Familiarity

Exploring new places is exhilarating!  The thrill of what “might be” and knowing you’re about to generate memories which could last a lifetime.  It can also be a bit frightening.  We humans tend to fear the unknown but our adventurous spirit usually overcomes that fear as we forge ahead and do what needs to be done.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the familiar.  It can be a source of comfort and our mind and spirit are usually calm since we generally know what to expect.  Sure, we can have new encounters in old places, but we aren’t nervous and look forward to reinforcing impressions made over time.

I never met Joe Overstreet.  He was a prominent rancher in Osceola County, Florida and his grandfather was among the first settlers to begin cattle ranching  in that area in the mid-1800’s.  Most folks don’t know that Florida was the leading producer of beef cattle from the time of the Civil War well into the 20’th century.  Large ranches still dot the state today.  We are grateful to the Overstreet family and other land owners who have generously donated land for conservation easements to help preserve Florida’s natural ecology.

Our destination is the east shoreline of Lake Kissimmee.  The area is south of the community of Kissimmee and there is a public boat ramp and fish camp at the end of Joe Overstreet Road.  This road is a wonderful place to drive as slowly as possible (watch out for fishermen in a hurry to launch their boats, big trucks from a nearby sod farm and folks from the cattle ranch).  There is a lot of wildlife to be seen here!

As Gini and I motored along in the darkness, holding hands (yep, we still do that), we discussed our birding goals for the day.  The recent buzz in central Florida was about a Long-billed Curlew posing for the paparazzi in the mud flats adjacent to the boat ramp.  I opined it would be neat to see one as it would be a new addition to our life list.  Also, with Spring almost here, I hoped to see an Eastern Meadowlark singing from a perch.  Feeling greedy, I told Gini we really need a picture of a Crested Caracara.  She gave my hand a squeeze and simply said:  “Think positive.”  We turned on to Overstreet Road as the sun arose precisely when it was supposed to.

The familiar.  Sandhill Cranes dotted the fields as usual.  A large flock of Turkeys were foraging in the grass near a stand of pine trees.  American Kestrels performed their routine which consists of perching on utility lines until you stop the car or point something (like a big camera lens) at them.  They then drop from their perch and fly about 50 yards further up the road.  They repeat this twice and then loop back to their original perch.  It’s great fun.  Blackbirds, Grackles, Crows, Glossy and White Ibises clamor around the cattle feeding stations for grain and insects.  Watering holes attract herons and Belted Kingfishers.  Savannah Sparrows flit from roadside weeds to the fence wire and back again.  As we approach the boat ramp, Bald Eagles move from the tops of trees to begin their day of fishing.

It’s good to be back.

Of course, there is always the unexpected to deal with.  Today, a fishing tournament is under way.  In the middle of the week???  The parking area is packed with trucks and boat trailers and more and more fishermen are arriving every few minutes.  Additionally, there appears to be a meeting of the Lake Kissimmee Air Boat Club, whose members are jockeying for position on top of the mud flats where birders have reported the Long-billed Curlew.  Sigh.

The place began to settle down as fishermen were out on the lake, air boats were headed south at a high rate of speed and noise and we appeared to be the only birding types here at the moment.  I snapped a few shots of Wilson’s Snipe which had been napping through all of the noise.  What do you know!  The curlew apparently had been nestled down with the snipe as he was now standing directly in front of me!  After taking a few photos of my newest life bird, Gini and I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of incredibly sweet Florida orange slices, bananas and some of the largest pecans I’ve ever seen.

Here are a few of the sights we were blessed with this morning.

 

Early morning is a special time in nature and we think it’s really special when we are there for the experience.

Kissimmee Dawn

Kissimmee Dawn

 

A pair of Sandhill Cranes standing at the bottom of — a sandhill!

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

 

Wilson’s Snipe were active all along the shoreline adjacent to the boat ramp in front of the picnic area.  These birds are winter visitors and will soon migrate north.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

 

No birding trip in Florida can be considered complete without including a Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

This Palm Warbler posed on a post where his head soaked up the early light of the sun.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

It’s not a good trip if you don’t get dirty.  So, down on my belly I went, laying flat on the wet mud to get some eye-level shots of a Lesser Yellowlegs.  NOW – the day has truly started!

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

A Ring-billed Gull cruises above the shallow grass beds looking for fish near the surface.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

What’s that shadow?  A Crested Caracara!  He swooped in low and landed on a fence-post.  Naturally, the sun is directly behind him and there’s no way to change to a better position.  Oh, well.  We work with what we have.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

During breeding season, the Great Egret’s yellow lores turn bright green and the bill becomes a bit darker.  Also, they develop very long plumes on their backs.  These are the “aigrettes” for which the bird was hunted almost to extinction.  All for ladies’ hats.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

 

A sign to the boat launch makes a handy perch for this Loggerhead Shrike.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

Although Black Skimmers are normally encountered around salt water, they are occasionally found on fresh water inland lakes.  It was a bit surprising to see these “beach birds” here!

 

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

 

Belted Kingfishers are small, fast and very efficient hunters.  This one hovers in preparation for a dive on an unsuspecting fish.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

Bald Eagles are abundant in this area as there are plenty of fish and nesting areas.  This fellow appears to be performing harbor master duty:  “Slow down, you!”.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

My new life bird, the Long-billed Curlew.  Hard to imagine he’ll likely be on the Great Plains in a couple of months.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

 

 

 

Well, two out of three ain’t bad:  curlew and caracara.  But wait!  Perhaps I didn’t mention that all of the above was accomplished before noon!  We still have the rest of the day to search for a meadowlark!

Stay tuned for more familiarity in the afternoon!

 

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

 

Additional Resources:

Joe Overstreet Landing (Great Florida Birding Trail Description)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Familiarity

  1. Wonderful birding — I don’t think I’d ever be able to take pictures this beautiful even if I were willing to lie down in the mud (I’d do it, but I’d probably never get back up.) We saw caracaras when we stayed in Texas in the winter.

  2. The stunning bird photos you share with us is amazing, Wally. Your a bird pro at heart!

  3. Gorgeous photos!

  4. Hi there – great set of pictures – I’d love to get a good look at most of these birds – but most of all I’d like to see the Crested Caracara.

    Stewart M – Melbourne

  5. Florice

    What a grand adventure for me. Not being a knowledgeable birder, plus living in the desert, I really enjoy your photos and comments. I am fascinated by the length of the bills on those birds, such as the long-billed curlew and great wilson’s snipe. I doubt when they migrate back to the Great Plains, the hunting will be as good as Florida. Also love the crested caracara and the colors on the great egret. We need the bald eagle in Washington to bark out some orders. Loved it all. And you.

    • Thank you, Sister! Sure wish you could drop by and I’ll show you all that stuff personally! We love exploring it (obviously) as well as sharing it. We love you guys, too!!

  6. All amazing shots! You’re great post just moved that spot up to the top of my list. I keep meaning to get over there.It’s probably 2 to 2 1/2 hours from my house. That caracara is on my list as well as whooping cranes. I heard they were nearby there.

    • Dina, if you go, also plan to visit the adjacent Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. It’s a good place to see Snail Kites at Lake Jackson and tons of migrating warblers and sparrows. The Whoopers are often visible in pastures from Canoe Creek Road. Overstreet Landing itself is a small area of lake front adjoining a public boat ramp. From the picnic table area, snipe (and the curlew) and shore/water birds are active between you and the lake. From the same area, look left and scan the fence posts for eagles, caracaras and kites. Have fun!

  7. Spectacular images! I saw a kingfisher eating a crawfish yesterday through a digiscope. By the time I found him thru my camera lens he was finished. Birding is so exciting!

  8. Your usual eloquent, highly entertaining and descriptive post Wally. I just wan’t to drive down that highway too now and sample that breakfast followed by the birding. Love the shots one and all but the Caracara is just stupendous, the imperfect light adding to the shot.

    • Phil, you are welcome to join us any time! It was a great morning and the afternoon was also productive – will post about that soon. Yes, I’ve been working on that “imperfect light” thing a lot! 🙂

  9. I had a sharp intake of breath on seeing “Kissimmee Dawn,” too. It would make an awesome large print and/or the basis for an oil painting.

    This was a fabulous armchair bird safari. Still so hard to believe it’s all right there in central Florida. That eagle looks like the stereotype of a Marine drill sergeant!

    I also love the image of you and Gini holding hands and talking quietly in the pre-dawn as you motor toward Joe Overstreet Road. What joy and abundance.

  10. TexWisGirl

    you’re amazing! loved this whole ‘morning’! sheesh!

  11. What a wonderful post!! Love it all…. And the Caracara! Just BEAUTIFUL. I’ve never seen one down here. Love the green breeding lore of the egrets, always. Such wonderful captures, and a beautiful reminder to always explore the NEW.

    • You may need to travel a short distance north to spot a Caracara. They like open areas, such as the Kissimmee Prairie north of Lake Okeechobee. It’s a good time to be out and about in Florida!

  12. All lovely images in this post Wally! I was especially drawn to Kissimmee Dawn because of its dramatic composition. Well done 🙂

  13. Wow, what an awesome outing. All the birds are great and I loved the photos. Congrats on the Carcara.

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