Posts Tagged With: american robin

“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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“Road Trip!”

That phrase can elicit very different responses depending on one’s perspective.  To a young adult or teen, it might mean a concert accompanied by “non-parental-approved” behavior.  For a child, maybe an amusement park comes to mind.  My son, with two very young children, would likely break out in a cold sweat.  Once again, as birders, we fall into that “different” category, and begin poring over maps (and satellite images) and checking out those small lines with no names wondering if it’s a dirt road or on private property.

In our quest to explore natural areas around central Florida, we normally plan to visit a specific area, such as a State Park or Wildlife Management Area.  Yesterday, we struck out with only a vague destination in mind.  I recalled a “country road” from several years ago that crossed a creek and there was always a good variety of birds there.  We used that as our starting point for a day of discovery.

Zolfo Springs is a small community in Hardee County just south of where the Peace River crosses U.S. Highway 17.  A few miles south of here is Sweetwater Road, the “country road” mentioned above.  As we turned east from the main highway, patches of fog still hung near the ground but the sun was rising fast and driving toward it was challenging (especially while glancing about for birds).  A few miles down the road we came to a small obstacle in the form of road construction.  The portion of the road I had hoped to visit was closed and we had to detour completely around it.  Sigh.

As often happens with detours, happy surprises awaited.  Our first cooperative bird of the morning was a cheerful Eastern Meadowlark.  I pulled the truck to the side of the road (usually a sign for birds to immediately take flight) and the colorful bird looked right at us and opened his beak wide to start our day with his song.  A little further along and we came upon a Turkey Vulture, performing his morning clean up duties from the previous night’s recklessness.  He vigorously defended his find, driving away several other vultures who approached too closely.  A Crested Caracara flew into a nearby tree and was soon joined by a second.  I think they didn’t approach the armadillo carcass due to our presence so we moved on.

The easternmost target I had in mind was the Hickory Hammock trail system on U.S. 98/State Road 66 a few miles east of Lorida.  There is an equestrian camp here and well marked hiking trails (two different entry points).  We did no hiking today, but did stop at a very nice boat ramp and picnic area at the Istokpoga Canal, which connects to the Kissimmee River.  We watched a Red-shouldered Hawk hunting in a marshy area, American Crows chasing a Crested Caracara, saw a new life bird and checked out a condominium built for bats.

Backtracking west, we explored Cowhouse Road, which is a dead-end road going through cattle and horse pastures edged with pine and hardwoods and is very close to Lake Istokpoga.  A side road leads to a boat ramp on the lake’s eastern shore and we saw several Osprey nests, hawks, meadowlarks and Sandhill Cranes.  It was along Cowhouse Road we found additional Crested Caracaras, including one who appeared to enjoy posing.

Our last stop before lunch was at Lake Istokpoga Park on the north side of the lake.  There is a nice boardwalk from the boat basin toward the main lake.  Also, there is a path through a mature oak/cypress hammock.  The area has very nice picnic and restroom facilities.

For our lunch break, we found a place to park under a huge, ancient oak tree in Highlands Hammock State Park, in Sebring.  The surrounding hammocks absorbed all sounds of civilization and we could have easily taken a nap here.  Instead, I explored a boardwalk and found woodpeckers, warblers, alligators, cardinals, towhees and blue jays.  Near the camping area, a nice group of park rangers pointed out a Bald Eagle nest in a tall pine and you could tell there were chicks in the nest.

It was time to head home but we found a few places which we look forward to exploring further.

We hope you like some of the things we saw as much as we did!

 

This meadowlark was an enthusiastic songster!  His right side was lit up by the rising sun, a photo challenge but it sure highlighted his beauty.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

 

 

A Turkey Vulture at breakfast.  We’re thankful for these guys or else we would have to be out there cleaning these things up.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

 

A Red-shouldered Hawk surveys a marshy area for his morning meal.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

 

The Hickory Hammock boat ramp area sports a modern condo for the local bat population.

Bat House

Bat House

 

 

 

I’ve included a record shot here of my first observation of a Short-tailed Hawk.  They also live in Central and South America, but the small Florida population is currently estimated at less than 500 birds.  In Florida, there are “light” and “dark” phases of this hawk (about the size of a crow).  This is the light phase.  (I apologize for the poor image, the bird was soaring at a very high altitude directly above me.  My cheap optics and unsteady hands helped produce a fuzzy picture.)

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

 

 

 

An Osprey enjoying bass for breakfast.  He was initially concerned by our presence but quickly returned to eating.  His mate was behind us on the nest atop a utility pole and chattered the whole time.  Probably something about bringing the groceries into the house.

Osprey

Osprey

 

 

This Red-shouldered Hawk was being bombarded by an American Kestrel – until I stopped the truck.  The Kestrel disappeared.  If you look closely, you can see the hawk saying:  “Thank you!”.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

 

A pair of Sandhill Cranes trumpeting to the sky as a warning.  There was a single crane near them which I presume was a rival male.  There was eventually a fight and the interloper was driven away.  Unfortunately, I got no useable pictures of the fracas.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

 

 

The Crested Caracara, a member of the Falcon family, is sometimes called the Mexican Eagle.  I think this was an immature bird, based on the “dingy” color of the neck feathers, which on a mature bird would be much whiter.  These birds eat insects, small mammals, birds, fish and carrion.  They can often be seen in the company of vultures (soaring as well as on the ground).

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

 

I think this pretty yellow flower is a member of the Evening Primrose family (Ludwigia species, “Seedbox”) but would certainly welcome a positive identification.

Ludwigia sp. (Seedbox?)

Ludwigia sp. (Seedbox?)

 

 

The colors of a Yellow-rumped Warbler are beginning to brighten up as spring approaches.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

 

 

Robins are becoming more plentiful as they begin their flights northward.

American Robin

American Robin

 

 

This male Red-bellied Woodpecker shows off his red nape and black-and-white back.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

 

Flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) is beautiful but can strangle a large tree if not kept in check.

Flame Vine

Flame Vine

 

 

Lantana is great for butterflies whether at home or in the wild!

Lantana

Lantana

 

 

A helpful Eastern Phoebe shows us the way.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

 

Trees growing in a hammock area have to be able to survive in soil which is almost constantly wet.  The canopies here allow some filtered light through which produces an understory of small trees, palmetto and ferns.

Hammock

Hammock

 

 

A dark creek moves almost imperceptibly through the bog.

Dark-water Creek

Dark-water Creek

 

 

A familiar denizen of the swamp.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

 

The only souvenirs we brought home from our road trip were a few photographs and priceless memories of a day together in our natural paradise.  For us, that’s enough.

 

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

Additional Resources:

Hickory Hammock Wildlife Management Area

Lake Istokpoga Park (Great Florida Birding Trail Entry)

Highlands Hammock State Park

 

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: