The Importance Of A Plan

City lights faded and we were enveloped in the utter darkness of a rural netherworld. Cocooned within our metal container, we sped through miles of citrus groves, the air heavy with the almost-too-sweet fragrance of orange blossoms. As the perfume dissipated, we knew outside our windows were nearly endless fields of commercially grown sod, the new crop rapidly replacing citrus which has lately been ravaged by disease and foreign markets. The fog wasn’t the thick sea fog of the coast. Clouds of the mist had settled into the low places around us – ponds and bogs and dips in the road. No sooner had we slowed down for the gray stuff, than we immediately emerged into the crystal clear atmosphere of pre-dawn sky where the brightest stars were grudgingly giving way to the almost imperceptible light of our new day.

Avon Park Air Force Range. Not a very attractive name for our goal of observing Nature, but a destination which is near the top of our list of favorite places to visit. Consisting of over 106,000 acres (42,900 ha), we have discovered most visitors only head for one of the campgrounds or the Kissimmee River which forms the eastern boundary of the range. Hunting season is an exception, when nimrods practice their skill in tracking White-tailed Deer and feral hogs. Accordingly, I checked the hunting schedule to ensure any wildlife we might observe would not be subject to being harvested while we watched.

 

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Man Gang aft agley …” (From The Mouse, Robert Burns)

 

My reading skills apparently are due for a checkup. I missed one little entry on the Florida Wildlife Commission’s hunting calendar. A special wild (feral) hog hunt would be allowed on the last weekend of the month. Want to guess when we visited? For an extra added attraction, several of the roads within the range were closed to the public for military exercises. Also, red flags were flying at all of the live-fire ranges within the complex. It was an interesting morning. We pulled to the side of the road several times to allow military convoys to pass. The staccato of rifle fire from the ranges was occasionally replaced with the dull, earth-shaking boom of large artillery. Our tranquil pine woods where we hoped to find woodpeckers feeding had been infiltrated by dozens of hog hunters each with a pair of dogs scrambling through the palmetto scrub hot on a fresh scent. And us with no blaze orange vests to help separate us from the aforementioned porcine targets.

 

Despite an initial urge to flee, we persevered. And were generously rewarded. Over 100,000 acres offers a lot of territory to explore and, happily, not all of it was open to hunters or being used by the military. We discovered wildflowers in bloom, butterflies and bees, a pair of hungry River Otters, Florida “Cracker” cattle (descended from herds left by Spanish explorers more than 500 years ago), over 50 species of birds and even — shhhh!, don’t tell those folks mentioned above — wild hogs. Birding highlights included migrants fueling up for continuing their northward journey: 80+ Pine Warblers, 50+ American Robins, 20+ Eastern Bluebirds, over a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers, several hundred Red-winged Blackbirds and over a thousand Tree Swallows. We observed all eight woodpecker species possible in this area at this time of year: Red-headed, Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (migratory), Hairy, Downy, Red-cockaded (endangered), Northern Flicker and Pileated. This alone made the trip very special, indeed! All of this and we even found a quiet spot on the river where we enjoyed a cool breeze, a curious opossum, fish jumping, a singing vireo and – best of all – each others’ company.

 

Some of this was photographically documented.

 

The Pine Warblers and Eastern Bluebirds seemed to hang around together in loose flocks all over the range. Safety in numbers perhaps?

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

 

The Florida Scrub Jay is endemic to the state and endangered due to massive losses over the years of its unique habitat requirements. We found a half dozen of these colorful, typically loud birds. They remain in extended family groups and mob potential threats (such as birders) and first/second year birds will often raise their parents’ new chicks. All of the birds within the Avon Park Range are closely monitored by biologists and all have various leg-bands for easy identification (the birds, not the biologists).

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

 

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

 

We found a pair of River Otters hunting and dining by a stream. While they were curious about us, they didn’t miss a beat in catching and enjoying fresh fish for lunch.

River Otter

River Otter

River Otter

River Otter

 

As with the Florida Scrub Jay, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is very closely monitored and studied within the range. It is also in trouble due to habitat loss. Important discoveries about how to protect this species’ future have been made by scientists here and we (as well as the birds!) owe them a big thanks for their efforts.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

 

There are over 600 species of Crotalaria world-wide and most contain an alkaloid which can be poisonous to some birds and animals. Native to the old world, where planted in Florida it has thrived. The plant is used in landscapes, it is beneficial in erosion control and was once used as a green manure until the discovery of the poisonous effects on some animals.

Rattle-box  (Crotalaria spectabilis)

Rattle-box (Crotalaria spectabilis)

 

Common in wet areas, the Virginia Willow blossoms attract many insects, smells wonderful and will eventually grow to 20-30 feet tall.

Virginia Willow  (Itea virginica)

Virginia Willow (Itea virginica)

 

A violet green body helps identify this butterfly as a Long-tailed Skipper.

Long-tailed Skipper  (Urbanus proteus)

Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus)

 

The Black Swallowtail is also available in a yellow variety for your viewing pleasure. The yellow version is more likely to be seen in the southwestern U.S.

Black Swallowtail  (Papilio polyxenes)

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

 

A small flycatcher, the Eastern Phoebe will be missed during the summer as it’s a migrant. We have had one stay in our back yard for the past four winters.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

This is a small portion of a huge flock of Tree Swallows which swirled up out of one of the area’s vast palmetto scrubs. In another area, hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds found a grassy plain in which to feed.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Blue defined. It’s hard to believe this hue exists in nature but no photo manipulation needed for these beauties! This guy was concerned about a hawk flying overhead.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

Even from the rear, an Eastern Meadowlark is simply gorgeous. Subtle browns and outrageous yellow and black. The clear tones of their song soothes souls.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

 

 

Our trip was planned. Our plans were deficient. Our day was superb. We hope all of your plans work to perfection. If they don’t, persevere and perhaps you, too, will be pleasantly surprised!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Avon Park Air Force Range

(NOTE: Entrance to the Avon Park Air Force Range is controlled and a fee is required. Be sure to check their website at the link above for the appropriate phone number to call and check for closures before you go. They are open to the public only Thursday through Monday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “The Importance Of A Plan

  1. Utterly amazing! I would never in the world have guessed such a place would be home to so many wonderful birds. And animals … The otters are adorable, no other word will do. And I like the way you plan but go with the flow too… A perfect balance and how beautifully it paid off.

    • Hi, Sallie! Thank you so much for dropping by. Yeah, plans are good, but are very often subject to change!

      Loved your recent pictures from the boat!

  2. I hope this reaches you Wally. I have a Smartphone only on holiday in Spain. Managed to find your blog but struggling to make sense of touchpad keyboard. Glad you survived the shoot out at OK Florida. Your world gets ever more dangerous. Great pics amigo. Love the blue Bluebird and the yellow lark.

    Catch you soon.

    • Your Smartphone has lived up to its reputation and delivered your message without a hitch. The dangers in our natural world are nothing compared to those in “civilization”! We’ll try to keep the colors coming. Hope your holiday is muy bueno!

      Safe journey.

  3. A brilliant and entertaining post again, Wally. It got me thinking, not just about your wonderful wildlife, but about ‘the importance of a plan’. The great thing about a plan is that it results in action – it’s all to easy to plan (and, therefore, do) nothing! The key thing about a plan is that it should be flexible, as your experience clearly shows. Someone with a rigid plan would probably have turned back and missed what ended up a stunningly wonderful day!

    May your week continue to be as rewarding.

    Best regards – – – – Richard

    • Excellent point, Richard! Now I feel better about having at least some semblance of a plan! As you say, the key is flexibility!

      Hope your week is off to a great beginning!

  4. Beautiful photographs!

  5. Hi Wally. Wow! Glad you dodged any bullets! I am sure your heart sank a little when you discovered all that was going in the area but I knew you and Gini would never give up and it paid off when you saw all these wonderful birds and that fantastic huge Otter having lunch. All your images are fabulous. The one with the willow and insect is fantastic. The back view of the Eastern Meadowlark is so beautiful. I have been. Busy and missed reading your last 2 posts so I am going to catch up now. I get there eventually. I always leave plenty of time to read, see and study your posts that is why sometimes I am late in commenting. Anyhow, hope you both have a wonderful weekend .

    • G’Day, Margaret! Happy you made it home safely from down under! With my Gini by my side, our hearts never sink!

      Thank you for your wonderful comments and we’re glad to share a small bit of the beauty we see.
      Our weekend is fabulous!

  6. You must be intrepid birders to persist in spite of all those things going “bang” around you! However, it must be very carefully managed to have the great numbers of birds you saw and photographed. The bees around that willow are beautiful – as are the two blue birds – the one called Bluebird and the scrub Jay.

    • “Intrepid birders” = “insane”. .. 🙂

      You’re right, Mick, the entire complex is very carefully monitored by all manner of scientists and in cooperation with the military they are doing a terrific job. Don’t know if you could see in the photo but those bee’s were loaded with yellow pollen. Those are definitely two of our favorite bird species. There is a movement trying to have the Scrub Jay named Florida’s state bird since it’s endemic to the state.

      You and your kayak would love the Kissimmee River which runs through the range. Very scenic and wild in places.
      Take care of yourself!

  7. Hello Wally,
    Your wildlife never ceases to amaze me!
    Whatever the circumstances, you manage to show us fantastic pictures!
    All those colourful birds are so beautiful but the otter is a must for me, wish I could see a wild one one day!
    Magnificent post!
    Enjoy your sunday and keep well 🙂

    • Howdy, Noushka! That’s the good thing about Nature – she usually has something to offer for those willing to look!
      Within a week of spotting those otters, we found others at three different locations. Quite a coincidence!

      Our Sunday is wonderfully quiet and we’re resting up for an early birding day tomorrow!

      All the best!

  8. Your photo album is such fun and a wonderful pleasure for the heart and the eye.

  9. glad you were not picked off by a hog hunter or a mortar shell! 🙂

  10. Wonderful set of photographs. I wish all my days were so lucky.

    • Victor, thank you very much for stopping by! You’re right about the luck – it’s my best tool! Now, if only I had control over it ….

      (You have a very impressive blog and photo website! I look forward to reviewing both in depth.)

  11. What a brilliant photojournal. Pleased it turned out (much) better than expected.

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