Parents are required to tell their newly fledged teenagers: “Always remember, nothing good happens after midnight.” Which, of course, has for centuries motivated teenagers throughout the universe to do everything in their power to try and discover what that magical time has to offer, because they know if it’s not good for them it must be FUN!!
Gini and I still sneak out after midnight for a bit of fun. There’s nothing quite like parking at the end of a secluded country lane, surrounded by complete darkness, the sky packed with so many stars it seems another wouldn’t fit, snuggling close next to the one you love and whispering “Was that a Screech Owl in the distance?”.
(NOTE: For the gullible amongst you who believe the above scenario could ever end that way, I have some Florida swampland to sell you.)
More birding trips than not start out in darkness since it takes time to travel to a destination and the “magical fun” time for many birds is a bit before the sky begins to lighten as it prepares for official sunrise. Here in sub-topical central Florida this is also the “magical fun” time for mosquitoes, so a thorough chemical bath is required before venturing into the marsh. The particular marsh for today’s visit has rapidly become known as a birding “hotspot”. That means on a weekend you likely won’t find a spot to park.
Circle B Bar Reserve (just “Circle B” to those who frequent the reserve) used to be a working cattle ranch and was acquired jointly in late 2000 by Polk County Environmental Lands and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The reserve is operated and maintained by the county. A recently built visitor’s center has conference rooms and very nice displays of flora and fauna one might find within the reserve. The reserve was developed to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock which borders the reserve on the south and to restore the marsh of Banana Creek which flows from the north into Lake Hancock. Over eight miles of trails take the visitor on levees around the marsh, along the shoreline of the lake, through stands of oak hammock and hardwood swamp. It’s fairly routine to spot 50-60 species of birds in an outing with the added bonus of alligators, feral hogs, bobcats, otters, turtles, snakes, insects and a diverse array of flora. All of this within two miles of the city limits of Lakeland which has a population over 100,000.
I had only taken a few steps from the parking lot when I realized the big “moth” that buzzed by my ear was a hummingbird. Furiously dialing in an astronomically high ISO number on the camera, I could barely make out the little bundle of feathers in the darkness. I attempted to focus and fired off a few shots, fully expecting to trash them later. The images are, indeed, horrible, but there may be someone who has never seen a hummingbird in the dark so one is included below. The rest of the morning was a typical Circle B kind of day. So much to see, so little time. It seemed as if every few steps revealed some new wonder. A Purple Gallinule perched precariously on a slim limb searching for seeds, an American White Pelican flew over the marsh on the way to join a few thousand of his closest friends floating on the lake, young Whistling Ducks, dragonflies – in the winter, a multi-colored avian delight that looked like a refugee from a paint store war. As I encountered another crossroads in the path, my senses pulled me toward the unexplored while my internal alarm reminded me I told Gini I’d only be “a couple of hours”. That was four hours ago. Sigh. Another day can’t get here soon enough.
A few photographs cannot adequately provide the sense of being overwhelmed by Nature one has when visiting the Circle B. Which, of course, hasn’t stopped me from trying.
There’s nothing like an early morning fly-by of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird to get your adrenalin flowing! The mosquitoes here are as big but not nearly as colorful. And they require a blood donation before letting you pass.
Purple Gallinules thrive in this lush marsh and will even go out on a limb to show off for visitors.
This Tricolored Heron became annoyed with me trying to take a picture while he was trying to catch breakfast. I moved on quickly, but he still grumbled.
Lake Hancock plays host each winter to several thousand American White Pelicans.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are residents here and love the vast marsh with all its hiding places to raise a family. A morning walk at the Circle B wouldn’t be complete without hearing the characteristic “whistle” in the sky as these large ducks commute back and forth.
I surprised this Eastern Phoebe near the path and instead of taking flight he just gave me “the look”. I hurried along as requested.
Even in the winter, House Wrens let the world know they’re just happy to be here. Me too.
Common Yellowthroats chatter on every side of the footpath and dart in and out so fast you’re not sure if you saw a pretty yellow flower or a bird. I think this one is a bird……
Great Blue Herons are patient hunters and are usually rewarded for their efforts. This meal of Armored Catfish will take a bit of maneuvering to position it just right for swallowing whole without getting punctured by a stiff fin. The green specks on the fish are common duckweed.
Dragonflies and damselflies were enjoying a typical Florida winter day. Warm and sunny!
One of our most numerous winter visitors, the Palm Warbler, obviously admired my cap. Or, more likely, spotted a bug on it.
Another permanent resident, the Limpkin, is represented in the marsh by one of the state’s largest populations. At dawn, the eerie calls of dozens of these distant rail relatives make it difficult to carry on a conversation. This one signaled that I should pass him on the right.
“Quite courteous is the Limpkin.
Provides instructions easy enough to follow that any chimp-kin.”
(Serious apologies to Ogden Nash.)
Walking along the lakeshore path provided occasional glimpses of Painted Buntings as they hopped into the grass and immediately flitted into the brambles and out of sight. While the females are a pleasing greenish, the gaudy males are dressed in every hue of the Artist’s palette.
It’s always enjoyable to visit my “Circle B” of friends. The only downside is that with each visit my addiction grows stronger. But I’m certain I’m the only one thus affected …..
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!