High Times In Highlands County

A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people– Will Rogers

I truly enjoy watching my wife tackle an artistic endeavor.  She analyzes what needs to be done, develops a plan of attack, gathers the necessary materials and then performs magic.  At least, it’s magic to me.  I possess no such talent for producing something beautiful from, literally, nothing but an idea.  Whether she’s drawing or making a gift box decorated with paper flowers and doves, observing her while she’s creating is awe-inspiring.

That’s the way it is with someone who has knowledge or skills we may not.  We envy that person, we wish we could do what they do, we are amazed at the results they achieve and we want to be around them in the hope some of that talent will transfer to us.  Guess what?  Sometimes it does.  We may not reach their level of expertise, but just by hanging around such folks we almost can’t avoid learning something!

Sunday morning coffee was in a paper cup which imparted a unique flavor to my daily dose of caffeine.  The truck zigzagged through the dark along a series of back roads en route to a pre-dawn rendezvous with two of Florida’s top birders.  They would be characteristically too modest to agree with that description, but, hey, it’s my blog!  One of them can hear a Scrub Jay whisper in a hurricane a half mile away.  The other personally knows the address of every bird in the county and requires migrants to file a flight plan with him.

Today we intended to explore likely birding locales in Highlands County (we are all residents of Polk County, to the immediate north).  As the sun broke the horizon, we squinted eastward across the surface of Lake Jackson in Sebring.  About a dozen migrating Black Terns were actively feeding near the public boat ramp and picnic area.  They have lost their black plumage and transitioned to non-breeding colors as they prepare to continue on to the Caribbean.  A Belted Kingfisher was there and is also a migrant, but may stay in the area all winter.

Highlands Hammock State Park on the south side of Sebring consists of over 9,000 acres of oak and cypress hammock, swamp, black water creeks, pine forest and scrub.  Hikes along a couple of different paths produced 9 warbler species, including a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, 4 woodpecker species, White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos, a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Summer Tanager.  Competing with the bird life were myriad insects, amphibians and reptiles.

After lunch (I can’t believe these guys stopped to eat), we explored a small park on the north side of Lake Istokpoga.  We were greeted at the parking area by a half dozen calling Sandhill Cranes and another half dozen Black Vultures (who were just finishing lunch themselves-armadillo, I think).  We found a colorful American Redstart, Tufted Titmice, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an adult and juvenile Purple Gallinule.

A short drive to the north and our noses alerted us we were nearing our objective, Bishop’s Dairy.  The continually wet mud which cows seem to enjoy is home to millions of insects.  Migratory shorebirds love this smorgasbord and we found a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers attending the banquet.  In an isolated mud puddle, a Solitary Sandpiper bathed and chased his own meal around the water.  Three dozen European Starlings, a couple dozen Cattle Egret, four dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Dove, White Ibises and a Loggerhead Shrike rounded out the attendees at the dairy buffet.

Just around the corner from the dairy is an area of extensive pasture land, low lying fields and scattered ponds.  The abundant rain this summer has inundated most of this area and has attracted quite a variety of bird life.  We counted over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were juveniles.  Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 80 Cattle Egret, two dozen White Ibis, 50 Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Sandhill Cranes, almost two dozen Yellowlegs, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 5 Loggerhead Shrikes and an American Kestrel, among others, were enjoying the abundance of food in these fields.  We found a recently plowed field which hosted a couple of dozen Kildeer, Least Sandpipers and a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers.  One of the highlights in this area was a “kettle” of vultures spiraling up into the blue sky.

As afternoon thunderstorms built up, we headed home, happy to have tallied over 80 species of birds for the day.  My thanks to two companions who were generous with their knowledge and patient with an old dog still trying to learn a new trick or two.  These guys aren’t just good birders, they are true gentlemen.

 

I managed a few snapshots during the day and have included a sampling in the hope you might share a bit of the experience we had.

Lake Jackson Area

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Highlands Hammock State Park

Path

Path

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

The smaller spider is the male.  Keeping his distance from his spouse!

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rat Snake

Yellow Rat Snake

Carolina Satyr

Carolina Satyr

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) - Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) – Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) - (?)

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) – (?)

 

This is the smallest toad species in North America with an average length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Lake Istokpoga Park

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) - Male

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) – Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – Male

Bishop’s Dairy

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Note how the parents station themselves at either end of the ducklings to stand watch.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Kettle of Vultures

Kettle of Vultures

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

As late afternoon thunderstorms build, Cattle Egret seek shelter, and so did we as we headed home.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

I may not be any smarter just for hanging around smart people, but I do enjoy being around anyone who can lead me to over 80 species of birds in one day.  And I do have my occasional strokes of genius.  After all, I was smart enough to marry Gini over 45 years ago!

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.)

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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40 thoughts on “High Times In Highlands County

  1. Great set of pictures – the Kettle of vultures was remarkable, thats a sight and a name I dont get to see/use!

    I had not thought about people being on their holidays “up north” – silly of me really!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Stewart, thank you! Hopefully, WBW will see an increase of volume as our “summer” winds down. Thank you for hosting such a great resource!

  2. I spent the morning walking in our steamy but beautiful Longleaf pine woods, and now the afternoon on an astonishing armchair nature tour de force with my big brother. My cup runneth over this day.

  3. tingsgrove

    OK, OK, these are all amazing images, absolutely stunning images and I must say, the one of the juvie Red-Shouldered Hawk…well Wally, you just must know that was my favorite of them all, just because 😉

  4. You get such an amazing variety down there, Wally – both invertebrates and vertebrates. So very different from here. I enjoyed both your narrative and your photos.

  5. Beautiful photos! I love the snake on the fence.

  6. I always feel smart (and happy) just hanging around your blog! Your descriptions of those two birders’ talents made me smile (and since you saw so many species, maybe you weren’t kidding!). Fabulous outing and great pictures. I would never have thought of a dairy as a birding place, but it makes sense when you think of it.

    • Thank you, Sallie! Never pass up a dairy! Especially at this time of year as migrating shorebirds love the mud – it’s home to LOTS of bugs!

  7. love the birds as well as all other critters you share today. 🙂

  8. This is a wonderful group of photos. 80 species is an amazing total for one day. What a great experience that must have been!

  9. Nice post and a wonerful set of pictures Wally.
    I’ll catch up with you properly soon since my good wife has taken me to Greece! Yes, our ladies are pretty clever..

    • …..but will she bring you back??

      Enjoy your trip and we expect a full report upon your return. Perhaps you could write us an “Ode On A Grecian Tern”. 🙂

      Cheers, Phil!

  10. Carole M.

    phew Wally – that was some post. So much to read into it; so much humour, love that writing style of yours, right (write) off the cuff I’d say. Out of all the birds and wild-life it was hard to nail down a favourite but I learnt something else – a kettle of vultures, and I loved the yellow warbler I think it was …Wasn’t so keen on the snake in the fence but better it be there than wrapped around your ankles. Oh, and the finale few words of wisdom that you wrote of your wife; you both sound like well-rounded, contended couple; congratulations on all those wonderful years together

    • Carole, you’re too kind, but thank you visiting! Being a typical birder, I had my head up looking into the trees and almost put my hand on that snake. My companion had to point out it’s good it was a non-venomous species! Yes, thanks to Gini, we have had a very blessed life together!

  11. What a great series of photos! The pondhawk and stilt are my favorites!

    • Thank you for visiting with us, Betty! When I saw your Shelducks sitting in a pasture, it reminded me of our Black-bellied Whistling Ducks who like to do the same.

  12. Nice post! Love all those pics of wildlife!

  13. I would call that winning the lottery! Great day and great photos.

  14. So many great shots! I haven’t been able to last long in this heat. You guys must have been out for a while. That stilt looks like a juvenile. Nice!

  15. What a fabulous sounding day! The kettle of vultures sure is a really cool shot!

  16. Well as I agree you are surrounded by talent … don’t understate your own talents. Your pictures are spectacular, clear and informative and your narrative is equally so. I believe I have just spent time with someone smart enough for me to learn from … thank you!

    Andrea @ From The Sol

  17. Sounds like an awesome outing seeing 80 species, wow! Your photos are stunning, I enjoyed all of them!

  18. nice group of critters and birds, but i LOVE the whistlers. 🙂

  19. Anonymous

    Fantastic series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  20. I enjoy the little bit of wisdom/philosophy with which you start your posts.
    A very good total of birds for one day and a great series of photos of some of the highlights. The environment you describe in this post is so different from mine.

    • Thank you so much, Mick! Although we live less than an hour from the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, our inland landscape changes dramatically.

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