A Charming Season

“One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.”

Daniel Boone (American Woodsman, 1734-1820)

 

“Let’s visit Punta Gorda”, said I. My wonderfully astute spouse agreed immediately. A part of her exists within my soul and she knows my thoughts before I even create them. In this case, she fully realized that what I actually said was “Let’s go get some fresh seafood and sit by that little lake with the scent of pine trees around us while we enjoy life.”

Founded in 1884, Punta Gorda (Spanish for “Fat Point”) juts into Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Like many port cities it has had a colorful history. The downtown area was severely damaged by fire in 1905. This resulted in a decree that all future buildings must be of brick or concrete. In 2004, the city was ravaged by Hurricane Charley and many historic landmarks, homes and structures were destroyed. The city has been revitalized and strolling around the cobblestone center of this sparsely populated port town is a relaxing endeavor. Shipping was a major factor in early settlement and in 1886 the Florida Southern Railroad began regular passenger service. My personal favorite, however, is the success of the local fishermen who netted mullet, Spanish mackerel and channel bass (redfish) once a local business developed a method (in 1891) to preserve and process the abundant harvest. How can I NOT like a company called “The Consolidated Ice Manufacturing, Refrigeration and Fish Company”?

Just outside the city limits is the Peace River Seafood and Crab Shack. It’s a small former “Cracker” cabin run by a fellow who has been a Florida crabber most of his life. The seafood is fresh, the menu interesting, the service friendly and they also have a market on site if you want to take home fresh seafood and fix it yourself.

No, we didn’t make the trip just for the food, although it would be worth the two hour drive to do so. Our birding destination (you were wondering if we had abandoned our purpose in life, weren’t you?) was the vast Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. Consisting of almost 66,000 acres, this is one of the last undeveloped expanses of hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. There is a small lake and ponds which have been stocked for fishermen. Seasonal hunting is allowed so check schedules and accessibility before you visit (see the link in Additional Information below). The pine woods here are interspersed with large areas of wet prairie and the wildflower display in spring and summer is stunning.

Following a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and huge, succulent shrimp, we explored the “unimproved” roads and managed to list 45 species of birds. In the right season and with a bit of luck, it’s very possible to see seven species of woodpecker, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which nests here. We observed four species on today’s trip. Other highlights for us were hearing Northern Bobwhite calling wherever we went, migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Bluebirds, a wetland containing 15 Little Blue Heron, 8 Great Egret, 6 Snowy Egret, 5 Anhinga, 5 Great Blue Heron, 7 Tricolored Heron, 2 Belted Kingfisher and a 10-foot alligator who swam over to say hello. An afternoon thunderstorm provided some interesting clouds over Lake Webb at sunset as we headed home. It was a good day.

BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!

Sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Some readers may have noticed our birding adventure above began after lunch. Oho, you’re thinking, they slept in today those lazy birders! Au Contraire, mes amis!

We seldom use the “main road” to go anywhere. Today was no different. Along a wonderfully vacant backroad we enjoyed field after field of serenading Eastern Meadowlarks. They just didn’t care that it was Autumn and we were the better for it. In a pasture, it appeared that a pair of Crested Caracara parents were instructing their youngster on proper hunting technique. The adults would perch next to Junior in the field where there appeared to be a recent kill (although they readily eat carrion, also). One of the adults would hop toward the prey, Junior would follow, the parents would fly to a nearby perch, Junior would cry. And cry. And cry. An adult would fly back, hop toward the prey and return to their perch. Junior would cry, and … you get the idea (especially if you’ve been a parent). Junior eventually seemed to eat a bit and then flew to a perch of his own, where I snapped his portrait. It’ll be about two years before he fully develops the handsome appearance of an adult. By the side of this same road we found our “first of the fall season” migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee.

A short detour led us to a local community park (Brownville Park) along the Peace River near Arcadia in DeSoto County. It’s a small park with a couple of nature trails and we had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long but still managed to tally two dozen species which included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an Ovenbird, three Vireo species and a marauding gang of Wrens, two of which visited Gini while she was in the car – one perched on the rear view mirror and the other hopped onto my pack in the back seat.

Lunch time. (See all the stuff above.)

Yep, I took a few photographs.

 

“Junior”. Typical youngster – feathers out of place, dirty face, constantly whining. It won’t be long before he’ll be a fine example of a grown-up Crested Caracara.

Crested Caracara - Immature

Crested Caracara – Immature

 

Our first Eastern Wood-Pewee of the fall season. The light underside, olive upper side, wing bars and orangish lower mandible help identify the species.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

 

A view of the Peace River from Brownville Park. This has been a wet year and the water level is higher than normal.

Peace River

Peace River

 

At Brownville Park, a Walnut Sphinx moth posed on the screen of the restroom door. Happily, I was not arrested while obtaining a photo.

Walnut Sphinx  (Amorpha juglandis)

Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis)

 

The ubiquitous Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

A Red-eyed Vireo paused to look at me then continued snatching bugs from branches.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

 

I was surprised to be buzzed by a pugnacious Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She perched on a limb and preened for a minute. I didn’t think they ever landed!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Female

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Female

 

One of a half-dozen Northern Parula warblers we found in Brownville Park. I love their subtle color combinations.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area offers a vast area of pine flatwoods and grass prairie which hosts abundant and diverse wildlife.

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tucker's Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Webb Lake

Webb Lake

 

While we ate lunch alongside Webb Lake, this Green Anole scurried around catching insects. Here he’s resting on the trunk of a Scrub Palmetto which has recently been burned and is just beginning to show new growth.  (Green Anoles can change their appearance somewhat to match their surroundings, thus, the brown color of this one.)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

 

Molting is revolting. Just ask this Eastern Towhee, who can’t wait to get his new feathers.

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

 

Looking like a disgruntled old man (hey, I resemble that remark!), a Green Heron uses his lookout perch to search for a careless frog.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

This fine reptile specimen was totally hidden in the grass. Well, as much as a ten-foot scaly remnant of the dinosaur age can hide. When I exited the truck to get some tourist photos, he slid into the water and swam in a very straight line toward the photographer, who wasted no time in re-entering the truck and starting the engine.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

A Snowy Egret all decked out in his finest bright yellow footwear.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

The Sandhill Crane is elegant and this one has the rusty plumage indicative of a mineral rich diet.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Belted Kingfishers don’t hesitate to voice their displeasure when a stumbling human encroaches on their hunting territory.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

 

All in all, a long, wonderful day. Returning home, I discovered that, “every gloomy and vexatious thought” had, indeed, been expelled. This is, truly, a charming season.

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

Additional Information

Babcock-Webb WMA

Brownville Park

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

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28 thoughts on “A Charming Season

  1. At first pass, I misread your alligator size as 100-ft! LOL Lovely landscape photos! That’s a cute little warbler, but I think I say that every time you post one.

  2. HI wally I am trying to catch up with your posts and I know I am going backwards!!! Yet again a marvellous post both the text and photography. Like you and Gini, I love using the smaller roads with much less traffic and you never know just what you will find there. Love the 4 shots at Tucker’s Grade. It looks so beautiful. Never seen a young Crested Caracara so that was special for me. Great shots of all the small birds in the post and and I love the Egret and the Sandhill Crane. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. I always think i am coming along with you both.

    • It’s those back roads that seem to offer wonderful surprises, as you say, since you never know what’s around the next bend! You are always welcome to come along with us! We always pack an extra sandwich just in case.

      🙂

  3. I may have made two comments here as I clicked it twice, sorry. Loved all the birds, the heron, the sandhill, and the egret. Thanks so much for visiting my blog after my long absence.

  4. Anonymous

    So lovely to see your blog with all these birds, I love the egret and the heron and sandhill cranes…and all the rest…great photos as always. Thanks so much for visiting my blog after my long absence with leukemia.

    • Hi, Nora! It’s so good to see you back online! Your images and descriptions of your beautiful Northwest home have been missed. We look forward to more!

  5. Boy, would I like to kayak on Peace River. Your wildlife photos are so incredibly beautiful, and with your excellent commentary, really come to life. I saw the Parula for the first time this year. Gorgeous birds. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

    • Thank you very much, Gail! It’s a beautiful river to kayak and you could go all the way to Gulf of Mexico if you wanted! Gini and I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas as well!

  6. What a great read this was! As I prepare to head out and join my bird club group, I can already anticipate another great birding day and that, my friend, doesn’t get any better….except perhaps some fine, fresh seafood…..yum.

    • We hope your outing today is full of wonderful sightings! You live in a terrific area along the southwest Gulf Coast. Thank you so much for stopping by to visit and make such nice comments!

  7. Your wonderfully entertaining account of your day out has really captured my imagination, Wally. It sounds perfect – great weather, great food, great wildlife, great scenery – and great photography!!

    The young Caracara is delightful, and the Green Heron got me chuckling too!

    I’d not heard of an Ovenbird, and had visions of a trussed-up bird like a British oven-ready chicken. I was quite surprised to find, in the Sibley guide, that it has a (very) vague resemblance to our Goldcrest – on steroids!! (the Goldcrest is only about 3.5 inches long).

    I’m now finding that I can be quite brave about Alligators – as long as they’re in someone else’s photos!

    Best wishes from UK – – Richard

    • Richard, thank you so much for your always kind comments! It’s a wonderful place to explore and one of our favorite spots to visit. Fresh seafood just happens to be a bonus attraction!

      Hope your new week is off to a birdy start!

  8. Hello Wally

    I am impressed by your latest find of 66,000 wide open spaces of birding, especially where there are unimproved roads to escape the concrete world.

    I can see why Junior needs a little encouragement – he’s barely out of nappies (as we call them).

    And yes that Green Heron has the look of a bored bird watcher waiting for something to show but to then spring into action, a bit like me too on a dreary winter’s day. But I was somewhat disappointed at your reaction to the harmless looking reptile which made towards you as I doubt there are many animals in Florida to harm anyone.

    I can only envy the huge succulent shrimps you devoured – here our “shrimps” are minute and I envisage you tucking into something more akin to a small lobster? Look out for those claws – very dangerous.

    You finished on a couple of really nice egret and crane shots there my friend. Have a sunny weekend, I am sure you will

    • It’s a good thing, Phil, to be able to stand still in the woods and hear no traffic or human-made sounds. Of course, you are correct about the alligator’s intentions. In my heart I know he was only curious and friendly. On the other hand, that little voice in my head kept reminding of times past when a ‘gator would swim towards me and disappear under the water only to reappear within my “personal space”. Alas, discretion is still the better part of valor. Fortunately, our shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico have no ominous-looking claws. Only pink deliciousness.

      Take care and I hope you have just a small amount of the sunshine we are enjoying today!

  9. Hello Wally!
    That was really a fine idea to go stroll in Punta Gorda.
    It looks like a pristine place where wildlife is free from human pressure.
    Quite an array of critters, I love that young Caracara looking so scruffy!
    Tucker’s Grade seems a great place to find dragonflies! 😉

  10. Wonderful commentary and the pictures are superb! I particular chuckled over “molting is revolting!”

  11. Interesting commentary, beautiful birds, great scenery – – nothing more to wish for! I especially liked the different views of Tucker’s Grade.

  12. Your photo album is such fun and so interesting; I really appreciate that you took time to post your pictures and share them.

  13. Florice

    My favorite was the young caracara. I liked the heron too. Such sharp eyes. A Happy
    Thanksgiving to you and yours. love you all. Sis

    • Thank you, Sister! It was a good trip, wish you had been with us!

      Happy Thanksgiving to y’all, too! We’re on the way over to daughter’s house to overeat. Talk to you soon. Love you!

  14. love all your birds and critters! love the conglomerated name of that business, too (but i’d hate to have to answer their phones!) and your meal sounded yummy! 🙂

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