In Our Comfort Zone

“Okay to have lunch at the usual spot?” A bit elevated, we can find a shady place to park near the wetlands boardwalk which offers a nice view of two lakes. As we pulled off the dirt road, my Chief Navigator astutely announced:  “This isn’t gonna work. The windows are already covered with bugs!” We were faced with leaving the windows rolled up, keep the air-conditioner on and eat our lunch in a cocoon – or find a different location. Gini suggested Option Number Two. (Okay, it may not have been an actual suggestion. More like just a “look”. But, it was “THE LOOK”. We found a very nice alternate spot.)

The large number of insects which disrupted our lunch plans were what we native Floridians call “Blind Mosquitoes”, actually the adult stage of freshwater midges in the family Chironomidae. The good news is they don’t bite, sting or suck your blood. The bad news is they occur in such huge numbers that when encountered they plug up your eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth – eating a sandwich is virtually impossible.

Earlier, we had entered Hardee Lakes Park not long after sunrise and had been leisurely exploring the shorelines of the park’s four lakes and adjacent woods and wetlands. We were hoping to catch early migrating passerines. Alas, no luck in that department. The park did, however, offer its usual array of bugs, birds and blooms as well as some surprises.

This 1200 acre county park has been one of our favorite places to visit for several years. About an hour from the house, it has four lakes which were formerly phosphate mining pits but have been reclaimed for over 20 years and provide excellent fishing and wildlife habitat. (I am concerned that recent efforts to manage the park may be bordering on the “too much of a good thing” department. Killing of vegetation around the lakes’ shorelines has resulted in severe reduction of potential cover and nesting sites for water birds.) A diverse environment of water, wetlands, hardwood and conifer forest and open grassy areas make this a great destination for birders at any time of year.

Our familiarity with the park, knowing what birds are resident, anticipation of seasonal migrants and the fact we almost always find something unexpected will keep us coming back for more. We just hope the county’s efforts to lure more campers, hold community events (e.g., “mud runs”) and the aforementioned temptation to over-manage the natural resources won’t result in long-term negative results for folks like us who think selfishly. (We don’t like sharing our outdoors with anybody!).

Not many bird images this trip. Many avian residents are dealing with new family members and molting. As a result, they were pretty shy. No worries! Plenty to see here for those willing to look.

 

This immature Sandhill Crane will soon look like Mom. We heard two families trumpeting back and forth throughout the morning.

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature Sandhill Crane

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult Sandhill Crane

 

One of Florida’s most abundant yellow butterflies is the Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa). The male is sparsely marked below. Typically, views of the bright yellow upper wings are rare except when in flight.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is common in the state and its various stages of growth offer quite different appearances.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As with many dragonflies, male and female Four-spotted Pennants (Brachymesia gravida) may not look at all alike.

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

 

Even authoritative field guides admit it’s often difficult to identify members of the Duskywing butterfly family. I’m going out on a limb and stating this is Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), based on the above wing markings and white behind the eyes.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) had been as busy as – well – a bee, collecting pollen and storing it in a leg pouch. Inquiring minds will want to know that pouch is called a “corbicula” and only occurs on the hind tibiae of the female.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

This is not Hawaii. To my knowledge, there are no beets grown within Hardee Lakes Park. Imagine our astonishment, then, to find a Hawaiian Beet Webworm Moth (Spoladea recurvalis) feeding right at our feet! Turns out the larvae of this moth and two others closely related can cause quite a bit of damage to leafy green crops. In Florida, this species is sometimes called the Spinach Moth and is not usually abundant. It is found worldwide.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers brought a few pigs with them to serve as a food source while they explored Florida’s peninsula. They didn’t take them back when they left. Today the state has a feral pig problem. The animals occur in all 67 of the state’s counties. Rooting with their broad snouts can leave vast tracts looking like a plowed field, destroys vegetation and disturbs topsoil. They can be hunted and trapped (with landowner permission) without a license or permit and there is no limit on how many may be harvested. This group was oblivious to my presence. (There were an additional eight individuals nearby.)

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly is, at first glance, similar to the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and like its cousin can taste bitter to predators. The bad taste is believed to be due to this species’ preference for milkweed plants as hosts for their larva.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Also called Lance-leafed Arrowhead and Duck Potato, Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia) is very common in our area. The corms (underground rhizomes) are about the size of chestnuts and supposedly are edible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Grass-skippers are small, vary in color from brown to dull orange and fly very erratically. Did I mention they can be difficult to identify? I’m pretty sure this one is a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), but if anyone has a correction, I’d welcome another opinion!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we rounded a curve, we spotted a family of White-tailed Deer in a clearing. We were blessed to be able to observe as a gentle rain fell and a mother took care of her new fawns.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

It’s exciting to discover new places to explore, but returning to a familiar location which has become “comfortable” has its own rewards. Find your own comfort zone and visit as often as possible.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park, Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “In Our Comfort Zone

  1. Beautiful series as always and your knowledge of flora and fauna astounds! It is no wonder you don’t want to share this spot with others, especially mud runners, whatever the hell they are (but it can’t be good). If I were you I wouldn’t have even shared the name of your park with Florida snowbirds (as I go to add this to my ever-growing Florida Places wish list.) ….. I handed this post over to Bill, so he could share the beauty, the info about the midges (eeewww) *and* the knowledge that he is not alone in knowing about THE LOOK!

    • Turns out, THE LOOK is quite well known! 🙂

      Hope you’re able to visit the park. It’s a good spot for a picnic, just select a table not being used by the midge tribe.

      Sharing natural beauty (even with snowbirds) helps to enhance that beauty.

  2. Hi Wally. Good to hear that you too get “The Look”. Just learn to behave and you will be OK.

    Shame about the mozzies spoiling your plans but from your description they do sound to be pretty uncomfortable.

    We have tidy minds here too and I really think that by law, every local authority should have a resident ornithologist/wildlife expert to be on hand to advise the white collars when they are about to make elementary mistakes.

    The Lotus flower is very lovely and thank you for showing those stages from flower to seed.

    You must have lots of patience in taking those dragon and butterfly pictures because whoever I try, the darned things fly off quicker than any bird. Then I usually give up and go look for a bird.

    Lots of oohs and aahs coming your way for that last picture!

    • Over 50 years and I still get “The Look”, so I think I’ve given up on that trying to behave thing.

      I found the secret to developing the patience needed for photographing bugs. I simply sit on the ground in likely habitat. At my age, by the time I am able to arise, I am surrounded with insect subjects begging to have their portraits taken! 🙂

      We appreciate all the oohs and aahs we can get.

      Enjoy your brand new week, Phil!

  3. Meant to say, Wally – that header is absolutely wonderful!

  4. Super photography and your entertaining and informative narrative have given me a really welcome shot in the arm, Wally – Lindsay’s been complaining that I’ve overdone it today, and I have to admit, it feels like it! I found the deer to be particularly heart-warming.

    You mention Avon’s Skin-So-Soft in your reply to Ken’s comment. Lindsay was just telling me yesterday that a friend had just told her that she’d been using it for years, but the last lot she bought, recently, turned her skin bright red and itchy. She’s not sure if she’s developed an allergy, or whether Avon have changed the formula or if it might have been a bad batch. You might need to look out for that one!

    My very best wishes to you and Gini. Take good care – – – – Richard

    • We’re more than happy to shoot you in the arm any time! Anything to help you fell better. Listen to Lindsay! Do not over-exert yourself!

      No problems with the Skin-So-Soft to date but I’ll be the second one to know about it if Gini-with-the-perfect-skin has an issue!

      It’s only raining half-days here now so we’re getting out between cloudbursts.

      We continue to wish you both all the best.

  5. What a truly delightful outing – for you and for us.
    We have feral pigs too. And rabbits. And rather a lot of other introduced species (including our own) which do considerable damage.

  6. Love those fawns! In SW Florida (Sanibel Island) we encountered hordes of biting midges or “no see-ums. No fun! We have had only a single feral boar in our local wetlands, but suddenly it disappeared almost a year ago. Maybe a vehicle encounter or it ended up in a stew pot (legally).

    • Thank you, Ken! The no-see-ums are in a different family than the blind mosquitoes and are definitely no fun!
      We’ve had some success with Avon’s Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus. An old Tampa Bay fishing captain recommended a shot of lime juice every couple of hours but I haven’t tried that one!

  7. Lovely variety of shots, the deer is neat.

  8. I enjoy my comfort zones too. Places that are a reasonable drive and relaxing so you can go and get a nature hit with reasonable frequency. I love Sandhill Cranes and remember the first time I ever saw one was on the side of the road. I was new to bird photography and we pulled off the road so I could take pictures of their beautiful orange eyes. We were somewhere in the middle of the state. Though they do occur in the county just north of me, Palm Beach County. The second time I saw Sandhills was when we were exploring Route 192 and it was before my hearing went I guess. We saw several birds in a field next to a dirt road and at first I didn’t connect the haunting eerie sounds I hear with the birds. I suppose I felt like it was Jurrassic Park with those evocative sounds.

    Love all the images and especially the sweet white tailed deer fawns.

    • Thank you very much, Judy! The calls of the cranes is one of my favorite in nature. I had the pleasure of hearing over 10,000 of them last year in New Mexico. A totally awe-inspiring event!

      • I would imagine that would be impressive. I think Sandhills are pretty global birds. I have some oriental objects at home which feature birds with an orange/red crest shaped a bit like sandhills. I’ve probably been subconsciously programmed over the years by these painted objects even before I became interested in bird portraits.

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