Circle of Friends

 

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.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Purple Gallinules thrive in this lush marsh and will even go out on a limb to show off for visitors.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

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.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

Lake Hancock plays host each winter to several thousand American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

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.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

I surprised this Eastern Phoebe near the path and instead of taking flight he just gave me “the look”. I hurried along as requested.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

Even in the winter, House Wrens let the world know they’re just happy to be here. Me too.

Carolina Wren

House Wren

 

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……

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

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.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Dragonflies and damselflies were enjoying a typical Florida winter day. Warm and sunny!

Carolina Saddlebags  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea Carolina)

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

Atlantic Bluet - Male  (Enallagma doubledayi)

Atlantic Bluet – Male (Enallagma doubledayi)

 

One of our most numerous winter visitors, the Palm Warbler, obviously admired my cap. Or, more likely, spotted a bug on it.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

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.)

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

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.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

 

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!

 

 

Additional Information

Circle B Bar Reserve

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Circle of Friends

  1. A couple hours–haha. I suppose Gini has your number by now. We had a Painted Bunting visit for a few weeks. They’re not often seen in our area. Then the temperature dropped, and I should have headed south when he did!

  2. Circle B looks like a marvelous place to go birding! As I sit here in Chicago viewing your beautiful Florida photographs, I truly long for a visit to the “Sunshine State”. I do hope on my next visit, I can find a Purple Gallinule and Painted Bunting. I really love the stellar Limpkin, gallinule and Common Yellowthroat images. All are fantastic though. What a pleasure it is to see a little Ruby-throated Hummingbird. An absolute joy to visit your wonderful blog!

    • Thank you so much for visiting and for such nice remarks, Julie! After viewing your extremely high quality photographs your comments are even more appreciated! Hope you’re able to return to the sun soon!

  3. Just as I was ready to buy the flight tickets and ignore all, the dangers of Florida I’ve read about you hit me with mozzies. Sorry Wally I’ll have to cancel now and miss that trip out in the dark with you. Super Limpkin photo and a cracking Palm Warbler too.

    • But Phil, part of the fun is trying to separate the ‘skeeters from the hummers, since they are about the same size. 🙂

      Thanks for your kind words. Now, it’s time for shorebirds…..

      Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. My favorite place! I haven’t been in a month and I’m going through serious withdrawels. I’m going to try and get out there this weekend. So many great shots. And to find a hummingbird there is like a needle in a very big haystack. Amazing even in the dark.

  5. I loved our visit to Circle B and so wish we lived closer. We will go back this season. Beautiful pictures; the painted bunting is wonderful!

  6. “Another day can’t get here soon enough.” Clearly you have found your bliss. Well, I know Gini’s your bliss, but you’ve found even more bliss. And shared it with us. All beautiful, but gosh, that Gallinule photo looks like an oil painting done by Adam or Eve. Love you, big brother.

    p.s. All’s well on the Florida/Alabama border. We both survived the great plague and are ready to start the new year now!)

    • Howdy Little Sis! It’s a pretty special place with wonders to behold around every corner. Sorta like the rest of the world, if we look hard enough.

      Happy to hear the New Year is off to a good start. Us, too! Talk to you soon.

      Love ya!

  7. Fantastic group of photos. I love the colors in the Gallinule shot.

  8. That sounds like a great spot to visit but – not fair! You can’t start with a lovely piece of romantic imagination with Giny and end with her somewhere else waiting for you 4 hours later!!!
    Apart from that – the birds are wonderful – I had no idea that Hummingbirds were out and about in the dark. The GB Heron with the catfish is a perfect capture. The lighting you have captured with the Gallinule and the Tricolored Heron is especially beautiful.
    Thanks for motivation to get out on the bay very early – soon!

    • Ahh, Mick, I see you’re interested in some fine Florida swampland! 🙂

      It was just light enough for that little hummer to be out and about. Enough light for a photo is another thing.
      That particular catfish is an invasive species and the Herons are doing there part to try to control them.

      All the best.

  9. Gorgeous wildlife album, I really enjoyed the entire series.

  10. Oh my that bunting, wow. We had a palm warbler here for a while.I love the title of this post, it drew me and and it was a great read.

  11. beautiful shots, as always, and humor thrown in as well. 🙂 LOVE the gallinule shot! wowza! the limpkin is wonderful, too!

  12. Hi Wally. When I read this excellent post of yours, I realise why I’ll never be a truly dedicated birder. At this time of year, when the chances are that it’ll be sub-zero temperatures outside, I find it nigh-on impossible to summon up the enthusiasm for leaving the house when it’s still pitch-black outside. I guess it might be easier if it were warmer!

    I was amazed to hear, and see, that hummingbirds are active outside of the daylight hours. Does this species specialise in flowers that remain open at night – or even flowers that only open at night (I believe that there are some!)? You did well to capture that one with your camera.

    Super images, but that Palm Warbler’s a real cutie!

    Best wishes to you both – – – Richard

    • But Richard, all the good stuff happens in the dark! 🙂

      The Hummingbird is not really a nocturnal bird, at least not that I’m aware of. I encountered this one about an hour before “official” sunrise and the sky was beginning to show a bit of light. At this time of day, many birds are very active, some singing, some trying to catch bugs which are still sleeping and, apparently this guy who believes that old saying: “The early Hummingbird gets the nectar.”

      Take care!

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