Of Birds, Bombs and The Blues

Well, it finally happened.  Recently I was asked “The Question”.  I knew it was coming eventually, but one is never truly prepared for such things.  It came from an innocent enough source.  My barber.  “So, what do you do?” I could feel drops of sweat forming on my brow.  My eyes darted furtively from side to side.  My mind was racing.  What does she mean?  The words echoed in my head:  “What do you DO?”; “WHAT do you do??”; “What DO you do???”.

I’m retired.

“Oh, how nice.”

That was that.  She didn’t seem to have any nefarious hidden purpose in wanting to know.  It’s just that it was the first time since becoming “officially” retired that I said it aloud.  I guess up until that moment, in my mind, I hadn’t really thought about my status.  Okay, let’s get to the real issue.  It’s the first time I admitted to the world and to myself that I am old.  There.  I said it.  Happy?  Sigh.

The good news is – I am retired.  One of the perks so far has been more birding trips!  Sometimes, our best plans don’t quite work the way we would like and a trip may not be filled with bird sightings.  This could be due to poor weather, bad timing, unfamiliar areas or just plain bad luck.  But Gini and I always manage to enjoy the day and each other and, for us, THAT’S what it’s all about!

The following is a compilation of five specific trips which either didn’t result in a lot of birds seen or didn’t result in a lot photographs taken.  Each of the spots we visited is very interesting and at any given time can produce an impressive listing of bird species.  Check out the “Additional Resources” section for links to more information on these places and consider stopping in if you’re in that area.  Who would have guessed we would find so many birds on a bombing range?  These trips seemed to yield a lot of blue.  No problem.  I’m a fan of da blues.

 

Avon Park Air Force Range

Think BIG.  106,000 acres (42,896 hectares/6,783 square meters) big.  Split between Highlands and Polk counties, this large area is used for military training and includes live bombing practice.  Huge portions of it are open to the public but use the phone numbers in the link below to check before you plan to visit.  It’s normally open only Thursday through Monday but even that can change with little notice.  There is a fee and you must sign in and out.  Once you’re in, drive a couple of miles (“unimproved” roads), turn off the engine and just stand outside for a minute.  What do you NOT hear?  Traffic noise.  None.  This is solitude.  The area is very carefully managed and there have been great wildlife success stories as a result.  A couple of noteworthy birding efforts include managing relatively large populations of Florida Scrub Jay and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  I didn’t get many photos due to mostly inclement weather.  Despite the rain and clouds, we listed almost 60 species for the day.  Highlights included our county’s earliest observation date for Swallow-tailed Kite returning from migration, a half-dozen Florida Scub Jay, six species of woodpecker which included a Hairy Woodpecker (only my second sighting ever), over 50 Eastern Towhee, also over 50 Eastern Bluebird, over 150 Yellow-rumped Warbler gathering to fuel up for their return to the north and an early spring Northern Bobwhite singing his clear whistled name for all the ladies to hear.

This was our first visit to the Range but we will definitely be back!

 

Florida Scrub Jay.  These birds usually hang around in loose family groups and once you find one there will be more nearby.  Multiple bands (rings) suggest how closely biologists monitor this species.

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

 

We were encouraged to find a foraging Red-headed Woodpecker and hope to find them nesting later in the year.  Their population has declined precipitously over the past few decades.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

 

TENOROC

Just northeast of Lakeland (Polk County), this Fish Management Area consists of previous phosphate mines which have been reclaimed.  The area surrounding the lakes has been managed in places for wetlands mitigation and there are several hiking trails.  TENEROC is considered a “Gateway” location for the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail system.  Several years ago our local Audubon chapter began to manage a small area specifically to attract wintering sparrows.  Although close to urban and suburban development, this area contains a LOT of birds and other wildlife (deer, bobcat, coyote, fox, gopher tortoise and plenty of alligators).  I only spent about two hours on a recent morning and counted over 40 bird species.  A Cooper’s Hawk flew low over my head at the first stop, I found Eastern Towhees singing everywhere, five Black-crowned Night Herons (3 juveniles) were on one lake and a Barred Owl’s booming call punctuated the dawn stillness.

 

The moon was setting as I began to explore the area at sunrise.

Moonset

Moonset

 

A Carolina Wren blends in with the shrubbery.  However, his loud, clear call gives him away every time.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

 

This Eastern Towhee has the red iris of a more northern race and is likely a migrant.  Our local species typically has paler, yellowish eyes.

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

 

 

SUMICA

This acronym stands for:  Societe Universelle Mining Industrie, Commerce et Agriculture.  The company established a turpentine mill and sawmill at this location in 1917.  A town sprung up to support the operation and there was a railroad depot, post office, company store, church and about 50 houses.  By 1927, most of the pine forest was gone, the mill was moved and the town disappeared into history.  Polk County turned the area into a protected area and developed a couple of trails along the old railroad bed.  If you go in the summer, wear protective clothing as there is not much shade and bring plenty of water.  I didn’t find a lot of birds on the day I went, but I was there at high noon – not exactly prime birding time!  I did find soaring Bald Eagles, nervous Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, a Pileated Woodpecker and an elusive Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  The trail is elevated and leads to a nice boardwalk and shaded gazebo overlooking a wetland area with huge Cypress trees.

 

View of the wetlands at the end of the trail.

Wetlands

Wetlands

 

The trail is easy to walk, very straight and will be very hot in the summer.  Although there are a few trees, most of the trail is in the open.  On either side of the trail is scrub palmetto and in places it’s very wet.  Plenty of indications alligators cross the trail frequently.

Path

Path

 

Scrub Palmetto.  As far as the eye can see in many places.

Palmetto

Palmetto

 

 

Patterson Park, Fort Meade, Florida

Fort Meade has its origins all the way back to 1849 and is the oldest city in Polk County.  In the center of town is Patterson Park, about 16 acres of serenity.  There is a paved walking path around two lakes, picnic tables, wood deck overlooks and a lot of birds.  On the day we visited, we found two different pairs of Ospreys nesting, a couple dozen Double-crested Cormorants fishing, Green Herons, two Forster’s Terns and an agitated Belted Kingfisher who didn’t like me interrupting his fishing concentration.

 

One Osprey keeps watch while his mate was on the nest.  A second adult Osprey dives on a fish to feed his mate occupying a second nest.

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

 

A raft of Double-crested Cormorants prepare to hunt for breakfast.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

 

 

Colt Creek State Park

One of the newer parks in the Florida State Park system has the added advantage of being close to where we live.  It’s situated near the vast Green Swamp and has wetlands, lakes, hardwood forest and a bit of open grassland.  All this variety attracts a terrific diversity of wildlife.  On this particular day, it seemed Eastern Bluebirds were everywhere.  The only birds in greater numbers were Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers which were flocking to gobble as many bugs as possible in preparation for their migratory flight northward in the coming weeks.  This is a great place to picnic, watch birds and butterflies, hike, fish or just relax.

 

This female Eastern Bluebird reminds us that birding is an equal opportunity avocation!

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

“Is it safe?”

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

A Little Blue Heron glides in for a safe landing.  Birds are beautiful but when you consider their ability to fly they just seem downright amazing!

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

A Great Egret is beginning to transition to its breeding plumage.  The long feathers (“aigrettes”) appear to be made from delicate lace.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Pine trees are in bloom.  What a wonderful aroma in the woods.

Pond Pine (?)

Pond Pine (?)

 

The late afternoon sun highlights the tree tops.  It was a good day.

Afternoon Light

Afternoon Light

 

 

Five different trips.  A lot of birds.  No bombs fell on our heads.  We got to enjoy the blues.  Not bad for a guy with nothing to do.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Additional Resources:

Avon Park Air Force Range

TENEROC

SUMICA

Patterson Park

Colt Creek State Park

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

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40 thoughts on “Of Birds, Bombs and The Blues

  1. I love that path with the Spanish moss. You should tell folks you educate and entertain people the world over! Fun shots of that Little Blue Heron.

    • That’s a really kind sentiment, Patti, thank you! “Fun shots”. I like that. When they stop being fun, I’ll give it up.

  2. Anonymous

    Congrats on the retirement…it IS an adjustment, for retiree and spouse, as in my case. We moved to FL in late 2011 after hubby retired. We’re on the NE coast, near an area that is known for scrub jays but I have yet to see one. But then, I haven’t exactly visited this area more than once! Anyway, love your post and the photos! The captures of the airborne little blue heron are fabulous! I don’t see the bluebirds here much but they are around and I just got a photo of one that briefly visited our feeders.

    • Your post came across as “anonymous” but we sure hope you’re able to explore your “new” home area for the fabulous bird life! It’s a great area! Thank you for visiting with us!

  3. All those places sound like they are definitely worth a second look – or maybe more! The series of the Little Blue Heron landing is really great. The colors on the Scrub Jay are very beautiful.

    • Thanks, Mick! I’m trying to schedule sort of regular trips to these spots to keep up with what’s going on with the birds there. So many birds, so little time!

  4. Congratulations on your retirement, Wally. It seems that you’re putting it to excellent use already. Just a warning – you may have heard retired people say that they don’t know how they ever found the time to do a job of work, as they’re always so busy now. I’m sorry to say that it’s true. I have my own theories as to why it is, and some of them can be a bit depressing. However, the bulk of them are good, and it’s mainly to do with doing what you want to do when you want to do it.

    A great post – again!

    • I’m already realizing what you’re talking about, Richard! So much to do, so little time! No worries, though, Gini helps keep the priorities straight!

  5. Wally, once again, stellar shots!! I love the one of the little blue with the green reeds behind him. So many great ones here. Now, as for retired, I am semi-retired, but don’t consider myself old. No one is old until they can’t get out of bed or do fun things. Your life is just beginning! Thank you for sharing your birding experiences and photos–I always learn and feel inspired whenever I come here.

  6. What beautiful spaces and critters! What a sweet scrub jay… I do hope they’re doing well in your area.

    • So many place, so many creatures, so little time! The Scrub Jays seem to be doing well, overall, in the state. Now if we can just get us humans to resist feeding them and let them forage naturally!

  7. Great set of pictures – I really like the R-H Woodpecker – just shows you don’t need to see the whole bird to get a great image.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thanks, Stewart. I waited on the woodpecker to work his way around that pole, which, of course, he never did!

      Did I mention how upset I am about you …. never mind…. 🙂 🙂

  8. Hi Wally, I really enjoyed your highlights of all these great places! You beautifully captured the great scenery and diverse species of each place! Very nice to know of these interesting spots! Hope you continue to fill your time fun-filled adventures with Gini:)

  9. You’ve got some wonderful shots here! Thank you for the info links!

  10. Awesome post. I am looking forward to retiring so I can go birding more often! Awesome birds and photos. I love the Scrub Jay!

  11. I fully agree with your barber although she mifght not have yet the slightest idea of what it truly implies when one begins to realize that retirement time has come!
    We are retired from parrot breeding, and although I miss my birds (and friends!) I must admit we regained much freedom… and that is all good for birding… and much more, LOL!!
    What an amazing series of photographies, especially the Little Blue Heron in flight!
    You are really blessed with all the species!
    Congratulation Wally, enjoy your sunday!

    • Thank you for helping make my Sunday better, Noushka, with such nice comments! We agree about gaining freedom for birding and especially the “much, much more” part!

  12. I often own up to being retired Wally – rather like a Badge of Honour. And lots of people are jealous of the free time rather than being a slave to work. I often don’t own up to being a birder though – too many silly questions or even sillier “nudge, nudge” jokes.

    All these places you have to bird in, I’m sure I’d find time to visit them all in my dotage. Love your heron shots today.

    Those Little Blues look absolutely superb and very photogenic as you prove.

    Look out for those alligators – us old folk can’t move as fast as we used to. Don’t give them an easy meal now.

    • I appreciate the complimentary remarks on the photos, Phil! I fully plan on using my dotage to excuse my heretofore unacceptable social behavior! No problem with those alligators. I either use a l-o-n-g telephoto lens or take someone with me who is a slower runner. 🙂

  13. I’ve given up waiting for the perfect conditions to watch and photograph birds. We’ve only had one weekend this year that wasn’t cold, rainy, overcast, or all of the above. Congratulations on retirement. The next 30 years are all yours.

    • Hope your weather improves, Jennifer! You’re right, can’t wait for perfect conditions or we’d never go anywhere. Thank you!

  14. Hello Wally, great photographs as always. I love the bluebirds on top of the alligator sign, too cute. It’s been awhile since I stopped by and blogged but it’s always nice to come back and see your post. I do feel the same way about the outdoors whether me and hubby see many species of birds or not.

    • Hey, Shey! Happy to see you dropping in! Hope all is well in the Lone Star state for you! Yes, just being outdoors together is what it’s all about!

  15. Wonderful places. Would love to visit them …. my list of Florida places keeps growing. You must look very young for a retired guy — there are so many of us old (people) in Florida that I think most people assume you are retired if you look over 60. Obviously you don’t! (Must be all that good exercise birding etc…..)

  16. Hi Wally what a wonderful informative post and fantastic photos to illustrate it. You certainly would not have time to work now!!!! Being retired does NOT mean you are old. Your spirit NEVER ages and that is what keeps us young.

  17. They sound like great places for bird photography. You certainly have a wonderful group of images in this post. That Scrub Jay is particularly handsome.
    Congratulations on your retirement!

  18. Wally, you’re a retired and active super-senior, just like me! Your birding expeditions with Ginny sound like a fabulous escape. Love that Florida Scrub Jay and to score a photo with banding too; what a buzz! Did you report it? Will just the band colours be enough? I also enjoyed seeing the Eastern Towhee; what a thriller! Wait till you get to the barber again and tell her all; I hope she’ll be impressed.

    • Yep, we’re trying to make that “escape” thing a permanent pursuit! Thank you for the nice comments, Carole! The banded Scrub Jay is well known to the local biologists and is a member of a seven-bird family in that area.

  19. Wow! You’ve been busy. So many great places I will need to add to my list. All beautiful shots.

  20. well, i consider myself ‘temporarily retired’ but i’m probably going to have to return to work one of these years. 🙂

    love the little blue! would love to see one in person some day. maybe when i ‘retire’. 😉

    • Truth be told, I have a feeling there will be all the “work” I could want waiting for me – all that house stuff I’ve been putting off for years! In the meantime, there are birds to be watched!

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