Posts Tagged With: blue-gray gnatcatcher

Watch Out For Falling Birds !

The miracle of bird migration is typically portrayed by images of thousands of ducks and geese filling the skies with noisy quacking and honking as they lift off from northern climes headed for the warmth of tropical locations each autumn. If one is fortunate enough to observe flights of such large numbers of birds it is truly awe-inspiring.

There is another aspect of avian migration not well known to “non-birders”. It involves stealthy little feathered jewels who travel mostly at night and may never be seen by human eyes as they complete their annual journey of survival. Small songbirds begin showing up here in central Florida in late summer and even though they may travel in groups it is not unusual for them to escape unnoticed as they make their way south.

We sometimes describe Florida as having two seasons – green and brown. The sub-tropical climate is perfect for billions of insects to breed and bird migration is timed to perfectly coincide with the peak of the bug birth bonanza. With little fanfare, warblers and other woodland birds arrive in dribs and drabs surprisingly ahead of what the calendar says is the first “official” day of autumn.

So here we were, the last week of August, trudging along a sandy path at dawn already soaked due to high humidity, craning our necks to see what that movement is in the very tops of the tallest trees in the area. (Aren’t there perfectly good bugs in the lower branches?) By noon, a serious case of “warbler neck” would be making itself felt.

Today we were exploring Tenoroc Public Use Area, which was formerly a vast phosphate mining operation in Polk County. As the minerals were extracted to the maximum extent possible, the land was eventually sold to the state and private parties. An effort began to reclaim the mining pits, restore the land to a more natural ecology and develop an area which has become a premier destination for fishermen. Largemouth Bass grow well in the deep waters of the pits and careful management has made the area very popular for those seeking a “trophy”. All bass must be returned to the water immediately so the gene pool is kept intact.

Mining operations ceased here over 50 years ago, and the reclamation process by humans as well as natural forces has been impressive. In addition to great fishing, the diverse habitat has resulted in the area being a “gateway” for birding. The large number of lakes (former mining pits), wetlands, open grasslands, hardwood and pine forests – make this a very rewarding place to visit for a casual walk or serious day of birding.

It was early in the year to be expecting a very large number of migrants but we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of what we did find. By noon we had observed 50 species of birds.

(Some individual totals which are more than one would expect on a “normal” day here: 10 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 8 Downy Woodpecker, 10 Prairie Warbler, 8 Yellow-throated Warbler, 5 Black-and-White Warbler, 5 Ovenbird, 12 Tufted Titmouse, 13 Northern Cardinal, 9 Carolina Wren, 26 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 27 Northern Parula.)

So although the calendar (and thermometer!) says it is “summer” – fall migration is under way!

 

Tenoroc FMA

Great Crested Flycatcher

Tenoroc FMA

Downy Woodpecker

Tenoroc FMA

Prairie Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Yellow-throated Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Tenoroc FMA

Carolina Chickadee

Tenoroc FMA

Ovenbird

Tenoroc FMA

Tufted Titmouse

Tenoroc FMA

Northern Parula

Tenoroc FMA

Carolina Wren

Tenoroc FMA

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The sleek yellow and blue Prothonotary Warbler has long been a “nemesis” bird for me, escaping my lens too often.

Tenoroc FMA

Prothonotary Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Black-and-white Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Swallow-tailed Kites breed in Florida, migrate to South America and return in mid-February. This bird should have left the state a couple of weeks ago!

Tenoroc FMA

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Not a migrant nor a warbler. Just beautiful to look at.

Tenoroc FMA

Black Vulture

 

When you visit Tenoroc, be certain to check in at the ranger station. It’s a big area and they try to keep track of all their visitors.

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

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

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

“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

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