Open To The Public

Not too long ago, a friend asked about a visit to a local area where I reported observing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and over 3,000 American White Pelicans. I confirmed those species and proudly talked about other unique birds I had seen during the same outing. He was quite excited as there were three species he had been striving to find in Florida and had been unsuccessful. I felt like a cad. Now I had to break it to him that this was a trip on land not open to the public. At the time, I felt  privileged to be asked to assist in a survey of bird life within this newly developed wetland. Little did I realize how bad I would later feel telling people they couldn’t visit the area.

Karma.

About a month after the above trip, I noted a report of several Burrowing Owls not too far away. My inquiry was met with, “Sorry, they were all on private land.”

Gini and I have been very fortunate to have traveled a modest amount during our time together. The nice thing about having a partner who is happy and positive all the time (yes, she wakes up smiling), is you just know something good is close by almost all the time. When we moved to a new area, we learned to explore close to home first and gradually expand our adventures. What a happy surprise to discover there are usually wonderful things within a stone’s throw of your front door.

Birding has been like that. It’s really exciting to visit a well-known “hotspot” and it’s not hard to figure out why these places are so popular. Plenty of birds! Also, plenty of birders! So we have tried to remember our early experiences and we seek out local parks to see what they have to offer. What we have found is that there are many birding “warmspots” that are all too easy to drive by as one speeds to the well-advertised “hotspots”! These local parks have something else that is missing from the more popular venues. A slower pace. I’m not worried about rushing to the “third tree on the left under the boat dock crouched under a lily pad” bird and getting in a line of sort-of birders who are more akin to contact sport athletes. Instead, I can leisurely walk around on a nicely constructed pathway, say “Good Morning” to a Mom pushing a stroller, admire the fortitude of runners perspiring profusely, take in the aroma of a grilled picnic lunch and still compile a respectable list of birds and perhaps even take a photograph or two.

Two days last month were spent visiting three such public parks. Relaxing, exciting and fun. What more could a very casual bird-watcher want?

 

Athletic fields have very tall poles atop which are mounted lights atop which are often found raptors searching for a meal. This American Kestrel has a great view from up there!

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

A large oak tree branch displayed the remains of what I think was a White Ibis. The lunch buffet was very fresh and a look around revealed a Bald Eagle skulking within the framework of tall utility line support structure. I’m not saying he was guilty, but he WAS near the scene of the dine……..

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Anhingas are common in our area and they use any available perch that’s open to the sun and wind to dry their feathers. Unlike other waterfowl, they secrete no oils to help them remain water-proof and could drown if unable to keep their feathers dry.

Patterson Park

 

A Double-crested Cormorant and Peninsula Cooter appear to be exchanging opinions as they share a convenient log.

Patterson Park

 

An important pollinator in our ecosystem, the Sweat Bee is so named for its attraction to the salt in human perspiration. Only the females sting and it hurts less than a Honeybee. There are over 49 species of Sweat Bee, including the one below, a Green Sweat Bee.

Patterson Park

 

For some reason, city planners feel the need to “enhance” local park lakes with exotic waterfowl, often with unfortunate results for native species. Some common city critters encountered are swans of all types. I guess, to a bureaucrat, bigger is better. This is a Black Swan, a native of Australia. The male Black Swan’s red eyes turn white during breeding season.

Lake Morton

 

Mute Swans originated in Europe and Asia and are the most common captive swans in North America.

Lake Morton

 

The Black-necked Swan is from South America and cannot survive very cold weather. They are more likely than other swan species to carry young on their backs.

Lake Morton

 

Widely held to be the ancestor of all domestic geese in North America, the Graylag Goose (Anser anser) is a large bulky bird and it is common to encounter a variety of plumages from all white to mostly gray. Hybrids are frequent. In many areas of the United States it is simply referred to as a “Barnyard Goose”.

Lake Morton

 

Ruddy Ducks visit our area only during migration but can sometimes be seen in fair numbers on larger bodies of water. Occasionally, we’ll see the male still in his breeding plumage of chestnut, white face and blue bill. (Below is a female.)

Lake Morton

 

Larger than the small Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Ducks also appear in the fall and many remain through the winter. In good light, the male’s head and neck appear iridescent.

Lake Morton

 

For sheer gaudiness, nothing compares to our native Wood Duck! Looks like an artist’s palette gone wild. Okay, gaudy but beautiful.

Lake Morton

 

At the other extreme of the color spectrum is the plain brown Limpkin. Plenty of apple snails in most public lakes attract these ancient-looking waders into the city.

Lake Morton

 

Good looking in its own right, the Common Gallinule is still confused as to why the “experts” changed his name (again) from Moorhen. Me, too.

Lake Morton

 

If you get a chance to look for rare birds on private land, go for it! Visit a popular birding “hotspot” whenever you can. For a relaxing day walking among familiar birds in a comfortable setting, check out the city park. You might be surprised at what you can find.

 

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

 

(Hah! You thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? Not yet.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Fall Has Fell

“Ooohhh!” “Aaahhh!”

That’s an exact quote from our first sighting of a northeastern American forest in a riot of autumn color. Gini and I are native Floridians and as such we only knew two seasons:  green and brown. Our marriage some 48 years ago began a journey which has taken us many places and we have been fortunate to have experienced a world full of beauty. The forest near Syracuse, New York that fall day is indelibly etched in our mind’s album of special memories. Who knew so many different colors could be found on trees?

As our current year transitions from “green” to “brown”, we realized Mother Nature provides us with a sense of the colorful autumn our northern neighbors enjoy each year. The miracle of avian migration brings a myriad of colors fluttering on the wind’s breath to alight in our trees, on our lakes and along our roadsides and all we have to do is take the time to observe. Our time for exploring this year has been very limited but we are now almost back to what we think is “normal” and are attempting to make up for lost time.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been out and about and have been blessed with extraordinarily pleasant weather. Cool mornings, bright blue skies and balmy afternoons. A little water, egg salad sandwiches and fresh oranges are tossed into the truck along with about 500 pounds of optics and off we go! Cocooned in the vehicle with Gini as we re-discover old haunts and search for new seldom-traveled roads is the best life could offer. How lucky I am!!

Ride with us for awhile and enjoy a little fall birding in central Florida’s forests, marshes, lakes and fields.

 

A Snowy Egret concentrates on a potential meal hiding under the surface. As with many wading birds, the egret stirs the mud with a foot and hopes something delicious will appear.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Dagger-like beaks help Anhingas spear a fish dinner. In this case, the Anhinga is helping to rid Florida’s waters of an invasive catfish species. Suckermouth armored catfish, Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus, were likely introduced by escapes from tropical fish farms and aquarium owners dumping unwanted individuals into nearby waters. The overall impact of the species is unknown but in some areas it has disrupted native fish populations. Also, their nesting habit of burrowing into banks has caused siltation and erosion.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Announcing his presence to the entire marsh, a Tricolored Heron slowly flaps his way to a likely feeding spot.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

One of the lakes near our house, Lake Parker, has a small population of Caspian and Royal Terns most of the year. This Royal Tern is distinguished from the similar Caspian by a  yellow-orange beak (as opposed to the red of the Caspian), a white forehead during non-breeding season (the Caspian has black or at least gray smudges) and the underside of the primaries are light (the Caspian’s are dark).

Lake Parker

 

Our area maintains a robust population of Bald Eagles all year. During fall and winter migration, the eagle population soars with winter visitors. Hard to tell if this is a native or “snow bird”, but he/she was curious about what I was up to.

Sam Keen Road

 

Fish Hawk is what many folks call the Osprey. It’s a very apt name as they are excellent at securing a finny feast for themselves and their families.

East Lake Parker

 

Our mild weather allows many insects to breed multiple times during the year. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail gathering nectar from a Pickerelweed bloom just adds another dimension of color to our day.

Avon Park Cutoff Road Sod Fields

 

This European Starling is quite comfortable in a woodpecker cavity, at least until spring when woodpeckers will likely drive them from the area. All of the starlings in North America apparently descend from 100 individuals which were released in New York’s Central Park in the 1890’s. It seems a group of devoted Shakespeare fans wanted Americans to enjoy the birds mentioned in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Now there are estimated to be over 200 million European Starlings in North America and NOT everyone is overjoyed with this result! (Attempts to release other species mentioned by Shakespeare were not successful.)

Avon Park Cutoff Road Sod Fields

 

At the edge of a large commercial sod field which can hold large numbers of shorebirds during migration, a quartet of Lesser Yellowlegs finds shelter and nice, soft mud for probing along a small pond.

Avon Park Cutoff Road Sod Fields

 

During the past several days, Eastern Phoebes have begun to appear on almost every fence wire, tree snag and even our roadside mail box. They do not breed in our area and it’s a joy to see the sleek little flycatchers with their constantly pumping tails.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

The male Common Yellowthroat is a noisy, pugnacious and brightly adorned resident. The more subtly hued and demure female can easily be overlooked. Thankfully, this little lady posed for a moment before returning to the weedy undergrowth.

Cox Road

 

“Drink-your-tea.” The Eastern Towhee’s clear call resounds from all around us as we slowly drive along a dirt road with an orange grove on one side and a field of scrub oak on the other.

Eastern Towhee Call

Cox Road

 

Another butterfly taking advantage of Florida’s version of autumn, a Long-tailed Skipper.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

The female Summer Tanager is not as immediately recognizable as the all-red male, but she has a beauty all her own.

Lake Parker Park

 

We may not have bright yellow, red and orange leaves during the fall, but it sure seems colorful when we spot something like this Prairie Warbler!

Sam Keen Road

 

One of the most numerous warblers during fall migration is the Palm Warbler. The little birds with the constantly bobbing tail seems to be everywhere once they arrive.

Tenoroc-Bridgewater

 

Although the Pine Warbler is a year-round resident here, fall migrants swell the population significantly. These tree-top hunters can range from bright yellow to almost drab individuals. The first image is likely an adult male while the second may be a first-year female.

Lake Gwyn Park

Lake Parker Park

 

In its fall plumage, the Blackpoll Warbler is quite similar to the Pine Warbler. One helpful identifying feature is the Blackpoll’s yellow or orange feet. Some birds may have dark feet on the top, but the souls will always appear yellow or orange.

Gator Creek Reserve

 

Who is watching whom? A Yellow-throated Warbler contributes is bright black, white and yellow to our autumn outing.

Lake Parker Park

 

Gang leader. It seems whenever I hear a Tufted Titmouse calling, there will be a gaggle of other birds hanging around.

Lake Parker Park

 

We have a small population of Pied-billed Grebes which breed locally but the winter brings a ton of these little cuties. Yesterday, I counted 25 in one group hiding amongst bullrushes in a marsh.

East Lake Parker

 

A newly developed county park (Lake Gwyn near Winter Haven) has been littered with Apple Snail shells each time I’ve visited. One recent morning there were 14 Limpkins and five Snail Kites enjoying the buffet! I’m pretty sure the kites nested there this past spring and we look forward to monitoring their efforts this coming year.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Near Lake Kissimmee in eastern Polk County, a drive along a road adjacent to a cattle ranch led to an encounter with two young Crested Caracara. They were not bothered by our presence and gave us that typical “ho-hum” look of disdain they apparently learn early in life.

Sam Keen Road

 

Although it’s autumn and the end of the year is rapidly approaching, nature continues to be in a constant state of renewal. At Lake Gwyn park where I found the Snail Kite above, a brand new family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks appeared from behind an island. A proud Mom and Dad surrounded their group of ducklings (plus one straggler) all decked out in their little “bumble-bee” suits. More fall colors added to our Florida autumn album!

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Thank you for joining us as we get back into a birding routine. Even though you might not have a forest full of changing colors to enjoy, I suspect there are some colorful bundles of feathers not too far from your window. Go take a look.

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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