Exploring A New Natural Place

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.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

 

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.)

 

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

This Mourning Dove was enjoying the rays of the sun as the fog began to burn off.

 

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

 

A pair of Sandhill Cranes were busy harvesting insects from a freshly mowed field near the maintenance area of the park.

 

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

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.

 

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule

 

Another very common resident, the American Coot, swimming alone.  Throughout the day, we observed large flocks and counted 245 individuals during our morning.

 

American Coot

American Coot

 

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.

 

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

An Eastern Phoebe was very active hawking insects near one of the boat ramps.

 

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

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.

 

American Robin

American Robin

 

Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, usually makes an appearance wherever we visit.  And, yes, I usually take his picture.

 

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

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.

 

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

Blue-winged Teal are fast!  They were quite actively moving around all four lakes and were a little stingy with providing photo opportunities.

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

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.

 

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

 

No trip to water in Florida would be complete without the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron.

 

Great Blue Heron

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.

Osprey

Osprey

 

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!

 

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

 

Yes, it was another – Good Day!

 

Entry

Entry

 

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

 

Additional Resources:

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park – Park Brochure

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Exploring A New Natural Place

  1. I love this post…so much great information…a place for my list of ‘must go there someday’ and the info about the Florida bird website which I didn’t have (thank you). Plus your wonderful pictures and narrative. Loved this!!!

  2. SO exciting to always discover / hear of a new place… What a wonderful array (and quantity!) of wildlife this refuge (?) offers.

    • It was fun! It’s a park maintained by Hardee County and is a great place to take a family for a picnic or to go fishing. Of course, for some of us, there are a few birds to see! 🙂

  3. Yes, I can see that this was a good day! Any day with a woodpecker is a good day!
    Great pictures. Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thank you, Stewart! We saw three different woodpecker species during the day. There should be seven species breeding in this area so we’ll be going back to look for more! (I’m sorry you’re “woodpecker deprived”. I’ll try to get good pictures for you!)

  4. Like Flo, I laughed at that “back off, Jack” look from the Robin. I’ve never seen a black and white warbler before; very stylish. You’re improving my image of central Florida. I didn’t realize there were still so many wild and amazing places left there. Still can’t get over the sight of eagles, and the cormorant shots are great.

    • This was a wonderful day. I thought of you and Frank as we lounged under longleaf pines and listened to the warm breeze whisper through the tree tops.

  5. Wow, what a very productive morning and great place. I’d never heard of it while I lived in Florida.

    • We were almost overwhelmed with bird life. Got whiplash trying to follow a dozen birds going in a dozen different directions! 🙂
      A nice rural county park….who knew?

  6. Five dollars? What a bargain that was Wally with all those birds in numbers and variety, not to mention all the wonderful shots you obtained. Love the pelicans in flight formation and your moody Pileated shot. Interesting that you don’t like man-made objects in your shots but when I thought about it more, lots of my own pictures inevitably include such things.

    • Phil! Long time no see! Hope your vacation was wonderful and relaxing. Yep, it was a bargain. We’ll be returning soon and often! There are good populations of vireos and warblers I didn’t take time to explore.

  7. Florice

    Thanks for so many really neat pictures. I enjoy taking your trips with you. I had to laugh at the picture of the American Robin. He definitely had an opinion.

    • HI, SISTER !!
      I wish you and Charlie had been with us! The smell of the pine trees was wonderful, the air was crisp and clean, the bright blue sky reflected in all that water was gorgeous and birds were everywhere! Talk to you soon!

  8. So many beautiful birds! Wonderful photography!

  9. I’m in awe of the numbers of birds you saw and captured so beautifully. Fantastic shot, Wally.

  10. jimbey

    Wally, thank you! Your narrative and your photography made me feel like I was right there in that park with you guys. Well, at least until you started talking about bird counts. 245 Coots? I can’t count that high anyway; and would lose count every fifth step (as I trip over ground roots). But I thoroughly enjoyed the trip via your blog, and look forward to our next trip

  11. Looks like a great place. You got a lot of good stuff there. I’ll have to try and get over there this winter.

  12. TexWisGirl

    a great bunch of shots, yet again! looks like a wonderful place to bird – even just driving there, obviously. love seeing pileateds. would love to see a bald eagle!

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