History

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

Prairie Pause

“We’re not leaving before sunrise?” Gini had those raised eyebrows which signaled “I don’t believe you”. True, it was completely out of character and I had to explain in detail before she thought I might be serious.

The impeccable weatherman-who-is-never-mistaken had forecast a cool front moving in from the northwest and heading southeast across the state. My plan was to travel to the east side of huge Lake Kissimmee, about an hour-and-a-half from the house. For some time, I’ve wanted to capture one of those sunsets over the lake where the sky is “on fire” with reddish-orange-pink-purple high clouds lit from underneath by the sinking sun.

After a leisurely breakfast and a pot of coffee, we packed some cold chicken and fruit and meandered eastward. Okay, that’s not quite true. The first half of the trip required a harrowing adventure on the expressway toward the Empire of Disney and other assorted tourist magnets. The good news is that receiving a citation for driving above the speed limit is not possible along this stretch of road as one is unlikely to move the speedometer above ten miles-per-hour.

Once past the gridlock, we turned south and were soon actually meandering through pasture land owned by the same families for a couple hundred years. Early some mornings, it’s possible to spot the tall white images of rare Whooping Cranes at the distant edges of these fields. Plenty of deer, feral hogs and turkey feed here as well.

Our initial target was the vast Three Lakes and Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Areas. Together they include over 70,000 acres (+28,000 Ha) of grass prairie, pine and hardwood uplands, freshwater lakes and marshes. The area was one of the last, large open range ranching in the United States and continued until 1949. The state acquired the property in 1974 in order to protect endangered flora and fauna as well as to preserve some of the last vestiges of Florida’s once vast grass prairies.

This is one of our favorite areas in Florida. Quiet, plenty of wildlife and wildflowers, great fishing and (shhhh!) not crowded.

The sky was encouraging! High clouds scudding across the open prairie promised a glorious sunset opportunity! We slowly worked our way through the back roads to time our arrival at the east shore of Lake Kissimmee just before sunset. The only spot for access is a public boat ramp with a private campground and small store. We had time to enjoy our late lunch/early supper and I found a spot to set up and wait for the magic moment.

Clouds. They move when pushed by wind.

About 30 minutes before sunset, the sky was almost clear. Sigh. Oh, well. A sunset at the lake is still special. Next time maybe a few pretty clouds will hang around.

We managed a few images in the afternoon with actual cloudy skies just to prove there HAD been some!

 

Cypress domes are stands of trees growing in a low place which usually stays wet year round.  The depression is lowest near the center of the dome and those trees grow more vigorously than the surrounding ones, thus creating the “dome” shape.

Three Lakes WMA

 

A large Bald Eagle’s nest has adorned this pine tree for years and has seen the birth of many new eagles. I don’t know if the nest has been used this year. It appeared unoccupied.

Three Lakes WMA

 

Gini called this a “cow tree” due to the pattern left from a fire. The texture of the burned outer bark and smooth inner bark was fascinating.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

Wildlife activity began to increase as daylight began to decrease. A Great Blue Heron stalked a frog in the grass near the shore of Lake Kissimmee.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

A Bald Eagle made a pass over my head in search of a fishy dinner along the shoreline.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

After taking this shot, I couldn’t get Frank Sinatra out of my head. Flyyy Me To The Moon …..

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Sunset over Lake Kissimmee. Almost clear skies.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

We took “the long way” home which allowed us to avoid the Empire of Disney. Whether you like your sunsets with or without clouds, enjoy them as often as you can. And if possible, be with someone you love. That way, clouds just won’t matter.

 

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

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

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