Posts Tagged With: brown pelican

Ramp Up Your Birding !

Have you ever noticed the thing you seek is sometimes close at hand? Can’t find your car keys? Don’t move. Look around where you’re standing. Open the nearest drawer. Chances are good you’ll find them within a moment or two. But the normal human urge is to think the farther we travel the greater will be our reward. So we go outside first and look in the car to see if we left the keys in the ignition. In fishing, we spend all day plying the deep waters far from shore only to return to see the guy who spent an hour fishing from the dock stuffing another fish into an overloaded cooler. How many times have we hiked through a park all morning in search of migrant warblers only to return to the parking lot and find them feeding under the car?

Gini handed me an egg salad sandwich and we shared a container of fresh tangerine slices. The mirror surface of the lake reflected the impossibly blue sky and a Tricolored Heron flapped lazily along the shoreline. Early morning is an active time for wild creatures. While we enjoyed breakfast, ripples in the water gave away locations of feeding fish, turtles poked their heads above the surface to enjoy the sun’s rays, a Limpkin tip-toed through the cattails in search of snails and a Bald Eagle soared above the lake and was harassed by two loudly scolding Fish Crows. A loud, rhythmic “thwack!”, “thwack!” directed our attention to an oak tree beside us where a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers tore large chunks of bark from the trunk and probed deep within the tree for insect morsels. A more dainty, quick “rat-a-tat-tat-tat” told us a Downy Woodpecker was also in the area. An after-breakfast walk resulted in almost 40 species of birds in the small park.

Our breakfast venue was Lake Rosalie Park in eastern Polk County. A boat ramp, a few picnic tables and small number of primitive camping spots did not offer an extensive area to explore. But what a pleasure to be almost alone (there was one friendly couple camping) and be able to observe so many birds in such a relatively small place!

We feel very fortunate to live in Florida, a state which is not only surrounded on three sides by water but where the interior is dotted with myriad ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. All that water encourages a really diverse flourishing of flora and fauna. Although it’s wonderful to have large parks, reserves and impoundments containing huge numbers of birds nearby, we have learned to enjoy the small places, too. Early in our bird-watching endeavors, we made the astounding scientific discovery that most birds have wings and cannot read the map where it clearly states:  “Birding Hotspot“.

A quick look at a city, county or state website will direct one to a listing of public boat ramps. These don’t always have a park associated with them, but all are definitely worth a glance once in awhile. Not only can you usually get a look at a body of water and its associated shoreline, the surrounding area is often prime habitat for a great variety of birds, native as well as migratory. And if you happen to have  someone with deep brown eyes and soft hands next to you, it’s quite possible that birding will suddenly cease to be all that critical.

Coleman Landing At Shady Oaks Recreation Area has recently expanded to include several improved camping sites for recreational vehicles and a new large shower facility. It’s still basically just a boat ramp which provides access to huge Lake Kissimmee and is nestled among a very nice grove of shady oak trees. The following photographs are from a recent breakfast excursion.

This Red-shouldered Hawk is quite pale and is a good example of the species found in south Florida.

Coleman Landing

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

A White-eyed Vireo took time out from his tireless singing to gawk at the guy walking around poking his face in all the shrubbery.

Coleman Landing

White-eyed Vireo

 

A rare (for me) photograph of a Merlin perched (albeit for only a moment). My usual view of this seasonal migrant is of a blurry brown rear end. They are about the size of an American Kestrel but are faster, don’t hover like a kestrel and whereas the kestrel prefers insects the Merlin specializes in small birds.

Coleman Landing

Merlin

 

Speaking of the American Kestrel, this one was just up the path from the Merlin. Hearing the click of the camera, he gave me the “evil eye” and screamed something about he was trying to hunt here so I left him alone.

Coleman Landing

American Kestrel

Coleman Landing

American Kestrel

 

Another early morning breakfast was enjoyed at the aforementioned boat ramp at Lake Rosalie Park where a few feathered friends kept us entertained.

 

It was a bit early in the season for Pileated Woodpeckers to be choosing a nesting site, but this species mates for life so it’s not unusual to see a pair together throughout the year. The male is distinguished by  red malar stripes while the female’s are dark. These large woodpeckers (average length 16.5 inches/42 cm) will often bore quite deeply into a tree to find insects.

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Male

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Female

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Male

 

Limpkins blend in very well with the colors and patterns of vegetation found near water.

Lake Rosalie Park

Limpkin

 

A Northern Parula is not common here during the winter months but this one appears to be enjoying the mild weather just fine.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula

 

A very small portion of a huge flock of Tree Swallows swarmed a section of trees and vacuumed up bugs from the leaves without ever landing.

Saddle Creek Park

Tree Swallow

 

It seemed a bit out of place to spot a Brown Pelican high in a moss-draped oak tree. Of course, they frequently choose such a location for nest placement, although I didn’t spot a nest here.

Saddle Creek Park

Brown Pelican

 

On the way home, we stopped at another public boat ramp near our house at Lake Parker in Lakeland. Snail Kites have been expanding their range but they are still an endangered species.  It’s good to see one any time. They have been spotted at Lake Parker with some regularity since last year. The expansion of their range is tied to their main food source, the Apple Snail. Here a female or immature kite hovers over a weedy area near the lake’s shore and comes up with supper.

West Lake Parker Drive

Snail Kite

West Lake Parker Drive

Snail Kite

 

We sold our boat but still like hanging around boat ramps! The next time you see a public boat ramp sign, take a look. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find. And if you have your priorities straight, go with someone you love. Take breakfast. Take binoculars. Ignore the last two items.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Big Water = Big Attraction

My birth place was a small village in southeastern Florida called Miami.  Well, it was a small village long, long ago when I was born.  Okay, okay, even then it was a huge megalopolis and the premier destination for tourists longing to escape snow, ice and each other.  Dad was a carpenter and built homes for the tourists who couldn’t find a good reason to return to the snow and ice.  He also was an addict.  The addiction gene was passed along to yours truly and I became a fishing junkie through no actual fault of my own.

A quirk in his DNA gave him a preference for freshwater fishing.  So, although we lived ten minutes from the finest saltwater fishing on the planet, we would spend a couple of hours on the road to head north to Lake Okeechobee where we would hope to bring home largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker or speckled perch (“crappie” to those not from here).  He was a very good fisherman and we enjoyed many traditional (that means “full of fat stuff” in modern-speak) Southern fish dinners.  Sigh.  I can smell the hushpuppies even now…….but I digest……err…..digress.

Okeechobee translates to Big Water in the Seminole Indian language.  Lake Okeechobee is, indeed, big.  It’s the second largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states in America and consists of 730 square miles (1891 square kilometers).  Water from this huge lake directly impacts the vast Everglades ecosystem.

I readily accepted an invitation to go birding in this area.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Lake Okeechobee and I was excited to be anywhere near the waters that produced so many wonderful memories for me.  Our target area was Glades County on the western side of the big lake.  Our ambitious itinerary included:  Harney Pond Canal Recreation Area (on Lake Okeechobee), Curry Island, Lake Okeechobee Rim Canal, Alvin L. Ward Senior Park (in Moore Haven), Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (several trails) and Rainey Slough.  I highly recommend any of these spots for excellent birding and just plain enjoyment of nature.

Glades County was founded in 1921, encompasses just under 1,000 square miles and in 2010 had a population of about 13,000.  It’s known for tourism, cattle, fishing, sugar cane, produce and citrus industries.  There is lots of open space to explore and enjoy here!

By the end of the day, our party of two logged 95 species of birds.  I added a life bird, the Purple Swamp Hen, which has gained a foothold in Florida after several of these non-native birds escaped a display several decades ago.  Along the edge of the Big Water, we observed endangered Snail Kites as they went about the business of hunting for their main source of food, the Apple Snail.  Other highlights for me were the early morning encounter of almost 200 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in a cattle pond, a Clay-colored Sparrow, Indigo and Painted Buntings, nearly 100 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, two American Bittern and finding nine Black-crowned Night Herons (adults and juveniles) in a single location.  What a great day!

Most of the day was quite overcast, cool and very windy.  Photographs were a bit limited but here are a few that will give you a flavor of our experience.

 

This is a view of a very small bay on Lake Okeechobee.  Even though the lake is huge, it’s average depth is only nine feet (2.7 meters).

Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee

 

A highly cropped image of two Purple Swam Hens.  We didn’t find any close enough for good photos but I was quite happy to see them at all!

Purple Swamp Hen

Purple Swamp Hen

 

This is a fairly large alligator which I estimate at about 10 feet.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Frogs are plentiful throughout the area, a fact which is appreciated by this Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

During the winter, in our local area, we see mainly Tree Swallows.  It was nice to run across a large flock of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

 

A Greater Yellowlegs poses nicely along a canal leading to Lake Okeechobee.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

This Brown Pelican found a comfortable spot on a channel marker where he was protected from the cold wind.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

Young White Ibises are brown or mottled until about their second fall when they will attain the pure white plumage of adults.

White Ibis (Immature)

White Ibis (Immature)

 

We played hide-and-seek with this Spotted Sandpiper for awhile and I had to settle for a distant flight shot since he refused to hold still on shore.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

A young Limpkin has not yet realized that Apple Snails are usually closer to the water.

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

Florida’s tropical climate is favorable for some unique plant life such as this epiphyte, or air plant.  This class of plant depends on a host (e.g., tree branch) for physical support but is not parasitic and takes its moisture and nutrients from the air.

Epiphyte

Epiphyte

 

The bases of Cypress trees often grow into unusual shapes and my sharp-eyed companion spotted this artistic form.

Cypress Tree

Cypress Tree

 

Crested Caracara are somewhat common in this area and love the open spaces.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

A creek and vast adjacent wetlands create the perfect environment for water birds such as these Black-crowned Night Herons.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Black-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

A Green Heron extends its neck to get a better view of its potential supper.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

As you explore any wild area, it’s good to keep in mind that we are merely visitors and need to respect the residents.  This particular resident commands more respect than most! 

American Alligator

American Alligator

(I often mention alligators in my posts but have taken for granted that everyone is familiar with our official Florida State Reptile.  I apologize.  A few facts.  The American Alligator is North America’s largest reptile, growing to over 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length and weighing up to 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms).  The species is over 150 million years old and can live an average of 35-50 years in the wild.  Numbers of alligators in Florida are estimated between 1.5-2 million.  They primarily feed on fish, turtles, snakes, small mammals and slow-moving birders.  Petting them is not recommended.)

 

It was simply wonderful to explore the land of the Big Water and I can’t wait to return!  If you find yourself in south Florida, consider investigating all that Glades County has to offer.  There are some true gems here just waiting to be discovered!

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

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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