Discovering something new can be exhilarating! Especially if the discovery is something you like. I like birds and their habitat. So when I heard about a place with lots of birds which was unfamiliar to me, I had to go and see for myself. The University of South Florida maintains an electronic forum for birders to list sightings and exchange information about birds in Florida. It was here I read a post by Mr. Cole Fredricks describing a park which is only a little more than 30 minutes away. Cole is a local birding expert and conducts trips for the Lake Region Audubon Society. Thank you, Cole, for the heads up!
We therefore decided to explore Hardee Lakes Park yesterday. This county park is located at 5502 Ollie Roberts Rd., Bowling Green, FL, in Hardee County. The park consists of about 1200 acres, including four lakes (fishing allowed), hiking/horse trails, camping and a boardwalk for nature viewing. It’s a well maintained park and one can do a lot of birdwatching from a vehicle as you can drive around most of the lakes. Be aware that the park is only open Friday through Monday.
Our day began with heavy fog and a temperature of 47 F (8.3 C). The drive to the park took longer than I expected as there were a lot of birds waking up just at sunrise in this rural agricultural area. We saw a pair of magnificent Red-tailed Hawks, a dozen American Kestrel, Eastern Meadowlarks starting the day with a song, Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers on utility poles and a beautiful covey of Northern Bobwhite. I’m glad there was no traffic as I applied the brakes a lot! We were pretty excited before we even reached the park!
Two adult Bald Eagles were perched atop two tall utility poles at the park entrance. I guess they were there to ensure you pay the $5.00 per vehicle entry fee, or else!
Once within the park, we thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely drive around the lakes, walking excursions through the woods and generally lounging about as the fog dissipated and the air warmed to 74 F (23.3 C) by lunch time. We counted 41 total species by the end of the morning without really trying very hard. There were large numbers of Ring-necked Ducks (90), Double-crested Cormorant (175), American White Pelican (90) and American Coot (245).
We pulled off the road at one point where we had a view of one of the lakes to the left and a section of mixed hardwood and pine to the right. As we munched our lunch, we were treated to Blue-winged Teal and Ring-necked Ducks on the one hand and warblers and woodpeckers on the other. All this under a bright blue Florida sky and the satisfying scent of fresh pine carried on the warm breeze.
The foggy morning began with a Pileated Woodpecker searching for breakfast. The detail of the image is poor but I really like the mood – dim light just at sunrise, mist, stillness and a prehistoric-looking creature unperturbed by our presence.
One of the Bald Eagles performing duty as “entry sentry”. Amazingly, the previous shot of the Pileated Woodpecker and this one were taken only two minutes apart. The eagle’s perch was high enough to be above the level of the fog. (I normally don’t like to include photos of man-made objects, but they are certainly widely used by birds as perches.)
This Mourning Dove was enjoying the rays of the sun as the fog began to burn off.
A pair of Sandhill Cranes were busy harvesting insects from a freshly mowed field near the maintenance area of the park.
I can’t resist taking photographs of our more common birds, such as this Common Gallinule, with a bright red bill adding color to the morning.
Another very common resident, the American Coot, swimming alone. Throughout the day, we observed large flocks and counted 245 individuals during our morning.
American White Pelicans visit Florida during the winter in large numbers. Today we counted 90 birds, most of which were flying over the park. We saw a large flock of at least 80 birds in addition to the above total, but did not include them in our counting as they were outside the park boundary.
An Eastern Phoebe was very active hawking insects near one of the boat ramps.
Nothing says Spring is on the way as much as seeing an American Robin pulling worms from the soil! This fellow thought I was encroaching on his worm patch and gave me a little attitude. I backed off so he could hunt in peace.
Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, usually makes an appearance wherever we visit. And, yes, I usually take his picture.
Before the morning ended, we counted 90 Ring-necked Ducks. Most were just beyond range of my cheap lens but I managed to sneak up on one male and get a shot through the grass.
Blue-winged Teal are fast! They were quite actively moving around all four lakes and were a little stingy with providing photo opportunities.
As we enjoyed lunch under the trees, we were joined by an extremely active Black and White Warbler. If you watched his movements, you’d think you were looking at a nuthatch with his “upside down” hunting technique.
No trip to water in Florida would be complete without the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron.
Ospreys hunted throughout the morning and this one was joined by an immature Bald Eagle. Unfortunately, the eagle remained out of camera range.
As we were leaving the park, a Red-shouldered Hawk bid us farewell. Okay, okay, he was mad at me because I peeked over a ridge to see what was in a mud hole and inadvertently flushed him from his perch. He circled overhead screeching at me and I don’t think he was saying anything complimentary!
Yes, it was another – Good Day!
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!