Wildlife

Birding Bridgewater Before Breakfast

“I’ll be back in time for a late breakfast.”

She is still laughing.

Part of the 7,000+ acre Tenoroc Public Use Area, the “Bridgewater Tract” is literally five minutes from the house. Unfortunately, one must first check in at the headquarters building which is about 15 minutes up the road. A small inconvenience. We visit Tenoroc often due to its proximity and diverse mix of bird species. With over 1,000 acres of lakes, open grassy areas, mixed pine and hardwood forests and wetlands, the potential for a really good birding day is always high.

The Bridgewater Tract is adjacent to Lake Parker, a 2100 acre body of water within the city limits of Lakeland, Florida. Like the rest of the Tenoroc lands, Bridgewater consists of reclaimed phosphate mining areas. The former mining pits have been stocked with fish and the surrounding habitat has been managed to somewhat resemble what it looked like over 50 years ago. The results are apparently agreeable with the birds.

All the lakes within the Tenoroc system are fairly deep, following years of phosphate extraction. Relatively deep water begins almost immediately along the shoreline. With very little shallow water available, wading birds and “puddle” ducks are scarce. Abundant trees and dense undergrowth, especially near the water, is very attractive to a large number of other birds. A few trails wind through open grass and wetland areas as well as through woodlands.

Of course, I knew very well breakfast would be nothing but a memory by the time I finished exploring. Gini had managed to stop laughing by the time I returned and had lunch almost ready. Best. Wife. Ever.

My morning observations broke no records but it sure was enjoyable!

 

A small group of Common Grackles were excited about a hawk in their territory. Our geographic variant of this species shows a bit more purple iridescence than birds in other parts of the country.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Joining the grackles in screaming about the hawk, a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds flew into the tree tops.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

North America’s smallest woodpecker is the Downy Woodpecker. With a splash of bright red on his head, this male inspected every inch of several branches, scooping up insects almost without any hesitation.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Pine Warblers have an incredible range of plumage, from almost all gray to bright yellow. Even this somewhat drab bird has a beauty which cannot be denied.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Birders’ affliction. We are either gazing upward or have binoculars glued to our faces trying to discern what exactly is in the center of a bush. As a result of this affliction, we stumble over logs and roots, step into puddles, frighten poor snakes trying to get out of our way and are sometimes surprised to find someone gazing back at us. The raccoon was quick to depart.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Migration is in full swing and one species whose numbers really burgeon during this time is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This one held still longer than most.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

A cautious female Common Yellowthroat is not as bright as the male but her subdued plumage exudes a beauty all its own.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

“Butcher Bird”. I grew up using this name for the Loggerhead Shrike. Apparently, it is a widely used nickname for the small gray hunter. Carcasses of insects and lizards impaled on a thorn, twig or barbed-wire fence are tell-tale signs of a shrike in the area.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Although it is almost officially winter, here in subtropical Florida we are still blessed with the presence of dragons. One of the small and colorful Odonata, a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), allowed a quick photo op before “dashing” to chase a mosquito. I knew I liked dragonflies for a reason!

20191108 Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract 00012.jpg

 

One of our winter visitors, an Eastern Phoebe, gave me a quizzical glance as I neared her perch, trying to decide if I meant her any harm. I changed direction and she kept up her search for breakfast.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

As a Bald Eagle soared overhead, I realized how high the sun was above the horizon. Leaving the eagle to search for a breakfast fish, I headed home.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Hiking around the lakes and among the trees, observing nature as it awakened to a new day was worth missing breakfast. Returning home to the welcoming embrace of the woman I love reminded me how truly blessed I am. Find a place near you to observe birds and wild things – just remember to appreciate what is really important in your life.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

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

Forest Adventure

“Should I take a jacket?”

Not a common question in the sub-tropical “Sunshine State”. However, we do experience a few cool days at this time of year where a jacket would definitely make an early morning outing more comfortable.

My sage advice to one who already knows the answers to all things: “Take one along. That will insure you won’t need it.”

Indeed, the day was perfect. Cool but comfortable without the jacket. High clouds but dry all morning. Best of all – no wind.

Every time we return to the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, we seem to encounter something different. With over 13,000 acres, I suppose that’s not too surprising. Birds, mammals, reptiles, flora – no wonder it has become one of our favorite locations!

We were a bit concerned as we neared the entrance road. Two large dump trucks lumbered towards us on their way out of the forest. Later, we encountered a grader smoothing out the fresh dirt to fill in some deep holes. A forest service truck was parked alongside the road and workers were spraying invasive plants, primarily Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia).

Maintenance day.

No worries. The wildlife didn’t seem to mind the sprucing up at all. Neither did we.

Almost immediately after entering the forest tract, we spotted a Florida Scrub-Jay. The day was already a success! This is the only bird species that lives exclusively in Florida. They can be found in scrub pine and oak flatwoods occurring in high and dry areas, such as the ancient ridge running down the center of the peninsula (where we were located) as well as coastal and river sand dunes adjacent to likely scrub areas.

From the state forest link below:

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest derives its name from the narrow ridge that runs north and south through the Florida Peninsula. Many years ago ancient ocean levels rose and covered nearly all of the present-day peninsula. The ridge became an island on which the plants and animals continued to evolve in isolation.”

We enjoyed a quiet breakfast at tranquil Lake Godwin. Returning toward the main road, Gini’s sharp ears picked up the “rubber-ducky” squeaking of a gang of Brown-headed Nuthatches. At the same time, a dozen or so Pine Warblers landed and foraged in the grass of the road ahead, Eastern Bluebirds flitted just above the palmetto fronds going from pine tree to pine tree, Downy Woodpeckers probed the higher branches for bugs and – what’s that? A slight movement gave away a Fox Squirrel hugging a nearby pine tree trunk. He moved quickly to a higher limb as I pointed the camera in his direction.

The morning ended all too soon and we reluctantly headed home. A flurry of activity at the forest entrance caused us to pause for an additional half-hour. The trees were filled with Tufted Titmice, Pine Warblers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinals, Palm Warblers, Blue Jays and the fabulous Florida Scrub-Jay. Like a wave rolling along, the mass of feathered feeders moved on – as did we.

What a nice exclamation point on our very fine forest adventure!

 

An excited Eastern Towhee greeted us as we arrived at the forest entrance road.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

We only see Palm Warblers during migration, although many remain through the winter. This one found a juicy morsel for breakfast and proceeded to pound it mercilessly on the branch until it was suitably tenderized.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

Diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatches are fearless and quick to arrive in defense of their territory when an intruder (that would be me) is detected. The problem is, they tend to remain among the highest possible branches directly overhead. I have a fair collection of nuthatch underside images.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

The  “mammal formerly known as Sherman’s Fox Squirrel” has apparently been re-classified as genetically the same as the Southern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger). No matter what his name is, it’s a magnificent animal!

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

Gini’s artistic eye found a pine tree which was felled by recent wind storms to be appealing in its rich color and diverse texture.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

My bride’s keen observation also spotted a new plant (for us): Pineland Purple (Carphephorus odoratissimus var. subtropicanus), also called False Vanillaleaf.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

The Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) may be lacking in a diversity of color but she is still a stunning beauty.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

He saw me before I saw him. A Great Crested Flycatcher allowed one photo before diving for cover.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

Rusty brown and a golden eye combined with its large size and impressive beak identify the Brown Thrasher. In the same family as the Northern Mockingbird (Mimidae), the Brown Thrasher has been observed to have more than 1,000 songs in its repertoire!

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

The relatively small Common Ground Dove in good light and up close is seen to have a “scaly” appearance. About the size of a Song Sparrow, they rely on their plumage to remain hidden in the grass and I’ve been startled many times as one flushes almost from under my feet.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

Florida Scrub-Jays remain in family groups throughout the year. Last year’s offspring often help raise next year’s brood. Immature birds will stay and help defend the territory for about a year before seeking their own homestead.

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge SF, Arbuckle Tract

 

Another amazing adventure in this beautiful forest! Hopefully, you have your own woodland or special area to explore and discover new things each time you go.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

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

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