Afternoon Delight

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.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

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.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

Cypress domes are unique features of the landscape and are visible throughout this area.

Cypress Dome

Cypress Dome

Cypress Dome

Cypress Dome

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.

Snail Kite (Male)

Snail Kite (Male)

Snail Kite (Female)

Snail Kite (Female)

Snail Kite (Male)

Snail Kite (Male)

Snail Kite (Female)

Snail Kite (Female)

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!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

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.

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

A Red-shouldered Hawk was our last bird of a really nice day.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

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!

Additional Resources:

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

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44 thoughts on “Afternoon Delight

  1. Sid

    Ok, enough with the birds. What the heck is a cypress dome? – your son, the geologist.

    Ahh. Cool. Interesting that the highest point of the dome is actually the lowest point topographically. Cool stuff!

    • (See previous answer.) As a note, the water in the center of these domes can be quite deep and sometimes form large whirlpools. Not sure about the cause of the whirlpool effect. Alligators really like these places, too, and will clean out the peat sediment to form nests.

  2. Anonymous

    So, more important than all these birds, what’s a cypress dome???? – your son the geologist.

    Ahhh. Not even a geologic feature, actually an inversion of the local topography- the highest point of the dome is the lowest point topographically. Cool stuff!

  3. Three Lakes is a great place! I hope to visit again soon (for a longer, more thorough visit). Your photos are superb, with such beautiful, rich colors, especially the Cypress Dome. Your Snail Kite shots are amazing!

    • It’s easy to lose track of time in that area. Walking some of the trails through the scrub oak and pines can produce a lot of warblers, sparrows and woodpeckers. But the way it’s set up, you can see and photograph an awful lot from the car. Again, you’re too kind with your remarks, but thank you!

  4. I love that Meadow-Lark Wally … I’ve never heard one sing but have read its the loveliest of sounds. When we were holidaying in Kent UK a few weeks back I thought I heard one but think it was the wrong time of the year so maybe it was a robin.
    Thanks for your lovely post.

  5. What wonderful wildlife shots!

  6. Lovely pictures!
    Thank you for sharing) Hanne Bente

  7. Great series.

  8. What a great trip! So many great shots. Love that one with the cranes and cow.

  9. I love seeing these. Thanks for sharing “Florida” with me Wally, I miss it sometimes!

  10. Wonderful photos! The meadowlark shots were awesome!

  11. WOW, I agree… Your captures have me tempted for a visit!!! Such varied critters — and you’ve captured them beautifully. The meadowlark is so very sweet — what a wonderful shot!! And that cypress dome, how PERFECT! Picture-perfect. What a place….

  12. Wow, you always take such adorable pictures, Wally!
    I like them all and the first one looks so funny 🙂 but I don’t know if I dared to meet an alligator!
    I admit I didn’t read all of your words, maybe its because I’m a bit lazy or it’s that english isn’t my language. I must translate in my head *hi hi*
    But your photos are soo good!
    Have a nice week! Greetings Pia

  13. Fantastic!
    Really beautiful photos!
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea
    Lea’s Menagerie

  14. Wally, i enjoy your commentaries as much as your wonderful photos, they really set the scene for the pictures ahead. The Meadowlark shots are simply stunning – such colours. Good to see such detail in the Snail Kite shots – I remember reading how their bill is so adaptive. Looks like you nailed the tricky light with the hawk and I’m pleased to see you left some water between yourselves and the gators.

    • You’re too kind, Phil, but thank you! The Meadowlarks usually fly away instead of posing so nicely! The Snail Kite has begun to expand it’s range just a bit and I’m on the hunt for nesting birds close to home. Hope to have more pictures of this magnificent bird soon. Yep, I like ‘gators but prefer to admire them from a distance!

  15. wow, what a great day! I love the Meadowlark shot. And the kite is awesome!

  16. What a great day – the best time to take pictures is when the bird is in the viewfinder. The Meadowlark is a cracking looking bird. One of the reasons that the Green Rosella has not been hunted to extinction, may be because it’s actually a little dull compared to many of our other parrots! Hard to believe, but true.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW.

    Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thank you for the very nice comments, Stewart, and for insight into the Green Rosella. Maybe that’s why I’m still around – a little dull compared to others! 🙂

  17. Wally, thank you for taking me along on that adventure – wonderful sights to see! Well, maybe not that gator. Great shots of him though.
    Your Meadowlark shots are super – sharp and crisp!
    The fluffy headed eagle must have been a thrilling sight – so envious here.
    A really enjoyable post!

    ‘Afternoon Delight’ will be playing in my head for days. :):):)

  18. Oh, my goodness! I am so smitten with the meadowlark! The clarity is simply amazing here. Wow!!

  19. Thanks Wally for your kind comments on my blog. I so enjoy blogging and seeing the other bloggers photos and stories of life and nature. You have some excellent photos today, I never have seen a snail kite…you really should be working for the tourism for Florida Birding as you show it off so well.That meadowlark really put on a good show for you to photo. I agree about the light being better at sunset and sunrise but I seldom can be out birding at those times so I take what light I can get this time of year anyway. cheers.

  20. The “words” are fascinating! This sounds like a really interesting place to visit with so many different kinds of habitat. Teh bird photos are beautiful – that little yellow Meadowlark is the best of all IMO.

  21. jimbey

    …. Bravo! Great performance. Almost makes me want to move up north to Orlando – nah, you guys get cold weather way up there. I am always impressed by the great diversity — and your ability to capture it for us followers. Kudos!

    • I was born in Miami and still have that south Florida thermostat in my system! Getting out when it’s cold is my greatest challenge. 🙂
      Thank you so very much for your really kind remarks!

  22. TexWisGirl

    as always, your shots are so beautiful! meadowlark series is AWESOME!

    • The meadowlark was one of my “goal” birds for the day. I was happy to find one who not only posed but sang his heart out! Thank you for continuing to say such nice things. We sure appreciate it.

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