Listen …

“Do you hear that?”

“What?”, Gini asked.

“Exactly!”

This may not be what Simon and Garfunkel had in mind when they composed one of my favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”, but I was certainly enjoying this particular melody. Standing in the middle of the road with eyes closed, there was no traffic noise, no wailing of emergency vehicle sirens, no incessant barking of a neighbor’s dog, no electric click as the air conditioner activated, no telephone ringing, no television talking head giving me bad news – no sound of “civilization” whatsoever.

Cicadas. The cry of a Red-shouldered Hawk. From my old Roger Tory Peterson “A Field Guide To The Birds”: “…a buzzy trill or rattle that climbs the scale and trips over at the top: zeeeeeeeee-up“, describing the song of a Northern Parula Warbler. The clear, pure sound etched in my dream world of childhood which even now causes my lips to reflexively purse and give a reply: “Bob-WHITE“.

Gini and I seem to have solidified our opinion that this is our newest favorite place. The Avon Park Air Force Range. Not a very appealing moniker. I don’t care what it’s named, this area of south-central Florida consists of 106,000 acres (42, 897 hectares) of wilderness to explore. We have been there three times and seldom encountered any other visitors. We have encountered lush growths of flowers, extensive pine forests, hardwood hammocks, a lake, a river, wetlands, vast grass prairies, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and rare endangered species. (If you plan to visit, check the link below and be sure to call the number listed FIRST for a recorded message on possible range closures. The area is only open to visitors Thursday at noon through Monday.)

Although we have entered the wet season here and have had periods of heavy rain, the couple of weeks prior to our visit were dry and made for dusty driving on the unimproved roads. By the way, be sure to get a map of the area from the very kind folks at the Outdoor Recreation Office (where you must check in anyway), and when the little map symbol indicates “Four-Wheel Drive Recommended”, change that last word to “Or Else”. There are some “challenging” driving opportunities! The recent rains produced a bumper crop of flora for us to enjoy.

We hope you’ll come along for the ride as we show you a very small bit of what this vast area has to offer.

 

This native Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) has quite a “rusty” plumage. My understanding is this is due to feeding in iron-rich soils. Normally, the bird is more gray overall.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Brown Anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas but were first reported in Florida as early as the late 1880’s. There has been concern they may be causing declines of the native Green Anole.

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

 

Male Eastern Pondhawks are powdery blue when mature and adult females are jade green. Immature males of this species begin adult life the same color as females and in about a week begin changing to blue. The process takes two-three weeks and those in transition sport both colors.

Eastern Pondhawk - Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk - Immature Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Immature Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Along the southern boundary of the Air Force Range is beautiful Lake Arbuckle. There is little development around the lake and the fishing is reportedly quite good.

Lake Arbuckle

Lake Arbuckle

 

The Largeflower Primrosewillow is abundant in wet areas.

Largeflower Primrosewillow (Ludwigia grandiflora)

Largeflower Primrosewillow (Ludwigia grandiflora)

 

Patches of Yellow Milkwort brightened up several areas of the forest and roadside. Also known by locals as Batchelor’s Buttons, this beauty is endemic to Florida.

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)

 

Bugs beware! The attractive Hooded Pitcher Plant is the final resting place for many insects as they become trapped in the plant and are digested.

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

 

The Cloudless Sulphur does a pretty good imitation of a leaf as it collects nectar from a Buttonbush bloom.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

 

Small white flowers extend above the fairly large pointed leaves of a Grassy Arrowhead plant found in very wet places.

Grassy Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea)

Grassy Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea)

 

Even more color variety is provided by the Largeflower Rosegentian. We came across large sections covered in these delicate pink blooms.

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers left cattle they had brought from Europe in several areas of Florida. These hardy animals became wild, flourished and were eventually raised by Florida’s cowboys, called “Crackers” due to the cracking sound made by their long whips used to herd the cattle. This unique species is known as “Cracker” or “Florida” Cattle.

Cracker Cattle

Cracker Cattle

 

Cracker Cattle

Cracker Cattle

 

A Great Crested Flycatcher was not happy with our presence since he and the Missus were building a nest nearby.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

The Florida Scrub Jay has been endangered for several years due to habitat loss throughout its former range. Scientists have kept close watch over the jay families calling the Air Force Range their home and these birds have been doing quite well. (All the Scrub Jays here have been banded (ringed) and are routinely examined for health status.)

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

 

A Pale Meadowbeauty doesn’t seem all that pale as the bright purple and yellow was obvious from a great distance.

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Black-eyed Susans seemed to be alongside almost every road in some places. Which was just fine with us!

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

This petite damselfly is a Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) and has several different geographically specific variations. Our Florida version has an all black abdomen (except for the tip) and is also called a “Black Dancer”.

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

The leaflets of the Sensitive Brier will actually fold up toward each other when disturbed to expose the stem’s briers. The flower is kinda pretty, too!

Sensitive Brier (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata)

Sensitive Brier (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata)

 

In the late spring and early summer, the plains of central and south Florida exude a perfume no chemist can duplicate. The blooming Saw Palmetto produces a subtly sweet fragrance that, thankfully, can only be experienced if you are outside in the fresh air.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

 

Diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatches breed in this area. You know they’re around when the tops of pine trees sound like a convention of “rubber duckies” as that’s what their squeaky calls sound like. These are pugnacious little birds and will challenge anything intruding on their territory.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

 

In addition to a variety of birds, the pine scrub habitat is attractive to all manner of animal life, including white-tailed deer, wild (feral) hogs, both Eastern Gray and endangered Sherman’s Fox Squirrels, bobcat, bear, fox and occasional birders.

Pine Scrub

Pine Scrub

 

Fittingly, as we were leaving the area for the day, a pair of Northern Bobwhite crossed the road in front of us, hopefully on their way to produce more of this handsome species.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

As we pulled onto the main highway, it was good to be heading home to rest in our familiar, “civilized” surroundings. We shall be returning soon, though, to once again experience a very special place where we know we can listen to our own “Sound of Silence”.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Resources

Avon Park Air Force Range

 

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

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

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30 thoughts on “Listen …

  1. Excellent!!! You had me with the “Sounds of Silence”….to have such a place to stand in the middle of the road, eyes closed and listen to the silence and the songs of nature….I’m there with you Wally!!

    Incredible post…beautiful images, I liked ’em all…Of course all the birds, but the dragonflies and the butterfly on the button bush…all so inviting.

  2. Sorry I missed commenting on this before. I like your description and photos of a “silent” place. I wonder if all birders enjoy such places? I can’t imagine ever wanting to search for birds with a crowd around me!
    Thanks for your kind wishes for my MD.

    • I’m with you, Mick! Rather be out in the bush with no birds than downtown with rare species all around. Take care.

  3. What a lovely picture of the lake. And I really like those waves of pink blossoms, reflecting in the water, too. Lots of wonderful creatures.

  4. That looks (and sounds) like a wonderful place ….would love to spend some time there, but with no 4-W drive, I guess it is one place you mention that I won’t put on my ‘must visit’ list for a future season in FL. Fascinated with the brown sandhill, because a few days ago we saw a whole “flock” of them that color here on the Kenai Peninsula. I thought either maybe breeding plumage or some odd Alaskan strain and it was on my list to look up as soon as we got a decent internet connection. Which we just did. Also interesting is that the FlyTrap plant grows in one particular place along the Oregon coast. I have never seen it anywhere else, so it was fun to know it grows in FL too.

    • Sallie, there are miles of good roads (gravel mostly) throughout the range area. I just wanted to emphasize that on the map, there are many roads marked “4WD Recommended” and shouldn’t be attempted without the right vehicle. By all means, visit if you get a chance. A picnic under a shady oak on the bank of the Kissimmee River is worth the trip all by itself!

  5. loved to see the sandhill crane. 🙂

  6. I thought you would be a “silence” man Wally. Sometimes it pays to keep quiet – ask Gini.
    I’m all for seeing occasional birders too. There are far too many of them in our crowded isle.

    Yes, that crane does look a rather weird colour and so interesting how that can come about.
    Not sure I would want to come face to face with a “Cracker” though. It looks like another Florida birding hazard to add to the danger out there in the great unknown.

    You showed some fine dragonfly specimens, and all so colourful and you seem to have a handle on IDing them.

    Have a great weekend Wally.

    • Thank you, Phil! I’ll try to get “comparison” photos of Sandhill Crane plumage variations. I’ve been chasing Dragons a bit more recently and the identification is a challenge.

      (You do realize all these “hazards” I write about are simply to scare away the curious onlookers? We don’t really have any big alligators, poisonous snakes, biting spiders, stinging wasps, cattle with huge sharp horns……) 🙂

  7. As always, Wally, I’ve enjoyed your inspirational writing as much as I’ve enjoyed your superb images. However, you’ll have your work cut out to surpass this excellent post with the quality and variety of images that it holds! Thank you for enriching my day.

    • Again, you are MUCH too kind, Richard! Thank you. It’s great fun exploring an area as diverse and expansive as this one.

  8. Delightful photos!

  9. Hello Wally,
    What an interesting place this is!
    I would love to spend hours on end in such a paradise!
    The Variable Dancer and the pondhawk are a must to me, these species don’t occur in Europe. Amazing to see the maturing individual of the latter and its change of colors!
    Enjoy your WE!

    • Merci, Noushka! I have been inspired in part by your wonderfully superb photographs of Odonata and have been trying to pay attention to the dragons and damsels around me. How do you get them to pose so nicely?? 🙂

  10. I have been looking at your photos for a while now and it just keeps getting better and better. These are really exceptional images.

    • What nice things you say, sir! Thank you so much, Charlie! I must confess, I’m having a lot of fun obtaining the images. Hopefully, I’ll continue to improve on that quality thing.

  11. Beautiful pictures. I didn’t realize you could visit there. I thought it was just a bombing range. Looks like a really great place. Is too hot to go now or should I wait until Fall?

    • Dina, only a relatively small portion of the area is used for live bombing, however, there are larger areas used by various military groups for training. That’s why it’s important to call their 800 number before visiting as they can close down access any time. If you are not comfortable with central Florida’s heat and humidity, wait for cooler weather!

  12. Marvelous group of flora and fauna images from your new favorite place. So wonderful to escape the noise of civilization. Lake Arbuckle looks so beautiful!

    • Pat, thank you very much for the generous comments! It is a very pretty lake and the “escape factor” will bring us back to this area often.

  13. I am always impressed with your extensive knowledge of flora and fauna. What a great place to go and escape from the noise of city life…especially those talking heads. lol Your photos are brilliant as always and your excitement about wildlife is inspiring. I think I’ll go off and play today!

  14. p.s. i think i need about a thousand of those pitcher plants, here. 🙂

  15. i like your new favorite place, too! 🙂 thanks for the beauty. loved the cattle – a lot like our longhorns. loved the bobwhite, too.

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