We’re Not In Scotland Anymore

Okay, we’ve never actually been in Scotland at all.  It has been rumored my family tree may have roots in that fabled land and I truly hope to visit one day.  In the meantime, recent strong winds blew us toward the next best thing in our area – Highlands County, Florida.  Over 1100 square miles in size, the county was formed in 1921 after the huge De Soto County was split into several smaller parts.  It’s the 14th largest of Florida’s 67 counties and located in the south-central portion of the peninsula.  Named for its rolling countryside, Highlands County produces a large percentage of Florida’s citrus and cattle.  If you care for auto racing, Sebring (the county seat) hosts an annual internationally renowned event.  If you care for birding – come with us!

It was one of those mornings when there is an almost overwhelming urge to pull the covers up tighter and hope someone who loves you will jump up and throw another log on the fire or, the more likely modern equivalent, push up that thermostat!  Alas, it was not to be.  That cruel woman insisted we get up – with it still dark, no less – dress in layers, consume vast quantities of warm beverages and head out into gale force winds and arctic temperatures.  The things I do to satisfy her lust for birding…….

The high temperature for the day barely nudged 43 F (6 C) and the wind was pretty constant at 20-25 miles per hour, at times gusting much higher.  (I know this doesn’t seem very harsh to many, but this IS Florida, after all!)  The good news:  the skies were clear and the birds didn’t seem to mind the temperatures or wind at all.  We ended the day with almost 60 species of birds observed, including a flock of almost 500 Sandhill Cranes in a single field, shorebirds, game birds and even a Coyote hunting in the middle of the day!  I’m sure glad I was able to get Gini out of bed this morning!

Highlands County has lots of back roads through a good variety of habitat that can be fun to bird.  Here are a few more well-known spots that can be very productive:  Highlands Hammock State Park, Lake Istokpoga Park, Lake Jackson in Sebring, Kissimmee River boat ramp (on a canal) at U.S. Highway 98 east of Lorida (nice picnic spot) and that most popular of birding hotspots – the county landfill.

My hands were too cold to take any decent pictures.  (No, I don’t have a good excuse for the rest of the time!)  Here are a few images that might at least bear a resemblance to the description.  (Use your imagination!)

 

Our first stop of the day overlooked a pasture with several low spots holding water.  Shorebirds love these “potholes” and this Cooper’s Hawk loves shorebirds!  He made a few passes without results and moved a little further up the road.  The shorebirds settled back in within a few minutes.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

 

A small sample of the water hole visitors include Snowy Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Boat-tailed Grackle, White Ibis and Glossy Ibis.  Just outside this frame are also Least Sandpiper, American Pipit and Long-billed Dowitcher.

Boat-tailed Grackle, Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Yellowlegs

Boat-tailed Grackle, Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Yellowlegs

 

Wood Storks were making their way from roost site to feeding site.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

A mixed flock of American Pipit and Least Sandpiper were difficult to spot in the grass.  Good thing, too, what with Mr. Cooper still lurking about.

American Pipit

American Pipit

 

Savannah Sparrows began to become abundant as the sun rose a bit higher.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

I liked the combination of the green lily pads, the rust-colored wall and the black and white of the Anhinga drying its wings.

Anhinga (Male)

Anhinga (Male)

 

When I was growing up in Florida about a hundred years ago, quail were very common.  In more recent times, it’s fairly rare to spot them.  This covey of Northern Bobwhite exhibits the typical view one has as they scurry for cover.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

Spotting a Crested Caracara is not at all unusual in the abundant open lands of Highlands County.  These beautiful raptors are good hunters but will readily shove aside a group of vultures to enjoy a meal of carrion.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

Speaking of vultures, meet the Buzzard Brothers.  This trio of Black Vultures appeared to have been frozen in place.  (See, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s cold out here!)

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

 

A Sandhill Crane looks for a spot to land in a recently plowed field.  We counted 485 cranes in this field.  Would love to have been there at dawn – the noise must have been wonderful!

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Stopping along a back road to view a small pond produced these American Avocets.  It’s a bit unusual for them to overwinter here as they prefer the even warmer climes of Central and South America.

American Avocet

American Avocet

 

In the same pond as the Avocets above, Mottled Ducks and Blue-winged Teal enjoyed the clear weather.  This shows off the considerable size difference between these two species.

Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Duck

Blue-winged Teal, Mottled Duck

 

As we enjoyed a lunch break, a curious Eastern Bluebird dropped by to see if we had anything interesting to offer.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

We rounded a bend to encounter a flock of Wild Turkey.  They didn’t seem unduly alarmed but they also didn’t stick around to chat and the lead gobbler ushered them all under a fence into a nearby orange grove.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

Heading down one of the areas main highways, we spotted a remnant of a bygone era.  A pineapple juice stand.  Florida first planted pineapples commercially in the 1860’s and by the early 1890’s the state was the world’s largest exporter of the fruit.  In 1908 the crop yield was over one million crates.  The industry declined by World War I, primarily due to competition from Cuba and the new Republic of Hawaii as well as several hard freezes.  A small amount of pineapple farming is still done in Highlands County.  This sign was quite large, as you may be able to tell from the old Osprey nest on top.

Old Sign

Old Sign

 

 

When the wind blows extra strong, resist the temptation to avoid it.  Try to be like Dorothy and Toto and make the most of wherever it may take you.  Although we didn’t quite get blown all the way to Scotland this time, we really found a lot to enjoy during  our Highlands adventure!

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 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

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36 thoughts on “We’re Not In Scotland Anymore

  1. Great set of pictures – I’d like to see all of these birds!
    Hope the weather sorts itself out – I’m going to Arizona in a few weeks and I want to know what clothes to bring!!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thank you, Stewart! Hope you’re able to see lots of good birds in Arizona! As for what clothes to bring, follow my wife’s method. Take an empty suitcase and purchase what you need when you arrive! (I didn’t say it was an economical method!)

  2. Nice pictures! Love the wings outstretched!

  3. If you’re looking for sympathy at 46 degrees you aint getting any. I would guess though that at those uncommonnly low temperatures you would notice the usual species behaving somewhat differently? Once again a Caracara steals a highlight for me at least and I’m now getting quite desparate to see one in its full glory.

    Buzzard Brothers I like and definitely a name and a logo for an up and coming trio.

    In the real Scotland there’s no chance of growing citrus fruit or pineapples – it’s far too wet, windy and cold, even in a Highland Summer so I’m not sure you would enjoy it Wally. But if you ever decide to bird in Scotland give a shout and we’ll share a dram or two of the county’s finest.

    • Hello, Phil. Hope your sunburn doesn’t hurt too much! We were actually quite surprised to find so much bird activity on a “relatively” cold day with strong winds. We truly hope to reach the UK some day! Hope you are enjoying the other half of a great weekend!

  4. Hello Wally!
    Yes indeed some days you like to stay in bed just a little longer but once you’re up, you can’t wait to get to the site for birding!!
    Well that was well worth it, you came back with interesting pictures!
    The Wood stork is quite ugly really but it makes attractive in in way!!
    We don’t have Anhingas here, only the usual cormorant, the details of its the wings’ pattern is marvelous.
    Keep well!

  5. Beautiful shots.The shot of the Caracara is really special.

  6. WOW!!!! What amazing birds on this post…..but the Bobwhite!!! Most excellent find. As for cooler weather…..wish we’d get a touch of the stuff:) It’s hot here!

  7. Wally you never cease to amaze me with your pics and narration, it looks as though you where in a wild-life paradise. It would seem your wife shows no mercy, getting you out of bed at that unearthly hour, you must have cranked up the iso pritty high to get those shots in the dark ;-). And my god those temps, you are only a few degrees above us at 30f. and that nest on the pineapple, only in America.
    All the best, take care, Gordon.

  8. tingsgrove

    The Sandhill Crane and Crested Caracara were my favorites in this series of great shares~

  9. Anonymous

    Only dedicated birders would endure those conditions. I am glad you and Gini are two of them, so I can enjoy those wonderful pictures. I heard of your temps, and thought of you while I was planting tomatoes and peppers in my garden today here in Arizona. Check back with me in July and I won’t be so smug. Can you say roasting!

    • Planting in your garden! I’m jealous! If I can muster the energy I’ll be finishing the raised beds this week and getting containers ready for ‘maters and chili peppers.

  10. All fine photos that make me want to be there. The bobwhite quail my favorite. We used to have plenty here in Kentucky but rare to see one today.

    • Yep, sounds like Florida. If it weren’t for the hunting organizations, the quail might be in serious trouble. An ironic relationship!

  11. Karen,

    Pretty chilly for Florida I guess! I’m glad you got out for some birding. It’s a great series. The Wood stork, Anhinga, and Sandhill Crane are particularly fascinating to see. That Caracara is awesome!

  12. Wonderful birds to look at as always , thanks Wally .

  13. Awesome series of birds and photos. One of my favorite is of the Bobwhites. Have a happy week!

  14. Way too many great pictures! I’ve only seen one bobwhite from far away so the shot with the several is my favorite. That one with the nest on top of the pineapple is too funny! I’ve got to get in-land more often.

  15. You saw a lot of fabulous birds. I had no idea there were quail and avocets in Florida ever! Wonderful day (oh yeah except the cold part). It’s a good thing for Ginny that it was a good birding day — even if you did take the credit for it )))

  16. You and the mrs. are so dedicated to get out in those conditions. With the wind, it must’ve made it even more miserable. I’m impressed at the number of birds you saw. Cool captures of the hawk and caracara. Love the pose of the sparrow on the barbed wire. All are really lovely shots!

    • “Dedicated” => “Not Entirely Sane”

      Thank you, Gail! When you see a Cooper’s Hawk hunting at dawn, it warms you up for the rest of the day!

  17. Love the old sign. And something about that vulture trio reminded me of the Three Stooges. Nice to share your outing while I keep warm in the house and watch all the birds swarming our feeders (that would be the feeders with long icicles hanging down). Seriously, it’s sleeting here in Pensacola.

    • I saw the report on your weather! Brrrr! Keep it up there, please! That’s a neat area we explored. Traveling along U.S. 27 and seeing old motels, hollow shells of restaurants and even juice stands – all victims of modern interstate highways.

  18. you made me smile. here in texas, 20s and 30s with a brisk northerly wind, i can say ‘brrr’ too. 🙂

    loved the bobwhite! and the caracara is always a neat sighting – your shot is beautiful! would love to see some wild turkeys sometime.

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