Ramp Up Your Birding !

Have you ever noticed the thing you seek is sometimes close at hand? Can’t find your car keys? Don’t move. Look around where you’re standing. Open the nearest drawer. Chances are good you’ll find them within a moment or two. But the normal human urge is to think the farther we travel the greater will be our reward. So we go outside first and look in the car to see if we left the keys in the ignition. In fishing, we spend all day plying the deep waters far from shore only to return to see the guy who spent an hour fishing from the dock stuffing another fish into an overloaded cooler. How many times have we hiked through a park all morning in search of migrant warblers only to return to the parking lot and find them feeding under the car?

Gini handed me an egg salad sandwich and we shared a container of fresh tangerine slices. The mirror surface of the lake reflected the impossibly blue sky and a Tricolored Heron flapped lazily along the shoreline. Early morning is an active time for wild creatures. While we enjoyed breakfast, ripples in the water gave away locations of feeding fish, turtles poked their heads above the surface to enjoy the sun’s rays, a Limpkin tip-toed through the cattails in search of snails and a Bald Eagle soared above the lake and was harassed by two loudly scolding Fish Crows. A loud, rhythmic “thwack!”, “thwack!” directed our attention to an oak tree beside us where a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers tore large chunks of bark from the trunk and probed deep within the tree for insect morsels. A more dainty, quick “rat-a-tat-tat-tat” told us a Downy Woodpecker was also in the area. An after-breakfast walk resulted in almost 40 species of birds in the small park.

Our breakfast venue was Lake Rosalie Park in eastern Polk County. A boat ramp, a few picnic tables and small number of primitive camping spots did not offer an extensive area to explore. But what a pleasure to be almost alone (there was one friendly couple camping) and be able to observe so many birds in such a relatively small place!

We feel very fortunate to live in Florida, a state which is not only surrounded on three sides by water but where the interior is dotted with myriad ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. All that water encourages a really diverse flourishing of flora and fauna. Although it’s wonderful to have large parks, reserves and impoundments containing huge numbers of birds nearby, we have learned to enjoy the small places, too. Early in our bird-watching endeavors, we made the astounding scientific discovery that most birds have wings and cannot read the map where it clearly states:  “Birding Hotspot“.

A quick look at a city, county or state website will direct one to a listing of public boat ramps. These don’t always have a park associated with them, but all are definitely worth a glance once in awhile. Not only can you usually get a look at a body of water and its associated shoreline, the surrounding area is often prime habitat for a great variety of birds, native as well as migratory. And if you happen to have  someone with deep brown eyes and soft hands next to you, it’s quite possible that birding will suddenly cease to be all that critical.

Coleman Landing At Shady Oaks Recreation Area has recently expanded to include several improved camping sites for recreational vehicles and a new large shower facility. It’s still basically just a boat ramp which provides access to huge Lake Kissimmee and is nestled among a very nice grove of shady oak trees. The following photographs are from a recent breakfast excursion.

This Red-shouldered Hawk is quite pale and is a good example of the species found in south Florida.

Coleman Landing

Red-shouldered Hawk


A White-eyed Vireo took time out from his tireless singing to gawk at the guy walking around poking his face in all the shrubbery.

Coleman Landing

White-eyed Vireo


A rare (for me) photograph of a Merlin perched (albeit for only a moment). My usual view of this seasonal migrant is of a blurry brown rear end. They are about the size of an American Kestrel but are faster, don’t hover like a kestrel and whereas the kestrel prefers insects the Merlin specializes in small birds.

Coleman Landing



Speaking of the American Kestrel, this one was just up the path from the Merlin. Hearing the click of the camera, he gave me the “evil eye” and screamed something about he was trying to hunt here so I left him alone.

Coleman Landing

American Kestrel

Coleman Landing

American Kestrel


Another early morning breakfast was enjoyed at the aforementioned boat ramp at Lake Rosalie Park where a few feathered friends kept us entertained.


It was a bit early in the season for Pileated Woodpeckers to be choosing a nesting site, but this species mates for life so it’s not unusual to see a pair together throughout the year. The male is distinguished by  red malar stripes while the female’s are dark. These large woodpeckers (average length 16.5 inches/42 cm) will often bore quite deeply into a tree to find insects.

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Male

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Female

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Male


Limpkins blend in very well with the colors and patterns of vegetation found near water.

Lake Rosalie Park



A Northern Parula is not common here during the winter months but this one appears to be enjoying the mild weather just fine.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula


A very small portion of a huge flock of Tree Swallows swarmed a section of trees and vacuumed up bugs from the leaves without ever landing.

Saddle Creek Park

Tree Swallow


It seemed a bit out of place to spot a Brown Pelican high in a moss-draped oak tree. Of course, they frequently choose such a location for nest placement, although I didn’t spot a nest here.

Saddle Creek Park

Brown Pelican


On the way home, we stopped at another public boat ramp near our house at Lake Parker in Lakeland. Snail Kites have been expanding their range but they are still an endangered species.  It’s good to see one any time. They have been spotted at Lake Parker with some regularity since last year. The expansion of their range is tied to their main food source, the Apple Snail. Here a female or immature kite hovers over a weedy area near the lake’s shore and comes up with supper.

West Lake Parker Drive

Snail Kite

West Lake Parker Drive

Snail Kite


We sold our boat but still like hanging around boat ramps! The next time you see a public boat ramp sign, take a look. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find. And if you have your priorities straight, go with someone you love. Take breakfast. Take binoculars. Ignore the last two items.


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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “Ramp Up Your Birding !

  1. What lovely, clear photos. The detail in feather patterns always intrigues me. The Pileated Woodpeckers are easy to find thanks to the noise they make, but they are adept at moving to the opposite side of the tree from where the camera is! It’s always a pleasure to hang out and look at your beautiful surroundings and birds.

  2. Wow, Wally! You have such an incredible collection of bird images here. I am amazed how many you manage to come across! Well done.

    • We are very lucky to live in a “bird paradise”! Salt water coastline, lakes, rivers, swamps, vast grassland prairies and forests – what bird wouldn’t love it?

  3. HI Wally I agree, birding off the beaten tract appeals tome also and often conjures up a surprise or two. My favourite bird in this post is the Woodpecker and I would love to see this species. I have not seen a merlinoften here adncertainly have never had such as good a shots as you got. Love the shot of the Northern Parula, he is certainly keeping his eye oon you.

    • We really do much prefer the solitude we find in the out-of-way spots. Perhaps we don’t see the “high profile” birds but we certainly return home satisfied.

  4. Hi Wally. Just back from a vacation on the Isles of Scilly, so been out of touch for a while. Yours is the first blog that I’ve looked at since my return – and I delighted to have found this post. A great story and stunning photography as usual. I particularly like the Vireo image, and I’m extremely impressed by your Snail Kite captures, but it’s the Pileated Woodpecker images that really do it for me!

    I totally agree that the best birding is usually enjoyed away from the conventional hot-spots. There’s also a great deal of satisfaction in finding a bird for oneself somewhere where there’s not other birders telling you that “there’s a thingumyjig in the tree over there at ten o’clock”.

    My very best wishes to you both – – – Richard

    • We trust you and Lindsay had a wonderful respite, Richard! I think that woodpecker might be my favorite, too. I could watch those big guys strip bark and probe deep into a branch for hours. We should begin seeing them choosing nest sites any day now.

      Today is Easter Sunday and we’re reflecting on how truly blessed we are. Blogging friends are among those blessings. Have a wonderful week you two!

  5. Beth

    Lovely essay. I love the small places, too, and a hand to hold that loves me back. The tree swallows are fantastic! Something wondrous and mystical about that photo.

    • A photo doesn’t do justice to the experience of all those blue-green forms hovering above tree branches, snatching a bug and jetting away at the speed of light! Awesome stuff.

      We love y’all! Wish you were here. Carrot salad and deviled eggs are being assembled ….

  6. They are wonderful Wally! I have some limpkins on my bird post this week … for me seeing and photographing any ONE of your birds is a good day! Love coming here for the beautiful photography and writing and for the ideas of places to go, birds to see. Thanks as always.

    Are you at all worried about the state of that water on all three sides … or inside? It’s rather dark (literally and figuratively) over here on the Caloosahatchie side of the state.

    • Thank you so much, Sallie! I like your Limpkin series! I’m not that worried about the water. Mama Nature has a way of adapting and I am an eternal optimist.

  7. Hi Wally. You really have some great pictures today. I’m thinking of the stunning Pileated Pecker, the kestrel, vireo and of course my favourite own bird, the Merlin. That is a terrific shot when I think how difficult I find it to get anywhere near those wary little creatures.

    The Snail Kite pics are spot on of course, not only to show the unusual bill but also capture the action like that.

    You’re so right of course about birds not being very good readers and so missing all those nature reserves put there just for them. Hitting the lonely trail when out birding if infinitely more rewarding. Reserves are good for someone setting out to discover the world of birds but hopefully yhey soon learn that birds are all around us.

  8. Hi Wally. Your photos today are exceptionally good. I’m thinking of the kestrel, the vireo but especially that Merlin and npot to mention the stunning close-ups of the Pileated Pecker. I can only dream of getting close enough to a Merlin to take a shot like that one. You really hit the jackpot with the Snail KIte.

    You’re correct of course in saying that birds can’t read well enough to just visit nature reserves. Those places are a good starting point for someone beginning their exploration into the world of birding, but hitting the quiet trail is infintely more rewarding.

    Have lots of Florida Fun my friend.

    • As the old saying goes: “Better to be lucky than good.”!

      The Merlin was a nice surprise. Hope your weekend was good that the weather cooperates so you can get a bit of ringing accomplished. All the best!

  9. A great series of photos and the first one with the Hawk looking right at you is fantastic. It sounds like a great way to watch birds early in the morning.

  10. Love the white-eyed vireo photo!…and I can’t wait for the warblers to return to Magee!

    • We see the warblers gathering and fattening up for the trip back north, so it won’t be long! Thank you, Dave, for visiting.

  11. Really Wally, you are quite right about things at close hand while we think they are anywhere else but there!!!!
    Your photos are fantastic and the American kestrel looks much like our European one.
    The Snail kite (impressive pictures too!) is equipped with THE right beak to hook the snails out of their shell! Very interesting!
    Enjoy your weekend and keep well

    • Merci, Noushka. That specialized beak and diet is why the species is so threatened. The spread of an invasive form of the Apple Snail may actually save the Snail Kite from demise.

      Our weekend is great so far and we wish you all the best!

  12. What wonderful images, always… I particularly LOVE the last three, of the pelican in the live oak and the snail kite — wow! Grabbing that apple snail, what a capture!

  13. Thank you.
    Awe, wonder and a touch of jealousy.
    So many birds I will probably not see in the flesh, but can marvel at and enjoy.
    And I am glad that while you were ignoring breakfast and the binoculars, you managed to maintain your (intermittent?) grasp on your camera.

    • What nice remarks! Yeah, sometimes photography (and everything else) is an afterthought. It’s the price I pay for hanging around such a fantastic partner.

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