Posted by: soniahs | February 24, 2011

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. …If that isn’t a mouthful of a park name, I don’t know what is. Located on Windley Key (no surprise there) in the Florida Keys, this park has some interesting things to see.

We visited this park in the spring of 2010, on a trip through the Keys. Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos 😦 so the ones here are from the park website.

Windley Key quarry

Windley Key quarry (FL state Parks)

The central feature of this park is a rock quarry which provided stone for the Keys Overseas Railroad, and was used until the 1960s. The “fossil reef” part of the title comes from the limestone rock, formed by fossilized coral. There are two big quarries in the park, and you can walk along the walls looking at fossilized shells and coral, finding some neat stuff. One of the highlights was a huge fossil brain coral. Pretty cool.

Fossils in rock

Fossil coral in limestone. The vertical lines were made by machinery. (FL State Parks)

On the day we stopped at the park it was hot. We got there after the visitor’s center had closed early for some reason, but fortunately the hiking trail (and water fountain) was open. There are a few connected trails you can take- you can circumnavigate the quarry walls, and also make your way through the tropical hardwood hammock- for about a mile and a half of walking. There are a number of markers describing different plant species along the route- plants here are quite different from those around Orlando, so many of these species were new to us. The shade in the hammock was a welcome relief from the blazing sun.

Hardwood hammock
Hardwood hammock. Yay, shade! (FL State Parks)

Windley Key Park is a listed stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail, and the possible combination of White-crowned pigeons (a big dark pigeon with a white ‘scalp’) and fossils was just too interesting to pass up. I was really excited to see a few of the pigeons there- they’re pretty rare, and found in the US only in the Keys. Little did I know they would be flying overhead all the time in Key West… But they were a new species for me at this point. One of the main reasons they’re threatened in the Keys is that they need both mangrove forest and hardwood hammock (a drier type of forest) to eat and nest in- both of these types of forest are disappearing in Florida as development continues in coastal areas.

White-crowned pigeon

White-crowned pigeon (Great FL Birding Trail)

Other than the pigeons, we saw magnificent frigatebirds, mourning doves, northern mockingbirds, common grackles, a great crested flycatcher, and a mangrove cuckoo (also a first for me!). Given the heat of the day, it’s not a very impressive list, but seeing two new species, plus some cool fossils, was pretty nifty.

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