Travel

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Urban Desert Oasis

“Visit today and experience our all-natural park that is popular with cross-country and other runners alike.”

Despite the gracious invitation of the Holloway Park website, running of any sort is not what attracted me to this 362 acre green area. I admire runners greatly. I just choose not to participate. (Okay, I choose not to due to immediate complaints from my feet, knees, hips, back and lungs.)

Surrounded on all sides by constant high-volume traffic and urban development, Holloway Park on Lakeland’s south side offers a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Before 1950, the spot was mined for phosphate. In the ensuing years it was left alone for nature to begin it’s reclamation process. The property owners, Mr. and Mrs. Holloway, generously provided the tract in 2010 for the creation of a natural recreational park. It’s primary attraction has been a venue for running events on most weekends. Given my aforementioned allergy to running, we visit on weekdays.

The park is not huge so it’s easy to walk the nicely maintained paths. There is a small pond, a stream, wetland area and section of mixed hardwood forest to explore. Open fields also attract several species of birds and insects during different times of the year.

This has always been a good spot to find dragonflies and birds and we looked forward to a nice morning. We were not disappointed. Birds were in short supply, but I managed my first decent images of the large darner dragonfly family. As our summer thunderstorm schedule is producing rain and lightning earlier in the day lately, we cut our visit a bit short as dark clouds began to blot out the light and large drops threatened to knock the cap off my head.

 

A beautiful female Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) soaks up the early sun to help dry her wings.

Holloway Park

 

One of our most abundant dragonfly species, a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) , looks a little worse for wear as wings show the effects of flying through the brush, mating and/or territorial combat.

Holloway Park

 

Very soon, many of our song birds, like this Northern Parula, will be departing for their southern migration destinations.

Holloway Park

 

Finally! I had hoped to find a darner today, and did! This gorgeous Blue-faced Darner (Coryphaeschna adnexa) was hanging around waiting for the morning sun to cause potential prey to become active. These dragons can reach 2.75 inches (70 mm) in length and normally fly continuously during daylight. I caught this one before its daily schedule started. (Thank you, Richard Pegler, Pegler Birding, for handing me a metric ruler to correct an error! – Visit his beautiful website when you have a chance!)

Holloway Park

 

Spider webs throughout the park were loaded with dew and resembled nets, ready to snag any errant bug which stumbled into the trap.

Holloway Park

 

Smaller than any other North American dragonfly, the female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) has black spots on her wings whereas the males have clear wings.

Holloway Park

 

A long and slender abdomen help identify the Pin-tailed Pondhawk (Erythemis plebeja).

Holloway Park

 

To paraphrase the great Ogden Nash, moulting is pretty revolting. That may explain the grumpy look from a Northern Cardinal.

Holloway Park

 

This male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) simply refused to look my direction, but even from this angle, his bright blue and yellow is stunning.

Holloway Park

 

Perched over water, a male Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) guards his territory and remains alert for a potential meal.

Holloway Park

 

Holloway Park is not vast, not famous and on weekends may be filled with people running for no apparent reason. However, it can truly be an oasis of relief for anyone wishing to escape the daily grind. If you are fortunate enough to have such a place where you live, go – breathe easy – observe nature, and, if you must, go for a run. I’ll sit here and cheer for you.

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

 

Additional Information

Holloway Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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