Fun! Excitement! Birds!

Visiting new places can be fun and exciting!  Visiting places you have been to before can be fun and exciting!  Such was the case on Saturday.  We drove about 45 minutes to our south to visit Hardee Lakes Park, which we explored in late January.  It was quite interesting to see the difference a few weeks can make!

The first bit of interest came before we reached our destination.  That’s the thing about traveling, the actual journey can be a “destination”.  We rounded a bend and saw a mass of white in the center of a rather small pond in a cattle field.  On an island in the pond, we counted 35 American White Pelicans, 40 Double-crested Cormorants and 24 Caspian Terns.  We sat in the truck for about 30 minutes and ended up spotting 24 species of birds and counted over 200 individuals.  In addition to the above, we saw a pair of Black-necked Stilts, five Long-billed Dowitchers and three Lesser Yellowlegs.  What a nice way to start our day and all before we even reached our target location!

Just before we entered Hardee Lakes Park, we spotted a pair of American Kestrels, male and female on a utility wire.  The male swooped down, caught a grasshopper and returned to the wire and gave it to the female.  They typically don’t begin breeding for about another month, but these may be getting an early start!  Two adult Bald Eagles guarded the park entrance from atop tall utility poles and we saw probably the same two eagles here on our visit in January.  As soon as we drove into the park we were greeted by three Red-bellied woodpeckers on one side of the road and three Northern Flickers on the other!  An Eastern Meadowlark sang its beautiful song from the field and our day was better for it.

This park has four lakes with primitive roads around all but Lake #4.  There are hiking trails, a boardwalk over a damp area, mixed hardwood and pines, plenty of picnic tables, restrooms, a boat ramp for each lake and a camping area.  The area around the park is a mix of cattle fields, agriculture, citrus groves and phosphate mining.  Several creeks flow through the area and the Peace River is about 10 miles to the east.

Our day was filled with the scent of blooming citrus nearby, wind whispering through tall pine trees, colorful warblers swarming in tree tops, raptors soaring on thermals and unexpected treats throughout the day.  (A Sora in the middle of the afternoon?)  We enjoyed our lunch under a mix of pine and oak trees with the breeze blowing a curtain of Spanish moss to the side so we could watch life unfold on one of the lakes.

We hope you enjoy a small sample of our day presented below.

American White Pelicans, Caspian Terns, Double-crested Cormorants on a small island in a cattle pond.  They probably roosted here the night before, but there were three very large alligators on the other end of this island so I’m not sure how safe they felt!

American White Pelican, Caspian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican, Caspian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant

Part of the pelicans put on a show for us.  It seems they were practicing for the Olympic “synchronized fishing team” competition.  Actually, the American White Pelican uses a method known as “collective foraging” in which the group surrounds a group of likely prey and then all dive at once to maximize their success rate.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Dowitchers near the shore of the pond demonstrated their “sewing machine” technique as they constantly probed the mud for insects.  A Lesser Yellowlegs stretches his wings.  (In the left of the picture is the remains of an alligator, quite a large one judging from the size of the skull.)

Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher

Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher

A female Northern Flicker greeted us from a fence post at the park entrance.  Another female was atop a utility pole in the same area and a male was foraging on the ground nearby.

Northern Flicker (female)

Northern Flicker (female)

The melody of the Eastern Meadowlark is welcome anytime!  This one was within a few feet of the male Northern Flicker as he belted out his morning tune.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The park was full of warblers, most fueling up on insects in preparation for their northward migration.  This Palm Warbler almost landed on my foot and pecked all around me in his search for bugs.  I don’t usually get to view a warbler from the top, they’re normally high up in the tree branches and I only see the other side!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

On our previous visit in late January, we counted 90 Ring-billed Ducks on the lakes.  Today, we found only four (all females), who apparently read about the snow-storms up north and decided to stay in Florida just a bit longer.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

A group of 80+ Double-crested Cormorants flew in suddenly.  It was interesting to see them form up into a tight-knit raft with birds around the perimeter all facing outwardly, presumably a defensive posture.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

A graceful-looking Great Egret posed among the reeds.  This is one of two we observed in breeding plumage, as seen by the green lores and long tail plumes.

Great Egret

Great Egret

There are 20 species of Armadillo in the world ranging from the Pink Fairy Armadillo, at six inches (15 cm) long to the Dark-brown Giant Armadillo who can grow to over 5 feet (1.5 meters) long.  The Nine-banded Armadillo is the only one found in the United States and averages 25-42 inches (64-107 cm) long (includes their long tail).  These are the only mammals to have an exoskeleton.  They have very poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell.  They use their sharp claws to dig for insects.  This fellow picked up my scent so I retreated and let him go about his hunting.

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

The Gopher Tortoise is a species of special concern in Florida and is vulnerable primarily due to loss of habitat.  This ancient-looking animal digs burrows which average six feet deep and 15 feet long, usually slanted at about a 30 degree angle.  The tortoise will dig from 5 to 35 burrows within its territory and can retreat into one for protection from predators, weather and fire.  Over 350 other creatures have been documented to use these burrows.  They are truly beneficial members of their environment!

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

Spring time tends to make everything look brighter.  Even the noisy, usually bothersome Boat-tailed Grackle appears handsome today!

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Speaking of Spring, many birds are transitioning from their drab winter colors into their bright breeding plumage.  This Palm Warbler looks much different than he did a few weeks ago.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Not to be outdone, a Pine Warbler shows off his yellow feathers.  At one spot, we counted over 30 of these warblers in a group of pine trees.

Hardee County

As I was counting warblers, another female Northern Flicker appeared to check on what I was up to.

Northern Flicker (female)

Northern Flicker (female)

Along the lake shore, a female Northern Harrier hunted for lunch.  (Apologies for the poor quality, she was at some distance.)

Northern Harrier (female)

Northern Harrier (female)

Swallow-tailed Kites are returning to our area after spending the winter in Central and South America.  This one appears to have either prey or nesting material in his talons.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Florida.  Water.  Alligators.  This young one kept an eye on me while I poked around his shoreline.

American Alligator

American Alligator

A trio of American White Pelicans soared over one of the lakes as we ate lunch.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

I stepped onto a boat dock at Lake #4 and startled a Green Heron from the shade underneath.  His raised crest let me know he didn’t appreciate being disturbed!

Green Heron

Green Heron

From that same boat dock, I spotted a bit of movement in the reeds and eventually found a Sora skulking about.  These rails are usually more active around sunrise or sunset.  This one played hide-and-seek for quite awhile and never did give me a chance for a decent photograph.

Sora

Sora

Near the end of our visit, a male Wild Turkey appeared briefly and quickly ran for cover upon spotting us.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

It was a wonderful day to be outside!  Lots of sites, sounds, smells and most of all – fun and excitement!  Thanks for tagging along.  We leave you with a sure sign that Spring is here – a butterfly and a bloom.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

 

 

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

 

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

 

 

 

 

Additional Resources:

Hardee Lakes Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

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56 thoughts on “Fun! Excitement! Birds!

  1. You have an amazing gift with words AND with the camera Wally. I absolutely loved this post, as i have throughout your blog, and was captivated both with the stories and your images. In all my years spent either living or traveling in Florida I never heard of Hardee Lands and am now definitely looking forward to visiting there someday. Thanks for sharing your talent and fabulous images.

    • Hi, Rick! Hope you’re warming up a bit in the wilderness of the Great Smokies! You are WAY too kind with your remarks, but thank you very much! As usual, once we slow down and look more carefully, the more wonderful locations we find to explore!

      We’re enjoying your reports from the mountains. For anyone who is not familiar with Rick’s fantastic talent, he is currently on assignment as Smithsonian’s Artist In Residence in the Smoky Mountains. Visit his website at http://thegreatamericanlandscape.com/ to see his superb talent on display.

  2. You really hit the jackpot for wildlife on this post! I love the shot of the armadillo sniffing the air. 😉

    ~Lindy

  3. You got incredible variety on this trip, Wally. I especially enjoyed your mention of the kestrel behavior, the perky tail of the sora and the image with the yellowlegs, dowitchers and alligator skull. Neat post.

    • Thank you, Ron! I’ll be keeping an eye on those two Kestrels over the next couple of months and hope to locate a nest. Another fun day to be out and about!

  4. Oh, this more than makes up for the “birdless” post you did recently. 🙂 I’m glad the rest of the alligator wasn’t with that huge skull! Those white pelicans sure are pretty. I didn’t know they came in white. I’ve never seen a green heron in flight, wow! Great colors. The armadillo was quite a find, too. Nice close-up, and its underbelly is certainly new territory. They are quite remarkable. Thanks for sharing all these great pictures!

  5. Ah, I adore your tours…. What a fruitful day. 🙂 Such lovely shots! The Flickr on the post is especially sweet. Thanks so much — all seem happy and safe!

  6. What an awesome day, Wally! The shot of the Armadillo standing upright made me smile! Watching a synchronized White Pelican feeding event is always a treat! I was happy to see my first Kite of the season on my way home from the airport the other day!

    • This was our second visit to this county park and we are quite impressed with the diversity they have! It was surreal seeing 3 dozen pelicans, 2 dozen Caspian Terns, Dowitchers, Yellowlegs, Stilts and others all stuffed into this little cattle pond! Congratulations on the Kite! We should begin seeing more once this cold snap goes away.

  7. Wonderful series! Fantastic photos!!

  8. What a fantastic day you had, so many different birds and other things, it looks like a great area.
    Gordon

  9. Gosh all I can say is I am jealous. The richness of the wetlands there is amazing. The variety of birds there ….I would just love to see those pelicans, terns and cormorants and then you have all the photos of the birds on shore too. That sora is so hard to get. You need to get paid by the Florida tourism board.

    • You’re too kind, Nora! It’s fun! How wonderful we both have local environments so diverse yet so beautiful in their own ways!

  10. Great series of vibrant colour!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  11. What a wonderful post, with so many birds and other animals!
    I can’t chose any special, because everyone is so beautiful!
    And of course you took fantastic photos of everything! 🙂
    Have a Happy Easter! Greetings Pia

  12. Wally, the array and numbers of birds you saw stagger my mind. I’m a tad envious but so glad you shared the beauty of your day. The lavender Pickerelweed blossom is lovely.

  13. Gorgeous wildlife shots!

  14. One word comes to mind here as I perused your post. …. And that is “OUTSTANDING”!! Where do I begin? The birds, of course, my favorite photo subject. I especially like the Green Heron…I’ve seen them only ‘walking’…never flying. That image is great. Thanks for post that one, as I can see now its perfect plumage. And the egret in breeding colors is gorgeous too. Oh so much good stuff here today, I’m in awe.

  15. There are a lot of things I’d like to see for real in this post – and the woodpecker is not the least!
    The skull is impressive!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Stewart, happy to oblige! We heard second-hand that the rancher shot that large alligator because it began taking calves. As spring progresses, we hope to send you more woodpecker images!

  16. Let me begin by saying your introductory paragraphs were a delight to read. I felt like I was there – wonderfully descriptive!
    As always I plethora of beautifully captured wildlife! The flicker on the post, the egret, the green heron, and the eye of the alligator even were images I really enjoyed.
    Thanks for letting me tag along. 🙂

  17. What a great day out! Looks like you saw just about everything, and photographed it all beautifully!

  18. I was exhilarated reading your narrative and just breathing in these beautiful pictures. What a gorgeous, complex planet we’re privileged to live on. And I sure am lucky to have such a fine guy for a brother. . . Love you, Wally.

    • HI SIS!!

      It was another good day to be outside! These few pictures only show a small part of all we saw. Talk to y’all soon! Tell Buck we saw some mighty big deer tracks out there…….

  19. There are so many wonderful photos, I don’t even know where to start! The pelicans’ synchronized actions are such a graceful sight to behold. I’ve only seen it once, and although I see the pelicans here on a weekly basis, haven’t witnessed it again since the first time. The northern flicker shot is so awesome, especially with that wonderful bokeh. Wow!

    • Gail, thank you so much! It’s fun watching the white pelicans with their organized approach and their brown cousins with their head-first diving technique! I’m hopeful the Flickers will breed there since we saw 3 females and a male that morning.

  20. This looks like another awesome place for birding. Your photos of all the birds are fantastic. Many would be life birds for me. The Flicker and Meadowlark are some of my favorite birds. I am hoping to add some lifers during my upcoming trip to Florida. Not sure if I can fit this place in but it would be nice.

    • Thank you, so much, Eileen! There are so many wonderful places to visit in the state, especially for birding, that I’m sure you won’t have any problem finding spots to go!

  21. Oh my gosh! This was just wonderful. I’m in awe, don’t even know where to start . I just loved everything about this post. (And Hardee Lakes is on my list.) Thanks for the wonderful travelogue .

  22. jimbey

    …. Wally, I continue to be amazed at the quality and depth of your Florida Travelogues! From your prose and your photos, I could almost believe I went along for the ride. Not to be of any help, though; I have trouble counting higher than 19 (I need one finger to count the others). I am quite fond of the “group fishing” formation of pelicans — can you just imagine what that looks like to the ole bass cruising around down there? One moment everything is fine, and the next … a fence of white beaks surrounding you! Uh-Oh! Hope my Aflac is paid up!

    • That counting thing is why I have to make sure the Boss is with me! She’s the smart one! It’s always fun watching the Pelicans fish. I couldn’t tell what they were scooping up from that little pond. Bream, maybe.

  23. A great post for the theme. A lot to study!
    Well done!

  24. Thank you for sharing your wonderful day Wally. if you’d been here you would have heard my sounds of appreciation for your pictures, birds i haven’t seen for a number of years but wish I had and still could – flickers, Palm Warblers and dowitchers will do! You know I’m a simple bird man but boy those Armadillos must blow your mind – Fabulous.

    • Wish you had been with us, Phil! Could have used another set of eyes! At times, we had 3-4 dozen warblers above us in the tree tops. We saw a total of 10 armadillos throughout the day. Speaks good for their population status!

  25. A great series of photos. You certainly saw lots of beautiful birds.

  26. TexWisGirl

    wow, where to start?! LOVE the flickers. just a gorgeous bird! the alligator skull is AWESOME! but i think the photo that steals the show for me today (and it had lots of competition here) was the green heron in flight. WOWOWOWOWOWOW!!!

    • Thank you so much for all the really nice remarks! It was a fun day. I had just remarked to Gini it would be neat to see a Flicker – and VOILA! “Better lucky than good” as they say!

  27. This is a terrific post Wally, so much life & nature!

    • Thank you, Mia! It’s a blessing to be able to sit under a pine tree and just try to take it all in sometimes. No camera, no binoculars – just the breeze, songs of countless birds, the scent of the pines and the one I love to hold hands with. That’s what life is all about.

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