Posts Tagged With: butterfly

Sabbatical – Part The First

“I got a piece of land out in the countryside

 Lay back and smell the Sun warm up the Georgia pine

 Feels so good to be taking it easy

 Why would I ever leave?” 

(Homegrown, Zac Brown Band)

 

“It’s really dark in the swamp at night.” Gini made no comment on the deep philosophical profoundness of my utterance. To be fair, I think she was asleep. We were hurtling through the inky blackness of central Florida’s Green Swamp, the car’s bright headlights struggling to illuminate the oncoming asphalt as far ahead as possible. One could be tempted on this 30 mile straight-as-an-arrow stretch of road to test the limits of acceleration possible. One, thankfully, also recalls how many times in the past a full-grown deer or wild pig has materialized from the misty marsh and stopped to stare into the mesmerizing brightness of halogen. I ease off of the accelerator a wee bit.

 

Gini’s brother has been working very hard over the past several years to transform a large tract of land in western Georgia into a homestead suitable for retirement in a few years. He and his gracious wife invited us to visit for a few days and we were looking forward to a change of venue. Eschewing the always busy interstate highway, we opted to travel along the coast road which would keep us near the Gulf of Mexico, allow us to enjoy picturesque small towns and force us into a more relaxed driving mode.

 

About an hour after sunrise, we left the highway and poked along through the salt marsh to a small park situated on the Gulf. There we breathed salty air in huge gulps while mullet broke the water’s surface and herons probed the shallow water for a breakfast crab. Gini had made egg salad sandwiches and along with some fresh orange slices we had a sumptuous, leisurely breakfast and watched as the sun’s early rays lit up the entire scene to our west. Simply beautiful!

 

Following a plan to avoid higher traffic areas, our route took us through rural north Florida into the pecan groves and cotton fields of southern Georgia. We found a small family-owned barbecue place where we got sandwiches to go and had lunch at a park filled with over-wintering Canada Geese. They “serenaded” us while we ate. Loudly.

 

The next couple of hours offered up scenes of bucolic central Georgia. Vast fields being plowed and preparing for spring crops, huge warehouses and silos where peanuts are stored for shipping, swift-flowing creeks flowing through pine forests, manicured groves of pecan trees which produce the sweetest nut imaginable, remnants of old cabins made of board and stone succumbing to over a hundred years of use, a friendly wave from a farmer on his tractor. Truly, a special place.

 

We arrived a little before dusk. Happy to not be driving for awhile, we enjoyed catching up with family news, had a light meal and just before bed I stood outside for a bit. No city lights visible, no traffic noise. A sky full of stars and the smell of pine. As I turned to go inside, a coyote announced to the pack that it was time for the hunt. I drifted off to sleep with the “song-dog’s” voice echoing in my head.

 

Early morning! A kiss and a cup of coffee for my sweetheart (in that order), and I was off to explore. A large grove of young Longleaf Pine, a vast area of mixed hardwood, a couple of grassy fields – a lot of potential. I was not disappointed! This was early spring and there was a nice mix of migratory songbirds as well as residents. The walk included some wary White-tailed Deer, a large covey (20+) of Northern Bobwhite, a Great-horned Owl calling in the distance and, not surprisingly, fresh coyote tracks from last night’s adventure.

We had a wonderful visit and will be returning soon. In the meantime, a couple of photographs may provide a sense of the homestead. Stay tuned for more …

 

A section of woods which contains huge pine trees, oaks, bay, hickory, wild plum – smell those pine needles?

Chancey Mill Road

 

With so many pine trees, I was happy to discover Brown-headed Nuthatches. True to form, they spent a lot of time running down tree trunks head first and hanging on to the underside of branches while they probed for bugs.

Chancey Mill Road

 

A lot of color in the tree tops with so many songbirds and warblers. Bright Pine Warblers were a common sight.

Chancey Mill Road

 

The property has a few huge pecan trees which will soon be covered in fresh green leaves.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Gini’s brother has placed a few nesting boxes around the property for Eastern Bluebirds. And here is one who appreciates his efforts!

Chancey Mill Road

 

American Goldfinches are in transition to their breeding plumage and the males will soon be extremely bright in their yellow and black suits. They don’t breed here and it won’t be long before they head a bit further north.

Chancey Mill Road

 

The diminutive Carolina Chickadee does breed here and they will soon be pairing up to build nests and will be loudly scolding anything that moves.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Some old buildings have been left standing and offer great exploring opportunities. This small barn is well over 150 years old and was constructed with boards from pine trees that were on the property. Foundations for some of the buildings were made with large rocks from the nearby Chattahoochee River.

Chancey Mill Road

 

We enjoyed noisy flocks of 20-30 migrating Chipping Sparrows while we were there. Although this species may be found here year round, most of these large groups will migrate on soon.

Chancey Mill Road

 

House Finches breed here and it was wonderful to hear their burbling song each day.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Birds aren’t the only critters that love the lush growth of this area. Here, a Cloudless Sulphur sips nectar and adds even more color to the landscape.

Chancey Mill Road

 

A pair of Common Ground Dove probes the clover and will soon make their loose grass nests in the nearby understory of the young pine grove.

Chancey Mill Road

 

More migrants! One morning a group of over 40 Cedar Waxwing descended into the yard. They hung around a couple of days before swooping northward.

Chancey Mill Road

Chancey Mill Road

 

Pine trees, a blackberry bramble, a path. Is there time to explore before supper?

Chancey Mill Road

 

 

Gini and I are truly blessed to live in an area we think is close to paradise. Even so, it’s nice once in awhile to explore new spots. How lucky to be able to take a vacation from paradise and visit – another paradise!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Small Doses

“Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops at all.” ― Emily Dickinson

 

“Second honeymoon.” How can such a thing exist when the first one never ends? It was a week’s respite from classes for me, and for Gini a break from budgeting, meal preparation, housework and the myriad chores of a wife which are usually taken for granted and for which precious little appreciation is expressed. Gini was a new wife, whisked a thousand miles from her home, given no instruction manual on how to run a household much less how to handle a husband who she was convinced knew everything about everything but, alas, who only knew how to present a brave facade and actually was scared spitless that he wouldn’t be able to make this union work. (Update:  Forty-eight years later, Gini still takes care of us and I still don’t know everything. The honeymoon continues …)

Our week-long break in upstate New York was in a one room cabin on a small lake near the Finger Lakes region. The proprietor, with the improbable name of “Mrs. Fish”, demonstrated how to open the clamp of the rubber hose over the kitchen sink for water. We discovered the source of our water was a small, clear spring on a hillside just outside the cabin. The big feather mattress of the brass bed folded around us to form a warm and intimate sandwich each night. The pond was full of fish, the surrounding fir forest full of birds and deer and the two of us full of love. “I wish we could stay here forever”, I loudly declared. Ever the wise one, Gini reminded me small doses of extra special things in life would ensure we appreciated them all the more.

So, as much as I like peach ice cream, fried mullet and freshly-picked strawberries, I’ve tried to understand that too much of a good thing may not provide the continued pleasure for which I hoped. But when something so wonderful is available, a little is all that’s needed for satisfaction.

Lately, we have not been able to explore as much as in the past. A temporary situation. So when we do get a chance to be out for a bit, a little goes a long way toward happiness.

The other day, there were errands to run. I had some time between appointments and decided to visit a city park on the south side of Lakeland. Holloway Park is not large and was designed with cross-country running in mind. During the week, it isn’t busy and the running trails make for easy walking. From different points in the park, one can see a nearby high-traffic expressway, two “big-box” type discount stores, my doctor’s office, a business center and the sounds of a mid-size metropolitan area intrude constantly. With all that, a visitor can still find solace in a small section of woods which muffle rude noises, enjoy a small stream and pond, find wildflowers in any season, watch birds going about the business of raising families and surviving and come across innumerable insects which are easy to miss unless you slow down. I like to think one of the purposes of places like this is to provide a sort of “speed bump” for our hectic lifestyles. I spent less than an hour here, mostly kneeling near the edge of a stream watching an incredible array of life spread out before me.

It was a small dose. A little birding, a bit of insect discovery, some casual photography. And it was enough. No planning, no extensive driving or hiking, no supplies, no worries. I returned to my errands totally refreshed.

As I watched a dragonfly steadfastly patrol a section of shoreline, vigorously driving away all intruders, I found out there was something going on within me. I know it happens each time I’m able to enjoy nature’s beauty, but it’s usually a subconscious thing. Today, it was more like a clarion call. All of the color, beauty, excitement and experience of Life literally screamed at me:  “There Is Hope!”

We tend to become quite glum about our world sometimes and wonder what’s the use of trying to change anything since all is lost. But here I was in the middle of the hustle and bustle of an ordinary weekday with thousands of humans all around me doing what humans all around the world do each day, which is the same thing all the animals around me were doing, just trying to survive another moment – all of that intense activity – and yet there was so much pure beauty. Right in front of me. How could I see a young Bluebird in his first summer or have a purple dragonfly hover within inches of my face and not realize we all have at least one common thread in our existence – hope. Just reach out and touch it.

 

An immature Eastern Bluebird has learned how to catch a grub.

Holloway Park

Eastern Bluebird – Immature

 

The male Roseate Skimmer is a stunner in his colorful outfit! As with many dragonflies, the immature male resembles the female.

Holloway Park

Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) – Male

Holloway Park

Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) Immature Male

 

One of our larger dragonfly species is the Slaty Skimmer. The male is dark all over and at a glance appears totally black.

Holloway Park

Slaty Skimmer – Male (Libellula incesta)

 

A mature male Needham’s Skimmer can be very bright reddish-orange. It’s difficult to differentiate them from the Golden-winged Skimmer. One distinction is the upper portion of the hind legs of the Needham’s is brown as opposed to black in the Golden-winged.

Holloway Park

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) – Male

Holloway Park

Needham’s Skimmer ((Libellula needhami) – Male

 

A male Great Blue Skimmer can appear similar to the Slaty Skimmer above except for a white face. I think this is an older female Great Blue. Younger females have reddish-brown eyes which may turn blue in some older specimens.

Holloway Park

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

This is a new species for me: a Two-striped Forceptail. The thin abdomen curves when in flight.

Holloway Park

Two-striped Forceptail (Aphylla williamsoni) – Male

 

One of the few butterflies which held still long enough for a photo op was this dainty Sleepy Orange. I got dizzy in the mid-day heat following this one through the telephoto lens hoping it would land.

Holloway Park

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

 

Another young bird. This Red-bellied Woodpecker played “peek-a-boo” from behind some Spanish moss.

Holloway Park

Red-bellie Woodpecker

 

A stately looking Tricolored heron asked for a portrait as I prepared to leave. How could I refuse?

Holloway Park

Tricolored Heron

 

The trip was short. There weren’t many photographs taken. Not many birds were about. It was a small dose and for today it satisfied. A reinforcement of the concept of hope provided my system with renewed energy. Life is good.

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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