Is there a correlation between the quality of an experience and distance traveled? As a kid, the back yard held all the adventure I could handle. Heavy construction with a small metal bulldozer, wild animals (neighborhood cats), invading pirates from the ship “Jolly Roger’s Imagination”, chasing fireflies at night and that perennial favorite “hide and seek”. Becoming more worldly as I matured, it was apparent that there were more exciting pursuits awaiting beyond the boundary of the fenced-in yard. Thus began a lifetime of exploration that would take me thousands of miles from that boyhood world.
Birding has been one of those adventures I have enjoyed more than most. It’s fun to plan a trip to a spot we’ve never visited and contemplate what exotic species we might be able to spot. One must pay attention to the logistics required for a longer trip in order to avoid unexpected emergencies such as running out of gas, becoming lost, having no food or drink handy, forgetting the binoculars, not checking the insect repellant supply, etc. Adequate planning equals a successful journey!
Or….you could just visit the local park less than ten minutes from the front door.
Lake Parker Park consists of about 100 acres on the northwest shore of Lake Parker in Lakeland, Florida. The lake has 2,272 acres, three boat ramps, two fishing docks and a good population of game fish. The park is operated by the city and offers picnic facilities, ball fields, tennis courts, hiking paths, rest rooms, a boat ramp and a varied habitat attractive to a fairly wide variety of bird species.
It was a bit foggy and cool (43 F/6 C) for our area but there was no wind and the fog was expected to dissipate quickly. It did. The park had just opened for the day and since it was the middle of the week there weren’t too many guests. In about two hours I tallied 53 species. The highlights for me were: a large number of migrating warblers (mostly Palm and Yellow-rumped), a banded Wood Stork, a trio of Roseate Spoonbills, hundreds of Tree Swallows skimming the lake’s surface, a friendly Blue-headed Vireo and a busy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
By 9:00 a.m., I was sipping freshly brewed coffee in the easy chair in my own living room. I could become accustomed to this!
Come on, I’ll show you a few of the park’s visitors.
Just at sunrise, with the heavy fog, Cattle Egrets hit the snooze alarm and snuggled up on the branches of these Cypress trees. Fifteen minutes later, the trees were bare.
A Purple Gallinule shuffled along the shoreline looking for just the right weed to eat for breakfast.
Ring-billed Gulls are the most prominent gull species at the lake. The one on the dock poses with a smaller Forster’s Tern.
A group of White Ibises share a bath before heading to the office.
There’s no getting around it. Pied-billed Grebes are just cute.
Palm Warblers are gathering in large flocks and gorging on insects to provide them sufficient protein for their return migration to the north.
Although we have an influx of warblers during spring and fall migrations, we also have a resident population of a few warbler species which remain here all year. The Pine Warbler is one of those species, but there’s no way to tell if this is a resident or a visitor. Pretty bird, no matter which!
The bright Yellow-throated Warbler also breeds in Florida.
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers sometimes appear to be everywhere! Wherever they are, they are little perpetual-motion bug-vacuuming machines. This one stopped briefly out of curiosity and then flitted away to examine a branch.
The Wood Stork has been maligned as not being “pretty”. I reckon it depends on your definition of pretty. I happen to think they are beautiful creatures. This one apparently has read some of the unkind descriptions and is sporting jewelry on each leg. I’ve submitted the numbers but haven’t received a response yet.
We don’t normally see Roseate Spoonbills here as they typically prefer a more marshy environment and shallower water. This morning three of them paid a visit. Their unique bill allows them to filter a lot of nutrients out of the water as they swing the “spoon” back and forth.
The colorful pink guests attracted “groupies” who scurried around to be sure they were included in the photos being snapped by the paparazzi (or, in my case, the “grandpapa-razzi”). A Great Egret and a White Ibis offer contrasting colors and bill designs.
A Little Blue Heron was disturbed by something and flew by squawking loudly.
One of our winter visitors, a Blue-headed Vireo, seemed to follow me around for awhile, flying from tree to tree keeping up with me.
Another winter guest, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, didn’t let me interrupt its hunt for juicy insects to fuel the upcoming flight north.
This Downy Woodpecker is likely a park resident as I’ve seen him in this same location in past years. I thought he might be considering that cavity for a nest but I think he was just searching the area thoroughly for a snack.
Yes, great excitement and adventure can be had by properly planning for a long trip to distant and exotic locales. However, once in awhile, it can be nice to forgo the intricate plans, hop in the car and visit the park just around the corner.
(This post was inspired in part by a recent blog from Mia McPherson. If you haven’t enjoyed her photographic art yet, pay her a visit at: On The Wing Photography. Prepare to be impressed!)
We hope you 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.)