A Day In The Green Swamp

To say we went birding in the Green Swamp is not totally accurate. We went birding in the “area” of the Green Swamp. I didn’t want you thinking we had donned our hip-waders and struck off into the dark tea-colored waters fighting off alligators and snakes to search for birds.

Not that we wouldn’t willingly make such a sacrifice to bring our dear readers wonderful images — but we didn’t.

The Green Swamp consists of over 560,000 acres (+226,000 Ha) in central Florida. Four major rivers begin life here from underground springs: Hillsborough, Ocklawaha, Peace and Withlacoochee. Much of central Florida’s water supply comes from these rivers. Over 500 years ago, the army of Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto found the swamp so large and impenetrable they had to skirt around it. Seminole Indians found it a perfect place to hide from and ambush United States Army troops during the Second Seminole War in the mid-1800’s. In the early 20th century, real estate developers planned to drain the whole thing. That didn’t work but lumber barons did manage to remove almost all of the centuries-old cypress trees. Lumbering, mining, cattle ranching, hunting – the swamp has been a bountiful, even if unwilling, provider over many years.

This diverse habitat is now protected by government programs from development and use which might be environmentally unsound. Limited hunting and fishing, hiking, camping and biking are permitted in some areas. Oh, and birding.

At the edges of this vast area the land rises gently as it transitions to upland forests, open pastures, sandhills and oak scrub. Wildlife is attracted to these transition areas and it is where we concentrate our exploration. Old logging roads cut through the actual swamp but habitat becomes somewhat conforming which reduces the opportunity to observe much variation in species.

The day began before sunrise with Barred Owls sounding off from every stop we made. Where a pasture bordered a wooded area we found more than a dozen species of birds busily hunting for breakfast. Happily, the hungry horde included a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, which have become rather uncommon in our area. The trip through the swamp not only provided better diversity than expected, we even found a fairly rare bird for central Florida, a Golden-crowned Kinglet. (Alas, I was unable to get a decent photograph.)

Florida is famous for flat land and water. Our Green Swamp has plenty of both. Thank goodness!

 

From an observation tower at sunrise, the Green Swamp seems to be more forest than swamp.

Withlacoochee River Park

 

Once you begin exploring under those treetops, however, be prepared to get wet.

Withlacoochee River Park

Colt Creek State Park

 

A curious Red-headed Woodpecker. Across much of the country, this species has not adapted very well to human development.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

Easy to see how the Eastern Bluebird was named. That blue almost looks artificial.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

Small and extremely active, we found several Ruby-crowned Kinglets during the day.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

Pine Warblers were numerous and very hungry.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

We were either being followed by one persistent Hermit Thrush or we saw six different individuals. Somewhat of a high count for our area.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

This Ovenbird was upset at something beyond our vision. The bright orange raised crest and loud alarm calls got our attention. (At least he wasn’t yelling at US!)

Green Swamp East Tract

 

Carolina Chickadees are not numerous around here but once they find a habitat they like they’re quick to announce intruders to the rest of the swamp.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

I almost consider this photograph of a Black-and-White Warbler rare since the bird is perched upright. Usually, they are scurrying head-first down a tree trunk or defying gravity on the underside of a branch. Wannabe nuthatches.

Green Swamp East Tract

 

 

We didn’t get our feet too wet but we certainly enjoyed our swamp outing! This huge area has a lot to offer and we will return many times to take advantage of such a natural treasure.

 

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

 

 

Additional Information

The Green Swamp

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

Cedar Waxwing

Cloud cover turned every attempt at a bird photograph into a silhouette. The noisy Common Grackles at the top of a Cypress Tree, the Red-shouldered Hawk at his sentry post on the big Oak near the boat ramp, a Little Blue Heron atop a Willow Tree scolding me loudly. Aren’t there ANY birds on the ground this morning?

Zen birding. As we rounded a curve, the road ahead was covered in American Robins. They were in the road, along the side of the road in the grass, in the shrubs and in the trees. I counted 75. Fueling up for their upcoming spring flight northward, the colorful thrushes were fun to watch gorging on insects and fruits of the Brazilian Pepper.

Tenoroc FMA

1/400, f/6.3, ISO6400  Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600 mm

 

(The Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) was introduced into the United States in the mid-1800’s as an ornamental plant. Its bright red berries have been used as Christmas decorations. The fruit ripens in December and is eaten by birds and many mammals. The resulting dispersion of seeds by wildlife is one of the reasons it has been such a successful and frustrating invasive plant.)

Moving slowly along the road, the Robins scarcely noticed our presence. Within the dense foliage and fruit of the Brazilian Pepper, we realized not all the diners were Robins!

Cedar Waxwings! We had been hoping to see some in our backyard all winter but no luck. Now here were over four dozen of the sleek, masked beauties right in front of us. The next 30 minutes were very satisfying!

 

The Cedar Waxwing is named for one of its favorite food items, cedar berries, and for the red markings on the tips of mature birds’ wings which resembles drops of sealing wax.

Tenoroc FMA

1/250, f/6.3, ISO4500  Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600 mm

 

Chaos in the bushes! It seemed as if the very branches were alive as dozens of Waxwings and Robins stuffed their beaks with fruit.

20200127 Tenoroc FMA 00190

1/800, f/7.1, ISO2800  Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600 mm

 

They will soon be headed back to their breeding areas and we will miss these handsome masked invaders until next fall.

Tenoroc FMA

1/800, f/7.1, ISO3200  Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600 mm

Tenoroc FMA

1/1000, f/6.3, ISO1100  Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600 mm

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

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