Posts Tagged With: blazing star

Rejoicing In The Familiar

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a young man and his family began a journey that would return them to their native home. It had been over a thousand days and a thousand nights since they had last seen their homeland. Their excitement could not be contained and as they glimpsed the place they had missed so much, tears of joy welled in their eyes. Over the next few days and weeks, there was a lot of catching up to be done. Renewing acquaintances with the once familiar. Round door knobs, toilets with handles instead of overhead chains, pizza, blue sky, sandals, unreliable public transportation. It was good to be home!

Fast-forward several hundred years. Birders are weird. Some of us are quite content to enjoy the view from the kitchen window of regular visitors to our garden feeders and bird bath. Others of us prefer the challenge of the chase, spending the equivalent of a small nation’s gross national product each year to answer rare bird alerts from Antarctica to Zanzibar. The vast majority of us fit somewhere in between these two extremes. We do. As much as we enjoy watching “yard birds”, we love exploring and finding birds in interesting new places or seeing new species or ones we see infrequently. As for the chasing around the world thing, we’re not much for that lifestyle (i.e., we’re poor!).

No matter how far afield we go or what exotic species we may have just checked off our list, it’s always a sheer joy to see the birds with which we are most familiar. It’s comfortable. The eminent birder, ringer and blogger, Phil S., recently opined: “… it’s the same old species which provide the buzz of birding, knowing and appreciating a regular patch.” (If you haven’t visited Phil’s blog, well, why not?? Go here: Another Bird Blog. Do it now. I’ll wait.)

It’s that element of familiarity, with a known place populated with known species, that continually draws us to it as surely as steel to a magnet.  It gives us that “buzz” which Phil mentioned. We relish seeing a “wild” Mockingbird just as much as his suburban counterpart who nests in our yard. A bright red Cardinal and his piercing whistle are immediately recognized in the scrub oak tree we drove three hours to get to just as is the sight and call of the father of our neighborhood Cardinal family. Sure, we love finding new birds or migrants or rarities. A day spent with birds we know well, however, is just – comfortable.

Although too far away to be called our “patch”, we find ourselves regularly pulled in the direction of Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. (See, Additional Information below.) Consisting of nearly 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) and located on the eastern side of Lake Kissimmee in Osceola County, this vast area consists primarily of dry prairie, cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, pineland and scrub. The diversity of flora and fauna is truly incredible. Our latest trip there was like visiting the home of an old friend. We encountered familiar birds and animals within a familiar environment. And we rejoiced.

 

Some images.

 

A distinctive black mask identifies the Common Yellowthroat male while his mate is more subdued in color but still sports the yellow throat for which the species was named.

Common Yellowthroat - Male

Common Yellowthroat – Male

 

Common Yellowthroat - Female

Common Yellowthroat – Female

 

Florida’s state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. Here he looks rather “stately” as he keeps a wary eye on us until we leave his domain.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

Native Green Tree Frogs have had a tough time holding their own against the invading horde of Cuban Tree Frogs. Once very common, these small amphibians are now quite scarce. This one was either napping or praying we wouldn’t spot him. These little guys are typically from 1-2.5 inches (2.5-6.4 cm) long.

Green Tree Frog  (Hyla cinerea)

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

 

Narrowleaf sunflowers were on display just about everywhere that day.

Narrowleaf Sunflower  (Helianthus angustifolius)

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

 

This is not a good photograph, but I had never seen this insect before. It flew into the truck and landed for a moment on the ceiling. Turns out it’s a Katydid Wasp and it’s clutching, yep, a Katydid.

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

 

We drove past what I thought was a long green palmetto leaf but it didn’t look right. Turns out it was a Florida Rough Green Snake. I estimated its length at about 30 inches (76.2 cm). It didn’t move as I lay prone in the middle of the road a few feet away.  One of its defensive mechanisms is to “freeze”. Of course, this fellow forgot that technique works best for him in the green canopy of a tree, not on the stark white of a sand road!

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 

A native Florida Box Turtle is quite handsome despite some serious wear and tear to its outer shell.

Florida Box Turtle  (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

 

AS SEEN ON TELEVISION!! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. The highlight of the trip was Gini spotting this Dung Beetle rolling its package across the road. I have only seen this on television documentaries. Who knew Florida had Dung Beetles?? I found it fascinating the bug uses its rear legs to do the rolling while it walks on its forelegs. I couldn’t figure out if the two flies on the beetle’s back were drivers, supervisors or government contractors.

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Occasional patches of Pale Meadowbeauty certainly brightened the prairie!

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

A curious White-eyed Vireo alternately sang and gave his alarm call. Guess he couldn’t make up his mind whether we were friend or foe.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

 

Shortleaf Rosegentian offered yet another color dimension to Nature’s incredible display.

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

 

A small butterfly, the Whirlabout, perches atop a slim stalk of Blazing Star.

Whirlabout - Male  (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

Whirlabout – Male (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

 

Even more purple. This Cloudless Sulphur apparently likes the nectar from a Mexican Petunia.

Cloudless Sulphur  (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia  (Ruellia brittoniana)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana)

 

We even found dragons. A Carolina Saddlebags hangs on to a stalk of grass.

Carolina Saddlebags - Female  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags – Female (Tramea Carolina)

 

I was almost on top of this Killdeer before he moved slightly and I saw him. Amazing camouflage provided by the subtle plumage matched the surrounding rocks.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Obligatory alligator photograph. State law. Can’t be helped. Move along.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Butcher Bird. The Loggerhead Shrike feeds mainly on insects which she will impale on a thorn, branch or barb of fence wire. This makes it easier for them to eat. They have been known to cache several insects for later consumption.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

As we left the area, one more familiar face bade us farewell. The lovely countenance of the Black Vulture with those chocolate brown eyes. One could almost discern a tear forming in his eye as we drove into the sunset.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

 

 

Our day was full of familiar sights, sounds and experiences. We will return. Again and again. If, at the end of the day, you find your checklist has only the same old species with a mark beside it – rejoice! You have discovered the buzz of birding!

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

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Out Of A Rut, Down The Road

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney

It’s easy to become accustomed to a routine.  We sometimes find ourselves in an area which has been labeled our “comfort zone” and are reluctant to move out of it.  Birders may have their “patch”, a place they go to often and can list the birds there without even visiting.  This makes it easier to spot anomalies and to keep track of significant changes in that particular population.  Once in awhile, though, it’s important to break through the barrier of our comfort zone and see what else may be waiting to be discovered in the remainder of the universe.

We have been concentrating on our home county for the past year and even when we traveled elsewhere it was to an area with which we were familiar.  It was high time we tried something new.

The moon was full and hanging just above the horizon as I loaded the truck with provisions, optics and driving directions.  Our destination was Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, about a two hour journey to the north.  As the first light of the day illuminated our road, it revealed pockets of heavy fog suspended just above the pastures and woodlands.  The air was refreshingly cool.  We arrived at the park entrance a few minutes before the gate was unlocked and drove down the road a bit and found the trail I planned to hike a bit later.  Once inside the park, the fog lifted to reveal a crisp blue sky and the pines and hardwoods all around us were alive.  We located an observation tower which looked out onto the vast prairie and a Pileated Woodpecker whooshed past on its way to a breakfast appointment.  A small herd of deer materialized out of the edge of the woods and a doe and her fawn froze as they tried to figure out if I might be a threat.  We found a comfortable spot to enjoy breakfast.  Speaking of trying new things – my bride had prepared a treat from her childhood memory but which was quite different for me.  Peanut butter and jelly on raisin-cinnamon bread.  It was good!

Fortified with a nutritious meal, we headed for the aforementioned trail I wanted to explore – Bolens Bluff.  The first half of the trail winds through stands of huge oaks, magnolia and hickory trees.  Then the trail leaves the woods and opens out onto the prairie, which is sprinkled with ponds, scrub brush and all manner of grasses.  Deer, alligators, wild horses, long horn Spanish cattle and a small herd of bison populate the prairie.  I spent most of the time in the woods, hoping to locate migrant warblers.  There were not a lot of birds around but we managed just over 30 species and seven different warblers.  It was a good walk!

Paynes Prairie consists of over 22,000 acres and several diverse habitats.  Here one can fine 800 kinds of plants and more than 270 species of birds.  The noted naturalist, William Bartram, visited the area in 1774 and referred to it as the “Great Alachua Savannah”.  A series of sink holes in the prairie have resulted in times when there was a lake deep enough for steam boat travel as well as times of very little water at all.  For more information on this unique park, see “Additional Information” below.

Warblers are small.  And quick.  And seem to be in constant motion.  And blend in with their surroundings.  And are usually in the very tops of very tall trees.  And that’s why I have very few photographs of warblers.

So, here are some pictures of OTHER stuff which held relatively still while I pushed buttons on the camera.  (Actually, I included a couple of “soft-focus” warbler photos just to prove there actually WERE warblers in the woods.)

A helpful sign let’s one know where the main entrance is located.  (This was the only Sandhill Crane we spotted on this trip.)

Entrance

Entrance

Mother White-tailed Deer is using her eyes, ears and nose to frantically sense if I mean any harm.  The fawn is following Mom’s lead.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

The scarlet head of a Pileated Woodpecker makes her easy to spot.  Of course, it helps that she is the size of a small plane.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

October in Florida produces a surprising number of wildflowers.  Here, a morning glory shows off in the deep shade of the woods.

Common Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

Common Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

A female American Redstart uses the patches of color on her wings and tail to “flash” continuously in order to startle bugs into revealing their location.  This is the best look I had of her as she never stopped moving and was usually behind lots of leaves.

American Restart (female)

American Restart (female)

Gulf Fritillaries are quite common in central Florida and certainly brighten up any landscape.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Pine Warblers were busy scooping up insects from leaves and branches high in the canopy.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

This pretty member of the Aster family is called Early Whitetop Fleabane.  (Unless someone corrects me – which is highly encouraged!)

Early Whitetop Fleabane (Erigeron vernus)

Early Whitetop Fleabane (Erigeron vernus)

Florida’s state butterfly is the Zebra Longwing.  Hundreds of them were foraging in the woods.

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

It’s amazing how well the Black and White Warbler blends in with the tree bark.  This relatively large warbler behaves like a Creeper or Nuthatch as he climbs up and down tree trunks probing the bark for a meal.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

The Obscure Grasshopper does not usually receive a warm welcome from anyone trying to grow a pretty lawn.  They can be voracious.

Obscure Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura)

Obscure Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura)

Autumn has officially begun in Florida as hordes of Palm Warblers, tails a-wagging, seem to be everywhere.  We counted 25 this morning.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

I know this plant as Blazing Star, although there may be several varieties of the species.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

A Blue Dasher waits on a fence wire for his next victim.  Hopefully, it will be one of the millions of mosquitoes which buzzed around my head as I walked through low-lying hammocks.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

It’s not the best photograph due to the distance involved, but I think the American Kestrel is one of the most striking raptors to be seen.  This male was actively hawking insects in a nearby field and always returned to this perch.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Trying something new and different can be mildly traumatic but the potential rewards more than make up for any temporary trepidation.  PB&J on cinnamon-raisin bread.  Yummy!

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

 

Additional Information

Paynes Prairie

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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