Storm Dodging

My dad didn’t know I was using his long-handled minnow net to scrape along the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to catch crayfish. That changed when I hit an unforgiving root and bent the frame of the net. Fortunately, he was more forgiving than the root and a quick twist of the pliers and the net was as good as new. But I wouldn’t be using it in the drainage ditch anymore, he said.

That was in Miami, Florida about 60 years ago. At about that same time, a towheaded tomboy was busy trying to catch tadpoles in a drainage ditch near Tampa, Florida. Two kids, two drainage ditches, infinite curiosity about nature, 200 miles apart. Who knew fate would bring us together in a music room where love eventually blossomed and is still in full bloom.

Florida summers bring sudden and ferocious thunderstorms with raindrops the size of quarters, earth shaking rumbles and bright streaks of lightning hurled from inky skies. The only thing more frightening than the storm was what would happen to my rear end if my Mother had to call me indoors more than once! Although the storm would usually pass quickly, it was difficult to be patient. I knew the rain would add more water to the drainage ditches which could hold frogs, their thousands of tadpoles, turtles, crayfish and who knew what other wonders!

We are older now and much wiser, with enough sense to remain indoors when a severe storm is brewing —–


Why, that’s when all the birds are busy hunting for a last minute meal before the rains begin! We simply MUST be out there with them!

Thus, so it was last Wednesday. About a week ago, as I was traveling to an appointment downtown, I thought I glimpsed a Snail Kite along the shore of Lake Parker. There was too much traffic to stop safely and I was running a bit late so confirmation would have to wait. Until Wednesday. Until gathering storm clouds motivated me to pile Gini and bins and camera into the truck and go hunting. Bingo! There she was, atop a small cypress tree. She didn’t like my slinking around trying to hide behind trees to get close enough for a photo, but she remained in the area and I snapped a few shots for the record and left quickly so she could continue hunting for her escargot lunch. Before the storm.

We decided to check out a couple of the public boat ramp areas on the south and east sides of the lake since the rain had not yet begun. At the south ramp, a pair of Royal Terns were busy criss-crossing the lake in front of us while a young Limpkin extracted an apple snail from its shell. Half a dozen Osprey appeared to be suspended in the sky as they faced into the stiffening wind of the coming storm.  At the east ramp, there are more trees and we found a group of 14 Yellow Warblers feeding voraciously. Along with these migrants were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a couple of Prairie Warblers and a Yellow-throated Warbler. I even got a rare glimpse of a migratory Northern Waterthrush, a bird usually heard but not often seen very well. A couple of woodpeckers and a vireo were scouring the branches of a large oak tree. Along a canal leading to the lake, the soft “chortle” of a Least Bittern led me to the spot where he slowly emerged for exactly one picture before he melted back into the reeds. A young alligator was totally unconcerned about any storms as he was way too busy demonstrating how to relax. In a protected spot, a dragon posed in the sunlight before the storm clouds rolled in.

Gini and I found a small barbeque place that sold us a couple of sandwiches and we parked on the shore of a small lake and enjoyed Nature’s show while we ate. The lake’s surface was whipped into whitecaps, the sky was black as night, thunder rolled, quarter-sized drops hit the windshield and we reminisced about running barefoot in a drainage ditch full of rain water. I am blessed.

Images from before the storm.


This lady started it all today. A Snail Kite, endangered due to loss of habitat throughout Florida but, happily, holding their own.

Lake Parker

Snail Kite


A Royal Tern enjoys the breeze before the storm rolls in.

Lake Parker

Royal Tern


A secretive Least Bittern. In the proper habitat, they are usually heard but prefer to remain deep in the reeds. (It is a smallish heron measuring only 11-14 inches (28-36 cm) in length.) Here is its soft chuckling call:  Least Bittern Call.

Lake Parker Park

Least Bittern


Yellow-throated Warblers breed in Florida but in fall we begin to see numbers of them as migrants head south for the winter.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Warbler


A Prairie Warbler can have very subtle or very vivid facial markings. This one is a bit in between the extremes. These birds don’t breed in our area and are only enjoyed during migration.

Lake Parker Park

Prairie Warbler


Another migrant, the Northern Waterthrush resembles a member of the thrush family (even bearing the name!) but is actually a warbler. It spends most of its time on the ground or low perches in boggy areas.

Lake Parker Park

Northern Waterthrush


This Red-bellied Woodpecker is likely a first-year bird transitioning into adult plumage. Thus the “dirty” face.

Lake Parker Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker


Small Downy Woodpeckers are common in our area. This female is examining a lichen-covered branch hoping to find a snack.

Lake Parker Park

Downy Woodpecker


A Yellow-throated Vireo stopped hunting for a moment to gaze down at the old guy gazing up. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if this is a local or a fall visitor.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Vireo


When we drove up to the east side boat ramp area, before we got out of the truck, a gang of Yellow Warblers was very actively feeding in trees adjacent to the parking lot. It was interesting that within the group we spotted brightly colored males, the more subtly hued females and some almost gray looking immature birds.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow Warbler


Storms hold no fear for a dragon! Well, I imagine once the wind and rain begin, this dragon will seek shelter. This is a Four-spotted Pennant and is a young female. As she matures, the spots on each wing will become darker. The bright white stigmas on each wing leading edge and the slender abdomen are diagnostic for this species.

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female


“Storm? What storm?” Typical alligator attitude.

East Lake Parker

American Alligator


We love living in the Sunshine State with its clear bright blue skies most of the year. But when the storms arrive, we still don’t mind dodging the raindrops to find a few birds. And if we happen to spot a drainage ditch full of water, well, these shoes and socks can disappear pretty quick!


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




Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Storm Dodging

  1. Hi Wally, I know I am going backwards looking at your posts but I don’t want to miss any that would never do as and join them so much but your writing and your photography. How marvellous that 48 years ago to young people interested in nature and enjoying having their feet in drainage ditches with only 200 miles between them should find each other falling in love and still to this day it is blossoming Now that is one of the most lovely love stories I have heard. It is wonderful to know that after all this time that you and gini still love going out on adventures on familiar and unfamiliar roads to. See what surprises nature has to offer you. Had to laugh that you to knowing a storm is coming we get out there looking for birds when most people would be battening down the hatches. I am so glad you did have enjoyed it. It was good that the storm missed you and was more offshore. I just love that laid back looking alligator image. Your dragonfly shots are exquisite and I love all the warblers as well as the woodpeckers. Once again a brilliant post. Most entertaining script and stunning photographs. Glad you are safe from the storm.

    • Yes, we were quite lucky that hurricane left us pretty much alone! I like that alligator picture as it sums up my attitude most days: “Don’t bother me, I’m taking a nap.”

      Gini and I wish you all the best.

  2. Hi Wally. Still checking. Good to hear that the storm left you mostly alone. I’m sure the sun will be along soon. then you can get out and take more pictures of birds I’ll never see. Grrr.

  3. Hi my old friend. I’ve been away in Greece and I thought it best to check up on you aqs i have just been watching Sky News. I hope you and Ginnie are both well and keeping safe from young Matthew.

    Good to see you have been on good form with words and pictures. Love the Snail Kite and don’t worry abpout alligators. That one looks harmless enough like most of them truly are.

    Talk to you after the storm passes by.

    • As you can tell from the tardiness of my reply (mea culpa) and the continued infrequency of blog posts, life is still attempting to interfere with birding. Most annoying.
      We saw the sun as it peeked above the horizon this morning and we are, for the first time this year, optimistic it is the light at the end of what has been a much longer tunnel than we anticipated.

      Happy to hear you were in Greece soaking up a bit of sunshine and local color! Our cyclone known as Matthew was polite enough to remain offshore just a bit and that was enough to make our experience at his extreme western edge much, much less severe than it could have been. A few tree small tree branches to clean up and higher water levels in the local lakes and ponds.

      I’m excited about that Snail Kite as it almost certainly nested at the location where I took it’s photograph. This week there were four kites there. Hopefully, they will continue to nest successfully.

      Your remark about a harmless looking alligator concerns me. Either you have begun to believe my propaganda, ummm, scientific facts about the reptiles, or it was subtle sarcasm, which, of course, is completely contrary to your personality. I’ll attempt to sort out the truth of it as time passes and more alligator images find their way into my posts.

      Birding is on the calendar again! We’re having a spell of cool, dry weather! Life is Good!

      Phil, thank you for checking on us. We are well and hope you are, too.

  4. Beth

    C’mon, now, were you storm dodging or storm chasing? What a fun post — your words are a lyrical accompaniment to the music of your photos (or vice versa!) — terrific, anyway. Love that Yellow-throated Vireo. Made me think of a friendlier, non-lethal Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, “You talkin’ to me?”

    The gorgeous dragon’s wings look gilded, and I envy the gator’s zen of relaxation. Priceless expression.

    Love from your (still) barefoot little sis.

    • Okay, so, technically, we were “going to the area where we might be likely to encounter storm activity”, but only because we know birds are often active just before weird weather arrives. Once we actually got to the aforementioned area, we truly drove around trying to dodge rain and lightning looking for birds wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas. It’s really pretty advanced birding stuff the layman (laywoman? layperson?) wouldn’t understand.

      That little gator is one of my favorite portraits.

      Love ya!

  5. Is this the Lake Parker where the purple gallinules live? I’ve got to get over there. Didn’t realize there was so much to see. Beautiful shot of the dragonfly!

    • Hi, Dina! Yep, that’s the same lake. The Snail Kite has been hanging around the western shore line and Purple Gallinules are plentiful all along here. (This is just south of Lake Parker Park, along West Lake Parker Drive.) We also stopped in at the Sertoma Boat Ramp on Highway 92 and at the public boat ramp and pier on East Lake Parker Drive.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  6. I enjoyed the mental image you conjured up of barefoot rascals being coaxed inside away from the storm. I also like the idea of using your truck to dodge the raindrops. Don’t Florida storms have hail? That’s what would worry me about being out in such a storm. All your photos are great but I especially liked the Tern in-flight.

    • Thanks, Mick! We rarely have hail in our area so, no worries! In addition to shelter from the weather, that mud-covered truck is a really good hide, too!

      (By the way, we’re STILL a couple of barefoot rascals!) 🙂

      All the best. Looking forward to more of your outstanding beach and mangrove images.

  7. Jorge H. Oliveira

    A bit late but nevertheless I wanted to say that I like your images very much as well as the words.
    Great blog.

    (I am curious, would you mind telling me what gear do you use?)

    • We really appreciate your very nice remarks, Jorge!

      As to equipment, most images are made with some combination of full-frame or cropped-sensor DSLR. For “birding” in the field I will typically have a 150-600mm zoom or fixed 300mm lens at the ready. On most trips, I am actively birding (as opposed to a trip designed for photography only), so I don’t use a tripod on those occasions. Hope this helps. (I don’t think specific brands are applicable as in today’s market I feel that middle to high end equipment of good quality is readily available from several manufacturers.)

      Have a great day and come back for a visit!

  8. Equal measures of delightful narrative and superb images, Wally – I’m always looking forward to your next post as you always manage to make my day!

    Any one of those birds would have had me over the moon, but the Four-spotted Pennant really did it for me. For me it seems that dragons have taken precedence over the birds this summer. However, all that is about to change as they will soon be gone – until next year! It will be back to the birds then and, with any luck, some more owls!

    My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

    I’m just about to see if I’ve stopped the WordPress problem I had – I cancelled my WordPress account!!! No, it didn’t work. They seem to be hanging onto my usual e-mail address as belonging to a WordPress account.

    • Thank you, Richard! It’s difficult, sometimes, to pass by dragons to pursue a bird – and vice versa! I’ve tried planning trips to photograph just the insects only to have some delightful bird species show up. It just isn’t fair!

      We’re looking forward to more of your beautiful images of dragons, owls and birds — oh, my!

  9. Adele Jennings

    Wally, I can remember when I was a child in the summertime…how my next door neighbor and I would run to get on our bathingsuits at the first sound of rain…(minus the thunder and lightning)….we’d meet on my front lawn and dance in the rain! …enjoying every minute of it. After the rain, the robins would be on the lawns pulling out worms to eat!

    I loved the dragonfly, Four-spotted Pennant…you can actually see the fine lines in her wings!
    Thanks Wally!

  10. What a wonderful, wonderful outing.

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