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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Spring time tends to make everything look brighter. Even the noisy, usually bothersome Boat-tailed Grackle appears handsome today!
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.
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.
As I was counting warblers, another female Northern Flicker appeared to check on what I was up to.
Along the lake shore, a female Northern Harrier hunted for lunch. (Apologies for the poor quality, she was at some distance.)
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.
Florida. Water. Alligators. This young one kept an eye on me while I poked around his shoreline.
A trio of American White Pelicans soared over one of the lakes as we ate lunch.
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!
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.
Near the end of our visit, a male Wild Turkey appeared briefly and quickly ran for cover upon spotting us.
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.
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