A Little Seasoning Whets The Appetite

My eyes strained to make out shapes which should be familiar but no images were forming. I knew there was a line of trees to my right along a fence and there was water to the left. A splash, perhaps a frog moving from his hiding spot on the bank, confirmed I was correct about the water. I could barely discern the spot onto which I stepped. Lightning punctuated the inky blackness far to the south. We might have rain today but it likely wouldn’t form until the afternoon. The other-worldly calls of Limpkins began sounding from around the marsh. (Limpkin Call) Almost imperceptibly the sky shifted from nothingness to dark blue and blobs which I knew to be trees gradually materialized in the distance. As the curtain of the morning was slowly drawn back, large formations of Ibises and Egrets moved across the edge of the horizon from their roosts as they dispersed to feeding areas. Water birds were becoming active nearby and myriad Herons, Egrets and Ibises flapped just above the tops of the vegetation and settled into spots likely to hold abundant prey. Mosquitoes buzzed incessantly around my eyes, ears and mouth. A sliver of orange fire in the east punctured what remained of the night and our day was truly in progress.

It’s September in central Florida. Still very hot. Still very humid. Thunderstorms are scheduled every day by mid-afternoon and seldom disappoint. It has been a wetter than normal summer. We hope for cold fronts to form in Canada to energize migration. Soon. In the meantime, Nature teases us with a Yellow Warbler overhead, a chip from a Northern Waterthrush in the understory, a fleeting glimpse of a Blue-winged Teal quartet zipping across the sky. The season is changing. Even in our sub-tropical environment we can feel a difference in the air. We look forward to the surprise of discovery experienced twice each year which serves as a booster shot of excitement and insures we remain forever hooked to our sweet addiction.

As we progress through this life, we encounter “key” people. Those individuals who by position or force of personality cause things to happen and can be relied upon to “get things done”. When I was a manager, I was constantly on the lookout for this type of person because I knew they would be instrumental in the success of any venture. In birding, I have discovered it’s still important to identify and have access to “key” people. In this case, that would be the person with the key to the gate you’re trying to get beyond! I have found such a person. Shh! Don’t tell him the real reason I like his company.

Once the “key” person accomplished his vital role, we once again entered the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands on the southeast side of Lakeland in Polk County, Florida. It may be another year before this area is open to the public. In the meantime, that feller with the key in his pocket has been gracious enough to schedule several tours for anyone interested in experiencing some the best birding in central Florida. Drop me an email if you’re interested and I’ll get some information to you.

Our day ended before noon and we had tallied just under 70 species. Highlights for me included a Short-tailed Hawk, a Willet (common along our beaches but rare at this inland area), Gull-billed Terns and over 30 Black-necked Stilts. Add to all of that patches of blooming flowers, colorful butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, Bobcat tracks, alligators and two of the state’s most accomplished birders who see and hear subjects long before I’m aware of them – and it was a very good day indeed.

 

Sunrise. Now I could actually see how many mosquitoes were in the cloud surrounding me.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

Here’s a view of a small portion of the wetlands area. There are three “cells” of water which have been constructed in the wetlands which covers about 1,000 acres. A pump station on the south shore of Lake Hancock will pump lake water into one of these cells where specially planted vegetation will act as natural filters to clean the water. The clean water will be pumped into another of the cells for further filtration before being released into nearby Saddle Creek which feeds the Peace River and eventually the improved water will flow into the Gulf of Mexico at Charlotte Harbor. A small effort in the grand scheme of water management, but multiplied many times around our state it can make a difference.

Northeast Cell

Northeast Cell

 

A Dorantes Longtail dries out its wings after a heavy dew.

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

 

From the top of a small tree a Northern Parula sings as if Spring was here instead of Fall.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

A curious Tufted Titmouse didn’t take long to start his alarm call to let the world know where we were. “Intruder Alert!”

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

 

It’s hard to miss the Scarlet Skimmer. There were dozens of these gaudy dragons around the marsh.

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia)

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia)

 

The Gull-billed Tern makes you do a double-take. Nice slim body and wings of a tern, then you see that thick bill and it just looks odd.  The first image is a bird already in winter plumage and the second individual still retains the black cap from the breeding season.

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

 

American White Pelicans enjoy the fishing at Lake Hancock year ’round and their numbers can swell during migration to several thousand.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

A group of Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs enjoy foraging and preening in a shallow section of water.

Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs

Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Male and female Needham’s Skimmers are quite different in appearance. The male’s coloration can range from orange to almost red. Immature males are similar to the female until they become adults.

Needham's Skimmer - Male  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Male (Libellula needhami)

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami)

 

A Cattle Egret may not be the most beautiful of birds but doesn’t look half bad with his hair combed.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

Great Blue Herons are masterful fishermen and all the other birds are keenly aware of his prowess. A White Ibis hopes for a morsel.

Great Blue Heron, White Ibis

Great Blue Heron, White Ibis

 

The smallest butterfly in North America is the Southern Skipperling, one of the grass skippers. We’re fortunate that with Florida’s climate they remain here all year long.

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

 

 

If you hunger for a birding trip, check your seasoning and enjoy cooking up a great day outside! Don’t forget to locate a “key” person to assist you in overcoming the occasional locked gate life may place in your path.

 

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.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “A Little Seasoning Whets The Appetite

  1. Really good Birding Hotspot! I’d like to find out more about this place.

  2. I agree: a key holder is certainly crucial to get where you want to be! LOL!
    And if you showed him your pictures, he must have thought he did the right thing! 🙂
    Well done, a series of beauties, including the dragons!
    We also have Crothemis here but it is erythraea!
    The needham I guess is fairly common but I always live to see it on USA blogs!
    Wish I could go back to Florida for dragonflies now, instead of parrots!
    The Cattle egret is fantastic!
    Keep well Wall-E! :)))))

  3. Now in the throes of a cold snap with threat of snow here in NE Illinois, the Yellow-rumps have appeared and “the fat lady is singing” to signal the end of warbler migration, and I am ready to go back home to Florida. Have had unusually bad luck finding Limpkins this summer in their usual haunts, but maybe I will have better luck this winter. No wonder I am thrilled to accompany you into that mosquito and Limpkin-infested wetland!

    • Our first cold front of the season is arriving as I type this with tonight’s temps scheduled to be all the way down in the mid-50’s. Brrrr! We’ve been seeing dribs and drabs of migrants but I haven’t really visited the “hotspots”. Our local Limpkins appear to be expanding their range a bit as they follow the continued spread of invasive Apple Snails.
      Have a safe journey home, Ken.

  4. What a wonderful atmospheric piece and beautiful photos as always. I loved it except for the mosquitos buzzing around your face. And I thought the cattle egret looked like a splendid chap!

    • Somehow, once the first bird appears it seems I forget all about such minor nuisances as buzzing insects! Thank you so much for your very nice comments!

  5. As always, a well written post with nice images to illustrate, Wally. The color of that Scarlet Skimmer is spectacular and I loved seeing that first shot (landscape) to give me a feel for the area. I can only imagine the sounds…

  6. This place seems to be absolutely wonderful, Wally, but for one aspect. For someone, such as myself, who comes from a country where the wildlife can only inflict an irritatingly itchy bite or, occasionally, a painful (for a day or so only) sting, and at the very worst (and exceedingly rarely) a venomous snake bite – none of which will be fatal, or even particularly dangerous, to most humans – your wetlands seem to be very hazardous places indeed. In my eyes, this post of yours endows you with the charisma of an intrepid explorer!

    As always, I’ve very much enjoyed the narrative of your post, and the beautiful images. Thank you!

    • Richard, I shall look into having a special shirt manufactured with the logo “Intrepid Explorer” stitched over the pocket! Thank you for the splendid idea! 🙂

      Truth be known, as a typical birder, with head usually tilted skyward or with bins pressed to my eyes, I will be far more likely to stumble into an abandoned well than succumb to any of our lethal wildlife (most of which retreat long before we reach them)!

      Thank you so much for your kind remarks. I really enjoyed reading about your recent holiday, despite no references to dangerous encounters – well, except for that nasty-sounding traffic business!

      Hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

  7. Wish I were there! The limpkin call is other-worldly (I can only imagine so many of them). What a great place for birding — can’t wait until I hear it is open to the public. Glad you are still able to spot the ‘key person’.

  8. Beautiful description of the slowly awakening dawn and the sounds that one hears first. Your photos as always are really perfect. I especially like the photos of the Gull-billed Tern – I did not know that they were up your way as well. I see a lot of them and they do not migrate – except within Australia.

  9. Beautiful captures.

  10. 70 species? I’m impressed Wally. But not with the mosquitoes and yet another Floridian bird, animal or insect likely to kill me should I venture to your shores.

    You know I never realised you had Gull-billed Tern in Florida and if it’s the same species as I should have seen in Greece but didn’t, I am a little miffed, but happy for your picture.

    Yes, there is something slightly weird about Cattle Egrets, one minute so elegant and confiding and then the next almost ugly and uncooperative. Yours is one whole new personality – an early morning cockerel perhaps. Maybe it’s where they live makes for differing geographical personalities? If they had to live in the UK the awful weather they would have to endure would surely make them bad tempered.

    • I grew up here “wading” through flocks of Cattle Egrets to play football in a cow pasture. I tend to take them for granted but I need to stop that! Happy you made it home after suffering through all that Greek sunshine!

      It’s the weekend yet again – have a good one, Phil!

  11. Another wonderful post Wally and again, on a place I’ve never heard of even after living not far from there for many years. You are definitely one of those “key” people for birding in Central Florida. Thanks for all you do and all you share. Rick

  12. Had to laugh at the sunrise exposing the mosquitoes. Sounds like they had you covered! The Cattle Egret with “combed hair” is rather handsome. Cute little Skipperling. 🙂

    • Yeah, they’re bad enough in the dark, but when you can actually see how many there are – it can be frightening! Thank you for the nice comments, Patti!

  13. Splendid post – I often find that life gets in the way of blogging, which is a good thing when I think about it!

    Cheers Stewart M – Melbourne

  14. Amazing photos…Really loved the Scarlet Skimmer and the Blue Heron.

  15. love the cattle egret and heron with an appetite! beautiful dragons, too. that limpkin call is awesome! thanks for sharing that link. 🙂

    • Multiply that call by 2 or 3 dozen and you can imagine the noise at dawn! Thank you so much for continuing to visit with us and always having something nice to say!

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