“Should I take a jacket?”
Not a common question in the sub-tropical “Sunshine State”. However, we do experience a few cool days at this time of year where a jacket would definitely make an early morning outing more comfortable.
My sage advice to one who already knows the answers to all things: “Take one along. That will insure you won’t need it.”
Indeed, the day was perfect. Cool but comfortable without the jacket. High clouds but dry all morning. Best of all – no wind.
Every time we return to the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, we seem to encounter something different. With over 13,000 acres, I suppose that’s not too surprising. Birds, mammals, reptiles, flora – no wonder it has become one of our favorite locations!
We were a bit concerned as we neared the entrance road. Two large dump trucks lumbered towards us on their way out of the forest. Later, we encountered a grader smoothing out the fresh dirt to fill in some deep holes. A forest service truck was parked alongside the road and workers were spraying invasive plants, primarily Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia).
No worries. The wildlife didn’t seem to mind the sprucing up at all. Neither did we.
Almost immediately after entering the forest tract, we spotted a Florida Scrub-Jay. The day was already a success! This is the only bird species that lives exclusively in Florida. They can be found in scrub pine and oak flatwoods occurring in high and dry areas, such as the ancient ridge running down the center of the peninsula (where we were located) as well as coastal and river sand dunes adjacent to likely scrub areas.
From the state forest link below:
“Lake Wales Ridge State Forest derives its name from the narrow ridge that runs north and south through the Florida Peninsula. Many years ago ancient ocean levels rose and covered nearly all of the present-day peninsula. The ridge became an island on which the plants and animals continued to evolve in isolation.”
We enjoyed a quiet breakfast at tranquil Lake Godwin. Returning toward the main road, Gini’s sharp ears picked up the “rubber-ducky” squeaking of a gang of Brown-headed Nuthatches. At the same time, a dozen or so Pine Warblers landed and foraged in the grass of the road ahead, Eastern Bluebirds flitted just above the palmetto fronds going from pine tree to pine tree, Downy Woodpeckers probed the higher branches for bugs and – what’s that? A slight movement gave away a Fox Squirrel hugging a nearby pine tree trunk. He moved quickly to a higher limb as I pointed the camera in his direction.
The morning ended all too soon and we reluctantly headed home. A flurry of activity at the forest entrance caused us to pause for an additional half-hour. The trees were filled with Tufted Titmice, Pine Warblers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinals, Palm Warblers, Blue Jays and the fabulous Florida Scrub-Jay. Like a wave rolling along, the mass of feathered feeders moved on – as did we.
What a nice exclamation point on our very fine forest adventure!
An excited Eastern Towhee greeted us as we arrived at the forest entrance road.
We only see Palm Warblers during migration, although many remain through the winter. This one found a juicy morsel for breakfast and proceeded to pound it mercilessly on the branch until it was suitably tenderized.
Diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatches are fearless and quick to arrive in defense of their territory when an intruder (that would be me) is detected. The problem is, they tend to remain among the highest possible branches directly overhead. I have a fair collection of nuthatch underside images.
The “mammal formerly known as Sherman’s Fox Squirrel” has apparently been re-classified as genetically the same as the Southern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger). No matter what his name is, it’s a magnificent animal!
Gini’s artistic eye found a pine tree which was felled by recent wind storms to be appealing in its rich color and diverse texture.
My bride’s keen observation also spotted a new plant (for us): Pineland Purple (Carphephorus odoratissimus var. subtropicanus), also called False Vanillaleaf.
The Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) may be lacking in a diversity of color but she is still a stunning beauty.
He saw me before I saw him. A Great Crested Flycatcher allowed one photo before diving for cover.
Rusty brown and a golden eye combined with its large size and impressive beak identify the Brown Thrasher. In the same family as the Northern Mockingbird (Mimidae), the Brown Thrasher has been observed to have more than 1,000 songs in its repertoire!
The relatively small Common Ground Dove in good light and up close is seen to have a “scaly” appearance. About the size of a Song Sparrow, they rely on their plumage to remain hidden in the grass and I’ve been startled many times as one flushes almost from under my feet.
Florida Scrub-Jays remain in family groups throughout the year. Last year’s offspring often help raise next year’s brood. Immature birds will stay and help defend the territory for about a year before seeking their own homestead.
Another amazing adventure in this beautiful forest! Hopefully, you have your own woodland or special area to explore and discover new things each time you go.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!