Important Bird Areas

Highlands Hammock-Charlie Creek

Florida

Highlands Hammock State Park, 2242 ha
Charlie Creek SOR Project, 9703 ha

West of Sebring, in northwestern Highlands County with a tiny portion in northeastern Hardee County, mostly between the Hardee?Highlands county line and County Road 635. Near part of the Lake Wales Ridge IBA to the east.

A diverse assemblage of habitats along the western edge of the Lake Wales Ridge. The park's main feature is a magnificent virgin hardwood hammock covering many hundreds of acres (>100 hectares). Little Charley Bowlegs Creek runs through the park along its western side. One of the first four sites purchased in Florida (in 1931) for its natural resources, the park is a little-known treasure. The Charlie Creek SOR Project has targeted extensive lands south and west of the State Park for preservation.

The virgin hardwood hammock that is the centerpiece of Highlands Hammock State Park contains oaks that are over 1000 years old and up to 33 feet (9.9 m) in circumference. ? Part of this IBA has been designated by +Cox et al. (1994) as a Strategic Habitat Conservation Area.

Ornithological Summary

Significant numbers and diversity of Neotropical migrants; and significant natural habitats

The primary importance of this IBA is to Neotropical migrants. If located closer to metropolitan areas in central Florida, Highlands Hammock State Park undoubtedly would be the top destination for birders seeking fall migrants; no other site in the region contains a similar amount of habitats for Neotropical migrants. Unfortunately, the relative isolation of the park has limited the amount of avian data available. The SOR project contains the site of the last-reported Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Florida, in 1969, a sighting apparently not accepted by the +AOU (1998). On 8 October 1995, migrant Great Blue Herons, raptors, and Red-headed Woodpeckers were observed flying south along the western edge of the Lake Wales Ridge over Little Charley Bowlegs Creek. In 3.5 hours, 46 individuals of 7 raptor species were seen, including 7 Merlins and 4 Peregrine Falcons +(Pranty 1996c).

Conservation Issues

*development, *habitat succession, human disturbance, exotic plants, feral hogs

Much of the xeric oak scrub onsite is heavily overgrown and needs management to sustain the resident Florida Scrub-Jays. ? The Young Hammock Trail area contains one of the very few remaining virgin slash pine flatwoods remaining in Florida, with many ?cat-faced? turpentine trees still alive. But this area has succeeded to a hardwood hammock in the recent absence of fire, with no pine regeneration for many years. The park management plan does not address restoring this area to flatwoods. ? There is some infestation of exotic plants such as air-potato and cogongrass, but these are monitored and controlled by park staff. ? An unpaved county road through the park allows non-park traffic to interfere with the aesthetic beauty and serenity of the park. ? Thousands of acres (and hectares) of the SOR Project have yet to be acquired. Efforts to acquire these buffer areas should be accelerated. Development is a moderate to serious threat to the unacquired properties surrounding Highlands Hammock State Park.

Ownership

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Highlands Hammock State Park) and private owners (remaining acreage of the Charlie Creek SOR Project)

Habitat

*slash pine flatwoods, *temperate hammock, *sand pine scrub, *cypress swamp, *hardwood swamp, xeric oak scrub, bayhead, freshwater marsh, riverine

Land Use

*conservation, *recreation, private

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