Posts Tagged With: carolina saddlebags

Breakfast and Lunch

Since owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, I wonder if they consider that first mouse caught just after sundown “breakfast”? Once upon a time, I worked a regularly changing shift schedule. Four days were from 0700-1500, the next four from 1500-2300, then next 2300-0700 and then I enjoyed four days off. The four days off were quite nice, but 12 days of changing hours every four days with no break – not that great. Meals were a challenge for poor Gini as she tried to keep the kids on a schedule but I never knew whether to eat scrambled eggs at 2200 or a sandwich or roast chicken and salad. Apparently, I worked it out and did not starve.

Now that modern medicine has declared everything we ate in our youth is either poison or caused us to be ugly (Gini obviously avoided those things), it’s much easier to decide what to consume each day. Oatmeal, fruit, green stuff or some kind of bean. Since all the joy of preparing and sharing a meal has been sucked out of our lives, we try to make up for it by having some of our meals in the beautiful outdoors. Fortunately, we have found a few spots where the ambience is so breathtakingly wonderful it just doesn’t matter what we’re eating.

One of these is particularly suited to beginning a day peacefully as the sun breaks the horizon over the deep blue of water and gorgeous greens of reeds, lilies and huge trees. Breakfast here is usually accompanied by the chatter of gallinules and coots, the calls of limpkins, a shriek of a red-shouldered hawk or the muffled gobbles of a flock of turkeys under the oaks. Coleman’s Landing on the western shore of huge Lake Kissimmee has picnic tables, boat ramps, a floating dock, restrooms and has recently added modern campsites, including spaces for RV’s and new shower facilities. A visit here at any time of day is refreshing.

Less than 30 minutes from the house is one of Florida’s jewels, Colt Creek State Park. Since it’s so close, we can have an impromptu lunch by the shore of a sparkling lake while we watch bluebirds catch caterpillars, grebes dive for fish, swallows swarm in front of us, eagles soar overhead and chickadees scold from the trees. If we tire of looking at the water (which hasn’t happened yet), we could enjoy an open field of wildflowers full of butterflies and dragonflies or hike through mixed hardwood and conifer forest or check out the swampy wetlands for barred owls or wading birds. A weekday visit here usually finds us with the place to ourselves and it’s so soothing to close our eyes and not hear any human-made sounds. The wind rustling a tree top, a fish splashing in the lake, a bumble bee, a wren declaring himself available for love – who cares what’s for lunch?

Pictures. One thousand words each.

 

At Coleman’s Landing, the breeze ruffled the feathers of a Red-shouldered Hawk as he scanned the water’s edge for his own breakfast.

Coleman Landing

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

A pair of Belted Kingfishers clucked at us and each other – probably about disputed territory.

Coleman Landing

Belted Kingfisher

 

I couldn’t get this Prairie Warbler to face the camera but he’s beautiful from any angle.

Coleman Landing

Prairie Warbler

 

Mating Halloween Pennants blend in well with their environment.

Coleman Landing

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

 

A visit to Colt Creek State Park coincided with several species of wildflower blooming which, happily, attracted a few insects. The Gulf Fritillary is hard to miss even at a distance.

Colt Creek State Park

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

White Peacocks seemed to be everywhere.

Colt Creek State Park

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

 

This Sleepy Orange finally sat still for a couple of seconds after I got dizzy chasing him through a field.

Colt Creek State Park

Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

 

Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers are pretty easy to see thanks not only to their size (up to 3 inches/8 cm) but also to just a little bit of gaudy color.

Colt Creek State Park

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

 

One of our larger dragonflies, the Great Blue Skimmer, can be identified by the powdery blue body, greenish eyes, dark wings and white face.

Colt Creek State Park

Great Blue Skimmer – Male (Libellula vibrans)

 

Carolina Saddlebags is one of our most abundant dragons.

Colt Creek State Park

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

 

Overhead, a trio of White Ibis flapped lazily in the bright blue sky.

Colt Creek State Park

White ibis

 

A small wetland attracts good numbers of waders, such as a Little Blue Heron.

Colt Creek State Park

Little Blue Heron

 

The proliferation of Apple Snails near most bodies of water in central and south Florida has seen an increase in the range of the Limpkin, who feeds almost exclusively on these freshwater mollusks.

Colt Creek State Park

Limpkin

 

We really enjoy having a meal while surrounded by the extraordinary beauty of nature. All of a sudden, the actual food often becomes secondary. No matter what you call your next meal, try having it outside, under a tree, by a lake, listening to the birds.

 

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

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

Waders, ‘Gators and Spectators

High speed traffic. Billboards. Promises of fantasy, adventure and fun galore. We took the exit ramp just before becoming hopelessly ensnared in the bounty of modern Florida. Admittedly, if you have small children and a large bank account, it’s truly a place you should visit. After that, remember where this exit ramp is located.

Thankfully, it was an hour before sunrise and only a few hundred cars were racing toward the gates of Mouse Nirvana hoping to be first in line for unlimited joy. As we reached the end of the exit road, Gini and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. I looked left. I looked right. No traffic in sight. Soon we were meandering (as much as one can meander in a two ton hunk of metal) along a winding country road, all alone in the dark (one of our favorite places to be all alone …).

The gate for the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive was already open for us and we had the place to ourselves just as the sun appeared over the horizon. The one-way drive is eleven miles of unimproved road through freshwater marsh, lake shoreline, sod fields and mixed woods. It provides a terrific place for migrating birds of all types and many will spend the winter here. There are several places to pull off the road and it’s wide enough in most spots for other vehicles to pass comfortably. I was recently asked to list what we typically see on a trip. Naturally, birds “typically” seen will vary by location but hopefully this will provide an idea of what to expect in early autumn (mid-September) at this location. We were hoping to see more migrants, especially shorebirds, but the normally wet sod fields were bone dry.

The list for this trip:

55 species

  • Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  4     Flew northwest over Lust Road near entry gate.
  • Wood Duck  2
  • Mottled Duck  4
  • Blue-winged Teal  28     Group of 8 in pool on south side of Lust Rd. about 0.2 mile west of entry gate. Flock of 20 flying east parallel to Lust Rd.
  • Pied-billed Grebe  4
  • Wood Stork  3
  • Double-crested Cormorant  4
  • Anhinga  18
  • Least Bittern  4     Three seen, one heard only.
  • Great Blue Heron  16
  • Great Egret  22
  • Snowy Egret  4
  • Little Blue Heron  12
  • Tricolored Heron  2
  • Cattle Egret  36
  • Green Heron  5
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron  4
  • White Ibis  58
  • Glossy Ibis  14
  • Black Vulture  9
  • Turkey Vulture  4
  • Osprey  9
  • Red-shouldered Hawk  3
  • King Rail  1     Heard only. Fairly steady “kek-kek-kek-kek-kek” call.
  • Purple Gallinule  2
  • Common Gallinule  160     Conservative estimate. Many immature birds.
  • Limpkin  2
  • Killdeer  2
  • Common Ground-Dove  2
  • Mourning Dove  6
  • Belted Kingfisher  2
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
  • Downy Woodpecker  1
  • Pileated Woodpecker  1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher  1
  • White-eyed Vireo  3
  • Red-eyed Vireo  2
  • Blue Jay  2
  • Fish Crow  3
  • Bank Swallow  4     Perched on utility wires with Barn Swallows. Smaller than Barn Swallow, dark breast band with line extending down center of breast.
  • Barn Swallow  22
  • Tufted Titmouse  3
  • Carolina Wren  2
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  4
  • Northern Mockingbird  2
  • European Starling  5
  • Black-and-white Warbler  1
  • Common Yellowthroat  4
  • American Redstart  2
  • Northern Parula  3
  • Yellow-throated Warbler  2
  • Prairie Warbler  1
  • Northern Cardinal  4
  • Red-winged Blackbird  26
  • Boat-tailed Grackle  32

It was a good day.

We joined a pair of Ospreys for breakfast just after sunrise. They had very fresh fish, we had egg sandwiches. On the lake shore is an old pump house which was once used to divert water into a canal system for crop irrigation. Adjacent to the pump house is a pool from which the water was further pumped into fields. As we approached this pool, we noticed a lot of activity. First, a large alligator moved across the road right in front of the truck. Then we noticed a good number of herons and egrets lining the shore and soaring above the pool. When we pulled alongside the pool, it got really interesting! We counted 40 alligators within our field of view and more were in a smaller pool near the pump house. The object of all of this attention was a very large number of shad in the pool. The alligators were feasting and the birds were wishing. I kept waiting for Tarzan to swing in on a vine from stage right.

There are a lot of pictures here so I won’t be offended if you don’t look at all of them. Well, not too much.

 

We are continually amazed at what a Great Blue Heron will try to eat. Even though this fish is a very normal part of its diet, the size of the meal makes you wonder if there is any way he’ll be able to swallow it. He always does. He made a quick check to be sure we weren’t a threat.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

“The Pool.” The birds appear to be assessing the risk in trying to grab a meal. At times, the ‘gators almost cleared the water as they chased fish from underneath. Quite a sight!

Feeding Time

Feeding Time

 

An immature Tricolored Heron still has quite a bit of rufous plumage but instinctively knows a threat when he sees one.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

This Great Blue Heron keeps a wary eye on a large alligator under his perch until it moves away.

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

 

A Great Egret arrives and asks the Great Blue Heron what’s to be done about all the reptilian riffraff.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret

 

Time for a reconnaissance flight. The brave Snowy Egret volunteers to count the enemy and see if they’re showing any sign of retreat.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

A Black-crowned Night Heron senses a “presence” behind her. She glimpses the large eyes watching her and begins to sneak away. But wait, what’s that? Breakfast! And no ‘gators nearby! A quick plunge and – success! A short flight to the nearest perch. Now, how do I eat this thing? Where is Big Blue? He knows about these things.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

Immersed in trying to photograph all the action, I also became aware of a “presence”. This 10-foot fellow was measuring me for a plate. Thank goodness for l-o-n-g lenses! (And a steep bank.)

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the road ….. A Green Heron was content to wait in the reeds for a frog or a crayfish. Not as much competition. Also, less chance of becoming breakfast yourself!

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

Above the fray, Barn Swallows perched on utility lines and hawked insects. Among them we spotted four Bank Swallows, not rare but a bit unusual this time of year. They are smaller than the Barn Swallow and have a clean underside except for a dark breast band with a line running downward from the center of the band.

Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow

Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow

Bank Swallow

Bank Swallow

 

A little further along the road, we encountered a calling Great Crested Flycatcher. They’re residents here but migrants also fly through the area.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

An immature Red-shouldered Hawk spotted a potential meal from his perch and launched from the branches without taking his eyes from the target. He used his broad tail as a rudder and soon dropped behind a line of Willow trees, likely to grab brunch. The light “crescents” near the end of the wings are diagnostic for this species and can be helpful in identifying birds soaring quite high. (The last two images are a different bird than the first four.)

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

The iridescence of the Glossy Ibis helps it stand out even in a busy background.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

 

Although Pied-billed Grebes breed in this area, the population increases as migrants fly through to Central and South America and many will overwinter here.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

Since we started with “dragons” it seems fitting we end with one. A Carolina Saddlebags is silhouetted nicely by the lushness of the marsh in the background.

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea Carolina)

 

We enjoyed a lazy drive in this diverse habitat and were pleasantly surprised at the show put on by the alligators – just for us. There was no entry fee, no lines to wait in and we didn’t have to be “this tall ^” to go on the ride. And it’s all right there when we want to do it again. Which we do.

 

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

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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