It can be tough living in central Florida. For one thing, we are prone to being in physically poor condition as we have no snow to shovel during the winter and it’s too hot and humid in summer to engage in strenuous outdoor activities. Nature provides us with only two seasons here: “green” and “brown”. We are forced to contend with water all around us containing salt. The spaces between our toes gather excessive amounts of sand as we linger along our coasts attempting to acquire a fish or group of crustaceans for a meager dinner – broiled over driftwood coals – sprinkled with lemon juice – accompanied by boiled red potatoes and freshly husked corn. Yes, it’s tough being a Floridian.
Even our wild creatures aren’t sure how to behave. It’s late summer and some birds are still singing in hopes of attracting a mate. Insects continue to be prolific and seem to be buzzing about in greater numbers than ever. Other birds are forming pre-migration assemblies in preparation for their southward journey to spend the winter in South America. Winter! (That would be “brown” in Florida-speak.)
Just before we took a hastily planned trip to Texas a couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to visit one of our favorite venues: Hardee Lakes Park. Two reasons for our affection of this locale: diversity of habitat (and therefore birdlife) and the fact that not many folks visit the place (shhh! don’t tell them!).
The park is a little over an hour to our south and opens at 7:00 so we got an early start. Gini and I love being out at this time of day. The darkness gently gives way to an almost imperceptible increase in light. One almost doesn’t notice the change. By the time we entered the park the sun was elbowing its way above the trees at the far eastern side of the first of the park’s four lakes. We hear the loud, clear call of a male Northern Bobwhite, incessantly repeating the whistle of his namesake, “Bob WHITE”. We located him perched on a fence post, his head thrown back, eyes closed, beak wide open, letting the world know he is awake and ready for what this day shall offer. So were we.
We proceeded with our exploration and reveled in Mother Nature’s delights. A Red-bellied Woodpecker landed at the entrance to her nest cavity with a huge caterpillar for her babies’ breakfast. I found an intact bird’s nest which had fallen to the ground and marveled at the intricate construction which had served so well to raise a new family this past spring. Noisy Common Gallinules fed along the shore and Anhingas swam in the shallows spearing small fish, then perched on low tree limbs with wings extended to dry before the next foray. As the morning air evaporated the previous night’s dew, insects began to hover above the ground and soon filled the sky with color and motion. A group of three dozen Northern-rough Winged Swallows hawked the ever more active bugs as they need to store a lot of fuel in preparation for their upcoming migration. A Great Egret squawked his displeasure at my presence on “his” lake shore. The deep bellow of a male alligator nearby reminded me to watch my step.
After a bit of fruit and cool water, we bid the park farewell until the next time and headed a bit further south. I recalled a spot from last fall where we had seen several Swallow-tailed Kites soaring together. These marvelous raptors gather in late summer and gorge on insects before migrating to South America in large groups. Luck was with us and we found a recently harvested melon field with kites busily grabbing dragonflies near the ground. We counted at least 28 kites working the field but that may be a low estimate as the action was so fast we were concerned about double-counting. Just to the north of where we live, birders have encountered similar groups of kites numbering near 300.
A quail singing his “spring” song, raptors and swallows grouping up for “winter” migration, insects just not seeming to care – any season is a good one to be able to enjoy such things!
A male Northern Bobwhite sings his heart out in the early morning. Not the best photo as it was taken at quite a distance and cropped.
The Blue Dasher shows off his yellow and black racing stripe body and amazing eye structure.
It wouldn’t be Florida without an Osprey!
Subdued orange of the Needham’s Skimmer can change to a brilliant red in some males.
North America’s smallest dragonfly is the Eastern Amberwing. They are near the size of a large wasp and have adopted the wasp’s flying style to help avoid being eaten by predators.
A very dark dragonfly, the male Four-spotted Pennant is quite aggressive and will attack anything trespassing within his space.
Northern Rough-winged Swallows spend much of their time in groups to help provide safety from potential enemies. A couple of them were curious whether I might be a bad guy.
As I neared the shore of one of the lakes, this Great Egret took flight and spent the next five minutes yelling at me. About the same time, a deep bellowing from a male alligator in the reeds nearby indicated I might be too close to his personal space. I took both warnings as a sign it was time to move along.
I chased this Common Buckeye for hours and hours (okay, about six minutes – but it seemed longer) to get a picture. He would land, I would lay prone in the grass, focus the camera, he would take off. This act was repeated until I almost gave up due to physical exhaustion – mine, not his.
A bright green Katydid stands out on a light-colored background. Once in the grass or bush with green leaves, however, and it’s a challenge to find her!
Here are a few images of the Swallow-tailed Kites we discovered. Their aerobatic prowess was a joy to watch! They would swoop low over the field, grasp a dragonfly in a talon and then munch it on the fly. Great entertainment!
If you observe confusing critter behavior in your local area, don’t worry too much about it. Just make a note of what you see and check the calendar. It may be later than you think!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Hardee Lakes Park (NOTE: Park is currently only open Friday-Monday.)