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    Rabbits can be seen on the Egans Creek Greenway around dawn and dusk. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM MEYER

On the lookout for rabbits on the Greenway

I’ve been intrigued by the postings I’ve seen recently on Facebook about the surfeit of rabbits in the Egans Creek Greenway. Some photos, like the one here by Pam Meyer, show a number of bunnies lined up along the main path of the northern part of the Greenway. Even my friend Harvey Taylor, not a walker, has entertained himself driving down Jasmine Street and counting bunnies lined up along the road. I had to see this for myself.

It was already getting hot at 9 a.m. one morning, but it was the only time I could manage to get on the trail. I entered the north side of the Greenway, where I haven’t been in ages, and there to greet me was a great egret standing on the water control structure. The last time I visited this part of the Greenway, there was also a great egret here, and the time before that and many times in recent years before that. I’m guessing it is the same egret in its home territory, always a welcoming sight.

It was a fine morning, not yet too hot with a bit of a breeze and, miraculously, no bugs. I was prepared for the biting insects and fully clothed in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt with bug repellent in my pocket, just in case. It was great to not have to rely on these defenses for a change, but there was also not much happening in the way of wildlife. I walked the length of the north Greenway all the way to the Atlantic Rec Center and back. No bunnies. I knew the problem – time of day. Rabbits are crepuscular and most active around dawn and dusk. By 9 or 10 a.m., they are happily resting in the shade somewhere out of sight. The bunch of bunnies Pam saw, in fact, was around 7 p.m., right before dusk.

I didn’t see any rabbits, but I did see signs of them. There were clumps of rabbit fur and signs of a scuffle in a couple of places along the trail. Coyotes wander the area, and just a few days before my walk, others had reported a large coyote on the trail. Coyotes are not the only predator to attack rabbits. Owls, and perhaps hawks, can also do the job. Rabbits in North Florida can have as many as six or seven litters a year from spring to fall, with three to six young each time. The young are off on their own in a month, right when the next litter is born. By the time these young rabbits are six months old, they start their own breeding cycles. Rabbits are a key component in the food chain, among the most prolific mammals on earth.

Well, there may not have been any bunnies to spot on my late morning walk, but there’s always something. I enjoyed seeing the pink blossoms of the marsh mallows in various spots along the trail. I listened to the birds chirping in the trees. I enjoyed the occasional cool breezes. I stopped to pay reverence to the people, and in one case, a dog, that are honored by benches with touching inscriptions.

I was the only one on the trail, and it was quiet when I saw a movement in a tree across the canal. A juvenile black-crowned night heron was perched on a branch with its mouth open, gular fluttering its throat to cool itself (similar to dogs panting and humans sweating). But what was really interesting to me was its overall body posture. Instead of standing upright on the branch, wings close to its body in a usual pose, this heron had its wings spread out in a fan shape soaking up the rays. So, in a feat of thermoregulation, this bird was warming its wings and cooling its body at the same time. I’ve seen other heron species doing this same thing, and it’s always fun to observe.

I managed to snap a couple of photos of the bird in action, but it soon noticed me and tucked its wings back down again, preparing itself to fly off if I presented any threat. But I didn’t threaten it. I just continued walking down the trail leaving the bird to enjoy its sunbath once again.

I left the Greenway recharged by nature once again. I’ve read somewhere that just 120 minutes in nature a week is great for one’s mental health. And I believe it. It works for me.

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