additional rarity in western Charlotte County is the loggerhead shrike which is also commonly seen at Rotonda Meadows. The shrike is a predator on small invertebrates and vertebrates; this bird has chosen to sit on a street sign at the corner of Lark Dr and Mockingbird Dr !
A small falcon, the kestrel, has also found appropriate habitat in the Rotonda Meadows prairie. It is often seen sitting on power lines watching for small prey.
The occurrence of animals that prefer prairie habitat is not limited to birds. A butterfly, the common buckeye, is often seen here also. It is interesting that it is the common buckeye that is frequently seen in the grasslands, not the much rarer mangrove buckeye which occurs near the fringing mangroves which are close by. The distinction between these two sibling species is subtle but clear- the common buckeye has large eye spots on the hind wings which are more than twice the diameter of the smaller spots. In addition white rather than tan surrounds the large eye spot on the fore wing.
Let us hope that the build out of these lots on Cape Haze is slow so that their unusual prairie inhabitants may continue to thrive.