Confusion In The South

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.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

The Blue Dasher shows off his yellow and black racing stripe body and amazing eye structure.

Blue Dasher - Male - (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male – (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

It wouldn’t be Florida without an Osprey!

Osprey

Osprey

 

Subdued orange of the Needham’s Skimmer can change to a brilliant red in some males.

Needham's Skimmer  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

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.

Eastern Amberwing - Female (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing – Female (Perithemis tenera)

 

A very dark dragonfly, the male Four-spotted Pennant is quite aggressive and will attack anything trespassing within his space.

Four-spotted Pennant - Male -  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male – (Brachymesia gravida)

 

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.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

 

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.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

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.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

 

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!

Katydid

Katydid

 

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!

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

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!

 

Additional Information

Hardee Lakes Park (NOTE: Park is currently only open Friday-Monday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Confusion In The South

  1. You have such an amazing talent for capturing such stunning images of birds and small creatures Wally. When I savor the images on so many of your blog posts I often have this feeling like I’m flipping through the pages of National Geographic. This post is a superb example and I truly enjoyed the great article and the stunning images. I also learn so much about your vast knowledge of animals. I’ve seen a common buckeye before, for example, but what a delight for someone from Ohio (known as the home of the Buckeyes) to discover that’s what those lovely creatures are called. Thank you for another wonderful post.

    • Well, “flattered” goes way beyond what I’m feeling after reading your remarks, Richard! I’m very happy you enjoyed the words and images I managed to cobble together. As we both know, Nature is too vast and complex to be “captured” by us humans in any form. But it sure is fun playing in her yard! Thank you, my Friend!

  2. No sympathy from me Wally. Loosen your collar and tie, get those lobsters and prawns chucked on the barbecue smartish and then make the best of it even though it’s a chore.

    The Bobwhite is so interesting – I didn’t know they sat up like that. Early morning only I’m guessing? Think I’ll search out that whistle for a listen against your picture.

    Looks like we have to add Great White Egret to the list of dangerous Floridians now?
    I can only imagine seeing an Osprey so close over my head and watching a flock of Swallow-tailed Kites but your pictures sure help a lot.

    Go easy on that lemon juice and pour yourself a beer – you’ve earned it.

    • Good Morning, Phil! What’s a “tie”?? 🙂

      If you haven’t already checked it out, here’s a link to the call of the Northern Bobwhite: .

      I apologize for not including it in the post. This is a call I grew up with and is still one of my favorite sounds of the outdoors. As to putting the Great Egret on a list of dangerous creatures, that ignominious roll is already claimed by a full roster of two-legged animals.

      Gotta go now. Time to start the wood burning to flavor these huge pink shrimp fresh from the Gulf of Mexico!

  3. As always I really enjoyed your photos and your commentary, Wally. Like you I prefer times spent in early mornings in places like this – critters tend to be more active, people less so and the light can be spectacular. I was especially interested in your Eastern Amberwing, its size and its strategy for avoiding predators.

    • Ron,
      Well, it went to spam again. Not sure why.
      Thank you very much for the generous comments. It’s fun learning about all the “other” flying creatures in our world!

  4. What gorgeous images! I always love your posts, they bring me a smile. 🙂 That dragonfly portrait is marvelous; and the calling bobwhite is lovely. The kite in flight is just amazing, too. Love them all! Thanks so much for the trip….

  5. Beautiful images of those kites!

  6. Apart from the alligator, Florida sounds like my kind of place! I especially like the photos of the Kites – really spectacular plumage. If they were picking off insects then I guess they are not large birds?

    • I think you would like it here, Mick! Plenty of salt, mangroves, shorebirds, tropical forests. The Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) appears to be fairly similar to Australia’s Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris). The Swallow-tails will eat almost anything they can catch and usually feed on what’s most abundant (insects, mice, snakes, lizards, small birds). They even eat fruit during their winter vacation in South/Central America. They average 20-27 inches (50-68 cm) long with a wingspan of 3.7-4.5 feet (1.12-1.36 meter). It’s a lot of fun watching them soar!

  7. Beautiful photos. The captures of the kite in flight are wonderful.

  8. Always love your bird pictures. Great captures of the kite. You even make bugs look pretty!

  9. It’s great to have you back, Wally, even if you were away for the best of reasons!

    I just love to read your posts, and gaze at your wonderful images – a smile constantly on my face whilst I do so!

    I was amazed by your note about the Eastern Amberwing being near the size of a large wasp. That’s tiny! – unless, of course, like a lot of the things in the US of A, your wasps are ten times as big as those in the rest of the world!

    The Swallow-tailed Kite is a bird that’s heading towards the top of my list of birds to see – particularly in its hunting mode. For me, they are the stars of your post.

    • Richard, thanks so much for your way-too-kind remarks! The little Amberwing dragon averages 20-24 mm (.75-.90 inch), so it’s pretty small as dragons go. I never tire of watching the Swallow-tailed Kites. They’re built for maneuvering and don’t seem to fear anything.

      Hope your weekend is going well! All the best.

  10. Hello Wally!
    Well these photos are fantastic!
    Nevermind the distance and picture-cropping about the Northern Bobwhite, I had never seen the bird before. It is quite different from the partridges found in Europe.
    The Swallow-tailed kite is so handsome, congrats for the these photos in flight!
    And.. it is alway a special treat to discover your dragons, the Eastern Amberwing is certainly one of my favorites, I would be thrilled if it decided to invade Europe!! LOL!
    It must be quite something to watch such a small dragonfly behave like a wasp!!
    Wonderful post as usual!
    Enjoy your weekend!

  11. Butterflies and dragonflies are good at what they do: Wearing down photographers! You manage to get some fantastic photos so they must be keeping you fit. The calendar keeps reminding me it is later than I think it should be.

    • Thank goodness I am very good at procrastinating or else I’d be late doing everything! I keep hoping I’ll “become” fit with all the critter chasing. Hasn’t happened yet…

      😦

  12. If you get bored with the brown, stop by forca visit up here, we’ll have plenty of snow for everyone to shovel!

    • Thanks so much for your kind offer, Dave! I’m afraid I have to list shoveling snow under the “been there, done that, don’t wanta do it no more” column! 🙂

  13. goodness, the kites are beautiful. laughed at the exhaustive buckeye. 🙂

    sure hope your time in texas was during one of our unexpected cool-downs. presently 101 here in ne tx. yuck! dry, dry, dusty dry…

    • Thank you! We missed any “cool-downs” while in Texas. Instead, we remained in the air-conditioned comfort of the grandkids’ playroom!

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