Rejoicing In The Familiar

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.

 

Some images.

 

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.

Common Yellowthroat - Male

Common Yellowthroat – Male

 

Common Yellowthroat - Female

Common Yellowthroat – Female

 

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.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

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.

Green Tree Frog  (Hyla cinerea)

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

 

Narrowleaf sunflowers were on display just about everywhere that day.

Narrowleaf Sunflower  (Helianthus angustifolius)

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

 

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.

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

 

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!

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 

A native Florida Box Turtle is quite handsome despite some serious wear and tear to its outer shell.

Florida Box Turtle  (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

 

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.

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Occasional patches of Pale Meadowbeauty certainly brightened the prairie!

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

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.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

 

Shortleaf Rosegentian offered yet another color dimension to Nature’s incredible display.

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

 

A small butterfly, the Whirlabout, perches atop a slim stalk of Blazing Star.

Whirlabout - Male  (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

Whirlabout – Male (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

 

Even more purple. This Cloudless Sulphur apparently likes the nectar from a Mexican Petunia.

Cloudless Sulphur  (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia  (Ruellia brittoniana)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana)

 

We even found dragons. A Carolina Saddlebags hangs on to a stalk of grass.

Carolina Saddlebags - Female  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags – Female (Tramea Carolina)

 

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.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Obligatory alligator photograph. State law. Can’t be helped. Move along.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

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.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

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.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

 

 

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!

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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31 thoughts on “Rejoicing In The Familiar

  1. The Cloudless Sulphur appears to have its head buried in the petunia. Interesting find of the Dung Beetle in action, had to smile as you surmised about the flies role in this particular play.

    • I loved the riot of color we found with dozens of yellow butterflies hovering around all the purple petunias! Gini is still bragging about spotting that Dung Beetle!

  2. Happy New Year to both of you Wally! We are so happy to be back in Florida and glad to be catching up on blogging at last. Loving all your pictures, but about the beetle I just have to use a saying that one of our less-civilized relative is fond of …. “Holy Crap!”.

    I am ashamed of myself for that and as well for not knowing that the mockingbird is Florida’s state bird! We enjoy their songs and, in later winter/early spring call them our Florida alarm clock.

    • We’re glad you’re back in the Sunshine State, Sallie! Thank you for the nice comments and we wish you the best for this New Year!

  3. Great set of birds – almost all of them would be a highlight! Love the snake header!

    Hope you have a good Christmas.

    cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thank you, Stewart! This birder also thanks you for hosting Wild Bird Wednesday for another year. What a great resource for seeing birds and environments from around the world!

      May you and your family have a peaceful Christmas filled with joy.

      All the best – Wally

  4. A delightful post! I enjoyed both the familiar and unfamiliar (to me) in it. 🙂 I had no idea Florida had dung beetles either! I see house finches and house sparrows every single day and enjoy them so much. They are common and “boring” to some…and yes, it’s a thrill to see something “less common” but these birds are our daily joy.

    • “These birds are our daily joy.” How wonderfully expressed, Marie! We feel blessed you stopped in to give us such a terrific thought for our day.

      We wish you peace this Christmas season!

  5. What a fun place to visit today,thanks for sharing all the beautiful birds & insects. I have a fondness for the vulture,they are so ugly that they are endearing….phyllis

  6. Wally, your text and photos reminded me of how much I miss our Antelope Island mockingbirds. They’ve been gone for many weeks now and we won’t see them again until spring. Last summer was a banner year for them and I miss their antics.

    Great job documenting the dung beetle!

    • It’s so easy to take the Mockers for granted around here but every time I stop and pay attention, they’re doing something interesting. That beetle was a nice bonus for the trip! Had no idea they were among us.

      Hope your eye is doing better. We wish you and Mia peace this holiday season.

  7. Wally I must thank you for both mentioning me on your blog and providing a link so that others may find my rambled thoughts about birds and my far from perfect photographs of them. I am flattered that you describe me as an “eminent birder, ringer and blogger”. I wish it were true. I am simply a humble birder who seeks to spread the message that appreciation of the Natural World is the true path to a place some call Heaven but which I call Inner Peace.

    As for your own words and pictures, you have excelled yourself today with your customary eloquence, wit, insight and expertise. There are a number of photographs which as a fellow snapper I know were obtained with considerable skill plus knowledge and experience of the subject.

    I wish that I too could lie down on the soft, white surface to snap a Rough Green Snake. But
    inevitably within the next week or two I will slip on an icy surface to find myself face down in a grey coloured slush without any sort of picture to show for my efforts as my camera is now permanently set on ISO3200 to cope with the dark winter days of England.

    By the way, watch out for those invading Cubans. Now that the rules have changed it introduces a whole new danger to birding in Florida that is potentially more damaging than those scaly but harmless lizards that you display with such awesome regularity.

    I had to laugh at the dung beetle as it or a close relative is an old friend of mine. In summer these large insects may find themselves trapped in mist nets designed to catch birds but the poor 6 legged creatures with sectioned bodies are mostly impossible to extract. A weeks or more later the net is unfurled when the now decomposed insect is revealed again to provide a very interesting and rather pungent aroma!

    Overhead chains? Where have you been living for the last 50 years – Russia?

    Have a good weekend my friend

    • Phil, it’s always a pleasure to read your blog. It’s like reading a birder’s daily record, only well-written. 🙂

      My sharp-eyed Gini spotted that beetle and I must admit, I really didn’t know they were residents here. Something new every day!

      We wish you and your family a wonderful and peaceful Christmas.

  8. I can fully appreciate why you gravitate towards this place, Wally. The variety of wildlife seems nothing short of spectacular!

    This is another superb set of images from you. Both male and female Yellowthroat are beautiful birds. However, most exciting for me is the sequence with the Dung Beetle. I thought that this was a species only encountered round the biblical countries!

    It the snake in your header a rattler?

    Thank you for another superb post.

    My very best wishes to you and Ginny for Christmas and the New Year – – – Richard

    • Thank you so much, Richard! It’s a unique spot and we really love it. Yep, the new header critter is an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. We estimated this one at about six feet long. He was crossing a dirt road very slowly. We think he had just eaten because they normally move very quickly.

      Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  9. Very nice share of many interesting things. I must say I really LIKE the American Black Vultures very much…they sure have been taking care of their business around here lately. Sadly many a deer has been killed by motorists~

    • Thank you for dropping by, Mary! I’m with you, I have an affinity for the Vultures.

      We hope you’re feeling better and will be able to relax and enjoy a peaceful Christmas.

  10. Hi Wally Loved your introduction and you are dead right as it Phil (who I also follow) Birding is all about seeing birds that turn up when you are out or just sitting in your garden looking at them. Every morning while taking my breakfast I watch the birds feeding in my back garden all the usual ones however I love to see them all. Now this was a wonderful place to bird and you certainly saw some wonderful species as well as seeing us the Green Snake. I also loved the pretty wild flowers, and of course the Croc. great shot of the Shrike and the Killdeer. For me, it is all about being out and about and waiting to see what Nature surprises you with that day and I have NEVER been diappointed

    • You are SO right, Margaret, Nature never disappoints! It’s just up to us to see it all. Thank you so very much for your usual lovely comments. We really appreciate it!

      We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  11. Gale

    What are the berries in the second picture of the yellowthroat? I saw them in Florida and have always wondered what they were.

    • Hi, Gale! Thank you for visiting. Those are American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana). Not only good looking but if you do a bit of research you’ll discover the plant has many uses, from making jelly out of the berries to current studies which indicate it may make an effective natural mosquito repellant. More importantly, the birds love ’em!

      Hope you drop by again!

  12. What a wonderful post to read on a damp and dreary day here. Very cool shots of the Katydid wasp and the dung beetle. The skinny green snake is so cute, as is the little frog. I love the colorful wildflowers and butterflies…and that cool box turtle. Gorgeous birds, including a looming vulture are also wonderful to see.

  13. loved it all. the green snake is a beauty! and very cool to see the dung beetle! great black vulture shot!

    that’s the great thing about blogging. all of our ‘back yard’ or ‘common’ birds are all different and we get to see them from all over the world. 🙂

    • But YOUR back yard birds are really special! Whistlers, Roadrunners, millions of Painted Buntings……stunning!

      We hope you and your family will enjoy a peaceful and wonderful holiday season!

      • more like millions of whistling ducks and a dozen or so of painted buntings. 🙂

        hope you have a very happy holiday season, too. 🙂

  14. WOW, Wally!
    What an array of critters!
    The photo that caught most of my attention was the Katydid Wasp and its prey!
    We have those 2 species (or sub-species) here too. The wasp will certainly lay its eggs inside the hopper!
    You were lucky to see those snakes, I haven’t seen any in quite some time unfortunately.
    I would have loved to see all these animals with you!
    Thanks for sharing, keep well!

    • Merci, Noushka! We are really blessed to have so much diversity in our area. Most of our “birding” trips include many other species as well.

      We hope your holiday season is peaceful and wonderful!

  15. It sounds like a great place to visit and re-visit. Interesting to see your Butcher Bird.. For sheer color magnificence I’ll take the Cloudless Sulphur on the Mexican petunia!

    • Thank you, Mick! That petunia was at a fish camp and they had several flowering bushes all of which had butterflies swarming around. Quite a sight with all that yellow and purple!

      Take care!

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