Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a young man and his family began a journey that would return them to their native home. It had been over a thousand days and a thousand nights since they had last seen their homeland. Their excitement could not be contained and as they glimpsed the place they had missed so much, tears of joy welled in their eyes. Over the next few days and weeks, there was a lot of catching up to be done. Renewing acquaintances with the once familiar. Round door knobs, toilets with handles instead of overhead chains, pizza, blue sky, sandals, unreliable public transportation. It was good to be home!
Fast-forward several hundred years. Birders are weird. Some of us are quite content to enjoy the view from the kitchen window of regular visitors to our garden feeders and bird bath. Others of us prefer the challenge of the chase, spending the equivalent of a small nation’s gross national product each year to answer rare bird alerts from Antarctica to Zanzibar. The vast majority of us fit somewhere in between these two extremes. We do. As much as we enjoy watching “yard birds”, we love exploring and finding birds in interesting new places or seeing new species or ones we see infrequently. As for the chasing around the world thing, we’re not much for that lifestyle (i.e., we’re poor!).
No matter how far afield we go or what exotic species we may have just checked off our list, it’s always a sheer joy to see the birds with which we are most familiar. It’s comfortable. The eminent birder, ringer and blogger, Phil S., recently opined: “… it’s the same old species which provide the buzz of birding, knowing and appreciating a regular patch.” (If you haven’t visited Phil’s blog, well, why not?? Go here: Another Bird Blog. Do it now. I’ll wait.)
It’s that element of familiarity, with a known place populated with known species, that continually draws us to it as surely as steel to a magnet. It gives us that “buzz” which Phil mentioned. We relish seeing a “wild” Mockingbird just as much as his suburban counterpart who nests in our yard. A bright red Cardinal and his piercing whistle are immediately recognized in the scrub oak tree we drove three hours to get to just as is the sight and call of the father of our neighborhood Cardinal family. Sure, we love finding new birds or migrants or rarities. A day spent with birds we know well, however, is just – comfortable.
Although too far away to be called our “patch”, we find ourselves regularly pulled in the direction of Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. (See, Additional Information below.) Consisting of nearly 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) and located on the eastern side of Lake Kissimmee in Osceola County, this vast area consists primarily of dry prairie, cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, pineland and scrub. The diversity of flora and fauna is truly incredible. Our latest trip there was like visiting the home of an old friend. We encountered familiar birds and animals within a familiar environment. And we rejoiced.
A distinctive black mask identifies the Common Yellowthroat male while his mate is more subdued in color but still sports the yellow throat for which the species was named.
Florida’s state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. Here he looks rather “stately” as he keeps a wary eye on us until we leave his domain.
Native Green Tree Frogs have had a tough time holding their own against the invading horde of Cuban Tree Frogs. Once very common, these small amphibians are now quite scarce. This one was either napping or praying we wouldn’t spot him. These little guys are typically from 1-2.5 inches (2.5-6.4 cm) long.
Narrowleaf sunflowers were on display just about everywhere that day.
This is not a good photograph, but I had never seen this insect before. It flew into the truck and landed for a moment on the ceiling. Turns out it’s a Katydid Wasp and it’s clutching, yep, a Katydid.
We drove past what I thought was a long green palmetto leaf but it didn’t look right. Turns out it was a Florida Rough Green Snake. I estimated its length at about 30 inches (76.2 cm). It didn’t move as I lay prone in the middle of the road a few feet away. One of its defensive mechanisms is to “freeze”. Of course, this fellow forgot that technique works best for him in the green canopy of a tree, not on the stark white of a sand road!
A native Florida Box Turtle is quite handsome despite some serious wear and tear to its outer shell.
AS SEEN ON TELEVISION!! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. The highlight of the trip was Gini spotting this Dung Beetle rolling its package across the road. I have only seen this on television documentaries. Who knew Florida had Dung Beetles?? I found it fascinating the bug uses its rear legs to do the rolling while it walks on its forelegs. I couldn’t figure out if the two flies on the beetle’s back were drivers, supervisors or government contractors.
Occasional patches of Pale Meadowbeauty certainly brightened the prairie!
A curious White-eyed Vireo alternately sang and gave his alarm call. Guess he couldn’t make up his mind whether we were friend or foe.
Shortleaf Rosegentian offered yet another color dimension to Nature’s incredible display.
A small butterfly, the Whirlabout, perches atop a slim stalk of Blazing Star.
Even more purple. This Cloudless Sulphur apparently likes the nectar from a Mexican Petunia.
We even found dragons. A Carolina Saddlebags hangs on to a stalk of grass.
I was almost on top of this Killdeer before he moved slightly and I saw him. Amazing camouflage provided by the subtle plumage matched the surrounding rocks.
Obligatory alligator photograph. State law. Can’t be helped. Move along.
Butcher Bird. The Loggerhead Shrike feeds mainly on insects which she will impale on a thorn, branch or barb of fence wire. This makes it easier for them to eat. They have been known to cache several insects for later consumption.
As we left the area, one more familiar face bade us farewell. The lovely countenance of the Black Vulture with those chocolate brown eyes. One could almost discern a tear forming in his eye as we drove into the sunset.
Our day was full of familiar sights, sounds and experiences. We will return. Again and again. If, at the end of the day, you find your checklist has only the same old species with a mark beside it – rejoice! You have discovered the buzz of birding!
We hope you 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.)