Birding Bridgewater Before Breakfast

“I’ll be back in time for a late breakfast.”

She is still laughing.

Part of the 7,000+ acre Tenoroc Public Use Area, the “Bridgewater Tract” is literally five minutes from the house. Unfortunately, one must first check in at the headquarters building which is about 15 minutes up the road. A small inconvenience. We visit Tenoroc often due to its proximity and diverse mix of bird species. With over 1,000 acres of lakes, open grassy areas, mixed pine and hardwood forests and wetlands, the potential for a really good birding day is always high.

The Bridgewater Tract is adjacent to Lake Parker, a 2100 acre body of water within the city limits of Lakeland, Florida. Like the rest of the Tenoroc lands, Bridgewater consists of reclaimed phosphate mining areas. The former mining pits have been stocked with fish and the surrounding habitat has been managed to somewhat resemble what it looked like over 50 years ago. The results are apparently agreeable with the birds.

All the lakes within the Tenoroc system are fairly deep, following years of phosphate extraction. Relatively deep water begins almost immediately along the shoreline. With very little shallow water available, wading birds and “puddle” ducks are scarce. Abundant trees and dense undergrowth, especially near the water, is very attractive to a large number of other birds. A few trails wind through open grass and wetland areas as well as through woodlands.

Of course, I knew very well breakfast would be nothing but a memory by the time I finished exploring. Gini had managed to stop laughing by the time I returned and had lunch almost ready. Best. Wife. Ever.

My morning observations broke no records but it sure was enjoyable!

 

A small group of Common Grackles were excited about a hawk in their territory. Our geographic variant of this species shows a bit more purple iridescence than birds in other parts of the country.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Joining the grackles in screaming about the hawk, a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds flew into the tree tops.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

North America’s smallest woodpecker is the Downy Woodpecker. With a splash of bright red on his head, this male inspected every inch of several branches, scooping up insects almost without any hesitation.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Pine Warblers have an incredible range of plumage, from almost all gray to bright yellow. Even this somewhat drab bird has a beauty which cannot be denied.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Birders’ affliction. We are either gazing upward or have binoculars glued to our faces trying to discern what exactly is in the center of a bush. As a result of this affliction, we stumble over logs and roots, step into puddles, frighten poor snakes trying to get out of our way and are sometimes surprised to find someone gazing back at us. The raccoon was quick to depart.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Migration is in full swing and one species whose numbers really burgeon during this time is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This one held still longer than most.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

A cautious female Common Yellowthroat is not as bright as the male but her subdued plumage exudes a beauty all its own.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

“Butcher Bird”. I grew up using this name for the Loggerhead Shrike. Apparently, it is a widely used nickname for the small gray hunter. Carcasses of insects and lizards impaled on a thorn, twig or barbed-wire fence are tell-tale signs of a shrike in the area.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Although it is almost officially winter, here in subtropical Florida we are still blessed with the presence of dragons. One of the small and colorful Odonata, a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), allowed a quick photo op before “dashing” to chase a mosquito. I knew I liked dragonflies for a reason!

20191108 Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract 00012.jpg

 

One of our winter visitors, an Eastern Phoebe, gave me a quizzical glance as I neared her perch, trying to decide if I meant her any harm. I changed direction and she kept up her search for breakfast.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

As a Bald Eagle soared overhead, I realized how high the sun was above the horizon. Leaving the eagle to search for a breakfast fish, I headed home.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Hiking around the lakes and among the trees, observing nature as it awakened to a new day was worth missing breakfast. Returning home to the welcoming embrace of the woman I love reminded me how truly blessed I am. Find a place near you to observe birds and wild things – just remember to appreciate what is really important in your life.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Wonderful Wetlands Walk

Flood.

Anyone who has experienced an overwhelming amount of water in a place that is normally dry knows that at the very least a flood can be inconvenient. At its worst, it is a disaster.

We won’t discuss how it may come to pass that people decide to live in areas which for eons have been prone to flooding. It happens. Efforts to control natural flooding have met varying degrees of success.

At the western edge of our county, two creeks have periodically flooded their banks and caused myriad problems for landowners in the area. A management plan was developed and implemented several years ago which has been successful in mitigating many of the negative effects of annual flooding of Blackwater and Itchepackesassa Creeks.

One of the improvements was the creation of a wetland consisting of deep, mid-level and shallow holding ponds, along with controlled pumping stations and plantings of erosion control and filtrating vegetation. Flooding has not been eliminated, especially in times of abnormally high levels of rain, but it is decidedly better than it was. The resulting wetlands have matured over the past four years and are becoming home to a very diverse wildlife population.

A berm around the Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland makes for an easy two mile walk with side-trips into adjacent woods. Nearby pastures provide plenty of open land for species which prefer to forage in low grass. The different levels of water in the ponds is attractive to diving ducks as well as puddle ducks. Dense reeds and grasses are perfect for hiding bitterns, rails, gallinules, wrens and a smorgasbord of insects, reptiles and amphibians.

A sample of the day’s observations follows.

 

Just at sunrise, Sandhill Cranes noisily announce they are moving from the wetlands to nearby fields for breakfast.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Our smaller winter visitors include the feisty Marsh Wren. Curious and aggressive, they are quick to pop out of the weeds to see who is stomping through their seasonal territory.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Tufted Titmice strike me as gang leaders. Their clear whistle signals “intruder alert”! Small birds begin to materialize among the highest tree branches to make sure we know they have us outnumbered.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

How can black and white be so “colorful”? When it adorns the Black-and-white Warbler!

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Usually heard long before it is seen, the White-eyed Vireo is a fairly common year round resident here.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

The Blue-headed Vireo does not breed in our area and is a welcome sight during migration.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Another winter traveler, the Hermit Thrush, graced us with a short song.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Although not as bright as the breeding male, a female/immature Indigo Bunting was a bit of a surprise. Not rare, but not too common either.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Pied-billed Grebes breed throughout our area but the population swells during the winter months as migrants join their southern relatives.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

In the central and southern portion of Florida, the Wood Stork can be locally quite abundant. However, they are not common in most of the United States. Due to habitat concerns and the species’ reliance on stable water conditions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service lists the Wood Stork as federally threatened.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

A small female Downy Woodpecker clucks at us from behind a pine bough.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Pine Warblers can be a drab gray or as bright as a ball of feathered sunshine. This fellow really  objected to us walking under his tree!

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Like some emergency beacon in the night, the intensity of the Yellow-throated Warbler’s throat is hard to miss. We are fortunate to enjoy these bright songsters all year.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

With so much to see, a short walk turned into a couple of hours of pure enjoyment! It’s man-made and includes a sports complex of baseball and soccer fields at the southwest corner, is less than two miles from one of the busiest interstate highway sections in the state and is surrounded by suburban development. Once you leave your car, set foot on the path and experience a bright pink Roseate Spoonbill rise in front of you – all else just doesn’t matter.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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