I should go birding or photographing every day. Alas, the requirements of everyday life simply prohibit such a luxury. Okay, that and the fact that I’m lazy by nature and can’t bring myself to leave the house at the totally unrealistic hour the sun decides to arise each day.
But if I wanted to make a short drive to a decent spot for birds and scenery, I could do so, thanks to my city’s thoughtfulness in providing a very nice park less than ten minutes from the house. Our city is not huge (a little over 100,000 population) but has included a good number of urban parks in its past and future planning. The one near our house, Lake Parker Park, is a very nice oasis surrounded by development. As you near the park entrance, you drive past a large baseball complex, winter home to a professional team. Just outside the park’s southern boundary is a fire department operations center which is quite loud on training days, not to mention smoky. Near the park’s northern entrance is a state police headquarters where driving tests are administered. Directly across the lake from the park one can view a picturesque coal-fired power plant complex.
Having said all of that, one can arrive as the park opens at dawn and spend a lovely hour or two of relative calm and quiet before the city awakens. Within the park are groves of huge oak trees, a sprinkling of pines and three different spots where mulberry trees provide ripe fruit each year. There are soccer fields which offer foraging areas for Killdeer and Mourning Dove and the tall light support structures provide ideal nesting platforms for Osprey and Great Horned Owls. The lake shoreline, a canal, a pond and small wetland all offer appealing habitat and feeding spots for a very diverse selection of birds.
Spring and fall migrants can make for exciting birding with the potential for a rare species always possible. Many northern visitors spend the entire winter within the park and the relatively confined area makes spotting them much more likely than at some other popular birding locales.
Now that summer is here, the park is a great place to find breeding birds. Water birds compete for prime nesting trees along the lake’s edge and woodland species enjoy the large populations of insects found near the water.
A few days ago, I managed to stumble out of bed early enough to go to the park in order to photograph a beautiful sunrise. Mother Nature provided a blanket of early morning fog for me to enjoy instead. Sigh. It was still a lovely morning and I even found a few cooperative birds, including a bit of a rarity which has been frequenting the park the past few weeks.
Patch: Lake Parker Park
A blessing in disguise. Although the fog didn’t permit a photograph of a pretty sunrise, it does obscure the not-so-beautiful power plant across the lake.
A local fisherman patiently waits for the fog to lift. Actually, the Great Blue Heron hunts just fine no matter the conditions.
It’s difficult to find models willing to get up early and sit in the top of a cypress tree in the mist at dawn, but, fortunately for me, the Anhinga is beautiful (!) and works cheap. Gini suggested a bit less eye make-up but, hey, “cheap” was the key word.
One of the more colorful residents of the park are Purple Gallinules. They are here all year and these chicks are probably about a month old.
With abundant water and water-loving vegetation, insect life is prolific here. Some of the bugs are very attractive, such as this male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). The immature male begins life the same bright green as the female and then turns this characteristic powder blue. This color change can involve as many as 17 distinct color stages over a 2-3 week period.
The smallest of North America’s herons, the Least Bittern (length: 13 inches, wingspan: 17 inches), is not often seen due to its size, coloration and “bittern” habit of holding still with its head pointed skyward to avoid detection within dense reeds. This one was hungry. He fixed his gaze on an unseen prey just beneath the surface, stretched his long neck and dove completely underwater for his breakfast snack.
The Snail Kite population within Florida is estimated at less than 1,000 individuals. This is down from about 3500 in the late 1990’s. The decline is likely due to human development affecting the bird’s primary food source, the Florida Apple Snail. Accidental introduction of invasive apple snails from South America has recently provided a boost to the kite’s food supply. In the past five years, the kite population has increased slightly. The species still faces huge challenges as habitat loss still occurs. Also, nature provides its own issues. Last year, Hurricane Irma swept across Florida and in its wake biologists determined virtually all Snail Kite nests (over 40) on Lake Okeechobee in the south were destroyed. I felt fortunate to be able to observe this beautiful male catch and eat breakfast the other day.
Another local patch for which I am very thankful! Be better than I am when it comes to getting out of bed to go visit your own special spot.
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!