This spring, I volunteered to participate in Florida’s second Breeding Bird Atlas. The Atlas is a five year project aimed at defining the state’s breeding bird population. Birders from around the state visit specifically designated geographic areas and observe what species are in that location. Emphasis is placed on whether any breeding activity can be confirmed (e.g., nests, young birds, pairs, territorial disputes, adult birds carrying food, etc.). This is very different from “normal” birding where the concentration is on total number of birds of each species seen without regard to specific location or breeding activity. The data gathered will be analyzed and compared with the first Breeding Bird Atlas which was conducted 25 years ago. Hopefully, scientists will be able to use this information to guide resource managers in planning for a better future for our birds.
The breeding season for most birds in North America is almost at an end and many birds will be migrating south to take advantage of greater food supplies. Accordingly, we’ll soon be seeing bird species in central Florida that were not here during the summer. Some birds begin their southward journey earlier than others (usually, those that were not successful at breeding) and we’ve made a few forays lately trying to catch some of these “early birds”.
One place is becoming a favorite spot for us to visit: Hardee Lakes Park (see Additional Resources, below, for a link to more information). It’s a pleasant drive from the house and the trip itself offers a lot of birding opportunities. This county park consists of about 1200 acres (485.63 ha.) and includes four lakes, lots of picnic areas, restrooms, camping, hiking/horseback/biking trails and a boardwalk through a wet hardwood area. Within the park, in addition to the lakes, one can find open fields, stands of hardwood, pine and swamp. As the seasons progress into fall and winter, the four lakes will provide refuge to a large number of waterfowl.
During our visit, we tallied 47 species. Not bad for the end of August during some pretty oppressive heat and humidity. Some of the highlights included large numbers of Barn Swallows gliding over the open grassy areas just inches above the ground. Separating themselves from the Barn Swallows, a small group of about a dozen Northern Rough-winged Swallows perched on nearby utility lines. We saw a total of six Northern Flickers, which likely included some juvenile birds from this year’s breeding. Two of the males were engaged in an extensive display of head bobbing/weaving, probably a territorial challenge. It was a morning filled with woodpecker sightings, five different species in all. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo silently stalked bugs in the top of a pine tree. We only found one migratory warbler, a Black and White, but the trees were dotted with yellow here and there as resident Pine and Yellow-throated Warblers scooped up insects non-stop. White-eyed Vireos entertained us with song from the damp understory of the swampy woods. We were treated to expert fishing tutorials by a Bald Eagle, an Osprey and a Forster’s Tern.
Here are a few pictures from our excursion.
Morning dew sparkles like jewels, surrounding an Eastern Cottontail rabbit.
Three Northern Flickers on one utility pole. The two at the top spent a lot of time bobbing up and down and moving from side to side at each other, probably a territorial challenge. The bird at the bottom is immature, based on its overall lighter plumage and the non-descript malar stripe (“moustache”). Interestingly, adult males have this malar stripe, females do not, but immature birds of both sexes display it. Northern Flickers in eastern North America have yellow under their wings and tails whereas western species have reddish-orange (“Yellow-Shafted” and “Red-Shafted” Flickers). Western Northern Flicker males also have red malar stripes instead of black.
Typical habitat for Hardee Lakes Park. The lakes will soon offer refuge for hundreds of migrating waterfowl.
A female Red-winged Blackbird foraging along the lake shore. The females can sometimes be a challenge to identify as they don’t resemble the shiny black males. This bird was among a flock of about four dozen noisy male and female Red-wings.
Most spiders spin their webs vertically in order to effectively catch flying insects during the night. This one was built horizontally. For hopping insects? Bugs falling out of trees? A spider trampoline?
A Northern Rough-winged Swallow rests between bug-catching sorties.
This Common Buckeye exemplifies the expression “worn”.
One of the smarter individuals in his group, this Black Vulture enjoys the shade while his compatriots were soaring in the heat of the day.
The Turkey Vulture gets it half right. He rests on an appropriately dead snag but hasn’t figured out the trees with all those leaves across the way would be much cooler.
A boardwalk provides a nice walk through a wet area of hardwood trees, low shrubs, a creek and connects with trails to take one further afield. Lots of bird activity along this relatively short excursion.
A species of Holly tree (I think it’s a Dahoon Holly, Ilex cassine) offers bright red berries which are very effective at attracting birds to the area.
Bright yellow and black offer a startling burst of color among the green pine needles. The Yellow-throated Warbler, however, can almost disappear when all you see is his gray back.
Pine Warblers are fairly common here, chasing insects along the branches of their namesake trees and staring through the needles at the funny-looking guy stumbling through the ground cover.
It was another great day afield made special by seeing and hearing a few birds while accompanied by my Best Friend Forever. She really is, too. I have a signed contract that says so.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
See more birds at: Paying Ready Attention (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)