Posts Tagged With: blue-gray gnatcatcher

Recovery

“There’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.” Not what I wanted to hear earlier this week.

In late August, we called our son in Houston to see if he and his family needed to visit us in Florida until Hurricane Harvey passed. My son reminded us ever-so-diplomatically that if he were to have any flood damage at his house he would have to turn in his geology degree. They weathered the monster storm just fine.

A couple of weeks later, our son was on the phone asking if we needed to visit them in Houston until Hurricane Irma passed.

Mother Nature. Who knew she had a sense of humor?

I have no degree in geology but assured him we had weathered storms before. Of course, that was just bravado. We did the requisite stocking of supplies and prayed a lot. The intensity of our praying may have increased with the ferocity of the winds howling outside as rude Irma passed directly overhead during the night.

The current storm, Nate, is churning toward my sister’s house in Florida’s panhandle. It shouldn’t give them any problems. Shouldn’t. I don’t trust Mother Nature to play fair.

A couple of days after Irma caused devastation to Florida, Gini and I ventured out to survey our local area. We didn’t get far. Within just a few miles from the house, roads were covered in water and blocked by downed trees and power lines. We returned to the house and prayed some more. For those who would be weeks without water and power.

After a few more days, we again set out and found most roads passable. (A HUGE thank you to the responders from law enforcement, tree companies, utilities workers – literally thousands from other states – who have worked so hard to get Florida back to a sense of normalcy.) Since our normal birding haunts within public parks and reserves were closed we checked on accessible areas such as pastures, country roads and lake shores. Wildlife was abundant and we remain amazed at how resilient nature can be.

We have made a half-dozen forays since Irma tromped on Florida and life is returning to its normal pace. Today’s photographs are a compilation of what we found within two weeks of the hurricane’s passing. Migratory songbirds don’t read headlines and don’t watch the Weather Channel, so they have been showing up in treetops as they have for millennia.  We appreciate it.

 

We visited this area in southern Hardee County a week before the hurricane and could see no water at all.

County Line Road

 

A pair of Crested Caracara found something of interest in a field and keep a sharp lookout for thieves.

10 Mile Grade

 

Wading birds don’t mind the flooded fields at all! An immature White Ibis flapped by us on his way to probe the soft mud for breakfast.

10 Mile Grade

 

This Northern Mockingbird extracts a grub from an oak tree branch.

East Lake Parker

 

A Caspian Tern takes a dive at a local lake. There was a pier between me and where the tern entered the water but I was able to peek through the railings in time to see him fly off with his prize.

East Lake Parker

East Lake Parker

20170913 Lake Parker 00047

 

Ants are on the menu as the sticky tongue and bill of this Red-bellied Woodpecker are covered with the little morsels.

East Lake Parker

 

Driving along a remote country road, we found a Roseate Spoonbill taking advantage of water running across the road and washing all sorts of goodies into his waiting, well, spoon bill. I don’t know if he was looking to the heavens in thanks or wishing we would move along!

Green Pond Road

 

Water is returning to somewhat normal levels in many wetlands and residents, such as this young Red-shouldered Hawk, are thankful to find old perches and fresh food.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

With so much water, vegetation is flourishing. A Cloudless Sulphur finds nectar from Caesar Weed (Urena lobata), an invasive species with an attractive bloom.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Near Lake Kissimmee, about an hour east of us, we found several large and small flocks of Wild Turkey.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

A pair of European Collared-Dove perched picturesquely on a pier.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

It’s the time of year Bald Eagles begin courtship and the males can display some pretty spectacular aerobatics as they try to impress the ladies. I managed to follow one such fellow through a series of tight turns as he screamed throughout the show. There were four eagles involved in the demonstration but I tried to ignore the others (not easy!) to get a series of this guy. Here are four out of the two dozen images I took.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Limpkins are plentiful in our area thanks to a plethora of Apple Snails. These large waders are the only members of their species (Aramidae) in the world. Their name comes from their “limping” gait.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Along one dirt road, we stopped counting the webs of the Golden Silk Orbweaver, as they seemed to be everywhere. The strong silk is very effective at capturing large insects, such as the grasshopper here.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

Purple Gallinules are not very accomplished songsters, but they sure make up for it in the colorful looks department!

Lake Parker Park

 

Fall migration is in full swing. Most of the time, the birds are too high in the tree tops or in dense cover which makes photography impossible. Occasionally, I get lucky.

Yellow Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Prairie Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Black-and-White Warbler

Saddle Creek Park

 

Northern Parula

Saddle Creek Park

 

Cape May Warbler

Lake Parker Park

 

Baltimore Oriole (female)

Saddle Creek Park

 

American Redstart (male)

Saddle Creek Park

 

There is nothing “fun” about a storm, especially a huge tropical Hurricane. Damage to our region has been severe. The same is true for Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, other islands of the Caribbean and even Nate, while “just” a tropical depression, has taken 22 lives in Central America.

We are extremely thankful to have had minimal damage.

Our routine has been disrupted but our lives have not. Nature continues its cycle of life and we continue to be in awe of its magnificence.

As Gini and I recover from the storm, to be fortunate enough to see a mighty Bald Eagle perform a courtship flight or to marvel at the flash of bright orange as a Redstart startles insects from a hiding place – this is how we know we are truly blessed. To be able to do it together is something really special.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

That Primitive Urge

“Propelled by an ancient faith deep within their genes, billions of birds hurdle the globe each season, a grand passage across the heavens that we can only dimly comprehend and are just coming to fully appreciate.”  – Living On The Wind, Scott Weidensaul

 

It was cold. Just the thought of reaching outside the sleeping bag to find the zipper made me shiver and curl up even tighter. But the darkness was ever-so-slightly beginning to yield to inevitable sunrise. The tall grass around our small tent was barely discernible and resembled the stockade wall of a fortress. My brother, Steve, made the sacrifice and wriggled free of his goose-down cocoon and applied a match to the small burner which would soon heat enough oatmeal to fortify us both for an eventual beach adventure. A week before Christmas found us exploring what Maryland locals call “the Eastern shore”, that coastal expanse sandwiched between the huge Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Later in the day we would hike the rugged Atlantic shoreline of Chincoteague and admire the wild ponies of Assateague Island. At the moment, though, we relished hot oatmeal, trying to gulp each spoonful before the frigid air cooled it too much. Breakfast was interrupted when Steve asked:  “What’s that sound?” What followed was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever experienced in nature. Canada Geese. Tens of thousands appeared as a dark cloud from the west and gradually swept over us like a tidal wave of noise and darkness. We sat and marveled at the spectacle during which we literally couldn’t hear each other shouting. The geese were a small part of a huge number of migrants along the coast and had roosted in a nearby corn field during the night and were now moving toward the marshes and ponds to feed. What a glorious way to start a day!

More recently, while driving near Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Gini and I stumbled upon a field being plowed which contained over 500 Sandhill Cranes. Although Florida has a resident population of these large birds, each fall sees huge flocks migrating from the mid-west of the United States. That many cranes trumpeting can be deafening!  Last winter, we visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast and were excited to find hundreds of Northern Pintail and thousands of shorebirds enjoying the shallow water impoundments.

Such large numbers can provide a very dramatic birding experience. But at the moment, it’s August in Florida and it’s really hot and humid. It’s difficult to think about the above scenes of masses of migrating birds. Nevertheless, some sort of migration seems to always be happening in the bird world. Right now, a few species are beginning to head south for the winter and for the birder who’s willing to put up with high temperatures, regular thunderstorms and voracious mosquitoes, there are rewards to be found.

I travelled with two birding friends the other day to the southern part of our county (Polk) where there is a commercial sod operation. These fields can be productive for migrating shorebirds, especially if bad weather forces them to stay put for awhile. Alas, our weather was perfectly clear. We found plenty of Boat-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer, but only a smattering of shorebird migrants. A couple dozen Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Semipalmated Plover probed the soft soil of the fields. We did manage to hear an uncommon King Rail in a nearby wetland. Next, we visited a large dairy but again found no shorebirds to speak of. We did find a Solitary Sandpiper and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with young. Not far from the dairy we heard three more King Rails at various locations. We visited Paynes Creek Historical State Park in Hardee County and found a few Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and an eastern Wood-Pewee, all likely migrants. A nice bonus was at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers. We know they breed in this park but it’s always a treat to see this strikingly handsome bird! Our last stop of the day was back in Polk County along the Peace River Hammock Trail. We could only hike a portion of the trail due to flooding and the clouds of mosquitoes were particularly dense, but we found three Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a couple of Ovenbirds for our efforts.

Not a large number of migratory birds for the day but a very rewarding trip!

 

The little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is very active, usually travels in groups with other species and can be quite curious.

Lake Parker Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

One of the earliest warblers to migrate through our area is the Yellow Warbler. Some individuals can be very bright still in their breeding colors and others, especially first year birds, can be almost dull looking.

Banana Lake Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Although the Northern Parula breeds in Florida, during migration the trees become full of these brightly colored birds.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula

 

A quiet warbler which resembles a thrush is the Ovenbird. They can often be seen on the ground scratching through leaves but will stop for a look at an old guy stumbling over tree roots.

Fisheating Creek WMA

Ovenbird

 

True to its name, the Solitary Sandpiper is frequently seen alone and will check out any spot of mud for a meal.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Solitary Sandpiper

 

Pectoral Sandpipers resemble a larger version of a Least Sandpiper. As they feed, they seem to be always leaning forward about to fall over.

Avon Park Cutoff Road-Sod Fields

Pectoral Sandpiper

 

The Semipalmated Plover have very small bills and are not very large birds (seven inches). Normally seen in coastal areas, they can be found almost anywhere during migration.

Pool Road

Semipalmated Plover

 

One of our residents, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has thrived during the past couple of decades and can be found in large numbers throughout its range.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Also a resident, the Red-headed Woodpecker has not adapted very well to loss of traditional habitat and populations have seriously decreased in the past 20 years.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Florida is blessed with a climate which produces some sort of flowering plants throughout the year. Insects appreciate that. A White Peacock poses briefly.

Locklar Road

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

 

A small Delaware Skipper goes deep into the bloom of a Wild Potato Vine, a member of the morning-glory family.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

 

Dragon down! A Needham’s Skimmer got a bit too close to the water and became too wet to fly.

County Line Road (Polk)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

 

As migrants begin their long journey to warmer climates, we look forward to the privilege of sighting a few birds we don’t otherwise have an opportunity to observe. Hopefully, you, too, will be able to spot a few visitors as they snack their way through your neighborhood!

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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