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Crosby Sanctuary

Posted on Monday, August 10, 2015 at 10:14 am

CROSBY SANCTUARY

AN AUDUBON FLORIDA SPECIAL PLACE

by Pete Johnson and Carolyn Antman

 crosbysancuaryNestled in the heart of the growing Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park (population 8,400), not far from a major shopping mall, is an oasis from development known as the Crosby Sanctuary. Owned by Duval Audubon Society—one of Florida’s 44 Audubon chapters—this limited access nature preserve consisting of 445 acres of mostly bottomland swamp is home to a full biodiversity of native plants, mammals, birds, and reptiles. This special place, now included in conservation lands mapping by Clay County and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, provides respite amidst a busy, congested backdrop of human development.

Crosby’s swamp area is dominated by bald cypress, black gum, Carolina ash, American elm, swamp laurel oak and red maple trees.  The property perimeters contain transitional areas of wetlands and uplands such as herbaceous marsh, pine flatwoods and several impressive live oak hammocks.  Crosby’s important wildlife habitats are connected , through riparian habitat corridors, to many thousands of acres of regionally significant conservation lands, including Jennings State Forest, Cecil Habitat Preserve, Cary State Forest and Camp Blanding.

Amidst these trees lives a healthy population of river otter, white-tailed deer, and bobcat; but the most surprising find was the North American beaver. Pete happened onto the evidence quite by accident one day when he came across a tree gnawed exactly like what you see in books. Then, he started realizing that it was these beavers that kept blocking the culverts under the trail, thus flooding the southern end of the swamp while the northern side was drying up. Every time the culvert was cleaned, a new dam appeared within days. We certainly didn’t expect that problem!

Birds abound in Crosby. It is an important breeding site for the Prothonotary Warbler with its stunning gold and yellow body and brown and green wings and tail as well as its cheery – sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet – sound. Each year they return from Central America, many nesting in holes made by Downy Woodpeckers, and stay from April through August. Rusty Blackbirds have been seen there recently during both wintering and migration periods. Two trees in the west end of the property have become the primary residence of local vultures, both turkey and black. It’s not uncommon to see 20 to 30 of these birds in each tree. In all, over 100 species of birds have been documented on the site. (See Duvalaudubon.org Sanctuaries/Crosby Sanctuary Bird List)

Over the years, Crosby has provided many opportunities to Duval Audubon Society members and folks from the local community to enjoy nature and conduct volunteer service projects. In the past five years, volunteers have significantly reduced the amount of invasive species in the sanctuary; no mean feat since one invasive — the air potato, which attaches to and kills trees — has become a larger problem than kudzu. However, the volunteers’ efforts have been very successful and our annual Air Potato Round-up has been cancelled recently due to the lack of air potatoes. The Sanctuary has also provided the community with valuable ecosystem services such as flood water attenuation, storm water treatment, temperature regulation, wildlife enjoyment, and nutrient cycling. Presence of the Sanctuary has also helped to stop a poorly planned Florida Department of Transportation road project/elevated bridge through the area.

At this time the sanctuary is being used mostly for private field trips. Because of the issue with the beavers, a trench has been cut across the road to allow water to flow more freely through the swamp. This limits access, especially during the rainy season. Future plans include bridging this trench, building an information kiosk, and developing trail signage—particularly to identify native plants. In the meantime, the wildlife populations flourish and we at Duval Audubon Society know that we have a gem in the rough, a very special place. To access our slideshow of Crosby Sanctuary go to www.duvalaudubon.org, Conserve, Sanctuaries and scroll down to Crosby Slide Show.

This column is one in a series from AUDUBON FLORIDA. Pete Johnson is the Past President and Carol Antman is the President of Duval Audubon Society. For more information about Crosby Sanctuary visit www.duvalaudubon.org. For more information about AUDUBON FLORIDA and its “Special Places” program visit www.FloridaSpecialPlaces.org. All rights reserved Florida Audubon Society, Inc.