Most birding and photography experts advise to be out a couple of hours around sunrise and sunset for the best results. I’m sure they’re correct and these are definitely my favorite times to be outside. Sometimes, though, you find yourself in the woods or on the shore of a lake in the middle of the day. I know I should just lay down and take a nap until the golden hours before sunset, and I could certainly use a good nap, but with that Osprey screeching at me from his perch, a Barred Owl calling from a nearby oak hammock, the Limpkins screaming at each other with that eerie cry and those three Snail Kites plucking Apple Snails from the grass in front of me – well, a nap is going to have to wait!
We spent our afternoon exploring Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and the adjacent Prairie Lakes Unit. (See “Additional Resources” below for more information.) This is an area of several thousand acres consisting of hardwood forest, dry prairie, oak hammocks, cypress domes, fresh water sloughs and three lakes (Kissimmee, Jackson and Marian). With such a diverse ecosystem, there is quite an abundance of wildlife here! Be aware that hunting is allowed in portions of this area so visit the link in “Additional Resources” to access the hunting schedule. If you visit during hunting season and hike the trails, be careful and consider wearing an orange safety vest.
As we left Lake Kissimmee and returned up Joe Overstreet Road (see the previous post: “Familiarity”), we played the Kestrel game again. We also saw more Sandhill Cranes, Ibises, Crows, Grackles, Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warblers, Red-shouldered Hawks and — wait a minute — on that post up ahead — is that yellow? An Eastern Meadowlark! Mission complete!
At the entrance road to Three Lakes WMA, a nearby fence displayed Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, Yellow Warblers and a Savannah Sparrow. They were all beautiful through the binoculars but were out of camera range and dispersed across the street once they realized we were watching. Throughout this section, watch for pine trees with white circles painted around the trunks. These mark known nesting trees for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The best time to see them is at sunrise when they exit the nest. (There’s that “best time” thing again!)
A Bald Eagle circled overhead as we took our time traveling through the pine-scented woods and marveled at the cypress domes dotting the landscape. Cypress domes are stands of trees growing in a low place which usually stays wet year round. The depression is lowest near the center of the dome and those trees grow more vigorously than the surrounding ones, thus creating the “dome” shape. These are great places to find unusual plants and offer protection to wildlife.
We arrived at the shore of Lake Jackson, a relatively small lake, which has a nice boat ramp, primitive rest room and a lot of picnic tables with grills scattered under the oak trees. It was definitely time for a lunch break (hey – this is hard work!) and as I got out of the truck to grab our sandwiches, I saw the characteristic “lazy flapping” of the Snail Kite as he searched for HIS lunch! Grabbing the camera, apologizing to my patient spouse (again) for the delay, I ran to the edge of the lake, checking to be sure I didn’t disturb any resting ‘gators (like I did the last time) and clicked a few shots. I then spotted the female and what I think was a juvenile and enjoyed the next half hour watching them pluck huge Apple Snails from grass stalks and lily pads and take them to a perch to eat (out of my sight, unfortunately). Okay, time for US to eat.
The day started out quite cool following a cold front the night before but the bright sun has warmed things up significantly. The front cleared the air and the sky is a crystal clear deep blue with no clouds or haze. A simple sandwich and lemonade turns into something special when you share it with the one you have loved all your life under such a sky. The breeze rustled through the tops of nearby palms, the spreading branches of the ancient oak trees protected us from the sun’s direct rays and we once again realized how truly fortunate we are.
Our reverie was broken by the booming call of a Barred Owl. Although it sounded close, there was an impenetrable hammock between us and him so going to search for him was not feasible. We departed the lake shore and headed for the end of the main road which terminates at a canal and short trail to an observation tower overlooking Lake Jackson. Along the way we saw many warblers, sparrows and hawks. We watched a female Northern Harrier as she coursed low over an expanse of grass and were fortunate to find a Bald Eagle on a nest! At the canal, alligators basked in the sun and cruised the waters of the canal. It is apparently springtime on the alligator calendar as we saw several couples pairing up in preparation for the breeding season.
It was time to head home. We slowly re-traced our path back to the main road and marveled at all we had seen during the day.
Here are a few images of our “Afternoon Delight”.
An adult and juvenile Sandhill Crane ask one of the locals where they can find the best insects.
That bright splash of yellow was a welcome sight! This Eastern Meadowlark was quite polite and posed this way and that and then performed that song I’d been longing to hear. We left him singing happily from his perch.
Cypress domes are unique features of the landscape and are visible throughout this area.
Snail Kites are on the U.S. and Florida endangered list, primarily due to destruction of habitat. Locally, there has been a slight resurgence in recent years, probably due to the spread of invasive species of snails. The jury is out on whether this is overall good or bad news. The male kite is dark gray and the female has brownish upper parts and streaked underparts. Immature kites are similar to the adult female but have brown instead of red eyes.
I spotted an unusual looking “clump” in a pine tree some distance away. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a Bald Eagle nest and it was occupied!
These two ‘gators were not disturbed at all by my presence. The larger male appears to be at least 10 feet long (3.05 meters) and has apparently been eating well.
A Red-shouldered Hawk was our last bird of a really nice day.
Another great day exploring what Florida has to offer! Thank you for wading through all the words to get to a few pictures!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
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