Posts Tagged With: belted kingfisher

Breakfast and Lunch

Since owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, I wonder if they consider that first mouse caught just after sundown “breakfast”? Once upon a time, I worked a regularly changing shift schedule. Four days were from 0700-1500, the next four from 1500-2300, then next 2300-0700 and then I enjoyed four days off. The four days off were quite nice, but 12 days of changing hours every four days with no break – not that great. Meals were a challenge for poor Gini as she tried to keep the kids on a schedule but I never knew whether to eat scrambled eggs at 2200 or a sandwich or roast chicken and salad. Apparently, I worked it out and did not starve.

Now that modern medicine has declared everything we ate in our youth is either poison or caused us to be ugly (Gini obviously avoided those things), it’s much easier to decide what to consume each day. Oatmeal, fruit, green stuff or some kind of bean. Since all the joy of preparing and sharing a meal has been sucked out of our lives, we try to make up for it by having some of our meals in the beautiful outdoors. Fortunately, we have found a few spots where the ambience is so breathtakingly wonderful it just doesn’t matter what we’re eating.

One of these is particularly suited to beginning a day peacefully as the sun breaks the horizon over the deep blue of water and gorgeous greens of reeds, lilies and huge trees. Breakfast here is usually accompanied by the chatter of gallinules and coots, the calls of limpkins, a shriek of a red-shouldered hawk or the muffled gobbles of a flock of turkeys under the oaks. Coleman’s Landing on the western shore of huge Lake Kissimmee has picnic tables, boat ramps, a floating dock, restrooms and has recently added modern campsites, including spaces for RV’s and new shower facilities. A visit here at any time of day is refreshing.

Less than 30 minutes from the house is one of Florida’s jewels, Colt Creek State Park. Since it’s so close, we can have an impromptu lunch by the shore of a sparkling lake while we watch bluebirds catch caterpillars, grebes dive for fish, swallows swarm in front of us, eagles soar overhead and chickadees scold from the trees. If we tire of looking at the water (which hasn’t happened yet), we could enjoy an open field of wildflowers full of butterflies and dragonflies or hike through mixed hardwood and conifer forest or check out the swampy wetlands for barred owls or wading birds. A weekday visit here usually finds us with the place to ourselves and it’s so soothing to close our eyes and not hear any human-made sounds. The wind rustling a tree top, a fish splashing in the lake, a bumble bee, a wren declaring himself available for love – who cares what’s for lunch?

Pictures. One thousand words each.

 

At Coleman’s Landing, the breeze ruffled the feathers of a Red-shouldered Hawk as he scanned the water’s edge for his own breakfast.

Coleman Landing

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

A pair of Belted Kingfishers clucked at us and each other – probably about disputed territory.

Coleman Landing

Belted Kingfisher

 

I couldn’t get this Prairie Warbler to face the camera but he’s beautiful from any angle.

Coleman Landing

Prairie Warbler

 

Mating Halloween Pennants blend in well with their environment.

Coleman Landing

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

 

A visit to Colt Creek State Park coincided with several species of wildflower blooming which, happily, attracted a few insects. The Gulf Fritillary is hard to miss even at a distance.

Colt Creek State Park

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

White Peacocks seemed to be everywhere.

Colt Creek State Park

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

 

This Sleepy Orange finally sat still for a couple of seconds after I got dizzy chasing him through a field.

Colt Creek State Park

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

 

Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers are pretty easy to see thanks not only to their size (up to 3 inches/8 cm) but also to just a little bit of gaudy color.

Colt Creek State Park

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

 

One of our larger dragonflies, the Great Blue Skimmer, can be identified by the powdery blue body, greenish eyes, dark wings and white face.

Colt Creek State Park

Great Blue Skimmer – Male (Libellula vibrans)

 

Carolina Saddlebags is one of our most abundant dragons.

Colt Creek State Park

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

 

Overhead, a trio of White Ibis flapped lazily in the bright blue sky.

Colt Creek State Park

White ibis

 

A small wetland attracts good numbers of waders, such as a Little Blue Heron.

Colt Creek State Park

Little Blue Heron

 

The proliferation of Apple Snails near most bodies of water in central and south Florida has seen an increase in the range of the Limpkin, who feeds almost exclusively on these freshwater mollusks.

Colt Creek State Park

Limpkin

 

We really enjoy having a meal while surrounded by the extraordinary beauty of nature. All of a sudden, the actual food often becomes secondary. No matter what you call your next meal, try having it outside, under a tree, by a lake, listening to the birds.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Follow Your Nose

In order to improve as a birder, it’s important to develop a keen awareness of all our natural senses. Sight is quite helpful in spotting large and small bundles of feathers and matching them to their portraits in a convenient field guide (or in today’s modern world, an application on a “smart” phone if you can pass the IQ test which I haven’t yet mastered). Hearing a bird’s song may be one of the greater joys in life and has inspired poets for ages. Simply knowing the calls and songs of a particular species is sufficient to identify which bird is producing the sound. Touch comes into play a bit more subtly as most birders don’t actually handle the objects of their affection (hey! we’re still talking about birds here!). The notable exception being banders (ringers) or scientists. One must hone their sense of touch to quickly and accurately focus binoculars and scopes or to change camera settings without removing one’s eye from the viewfinder. As to the sense of taste, I shall not take the easy route and make some joke about “tastes like chicken” or recount the tall tale of a tour guide who had candy in his hand and pretended to pick up an owl pellet and placed it in his mouth to the horror of the group and announced: “Yep, that owl was here an hour ago.” No, I won’t stoop to that level. Let’s just agree that by going birding we have all proven we have good taste.

This brings us to the sense of smell. You haven’t achieved birding nirvana until you’ve stood in a seabird rookery or walked along a shoreline used the previous evening as a roost by several thousand pelicans. Yes, on those occasions you’ll be thankful for that keen sense of smell of which you’re so proud. You’ll also be wishing for a breeze to hit you in the face to clear away the tears.

In recent years, many communities have adopted innovative methods for handling malodorous human waste. One such method involves combining chemical treatment with natural filtration and many man-made wetlands have resulted. Basically, after waste is chemically treated it is pumped into a holding “cell”, a pond which has been planted with vegetation which helps filter impurities from the water. This water is then pumped into another “cell” where the filtration process is repeated. There may be several “cells” involved and the end product is much cleaner water being returned into the watershed. The good news for birders is these “cells” are magnets for all sorts of birds. The better news is many water treatment facilities have opened these wetland areas to the public and some have become birding “hotspots”.

How does one locate these areas? When I was very young and we visited my grandparents who lived “out in the country” the only bathroom they had was an “outhouse”. No indoor plumbing. When I asked Grandpa how I could find the outhouse if I had to go when it was dark, he replied: “Go out the back door and just follow your nose.” Thank goodness we have evolved from those days.

As I exited the port-o-potty, the sound of Sandhill Cranes filled the morning air as they moved to the nearby sod fields to forage. We were visiting Viera Wetlands (officially known as the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, named for a county worker killed in a traffic accident). The wetlands are on the east coast of Florida near the town of Cocoa Beach and are very easy to find. (See the links below for maps and wetlands descriptions.) The wetlands consists of four “cells” of about 35 acres each and a central lake. The berms around the lake can be driven, biked or walked and total about four miles. The cells were dug to varying depths to attract a greater diversity of water birds and each cell was planted with a different mix of vegetation to assist filtration, erosion prevention and wildlife attraction. Surrounding the wetlands is a mix of deciduous and hardwood trees and a very large commercial sod farm. The area is only a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean and, in the other direction it’s just a few miles to the Indian River.

It’s fairly routine to spot 40-50 species of birds here without leaving the comfort of your vehicle. With more effort lists of 60-70 are feasible. On this day, we listed 52 species without trying too hard. Some of the highlights included the sights and sounds of Great Blue Herons courting and building nests, finding a Wilson’s Snipe hiding in the grass, watching a Limpkin enjoy escargot and spotting two wintering American Bitterns. All of that and lunch with Gini by the gazebo as we watched sparrows, ducks, cranes, grebes and alligators under a cloudless deep blue sky – who could wish for more?

 

Some of this stuff made it through the rigorous photo editing process.

 

Pied-billed Grebes breed in central Florida but during the winter migrants swell the population throughout the state. At Viera Wetlands it’s not unusual to find several dozen of these little cuties, sometimes floating in large groups for better protection from predators.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

This female Belted Kingfisher had a favorite palm tree stump from which she launched aquatic attacks and returned with her prize to devour before repeating the process. This time she grabbed a little salad along with her seafood entree.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

One of our winter visitors to the wetlands is the American Bittern. Standing over two feet tall and with a wingspan of over three feet, it seems they would be easy to spot. However, their cryptic plumage and habit of “freezing” with bill pointed upward makes them almost invisible among grass and reeds. We were fortunate to find two today.

American Bittern

American Bittern

 

American Bittern

American Bittern

 

Even on our coldest days here in central Florida we can usually find a butterfly. I love it here. Apparently, so does this Fiery Skipper.

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phylus)

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phylus)

 

Savannah Sparrows also migrate here for the winter. Their beautiful shades of brown and rust blend in well with low ground cover. When annoyed, such as when someone’s trying to take your picture, they raise the crest on their head and give you “that look”.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

Water plus mud equals turtles. Florida Redbelly Cooters and Peninsula Cooters have different appearing shells and head patterns. We caught one Redbelly practicing its ballet movements. (The green on its shell is algae.)

Peninsula Cooter  (Pseudemys peninsularis)

Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis)

 

Florida Redbelly Cooter  (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida Redbelly Cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida Redbelly Cooter  (Pseudemys nelsoni)

Florida Redbelly Cooter (Pseudemys nelson)

 

Great Blue Herons are quite noisy when trying to attract a mate. The males clap their beaks and flap their wings and hop and jump around and bring gifts (a stick) to their lady. You know, just like human guys. The prospective couple then picks out a palm tree and begins nest construction.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Similar to the American Bittern above, the plumage of a Wilson’s Snipe blends perfectly with the grass and mud of a pond shoreline. They rely on this camouflage for protection and will often wait until you almost step on them before flushing.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

 

Terns are among the most graceful of birds in flight and this Forster’s Tern looks pretty good while resting, too.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

Once the Blue-winged Teal finishes preening, he (and his reflection) look quite nice.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

It’s hard to mistake the profile of the Northern Shoveler. This male’s green head, white breast and brown sides will become more solidly colored by breeding season.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

 

The small Green Heron is a year-round resident and always fun to watch as it patiently stalks its prey.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

More tourists. Ring-necked Ducks are often mistakenly, but understandably, called “Ring-billed” Ducks. No matter what you call them, they are a handsome species.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

Taxonomically unique, the Limpkin’s closest relatives are rails and cranes. Apple Snails are this bird’s preferred meal and it’s specialized bill has evolved to allow easy extraction of the snail from its shell.

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

 

Gini and I had another wonderful day together in Florida’s natural wonderland. Just remember, to locate a birding bonanza in your neighborhood, simply “follow your nose”!

(Or – you could just click on the links below for an actual map.)

 

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

 

Additional Information

Viera Wetlands (Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands)

Domestic Wastewater To Wetlands Program

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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