Birds

Recovery

“There’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.” Not what I wanted to hear earlier this week.

In late August, we called our son in Houston to see if he and his family needed to visit us in Florida until Hurricane Harvey passed. My son reminded us ever-so-diplomatically that if he were to have any flood damage at his house he would have to turn in his geology degree. They weathered the monster storm just fine.

A couple of weeks later, our son was on the phone asking if we needed to visit them in Houston until Hurricane Irma passed.

Mother Nature. Who knew she had a sense of humor?

I have no degree in geology but assured him we had weathered storms before. Of course, that was just bravado. We did the requisite stocking of supplies and prayed a lot. The intensity of our praying may have increased with the ferocity of the winds howling outside as rude Irma passed directly overhead during the night.

The current storm, Nate, is churning toward my sister’s house in Florida’s panhandle. It shouldn’t give them any problems. Shouldn’t. I don’t trust Mother Nature to play fair.

A couple of days after Irma caused devastation to Florida, Gini and I ventured out to survey our local area. We didn’t get far. Within just a few miles from the house, roads were covered in water and blocked by downed trees and power lines. We returned to the house and prayed some more. For those who would be weeks without water and power.

After a few more days, we again set out and found most roads passable. (A HUGE thank you to the responders from law enforcement, tree companies, utilities workers – literally thousands from other states – who have worked so hard to get Florida back to a sense of normalcy.) Since our normal birding haunts within public parks and reserves were closed we checked on accessible areas such as pastures, country roads and lake shores. Wildlife was abundant and we remain amazed at how resilient nature can be.

We have made a half-dozen forays since Irma tromped on Florida and life is returning to its normal pace. Today’s photographs are a compilation of what we found within two weeks of the hurricane’s passing. Migratory songbirds don’t read headlines and don’t watch the Weather Channel, so they have been showing up in treetops as they have for millennia.  We appreciate it.

 

We visited this area in southern Hardee County a week before the hurricane and could see no water at all.

County Line Road

 

A pair of Crested Caracara found something of interest in a field and keep a sharp lookout for thieves.

10 Mile Grade

 

Wading birds don’t mind the flooded fields at all! An immature White Ibis flapped by us on his way to probe the soft mud for breakfast.

10 Mile Grade

 

This Northern Mockingbird extracts a grub from an oak tree branch.

East Lake Parker

 

A Caspian Tern takes a dive at a local lake. There was a pier between me and where the tern entered the water but I was able to peek through the railings in time to see him fly off with his prize.

East Lake Parker

East Lake Parker

20170913 Lake Parker 00047

 

Ants are on the menu as the sticky tongue and bill of this Red-bellied Woodpecker are covered with the little morsels.

East Lake Parker

 

Driving along a remote country road, we found a Roseate Spoonbill taking advantage of water running across the road and washing all sorts of goodies into his waiting, well, spoon bill. I don’t know if he was looking to the heavens in thanks or wishing we would move along!

Green Pond Road

 

Water is returning to somewhat normal levels in many wetlands and residents, such as this young Red-shouldered Hawk, are thankful to find old perches and fresh food.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

With so much water, vegetation is flourishing. A Cloudless Sulphur finds nectar from Caesar Weed (Urena lobata), an invasive species with an attractive bloom.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Near Lake Kissimmee, about an hour east of us, we found several large and small flocks of Wild Turkey.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

A pair of European Collared-Dove perched picturesquely on a pier.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

It’s the time of year Bald Eagles begin courtship and the males can display some pretty spectacular aerobatics as they try to impress the ladies. I managed to follow one such fellow through a series of tight turns as he screamed throughout the show. There were four eagles involved in the demonstration but I tried to ignore the others (not easy!) to get a series of this guy. Here are four out of the two dozen images I took.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Limpkins are plentiful in our area thanks to a plethora of Apple Snails. These large waders are the only members of their species (Aramidae) in the world. Their name comes from their “limping” gait.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Along one dirt road, we stopped counting the webs of the Golden Silk Orbweaver, as they seemed to be everywhere. The strong silk is very effective at capturing large insects, such as the grasshopper here.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

Purple Gallinules are not very accomplished songsters, but they sure make up for it in the colorful looks department!

Lake Parker Park

 

Fall migration is in full swing. Most of the time, the birds are too high in the tree tops or in dense cover which makes photography impossible. Occasionally, I get lucky.

Yellow Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Prairie Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Black-and-White Warbler

Saddle Creek Park

 

Northern Parula

Saddle Creek Park

 

Cape May Warbler

Lake Parker Park

 

Baltimore Oriole (female)

Saddle Creek Park

 

American Redstart (male)

Saddle Creek Park

 

There is nothing “fun” about a storm, especially a huge tropical Hurricane. Damage to our region has been severe. The same is true for Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, other islands of the Caribbean and even Nate, while “just” a tropical depression, has taken 22 lives in Central America.

We are extremely thankful to have had minimal damage.

Our routine has been disrupted but our lives have not. Nature continues its cycle of life and we continue to be in awe of its magnificence.

As Gini and I recover from the storm, to be fortunate enough to see a mighty Bald Eagle perform a courtship flight or to marvel at the flash of bright orange as a Redstart startles insects from a hiding place – this is how we know we are truly blessed. To be able to do it together is something really special.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sabbatical Ends – Summer Begins

It was June. The calendar announced summer was about to begin. June in Florida is hot and muggy. June in Georgia is hot and muggy.

There is a reason that makers of household cleaning products advertise “fresh pine scent” on labels. Likewise, one out of ten automobiles sport, hanging from the rear-view mirror, a dark green lump of cardboard cut into what an urban-dwelling marketer thinks a tree should look like and infused with what an aroma specialist imagines a cardboard pine tree should smell like.

As we turned from the four-lane highway onto a rural lane cutting through the heart of agricultural central Georgia, we slowed to a saner speed, opened the windows and enjoyed the fresh air, the unmistakable sensation of earth recently tilled and, yes, the resinous tang unique to members of the Pinus genus. No lump of cardboard or detergent could ever capture that essence.

Our journey was now of familiar places. We had developed a rhythm of sorts. Leave just before sunrise, breakfast on the Gulf of Mexico coast, ramble northward through fishing towns (trying to ignore the tourist advertising), marvel at antebellum architecture, gawk at huge farming operations, enjoy our barbeque lunch along the high-water raging Flint River and open all the windows to gulp deeply of the perfume of the south produced by tall conifers just for us. By mid-afternoon we are here, unhooking the cable across the drive, scanning the trees for birds, thankful we will soon be out of the car for a couple of days.

Early June birds are busy mating, nesting, raising young, constantly searching for food. The migrants have departed to do all of the above further north. It’s a busy time in the woods and fields for all living things. Exploring is a pleasure!

Our first night coincides with the full moon. Early native Americans referred to the June full moon as the Strawberry Moon, likely because it came at a time of harvest. In other parts of the world it has been called Honey or Full Rose Moon. Whatever name you ascribe, on this night it was pretty spectacular. The coyotes thought so, too, based on their singing. The clear morning air didn’t seem that humid, but my camera lens proved otherwise as I couldn’t use it for the first half hour despite constant wiping. A very heavy dew contributed to several pounds of water added to my pant legs but, thankfully, my boots resisted the dampness. Dry feet are a true blessing when hiking.

We enjoyed our visit with family again and returned home refreshed and thankful for such an enriching experience. Nature provided endless opportunities for discovery and we hope you don’t mind if we share a small sample of our observations.

 

Strawberry Moon. Astronomical trivia:  At this time, the moon appears “smaller” than other times as it’s at its farthest orbit from the earth.

Early County

 

A male Field Sparrow uses the top of a young Longleaf Pine to show off his virtuoso voice in the hope a female likes what she hears.

Early County

 

The path behind the barn leads through old-growth pines to an area of hardwood trees and eventually an open field.

Early County

 

At a back yard feeder, a male House Finch tries to bully his way around to getting all the seed for himself. Good luck with that! There are ten feeders in the yard – plenty for all.

Early County

 

Ladybugs (ladybird beetles) are hard to miss in their shiny red and black cloaks.

Early County

 

Year-around residents, Eastern Bluebirds have already mated and are busily bringing bugs to a nesting box full of hungry two-week old chicks.

Early County

 

I rounded a path and startled a White-tailed Deer. The doe stared at me for about five minutes before she decided discretion was the better part of valor and bolted across the cotton field into the safety of the woods.

Early County

 

Northern Cardinals were abundant and their clear calls echoed around the property every day.

Early County

 

Orb-weaver spiders are master engineers and their strong webs strung across a path during the night yield a good supply of nutritious insects every morning.

Early County

 

A male Northern Bobwhite is almost hidden in tall grass. Behind him was his harem of four females. Soon there will be small fluffy quail all over this area.

Early County

 

Passiflora incarnata, Passion Flower, makes a walk through the pine grove undergrowth a visually stunning experience.

Early County

 

Singing from the very top of a large Bay Tree, a male Brown Thrasher was very unhappy I was interrupting his serenade to a nearby female. I snapped a quick portrait and hustled on down the path.

Early County

 

This is the time of year for fresh blackberries! Getting to them before the birds and animals is nearly impossible.

Early County

 

Two of the top finalists for best vocals are the Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. I was very lucky to have one of each appear in the treetops within 50 feet of one another – and me!

Early County

Early County

 

Some of the most interesting life forms can be found right at your feet – literally! A fungi extravaganza.

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

 

What a difference a day makes! The first photo above of a bright, colorful moon was followed the next evening by moonrise as a cool weather front approached bringing dark clouds drifting across the sky offering only fleeting glimpses of the lunar orb.

Early County

 

Our sabbatical ended but our visits will continue. All of us need the respite provided by an island of solace such as we have been fortunate to find. If you are able, such as I was, to benefit from the company of your very best friend in life, then you are indeed blessed.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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