Riding In Cars With Birders

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a Bullock’s Oriole landed in a mesquite tree and my lovely, but excitable, bride grabbed me by the arm (which at the time was engaged in steering a fast-moving vehicle) and shouted all in one breath: “STOPDIDYOUSEETHATTURNAROUNDGOBACKITWASALLORANGEANDBLACKITWASGORGEOUS!!!!”.

The coming of age of a birder is a beautiful thing.

In that far away land of west Texas, there were few “birding venues”. It was so long ago, in fact, we didn’t even know we WERE birders, as the quaint reference to those engaged in the hobby was still simply “bird watcher”. (I still cling to that term as “birder” has come to infer a more competition-oriented personality and I’ve never been much of a score-keeper.) Since the nearest state park was a half-day’s drive, we were very content to simply drive the back roads and marvel at how vibrant and diverse the seemingly barren landscape could be. It was our first experience in a near-desert environment and we loved every minute of our several years there. That pattern has persisted over the eons.

“Why are there likenesses of Sandhill Cranes on all the street light poles?”, Gini asked. Being extremely cognizant of such matters concerning engineering and urban planning, I advised her in my usual condescending, scholarly manner: “I dunno”.

We were driving through the town of Wauchula, Florida a couple of months ago doing our “drive around looking for birds” thing. Wauchula is the seat of Hardee County, adjacent to our home in Polk County. Hardee County is smallish in size, consisting of 638 square miles (1650 sq. km). Of this area, only 0.6 sq. mi. is water – a bit unusual for central Florida. The county was named for Cary Hardee who was governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925. Settlement of the area began in 1849 when an Indian Trading Post was opened on a bend in Paynes Creek. Eventually, the city of Wauchula was established and the area became a center for cattle ranching. The name “Wauchula” is from a Mikasuki Indian word meaning “call of the Sandhill Crane”. AHA! Mystery of the light poles solved.

Today, Hardee County is lightly populated (about 27,000 in 2012) and has an agricultural-based economy. Annual citrus production has about a half-billion dollar market value, the county ranks 9th in the United States for beef cattle and phosphate mining plays a major role in employment and fertilizer production. In 2004, Hurricane Charlie swept across the county from the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 149 mph (240 kph) and almost every building in the county suffered some sort of damage with many being completely destroyed. Most renovation has been completed and the resilient population continues to enjoy their rural lifestyle.

Although the scarcity of open shallow water limits the presence of many water birds, the county is full of a wonderful variety of other birds. Most of the cattle ranches have small ponds which the cattle keep churned into mud holes which attracts shore birds. Burrowing Owls nest in the pastures, Crested Caracara roam the open spaces, fall and winter crops attract migrants, timberland is full of vireos, warblers and woodpeckers and, of course, Sandhill Cranes abound all year and large populations of the big birds spend the winter here. We like driving around in Hardee County!

Our most recent visit included over 45 different species (yes, I know, it’s sorta score-keeping) and we were treated to some really nice wildflower displays.


The Great Crested Flycatcher is a cavity nester and can be very aggressive about chasing woodpeckers from suitable nesting sites. For some reason, many of their nests have been found lined with shed snake skins.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher


Killdeer love the fact that cattle keep the mud stirred up which makes insect and worm hunting a little easier.




Florida has an abundant Gray Squirrel population but Fox Squirrels – not so much. We have three species of Fox Squirrel. One is found mostly in the northwestern panhandle, another in the Everglades. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, although found throughout the state, is a “species of special concern”, primarily due to loss of habitat.

Sherman's Fox Squirrel

Sherman’s Fox Squirrel


A Red-bellied Woodpecker is hunting for a house. I think he found one he likes.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker


Leavenworth’s Tickseed is nearly endemic to Florida (a few grow in southern Georgia) and belongs to the Coreopsis family.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)


It looks like grass which has been touched with white paint – Star Rush.

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)


This Lesser Yellowlegs looks like the main course in a pot of broccoli soup. The thick Duckweed hides all sorts of food items wading birds love.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs


Such a beautiful bloom seems like it should have a more attractive name, but no matter what it’s called, Pickerelweed is lovely.

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)


You just never know what you’ll find riding around the countryside. For instance, a hot-air balloon cruising over an orange grove!




Okay, time out for a test shot. New camera and new lens. The moon, 600mm hand-held. Now, if I could just find a bird —-




A field of Black-eyed Susan brightened the landscape.

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)


Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)


Vivid purple and yellow of the Pale Meadowbeauty are hard to ignore.

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)


Such an unfriendly plant with its spikes and thorns! Such a striking flower! Nuttall’s Thistle can be purple, pink, white or pale yellow.

Nuttall's Thistle  (Cirsium nuttallii)

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)


Although I don’t know how this wonderful bloom got its name, I’m very happy it grows along the roadside in Hardee County! The Carolina Desert-chicory.

Carolina Desert-chicory  (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

Carolina Desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)


A gang of five Swallow-tailed Kites put on an aerial display as they swooped low over a pasture and snatched flying insects which they ate in flight. A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds tried to chase them from “their” territory, but were largely ignored by the sleek kites.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite


Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite


This Wild Turkey was pretty sure I wouldn’t spot him as he tried to slink through the underbrush. He was wrong.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey


No specific birding destination can sometimes provide surprisingly good birding! Grab your favorite birder. Get in a car. Drive around. Now.

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


See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “Riding In Cars With Birders

  1. Fascinating post with its variety and your commentary, Wally. Loved the GC Flycatcher and I was intrigued by the Star Rush – looks like it might be a true grass (a monocot) with a conspicuous flower, which if I remember my botany is pretty unusual.

    • Good morning, Ron! Yep, the star rush is a sedge and is indeed a monocot. The “leaves” at the top of the plant are actually the bracts of the small flower.
      Thank you for visiting us today!

  2. What a great outing! I love the flowers as much as the birds. Awesome bird captures. Happy Birding.

  3. Rule 1: never get separated from your lunch on a birding trip. Rule 2: if at all possible bring along a non-birder to drive!!

    Nice post.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  4. The local birding has been a bit slow here in south Florida. It must be the time of year and the heat and humidity that limits the time I wish to stay out on the wetlands. That Sherman’s Squirrel looks beautiful– I have never seen one. Your bird and flower shots are fantastic. Hard to pick a vave, but the kites are wonderful.Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such thoughtful and encouraging comments on our granddaughter Graciela’s blog post!

    • Hi, Ken! Our birding was interrupted this summer by life’s events (with which I know you are all too familiar), but looks like things are “normalizing” a bit. Now, if we can get the monsoons to let up a bit and a degree cooler wouldn’t hurt! Hard to believe it’s almost fall migration time!

      It was truly a delight reading Graciela’s post! Any encouragement for our youngsters to care about Nature is a duty for all of us. Take care!

  5. Rohrerbot

    Spectacular photos! Especially of the blackbird chasing the kite, my fav. Your story makes me smile. I was the same way growing up. I was a birder and never knew it. But I loved watching birds with my grandparents and we always stopped to look at the colorful ones….or weird ones. Today, I wonder how many undocumented “life birds” have passed me by during my travels. I’m sure I would be up in the 2 thousand category with all the crazy travel I’ve done over the years. But the important part is that we now pay attention to the details. And that is life changing. Thanks for sharing your story and incredible photos. I hope they can help that squirrel out. It’s a real beauty.

    • Sure appreciate your really nice comments! Yep, my life list would be impressive if I’d kept track all this time! That’s okay. It was fun then and it’s still a blast!

      Thanks for visiting!

  6. Amazing images. The Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs stand out for me.

  7. Oh — I’d score-keep too if I ever had that much to score-keep about! Wonderful pictures of wonderful birds. And as a part-time Floridian I appreciated the history lesson as well as the pointers on birding in this area. I’m always open to ‘accidental’ sightings and have been known to do the same thing Ginny did to you!

    Thanks for the Florida ‘fix’ while we are all the way across the country for the summer and fall.

    • Sorry I couldn’t send you a bunch of humidity, too, since I’m sure you’re missing it! — 🙂

      Thank you so much, Sallie, for the very nice comments!

  8. congrats on the new lens! love the sherman’s squirrel!!

  9. Beautiful birds and flowers and great photos – your photos always make me go and examine my own environment from a different viewpoint – thanks!

    • Thanks, Mick! We all learn from each other. What a great medium this internet thing can be. It might just catch on.

  10. You’re back with great beauties!
    I can’t agree more with the difference you make between ‘birder’ and ‘bird watcher’…
    I also feel much more related to the second term 🙂
    That photo of the Great-crested Flycatcher is incredible any closer and he bursts out of the pic! LOL!
    You turn an ordinary thistle into a piece of art, congratulations for that one!
    But the Wild turkey and especially the Swallow-tailed Kite retain mostly my attention.
    2 birds I would love to see for myself 🙂
    The Star rush is very beautiful, we have nothing like it here.
    A great post, Wally!
    Keep well

    • Thank you for your wonderful compliments! After visiting your wonderful website my photographs always seem so unworthy! But we each have so much unique Nature to share, I’ll just keep trying to improve! Thank you for the motivation.

      It’s already mid-week so enjoy what’s left until the weekend!

  11. I did wonder if some huge Florida creature had swallowed you up. But no, just taking a(nother) nap in the sun I guess. Good to see you back on form Wally.

    The flycatcher is a great memory – thank you. I remember their very loud bill snapping which they continued to do in the hand! Rather fascinating about them collecting snake skins and someone out there surely has a theory? I must Google it.

    The lesser legs is rather nice and reminds me of a small Greenshank or perhaps a Marsh Sandpiper, the latter a species I have seen but once.

    I suspect there is much of the perspective in the shot but the Swallow-tailed Kite looks not much bigger than the blackbird. Is that for real?

    And for goodness sake my friend don’t go riding in that balloon. There’s enough danger at sea level in Florida without taking to the skies.

    Have fun.

    • Life has intruded more than normal on our birding pursuits. Hope to return to “our normal” soon.

      I read somewhere the snakeskins might deter would-be predators. You’re right about the perspective in the kite image. They are almost three times as large as the blackbird. No worries about me going up in a balloon. Gini says I’m full of enough hot air as it is …

      Looking forward to returning to our regularly scheduled programming of bird watching!

  12. Haaaaa!!! You always make me crack up — and as usual, your images are GORGEOUS! Love them all. 🙂

  13. Hi Wally Yes you have been missed both your humour and your beautiful photography. Although i ussally count the birds when i am out with a group I never chase birds. I also love going exploring along country roads just keeping an eye out for anything that moves.. That makes it more exciting whenyou spot a bird,insect or mammal. I love the first bird shots and Woodpecker however I have to agree with Richard about the Kites which you have photographed superbly. If I was allowed to pick just 3 favourites of your flowers shots it would be 13, 15 & 16. I also love the Sherman’s Fox Squirrel. Never heard of it and certainly never seen one. He is so cute standing up on his hind legs. Seeing the hot air balloon reminds me that it is still on my bucket list!!! Anyhow regards to Gini and I hope you have a great week ahead.

    • As you well know, Margaret, travel can be fun and exciting! For us, though, coming back home brings a sigh of happiness. Thanks for the very kind remarks. That fox squirrel is so much larger than our numerous Gray Squirrels that he really grabs your attention!

      Talk to you soon!

  14. Great to have you back, Wally! It’s been a long time. But what a super post to return with!

    A great set of images, but my favourites have to be those of the Swallow-tailed Kites – I find it hard to consider those birds as kites, as they’re so different (shape and color) to the kites we see in UK.

    I hope that all is well with you both, and the family

    Best wishes – – – – Richard

    • Thank you so much, Richard! We had a great trip and are happy to be home. The kites are wonderful to watch. They will soon be gathering in flocks of several dozen to several hundred in preparation for migrating to South America in August. Quite a sight to see that many catching insects on the fly!

      All the best.

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