“Not Much To See In This Park”

Marsh Wrens are small. About 4-5 inches long (10-14 cm). Their brown, black and white plumage helps them hide perfectly among the reeds and rushes of a wetland. I love their pugnacious attitude, typical of the wrens. In our area, we only get to enjoy them during migration and I find it a challenge to produce a decent photograph of the little beauties. So I was happy that Gini spotted one and even happier as it flew to the base of an Alligator Lily less than 50 feet away. I could see the stems of the plant moving as the wren moved around nabbing insects non-stop. Double-checked the camera settings, focused on the moving stems – now, if she’ll just hop up a little bit …

I heard the crunching gravel as he pulled the car to my side of the road. He approached to within a few feet of where I stood (camera poised), got out, closed the car door – the pretty Marsh Wren flew to Argentina – “Hey! How’s it going?”

Gini says I was rude. I think she was being sarcastic but she isn’t familiar with that mode of expression so I’m not sure. The camera with that big lens was getting heavy anyhow so I was relieved to be able to finally drop it to my side. (See? Subtle sarcasm. It’s a gift.) “What a beautiful day”, I offered in what I thought was a pleasant chamber-of-commerce tone.

“Yessir, a nice day. But there’s not much to see in this park,” said the stranger. This, I think, is where my bride might have construed rudeness on my part, but, honestly, I was just attempting (admittedly, with difficulty) to be civil. “It depends on what you’re looking for”, I suggested. “Oh, I’m just here for the deer. But not many around. Only saw a few a long way off.”

“Well, good luck to you”. As we drove away, the clueless gentleman peered intently into the weeds trying to fathom what I might have seen in there, his camera at the ready in case, no doubt, a deer should suddenly spring from the muck.

Despite this brief encounter, our day was filled with enjoyment. Bright blue skies, clear air, cool temperatures and an amazing amount of nature activity. Flocks of dozens of American Goldfinch were feeding in the fields and a few Pine Warblers were mixed in with them. Killdeer and Common Ground Dove greeted us at the entrance gate. Red-shouldered Hawks and an American Kestrel performed sentry duty along the park road. Wintering Savannah and Chipping Sparrows hopped through areas of short grass rounding up herds of bugs. Blue-headed Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers scoured tree limbs and the underside of leaves for juicy morsels. Wading birds, woodpeckers, soaring vultures – sights and sounds to delight anyone who loves the natural world.

We even had cameo appearances of turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, bugs, hairy things and (shhh – don’t say anything to “you-know-who”) — d-e-e-r!

Today’s excursion was to a familiar spot not far from the house, Colt Creek State Park. We keep finding new areas to explore within the park.

It was the kind of day that as we drove past the ranger station and headed home we both exhaled deeply and in unison. This. This is why we keep coming back.

 

A few images can’t do justice to what we experienced, but we’ll include them just the same. No, there is no photograph of a Marsh Wren anywhere to be found here. How rude of you to even ask.

 

A Red-shouldered Hawk spotted movement at the base of his perch tree. Evidently, it wasn’t something he wanted as he resumed staring at me urging me to be on my way.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Just past the entrance gate, a Killdeer darted through the weeds snapping up anything that moved.

Colt Creek State Park

 

At the edge of a swampy area, a Gray Squirrel found a cypress knee makes a nice dry spot to munch a mushroom.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The frilly white flowers of this bush identify it as a Groundsel Tree (Baccharis halimifolia). A pretty spot for a pretty Palm Warbler to perch.

Colt Creek State Park

 

It was a chilly morning (for Florida) and a little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fluffed his feathers to the maximum in an effort to increase insulation.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were very active throughout the park. They seem to never stand still. Another species we only see in winter.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Yet another migratory visitor, the Eastern Phoebe had just dove into the weeds, caught a beetle and swallowed it before I could raise the camera. A seed on his bill was all that remained of his snack.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Why did the caterpillar cross the road? To have his photograph taken, of course! I think this fellow is a Salt Marsh Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea) ?? Any help would be appreciated.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Let’s just agree to call the Turkey Vulture’s appearance “unique”. Whatever you think of his looks, they are an impressive bird and I, for one, appreciate the valuable cleanup service they provide.

Colt Creek State Park

 

In addition to the park’s namesake, Colt Creek, another small waterway, Gator Creek, flows through the park. I thought this rock was a nice metaphor for life. Like the swiftly flowing water, life speeds around us on all sides but Gini is my rock. Together, we are immovable.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Even MORE winter visitors! American Robins, North America’s largest thrush, seemed to be everywhere in some areas. In the trees and all over the ground. Active, noisy, beautiful.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Cold-blooded creatures find a warm spot when the weather turns cool. This gorgeous Bluestripe Garter snake wasn’t about to give up her place in the sun for some guy flailing on the ground a few feet away.

Colt Creek State Park

 

As the sun continued to warm the air, insects became active. Hungry birds were ready. A Savannah Sparrow stopped just long enough to give me a quick glance before scurrying after little hopping things in the weeds.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Sometimes, karma slaps me in the head. My sarcastic nature (shocking, I know!) is often answered with some of the same. I think that’s what happened here. After my encounter with the visitor who “just came for the deer”, I almost couldn’t NOT see deer the rest of the day. Gini and I had a quiet lunch in the car watching birds hopping about in oak trees. As I got out of the car, six deer were in a clearing behind us calmly munching their own lunch. Later, a doe gazed at me from behind a thick curtain of sedge grass. I could make out two fawns beside her. Later still, a young buck with new spike antlers skulked at the edge of the woods, wary of what kind of threat I might present.

Yes, I am convinced God has a sense of humor. In my case, it is often wrapped lovingly with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Colt Creek State Park

Colt Creek State Park

 

Even if you go “just for the deer”, try to observe all of Nature’s wonders that surround us all each day. Gini would say “it’s just common sense” that the more we look – the more we see. It’s my harsh task to remind her that “common sense”, alas, just is not all that “common”.

 

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

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Last night (1/20), we were treated to a total lunar eclipse. Just for you, I took a picture.

Yard

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Commoner Among Royals

Holidays. Wonderful, family-oriented, food-filled and loving times of the year. Exhausting.

A final mailing of several dozen home-made Christmas cookies and fudge prompted a profound statement from my usually unfazed bride:  “Whew! I’m tired!” I asked her to put that in writing so I could drag it out next year before she began her annual Herculean effort to ensure everyone in North America had a Christmas cookie.

Our nature safaris and birding expeditions proceeded at a significantly reduced pace during this time. Last week we managed to spend a morning riding around with all the windows open to let in cooler-than-normal fresh air. Invigorating! A few stops at local lakes found many common birds which are too often overlooked by “serious” birders and photographers. Thank goodness I’ve never been considered “serious”. 

Along a canal, one of nature’s best hunters, the Great Blue Heron, patiently watches for signs of breakfast.

Lake Parker

 

Subtle shades of purple and blue blend perfectly to give the Little Blue Heron a distinct presence above the wetland.

Lake Parker

 

Normally associated with the coast, a few Caspian Terns have taken up residence around our local area. The large reddish-orange beak, dark head with smudgy forehead (non-breeding plumage) and somewhat dark primaries help identify this largest tern in the world.

Lake Parker

 

It would be hard to imagine Florida without the Osprey. Angler extraordinaire, dazzling master of flight, incredible good looks. (No, not me. I am not a pilot.)

Lake Parker

 

Another species usually found in more coastal areas, the Brown Pelican seems to like our local lakes and wetlands well enough to be a year-round resident.

Lake Parker

 

One of our more colorful citizens is the Purple Gallinule. In the right light, one can detect an amazing variety of hues. Even from a parting shot.

Lake Parker

Lake Parker 

 

The Limpkin is a specialist at locating large apple snails and extracting them from their shells. This one seemed intent on varying her diet and was stalking a grasshopper.

Lake Parker

 

Muddy feet provide a clue where this Tricolored Heron has been scratching up a snack. The brownish bands of feathers match the reeds where this wader likes to hide.

Lake Parker

 

Anhinga. Ancient-looking birds whose nickname of “snake bird” describes this agile swimmer’s habit of moving through the water with just head and neck visible, giving the impression of a snake. It is also known as a “water turkey” because of its overall shape and pattern of its tail feathers. During our short morning outing we counted over 40 of these large, ungainly-looking birds.

At sunrise birds begin leaving the roost to hunt.

Lake Parker

 

Although they perch in trees the approach flight looks uncontrolled.

Lake Parker

Lake Parker

 

It’s breeding season here for the Anhinga and this female is brooding a new batch of snake birds.

Lake Parker

 

As our new year begins, we reflect on the combination of small things in our lives which remind us how blessed we are each day. Not only do we have each other to love, we have what seems a boundless supply of natural treasures just beyond our front door. All of the birds in this post are quite abundant in our local area and, indeed, we take them for granted in our pursuit of something more exotic or “different”. Taking time to really observe our “common” residents and their beauty – I realized it is us who are the commoners in nature. How privileged we felt to be among the truly Royal inhabitants of the planet!

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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