In Search of Birds

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.

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

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.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Typical habitat for Hardee Lakes Park.  The lakes will soon offer refuge for hundreds of migrating waterfowl.

Moonset

Moonset

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.

Red-winged Blackbird (female)

Red-winged Blackbird (female)

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?

Spider Web

Spider Web

A Northern Rough-winged Swallow rests between bug-catching sorties.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

This Common Buckeye exemplifies the expression “worn”.

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye

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.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

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.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

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.

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

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.

Red Berries

Red Berries

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.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

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.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

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!

Additional Resources:

Hardee Lakes Park

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “In Search of Birds

  1. Wally…I can always count on a Florida fix when I visit your blog! I felt like I was there with you, great narration and images

  2. You saw so many great birds. I have Hardee Lakes on my must visit list, but of course it won’t be during the migration season. Still I’m sure it’s great at all times.

    • Hi, Sallie! Actually, each season should offer something special! Those lakes are home to a lot of wintering water birds and the many trees offer shelter to quite a variety of birds all year.

  3. That common Buckeye looks like its had a rough summer! Three flickers on one pole – nice shot!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  4. Cute shots of the pine warbler. That’s an enterprising spider breaking out into the recreation business with a trampoline! Love that little cottontail!

  5. “A spider trampoline” – I knew I’d find a gem in your narrative, Wally. That photo got me to thinking about the webs I’ve seen and this one seems to be pretty unusual. Neat shot and observation!

  6. Sweet, sweet note and photos….I enjoyed everyone. Your trampoline spider web made me smile – I just posted one spider web on my blog with a rainbow in it …. no kidding and no photoshop either …. cool stuff.

  7. You seem to have so many fabulous places to explore Wally. And huge too with a great mix of habitats. The flickers look like they are having a beano up there on the pole – bet no one else thought to look for food there. Se what you mean about the Yellow-throated Warber – one second it’s there the next it’s gone. Poor old Turkey Vultures looking like that but I guess their moms love ’em.

    • It’s hard for us to believe how blessed we are with so much variety so nearby. Hope your weekend is off to a great start, Phil!

  8. Love all the bird photos, the cottontail, the berries, the web and the butterfly, but the moonset shot takes the cake!

  9. Lovely and interesting set of bird photos, I don’t have time to comment each one, but I appreciate the moonset very much, its beautful!

  10. Carole M.

    now to remember the ones I enjoyed the most as I wandered through your post Wally — the swallow for one, it was a great shot showing up big round eyes; not always easy to get a decent swallow photograph. Then the vulture was interesting, even though I can’t really endear myself to them. Noted what we call Spanish Moss dangling on the branches with it too. Then the warblers, can’t go past them for a treat; very eyecatching

    • Carole, thank you so much for “wandering” along with us! We appreciate your nice remarks. Spanish Moss is quite abundant throughout our area.

  11. Re the spider web, I like the trampoline idea. When I see new birds come through in our areas, I try to channel you and think, “What does Wally say these birds are?” Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked so well. So I come here and study. That helps! Looks like a super adventure. What a nice boardwalk and shady walk way.

    • Well, Sister – there is a new invention you may be able to take advantage of when you want to ask about a bird or discuss grilling shrimp or get advice on selling book manuscripts by the pound. Just press a few buttons and “Presto!”, you can actually talk to me! 🙂

      (Aren’t I a fine one to talk like that……!!)

  12. tingsgrove

    These are all just wonderful…you did a really great job with each of these shares. Happy weekend~

  13. Love the Flicker shot and the pretty warblers. Beautiful images and post. Have a happy weekend!

  14. A beautiful area to go birdwatching. Great photos.

  15. love the warblers you get to see. sweet flickers, too!

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