Wildflowers

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

Would You Prefer Your Woods Hydric Or Mesic? – Part Two

Hydric:  Of an environment or habitat containing plenty of moisture; very wet.

Mesic:  Of an environment or habitat containing a moderate amount of moisture.

So, as we explored the vast Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area, which in the brochure describes the ecology as a mix of hydric and mesic pine flatwoods, it was challenging to find any area to hike too far without being at least ankle deep in water. To be fair, the area has received a lot of rain recently. The strict definitions above became blurred, to say the least.

A lunch of cold chicken beside a lake surrounded by pine trees, dragonflies hovering above the shoreline, Osprey and Bald Eagles crash-diving into the water for lunch of their own, flowers blooming  in every direction – all that and the immeasurable bonus of sharing it with someone I love more than the air I breathe. Life is good.

It was tempting to head home after lunch in order to get ahead of the traffic we would invariably face as folks left work. Tough decision.

We were seeing some flowers we couldn’t identify and I was trying to figure out a way to get images of dragonflies without having to wade into waist-deep water inhabited by Florida’s representatives of the Chamber of Commerce. The ‘gators here are very healthy looking. Ahead of us, a Northern Bobwhite family rushed across the road. Typically, these skittish quail would keep going until they felt safe in the underbrush. However, as we pulled even with the spot they crossed, they were all still there! We spent the next half-hour being thoroughly entertained by this large (14!) family of birds as they clucked and cooed, chased bugs, jostled each other for a shady log, took dust baths and generally behaved like wild birds.

With all the slash pines here, the habitat is perfect for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. They used to number in the tens of thousands in the southeastern United States. Then, lumbering. A staggering and rapid loss of habitat nearly decimated their population. Finally, more intelligent management practices of timberland combined with some innovative wildlife biologists helped the species recover somewhat. We were quite fortunate to see a half-dozen adults flying to nest cavities with food for hungry youngsters. It bodes well for the future.

Late afternoon. Staggering heat and humidity. Insects galore – the type which want you to donate blood. All of it is part of the experience which is made worthwhile by glimpsing a rare woodpecker or nodding flower we’ve never seen before or the glistening golden wings of the smallest dragonfly on the continent.

The drive home was relaxing, since we had remained so long that by now all the people with jobs were already home having dinner. Oh, and that 85% chance of thunderstorms mentioned in the last post? Never materialized.

If you would care to review them, we included a few images of our afternoon adventure.

 

The Northern Bobwhite family was amazing! The first image is a male which dug a depression in the sand, nestled down and used his feet to throw up sand all over his feathers. The second shot shows a few youngsters trying to find the shadiest spot and the last pic is a young male who claimed that log as his.

Babcock/Webb WMA

Babcock/Webb WMA

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Tall with bright purple flowers, Florida Ironweed (Vernonia blodgettii) is related to sunflowers.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

White-winged Dove are common throughout the area and are larger than their cousins, the Mourning Dove.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) is abundant in central Florida and the combination of purple and yellow blooms attracts all sorts of pollinators.

Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum)

 

Two small “hairs” on the hindwing give the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) part of its name. This small butterfly is the most common of the hairstreaks in North America.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

The smallest dove in our area is the Common Ground-Dove. They have a very monotonous call, a single “coo-coo-coo” which prompts some of us to wish they had an on/off switch.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

One of our more colorful dragons is Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami). An immature male will initially look similar to a female, mostly brown/light orange. This young male is turning bright orange and will eventually be almost all red.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Baldwin’s Milkwort (Polygala balduinii) is one of only a few white milkworts found in Florida and was a new species for us. It’s scientific name comes from the Greek polys, meaning “many”, and gala, meaning “milk”. It was once thought the presence of milkworts in pastures would increase milk production in cows.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

One of our most plentiful dragonflies is the Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida). They are fast fliers and like to perch on taller weed tips or bare twigs.

Babcock/Webb WMA

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Over 160 oils within the species likely contribute to the aroma of the Rosy Camphorweed (Pluchea baccharis).  Anecdotally, a tea made from the plant has some health benefits. (Do NOT try this at home!)

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

The Halloween Pennant  (Celithemis eponina) is always a joy to spot in the field! It’s orange color and black wing marks make it readily identifiable. This mating pair didn’t really care that I was documenting their union.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Endemic to Florida, the Pine-Hyacinth (Clematis baldwinii) bloom begins as pale pink/white, turns deeper lavender and ends, as the one we found, white at the end of the season.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

The smallest dragonfly in North America, the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) is often mistaken for a wasp. That’s not a mistake, it’s by natural design to help ward off potential predators. Golden wings shining in the late afternoon sun got my attention and this male posed for about a millisecond before flitting across the lake.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Although I couldn’t manage a good photograph, I so seldom capture a damselfly I thought I’d share it anyway. The Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) is one of the most widespread damsels in the country and can be quite, well, “variable” in appearance depending on location.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

We had a long day. We’re tired. We’re happy. It just doesn’t matter if your woods are hydric, mesic or something altogether different. Visit them. Often.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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