Posts Tagged With: burrowing owl

Leftovers

It’s time to show you my favorite photographs from blogging during the past year!

Relax. Not really. I already did that to you once. And you were all very kind. Thank you for that!

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know (or strongly suspect) that I’m more of a contrarian than a conformist. So instead of trying to determine which images I liked the best, I shall serve you a heaping dish of leftovers. Scraps. Remains. Dregs. Residue. Leavings. Remnants. Stuff acquired during 2015 which didn’t quite fit into a nice, neat blogging category. Maybe it was a picture from a Sunday drive or a single image from a trip where no other suitable images were made or a snapshot from the back yard.

For those of you who have never participated in that grandest of American feasting holidays, Thanksgiving, I’m sorry. Typically, our extended family (along with friends who we think of as family) meet at a central location and everyone brings food to share. The table is usually overburdened with roast turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, pies, cakes … it’s quite a spectacle. At the end of the day, any food items remaining are parceled out for those who are interested in taking them home. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast turkey on Thanksgiving Day is a turkey sandwich the next day. And to enjoy that sandwich on the edge of a lake with Gini by my side while we count migrating ducks, well, that’s something special.

No sooner had we cleaned out the refrigerator of Thanksgiving leftovers than Christmas arrived. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast ham on Christmas Day is a ham sandwich the next day. And to enjoy it on the edge of a lake…. (you know the rest).

One week later. Happy New Year! Now, although a leftover sandwich made from a standing rib roast is really good (especially to enjoy it on the edge of a lake, etc.), Gini is able to turn the remaining meat and bones into a pot of heavenly harmony affectionately known as “hash”. Originating from the French for “to cut or chop”, Gini’s hash contains the aforementioned remnants of a superb roast, including bones, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and ingredients so secret even the government doesn’t know about them. Just the aroma of her hash being warmed has been known to make grown men weep and Southern Women swoon. It’s that good.

Well, all of the above culinary delights are now but a memory and the food planning calendar contains a lot of salad and bean items. Sigh. Before the glow fades from these fond memories, I offer you a platter of luminous leftovers. Don’t forget your napkin.

Enjoy.

 

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest hawk species in North America and has been observed in an amazing range of plumages. From almost all black to almost all light-colored, the signature brick red tail is usually present in adult birds. Where better to find one of our most beautiful raptors than hiking around all day in summer at – the local landfill. (The sacrifices I make for you all.)

North Central Landfill

Red-tailed Hawk

 

Also known as “traffic warden”, this Eastern Phoebe reminds visitors to get out and walk.

Saddle Creek Park

Eastern Phoebe

 

For those with acute hearing (which would NOT be me), the Sedge Wren readily announces his location. The problem is once you find his location, he usually remains hidden deep within the reeds. This one couldn’t resist taking a peek at the guy in the camouflage shirt which he could CLEARLY SEE. (I must get my money back.)

McKendree Road

Sedge Wren

 

I stooped to new lows this past year to locate damsels in distress. This Variable Dancer remained motionless for a micro-second and a single shutter click captured a gorgeous miniature ballerina.

Mosaic FMA

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

When Little Blue Herons are young, they are white. As the year progresses, they begin to show their slaty plumage bit by bit and it’s common to spot “calico” herons in the marsh. This fellow had an itch and is sporting the latest teen hairdo so popular in today’s heron society.

Lake Gwyn

Little Blue Heron – Immature

 

An artsy moment in which I search for my roots.

Saddle Creek Park

Roots

 

Short-tailed Hawks (Buteo brachyurus) are not common in North America and probably number less than 500 in Florida. This small tropical hawk usually soars quite high (often above vultures) and drops quickly and unexpectedly to capture small songbirds. This is the first one I’ve ever seen perched. There are two forms, light (as pictured) and an all dark morph.

Saddle Creek Park

Short-tailed Hawk

 

A Wood Stork and White Ibis may share a perch but they don’t have to speak to each other.

McKendree Road

White Ibis, Wood Stork

 

Visitors are surprised to learn there are hills and valleys in Florida. Okay, they aren’t very dramatic, but parts of the state are not as flat as most think. This pasture land is only about a half hour from our house and is prime habitat for one of our favorite birds …..

Pasco County

Trilby Road Pasture

 

Burrowing Owls love the open, closely cropped fields found in pastures. Within a couple of square miles of this burrow were eight additional burrows, all with one or two owlets last year. Here, Mom stands guard while the two youngsters begin to explore around the burrow entrance. They quickly learn to use those big eyes to scan the sky often. Hawks eat little owls.

Pasco County

Burrowing Owl

 

It has been amazing to discover the world of dragons! Incredible diversity of colors, expert hunters, dedicated parents, acrobatic fliers – and to think they spend their first three or four years under water! This Roseate Skimmer is one of the more colorful members of the species.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Skimmer – Male (Orthemis ferruginea)

 

The American Redstart is seen in our area only during spring and fall migration. They flash their tails and wings frequently as they move through a tree’s foliage to flush insects from hiding.

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – Female

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – male

 

Although the Sedge Wren above likes to remain hidden, the Marsh Wren aggressively jumps out of the weeds to see who’s invading his territory. A lot of attitude for his size!

Saddle Creek Park

Marsh Wren

 

This immature Wood Stork isn’t as handsome as the adult yet (okay, maybe there’s no difference), but he still can’t help but admire himself as he quenches his thirst.

Banana Lake Park

Wood Stork

 

Almost any visit to the marsh offers a vision in pink overhead. The Roseate Spoonbill is hard to miss in clear sky.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Spoonbill

 

A trip to refill the back yard bird bath revealed a surprise. A Cooper’s Hawk, who usually invites birds to dinner, decided to try squirrel for a change of pace. He was polite enough to wait to begin his meal until I returned with the camera.

Polk County

Cooper’s Hawk

 

Even though the population of the Red-headed Woodpecker has declined significantly over the past 25 years, it has been a bit encouraging to discover they are nesting successfully in good numbers in our area. Hopefully, they will continue to stage a comeback.

Lake Garfield

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Our community hosts a modest farmer’s market every Saturday and it’s a nice way to find locally produced goods. There is often a good selection of organic fruits and vegetables. We even have a train that goes through the center of town. (Much to the chagrin of commuters every day.)

Lakeland Market

Market

Lakeland Market

Tomatoes

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Peaches

Lakeland Market

Pastry

Lakeland Market

Flowers

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Train

 

 

Well, we hope you enjoyed your leftovers this year! I’m already dreaming of Gini’s hash for next year. After such a feast, there’s only one sensible thing to do —

Rolling Woods Lane

Mourning Dove

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 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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