Posts Tagged With: brown thrasher

Sabbatical Ends – Summer Begins

It was June. The calendar announced summer was about to begin. June in Florida is hot and muggy. June in Georgia is hot and muggy.

There is a reason that makers of household cleaning products advertise “fresh pine scent” on labels. Likewise, one out of ten automobiles sport, hanging from the rear-view mirror, a dark green lump of cardboard cut into what an urban-dwelling marketer thinks a tree should look like and infused with what an aroma specialist imagines a cardboard pine tree should smell like.

As we turned from the four-lane highway onto a rural lane cutting through the heart of agricultural central Georgia, we slowed to a saner speed, opened the windows and enjoyed the fresh air, the unmistakable sensation of earth recently tilled and, yes, the resinous tang unique to members of the Pinus genus. No lump of cardboard or detergent could ever capture that essence.

Our journey was now of familiar places. We had developed a rhythm of sorts. Leave just before sunrise, breakfast on the Gulf of Mexico coast, ramble northward through fishing towns (trying to ignore the tourist advertising), marvel at antebellum architecture, gawk at huge farming operations, enjoy our barbeque lunch along the high-water raging Flint River and open all the windows to gulp deeply of the perfume of the south produced by tall conifers just for us. By mid-afternoon we are here, unhooking the cable across the drive, scanning the trees for birds, thankful we will soon be out of the car for a couple of days.

Early June birds are busy mating, nesting, raising young, constantly searching for food. The migrants have departed to do all of the above further north. It’s a busy time in the woods and fields for all living things. Exploring is a pleasure!

Our first night coincides with the full moon. Early native Americans referred to the June full moon as the Strawberry Moon, likely because it came at a time of harvest. In other parts of the world it has been called Honey or Full Rose Moon. Whatever name you ascribe, on this night it was pretty spectacular. The coyotes thought so, too, based on their singing. The clear morning air didn’t seem that humid, but my camera lens proved otherwise as I couldn’t use it for the first half hour despite constant wiping. A very heavy dew contributed to several pounds of water added to my pant legs but, thankfully, my boots resisted the dampness. Dry feet are a true blessing when hiking.

We enjoyed our visit with family again and returned home refreshed and thankful for such an enriching experience. Nature provided endless opportunities for discovery and we hope you don’t mind if we share a small sample of our observations.

 

Strawberry Moon. Astronomical trivia:  At this time, the moon appears “smaller” than other times as it’s at its farthest orbit from the earth.

Early County

 

A male Field Sparrow uses the top of a young Longleaf Pine to show off his virtuoso voice in the hope a female likes what she hears.

Early County

 

The path behind the barn leads through old-growth pines to an area of hardwood trees and eventually an open field.

Early County

 

At a back yard feeder, a male House Finch tries to bully his way around to getting all the seed for himself. Good luck with that! There are ten feeders in the yard – plenty for all.

Early County

 

Ladybugs (ladybird beetles) are hard to miss in their shiny red and black cloaks.

Early County

 

Year-around residents, Eastern Bluebirds have already mated and are busily bringing bugs to a nesting box full of hungry two-week old chicks.

Early County

 

I rounded a path and startled a White-tailed Deer. The doe stared at me for about five minutes before she decided discretion was the better part of valor and bolted across the cotton field into the safety of the woods.

Early County

 

Northern Cardinals were abundant and their clear calls echoed around the property every day.

Early County

 

Orb-weaver spiders are master engineers and their strong webs strung across a path during the night yield a good supply of nutritious insects every morning.

Early County

 

A male Northern Bobwhite is almost hidden in tall grass. Behind him was his harem of four females. Soon there will be small fluffy quail all over this area.

Early County

 

Passiflora incarnata, Passion Flower, makes a walk through the pine grove undergrowth a visually stunning experience.

Early County

 

Singing from the very top of a large Bay Tree, a male Brown Thrasher was very unhappy I was interrupting his serenade to a nearby female. I snapped a quick portrait and hustled on down the path.

Early County

 

This is the time of year for fresh blackberries! Getting to them before the birds and animals is nearly impossible.

Early County

 

Two of the top finalists for best vocals are the Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. I was very lucky to have one of each appear in the treetops within 50 feet of one another – and me!

Early County

Early County

 

Some of the most interesting life forms can be found right at your feet – literally! A fungi extravaganza.

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

 

What a difference a day makes! The first photo above of a bright, colorful moon was followed the next evening by moonrise as a cool weather front approached bringing dark clouds drifting across the sky offering only fleeting glimpses of the lunar orb.

Early County

 

Our sabbatical ended but our visits will continue. All of us need the respite provided by an island of solace such as we have been fortunate to find. If you are able, such as I was, to benefit from the company of your very best friend in life, then you are indeed blessed.

 

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

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

Seeing The Forest For The Trees (And The Lake, And The Marsh, And The Prairie)

The very name “Lake Wales Ridge State Forest” appears to be a double oxymoron. One does not usually think of Florida as containing “ridges” or “forests”. The more typical mental image of those not familiar with our “Sunshine State” is of beaches, warm winters and all things Disney. These images may be accurate, but there is so much more to experience. For an idea of how much forest land is managed by the state, check out the link under “Additional Information”.

Here is a description of the area known as the Lake Wales Ridge:

“The most important remaining patches lie along the Lake Wales Ridge, a chain of paleoislands running for a hundred miles down the center of Florida, in most places less than ten miles wide. It is relict seashore, tossed up more than a million years ago when ocean levels were higher and the rest of the peninsula was submerged. That ancient emergence is precisely what makes the Lake Wales Ridge so precious; it has remained unsubmerged, its ecosystems essentially undisturbed since the Miocene.”

John Jerome, Author “Scrub, Beautiful Scrub” in Heart of the Land

We recently had a chance to revisit one of the four tracts of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, the Prairie Tract. (See our prior post on this area: Wet, Wild, Wonderful!)  Once again, we were privileged to have as our guide, Mr. Dave Butcher of the Florida Forest Service. We really appreciated his expert knowledge of the area, willingness to take us through any terrain in our search for breeding birds and outstanding patience in putting up with us all day long.

This is a truly diverse area, ecologically. We explored citrus groves, pastures, grass prairie, hardwood hammocks, stands of pine trees, low-water/marshy areas and the shoreline of one of the state’s largest natural lakes, the beautiful Lake Kissimmee. Evidence of breeding birds was just about everywhere. The day began with the calls of Chuck-Will’s-Widows and “peent” calls of Common Nighthawks as they dove headlong toward the ground in their courtship dive, punctuated by the loud rush of air through their feathers as they put on the brakes. The things one must do to impress a mate!

Dense fog shrouded our surroundings as the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes announced the dawn. White-tail Deer materialized in the mist and just as quickly bounded away at our approach. Wild turkey, heads low to the ground, slinked into the palmetto scrub, confident we never saw them. White-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinals, Eastern Meadowlarks – all were competing for some sort of “loudest singer” prize. As we approached a corral in a large pasture, two young Crested Caracara shuffled nervously on their post perches. It’s possible they had not yet seen a human in their relatively short life so far. As we progressed through the pasture, we counted five adult Burrowing Owls, some showing off their hunting prowess as they hovered Kestrel-like before diving onto an unsuspecting grasshopper or lizard. Two big surprises of the day: an Upland Sandpiper who should have migrated north a month ago and a Ring-necked Pheasant, likely a left-over or escapee from a hunting club. The highlight of our day, however, was the discovery of an endangered Florida Scrub Jay nest with young being fed by an adult. What a tremendous thing it is to see new life thriving in a species not that far away from total extinction.

A few random photographs might offer a tantalizing flavor of our day.

A large number of Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) spend the winter in Florida and points south.  There is a sub-species, the Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis), which is a non-migratory resident.  Once you hear the resounding trumpet call of either species you won’t soon forget it.  (Hear the call:  http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/133093.)

 

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

The Eastern Lubber Grasshopper is a large, colorful insect which can grow up to about three inches (8 cm) in length.  Adults are bright yellow and orange.  The black immature Lubbers seen here were climbing en masse to the top of a fence post near the end of the day, likely to escape predators during the night.

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

 

The song of the Brown Thrasher can easily be mistaken for a Northern Mockingbird.  Both are members of the family Mimidae and are quite adept at copying the songs of other birds.  The Brown Thrasher will typically repeat a phrase only two or three times and move on to something else.  The Northern Mockingbird may repeat the same song many times (sometimes it seems like all night during the summer!).  In this case, the helpful bird hopped on a post to make certain we knew who the neighborhood belonged to.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

 

With so much diversity, predators abound.  We saw tracks of Bobcat and Coyote and there are Black Bears and the rare Florida Panther here as well.  Raptors, such as this Red-shouldered Hawk thrive in this lush environment.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

The White-tail Deer is abundant in the area but not often seen as they are very wary (as most wild animals need to be!).  They are also curious.  Sometimes, a small sound, such as a camera shutter click, will cause them to stop and look toward the source of the noise.  So although the first picture may not be useable, you might have a second chance at that beautiful face.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

 

Most birders in Florida don’t head into the field with “Ring-necked Pheasant” on their list of expected birds.  This female is likely a survivor of a hunt club or escapee from a game bird farm.  In any event, she’s beautiful.  (The shadow line at the bottom of the photo is the roofline of the truck.  She was literally right outside the door of the vehicle.)

Ring-necked Pheasant (Female)

Ring-necked Pheasant (Female)

 

Northern Bobwhite were singing everywhere!  That’s good news as their population has been in general decline over the past couple of decades.  This pair will hopefully breed successfully.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

We were fortunate to spot several Burrowing Owls during the day.  They pretty much ignored our presence but were very keen on looking in all directions, including upwards, as they scanned for potential predators.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

 

Two immature Crested Caracara perch over a watering trough as they keep an eye out for a meal.  When they mature, their facial skin will become redder, the face/neck feathers more white and their legs more yellow.  Mom and Dad were perched about 50 yards away keeping watch.

Crested Caracara (Immature)

Crested Caracara (Immature)

 

Dragonflies are beginning to become very abundant.  I think this is a Common Baskettail but would certainly appreciate a definitive identification.

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) - ??

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) – ??

 

I happen to think one of our native flowers is just about as attractive a plant as any I’ve seen.  Pickerelweed may not be a pretty name, but – well, just look.

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

 

Speaking of nice looking natives, this one isn’t too shabby, either.

American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata)

American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata)

 

A Limpkin flew into a marshy spot with a freshly caught Apple Snail.  As soon as he landed, a baby Limpkin ran out for his portion of escargot.  Another chick was running in from another direction, out of camera range.

Limpkin

Limpkin

Limpkin (Adult and Chick)

Limpkin (Adult and Chick)

 

Well, it was time for two tired birders to head home.  As we did so, we spotted two tired birds doing the same thing.  These Wild Turkeys trudged up a hill in a newly plowed field reaching the crest just at sunset.  A wonderful way to end a great day.

Wild Turkeys At Dusk

Wild Turkeys At Dusk

 

 

If you’re looking for new places in Florida to explore, our State Forests offer vast amounts of hiking trails, lakes, streams, primitive campsites, wildlife and, yes, even actual trees!

 

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

 

Additional Information:

Florida State Forests

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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