Posts Tagged With: brown-headed cowbird

Sabbatical – Part The Second

Conchs – Zippers – Mayhaw.  “Remind me to stop here on the way back.” This was now our third visit to Georgia, the second along this route. The first trip was mostly using high-speed interstate highways. No more of that. Taking the road less traveled is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is – well – it’s less traveled. The bad news is there simply isn’t enough time to do it properly. “Oh! That looks like an interesting road!” becomes a phrase so common that after a hundred miles Gini doesn’t even utter it anymore. Just gives me “the look”. We both sigh, vowing to explore further but knowing the chances are very remote we ever will.

If you are from the American Southeast (or have ever spent time here), you are probably very familiar with the seasonal signs which pop up at markets, produce stands, highway intersections and private yards advertising “conchs, zippers and mayhaw jelly”. Freshly picked peas (conchs and zippers) and the juice extracted from the fruit of the swamp- loving Mayhaw tree are considered delicacies by this household. Conchs, zippers, creamers, purple hull – all local varieties of the generic “southern field pea”. All delicious when Gini works her magic on them. Mayhaw trees (Crataegus sp.) are indigenous to the southeastern United States and each spring produce red berries similar in size to small crabapples. The berries are very tart and are typically made into jellies and preserves or used in desserts. The clear, pale crimson substance placed inside a piping hot buttermilk biscuit – breakfast is transformed into something special.

We pulled onto Gini’s brother’s property in mid-afternoon and what a change had taken place! It had only been two weeks since our last visit, but spring has arrived in full force! Adjacent to the young grove of longleaf pine trees was a vast swath of red clover. Stunning! The previously bare pecan trees all had lush new growth, flowers were blooming just about everywhere, insects were buzzing and birds went about the business of nest building, mating and feeding young. Unpack. Rocking chairs have been added to the newly constructed back porch. Relax. Catch up on family news. Supper. Dark. From the comfort of a rocking chair on the open porch, listen. Crickets, cicadas. No man-made sound at all. Sleep.

A walk around the property at dawn almost feels familiar now. I anticipate where the quail will be chattering, where to look for deer and coyote tracks in the soft red clay and when I will be challenged as I pass near the towhee’s territory. The scent of fresh pine fills my nostrils and I breathe it in deeply. I still haven’t learned to pay attention to the path ahead as I scan all around for birds and walk through a spider web spun during the night by a Golden Silk Spider, of the orb weaver family. Occupational hazard. Male birds are singing everywhere as the mating season begins in earnest. A House Wren burbles from a fence post as I near the house and from a stump near the barn his larger cousin, the Carolina Wren, shows off his rambunctious repertoire.

The aroma of brewing coffee beckons and I am soon hugging my girlfriend (despite her protestations:  “Eww, you’re soaking wet!”). A hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits and yes, hot biscuits which I eagerly stuff with Mayhaw jelly – and a new day begins.

A few images may help to visualize why we return to this slice of heaven. Alas, poor quality photographs are no substitute for the real thing but try to imagine – no car noise, no television, no sirens – just, Nature.

 

A healthy patch of red clover provides forage for deer, rabbits, dove, quail and a whole universe of insects. Not to mention, it’s rather nice to look at.

Early County

Early County

 

Eastern Bluebirds have already mated, built nests and are busy flying non-stop bug deliveries to the nursery.

Early County

 

Longleaf Pines once blanketed the southeastern United States. Lumbering took its toll over the years. Property owners are encouraged to plant these wonderful conifers and Gini’s brother has about 35 acres he planted eight years ago. In the spring, new shoots from the tops create a sea of light yellow which shimmers in the early morning sun.

 

In addition to beautiful sights, Nature produces wonderful aromas. Huge tangles of Honeysuckle vines send forth delicate blossoms which create a perfume that’s almost overwhelmingly sweet.

Early County

 

Sights, smells, sounds – we can even find delicious treats in the wild. The understory provides brambles to shelter small animals and birds and in another few weeks these Blackberry bushes will yield delicious fruit – if you can get to them before those animals and birds!

Early County

 

Eastern Towhee males are showing off their vocal range hoping to attract the right mate. The first image has pale yellow eyes, not uncommon in this area, and the second is the more widespread red-eyed species.

Early County

Early County

 

The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is commonly seen in brown or green and may even change coloration a bit to better blend with its surroundings. This species is being supplanted in some areas (especially Florida) by the invasive Cuban Brown Anole.

Early County

 

Something made a path through the clover last night. Perhaps an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit?

Early County

 

Even a spiny Thistle has a special beauty in the spring.

Early County

 

Bumble Bees (Bomba sp.) love clover and gladly keep the plants pollinated.

Early County

 

So many colors in nature! A bright purple Verbena stands out among all the red clover blossoms.

Early County

 

One of the Skipper species of butterfly flits from bloom to bloom. It’s like it can’t decide which flower to sip from first because they all look so good.

Early County

 

Just two weeks ago, these Pecan trees were bare and looked like tree skeletons. In a few more weeks, within the lush green foliage, fruit will begin to form and produce the sweetest pecans in the world!

Early County

 

These male Brown-headed Cowbirds are having a serious discussion about personal space and females – typical guys.

Early County

 

A Common Buckeye soaks up a little morning sun to dry her wings.

Early County

 

Another Georgia specialty. When ripe, pluck one of these from the tree, take a bite — the juice runs over your lips, onto your hand, down your arm, drips off your elbow — but you don’t care. The sensation of that fresh peach reaching your taste buds is unforgettable. Now you know why they place an image of this fruit on their car license plate!

Early County

 

Similar to the Bumble Bee (genus Bombus) in appearance, the Carpenter Bee (genus Xylocopa) can be a very destructive pest. They bore into wood, make tunnels and lay eggs. Untreated wood can be extensively damaged as the larvae chew their way out.

Early County

Early County

 

A pair of Common Ground Dove serenaded us with their monotonic song as we loaded the car to head home.

Early County

 

Another wonderful trip to paradise as part of our segmented Springtime Sabbatical. If you’re fortunate enough to find a spot devoid of human-made noise, savor it. I know we do.

Yes, we did remember to stop on the way back and loaded up on fresh conchs, zippers and mayhaw jelly! The little market also had fresh cane syrup, smoked country sausage and just-picked garden tomatoes.

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Balancing Act

Watching birds has the potential to generate human interest along many different planes. On a very basic level, the sheer beauty of a bird can cause us to sigh in appreciation, or is it jealousy? Some of us have a more scientific curiosity about how flight is possible or how can a duck float or why does a hummingbird seem to change colors. Birding can be a good fit for other outdoor pursuits such as camping, hiking, fishing, boating or photography. At the extreme edge of watching birds is competition. Back in the days of no computers or cell phones and precious little printed instruction, I would make a pencil mark beside birds I had observed in a pocket version of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide To The Birds”. I was happy. Then I agreed to participate in my first Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count. The fellow who was our team leader was unlike any “bird-watcher” I had ever encountered. Let’s just say he could have been a very effective sports coach – or military drill sergeant.

The ensuing years have seen the evolution of a relaxing pastime into a competitive obsession for some. With the advent of computer-maintained lists, rare bird alerts, hotlines, locally maintained listservs, guide businesses (with rare bird “guarantees”) – this ain’t Hank Thoreau’s hobby no more!

Of course, chasing birds to add to a “life list”, especially uncommon species, can be expensive (and not just monetarily). Some have spent life savings on optical equipment, travel expenses and specialty gear to add a rarity to their list. Others have done all that and missed a child’s graduation, a daughter’s wedding, sacrificed a marriage. That’s extreme!

Naturally, I have achieved a balance between enjoying bird-watching and keeping track of the species I’ve observed over the years. It’s tempting sometimes to drive six hours in the hope a seldom seen bird will wait for me to arrive, but common sense prevails. Nothing is worth going THAT crazy about chasing!

(UPDATE: I stand corrected. I just wandered by the living room and glimpsed Gini on the love seat. I would eagerly circumnavigate the world and beyond just to smooch the firmament upon which she stands.)

Zero-four-thirty. That’s early. And it’s really dark, too. The email said let’s go see if the Smooth-billed Ani is still at Viera Wetlands. It’s only a two-hour drive. I have never seen a Smooth-billed Ani. Besides, that’s a nice area to go birding even without seeing a Smooth-billed Ani. Gini says, go, have fun. She’ll sleep in. Common sense personified.

Anis are fairly common in the Caribbean and there used to be a small breeding population in South Florida. Burgeoning human development and the accompanying habitat destruction has drastically reduced the species’ numbers, if not extirpated it completely from the state. The ani is in the same family as cuckoos and consumes mostly insects but won’t turn down ripe fruit.

Close examination of the target field yielded no rare bird. No worries, Viera Wetlands is a wonderful place to leisurely drive and walk and find lots of birds! A couple of hours yielded 60 species which included a Limpkin with a young chick, a large flock of American White Pelicans, tons of water birds and as a bonus a Great Horned Owl. As we pulled out of the wetlands, a dozen birders lined the field where the ani had been spotted in previous days. Alas, they reported no sighting this morning. We birded a spot a few miles away and returned about an hour later. The group of birders had grown to at least 30 and they were all standing and pointing to a clump of Brazilian Pepper. There it was! My first Smooth-billed Ani! If only I could wedge myself between the guy with the $10,000 spotting scope and the guy with $20,000 worth of camera stuff. No use. These guys were pros and knew they were in the best spot. I slunk down the road, found a spot to sit in the grass and hoped my puny lens would focus today. Then bird karma intervened. The Smooth-billed Ani fluttered onto a slender limb nearby and spent the next ten minutes preening and watching the watchers. Adrenalin can make your shutter finger shake.

After a lunch of fresh seafood, we wandered around a few nearby parks and found some good birds to round out a special day of birding. A missed turn took us down a road which yielded another rare bird, a Short-tailed Hawk! It’s estimated there are less than 250 breeding pairs of this magnificent raptor remaining in Florida. Talk about icing on the bird-watcher’s cake!

Without further ado, the Smooth-billed Ani (and a few of his closest friends):

 

The Smooth-billed Ani was a very cooperative subject for the dozens of paparazzi on hand. It would occasionally disappear into the dense ground cover to forage but always returned to the only clump of vegetation in the field. Pretty convenient for birders. Judging by the appearance of the tail, I suspect this individual is molting and may be the reason it hasn’t flown away yet.

Viera Wetlands

vIERA wETLANDS

 

The first rays of sun and a lingering ground fog combined to give this female Common Yellowthroat a sort of ethereal look.

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s hard not to gawk at the shocking pink of a Roseate Spoonbill. Of course, be prepared to be gawked right back!

Viera Wetlands

 

Lots of Ring-necked Ducks were enjoying the wetlands and have apparently become accustomed to the busy human presence.

Viera Wetlands

 

A Limpkin keeps a watchful eye on its chick as the youngster learns to find and extract yummy Apple Snails from their not so protective shells.

Viera Wetlands

 

Great Blue Herons flock (pun intended) to this place for breeding as the numerous palm trees make perfect nesting sites.

Viera Wetlands

 

A male Hooded Merganser is really showy with that white hood and bright golden eye. He and his mate spent more time with their heads under water than above.

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s becoming more difficult to find a Mottled Duck which does not have some characteristics of a Mallard. The inter-breeding may eventually wipe out the wild Mottled Duck altogether.

Viera Wetlands

 

I’m used to seeing large numbers of Lesser Scaup in the winter on our larger lakes but in the quiet waters of these small ponds this single bird was content to hang with the above Mottled Duck.

Viera Wetlands

 

I seem to have a knack for photographing peek-a-boo birds. Oh, well. A peeking Marsh Wren is better than none at all.

Viera Wetlands

 

Savannah Sparrows are typically our most numerous winter sparrow. They usually have no problem posing for the patient photographer.

Viera Wetlands

 

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am the beholder here, I think this plain female Brown-headed Cowbird is beautiful. So there.

Viera Wetlands

 

Early in the morning, we spotted this Great Horned Owl trying to snooze in a palm tree. Later on, as we were ogling the ani, the owl slipped onto the top of a light pole behind the conga line of birders snapping pics of the visitor from the tropics. I wondered if the owl was also ogling the ani?

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

After lunch, we visited a park on the shore of the Indian River (just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast) and found a manatee who refused to pose for me. I consoled myself with shots of a Great Egret looking for a handout and a very young Brown Pelican. I managed one flight shot of an adult Brown Pelican while still sulking about that manatee.

Viera Wetlands

Indian River

Indian River

 

A missed turn. A red light. A glance upward. Short-tailed Hawk! Find a place to park! Snap 20 quick images! This raptor occurs in dark and light versions. In this light individual, it looks like it’s wearing a helmet.

Brevard County

 

 

Once again I was able to maintain a perfect balance of relaxing bird-watching and common sense. Okay, okay. I went bonkers for a little while and chased a rare bird across the state, sat down on an ant mound, got so many burrs on my pants you couldn’t see the pants, got so nervous about taking a photograph my hands shook – and would do it all again tomorrow. Hopefully, you will soon have the same experience!

 

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: