Posts Tagged With: caspian tern

Recovery

“There’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.” Not what I wanted to hear earlier this week.

In late August, we called our son in Houston to see if he and his family needed to visit us in Florida until Hurricane Harvey passed. My son reminded us ever-so-diplomatically that if he were to have any flood damage at his house he would have to turn in his geology degree. They weathered the monster storm just fine.

A couple of weeks later, our son was on the phone asking if we needed to visit them in Houston until Hurricane Irma passed.

Mother Nature. Who knew she had a sense of humor?

I have no degree in geology but assured him we had weathered storms before. Of course, that was just bravado. We did the requisite stocking of supplies and prayed a lot. The intensity of our praying may have increased with the ferocity of the winds howling outside as rude Irma passed directly overhead during the night.

The current storm, Nate, is churning toward my sister’s house in Florida’s panhandle. It shouldn’t give them any problems. Shouldn’t. I don’t trust Mother Nature to play fair.

A couple of days after Irma caused devastation to Florida, Gini and I ventured out to survey our local area. We didn’t get far. Within just a few miles from the house, roads were covered in water and blocked by downed trees and power lines. We returned to the house and prayed some more. For those who would be weeks without water and power.

After a few more days, we again set out and found most roads passable. (A HUGE thank you to the responders from law enforcement, tree companies, utilities workers – literally thousands from other states – who have worked so hard to get Florida back to a sense of normalcy.) Since our normal birding haunts within public parks and reserves were closed we checked on accessible areas such as pastures, country roads and lake shores. Wildlife was abundant and we remain amazed at how resilient nature can be.

We have made a half-dozen forays since Irma tromped on Florida and life is returning to its normal pace. Today’s photographs are a compilation of what we found within two weeks of the hurricane’s passing. Migratory songbirds don’t read headlines and don’t watch the Weather Channel, so they have been showing up in treetops as they have for millennia.  We appreciate it.

 

We visited this area in southern Hardee County a week before the hurricane and could see no water at all.

County Line Road

 

A pair of Crested Caracara found something of interest in a field and keep a sharp lookout for thieves.

10 Mile Grade

 

Wading birds don’t mind the flooded fields at all! An immature White Ibis flapped by us on his way to probe the soft mud for breakfast.

10 Mile Grade

 

This Northern Mockingbird extracts a grub from an oak tree branch.

East Lake Parker

 

A Caspian Tern takes a dive at a local lake. There was a pier between me and where the tern entered the water but I was able to peek through the railings in time to see him fly off with his prize.

East Lake Parker

East Lake Parker

20170913 Lake Parker 00047

 

Ants are on the menu as the sticky tongue and bill of this Red-bellied Woodpecker are covered with the little morsels.

East Lake Parker

 

Driving along a remote country road, we found a Roseate Spoonbill taking advantage of water running across the road and washing all sorts of goodies into his waiting, well, spoon bill. I don’t know if he was looking to the heavens in thanks or wishing we would move along!

Green Pond Road

 

Water is returning to somewhat normal levels in many wetlands and residents, such as this young Red-shouldered Hawk, are thankful to find old perches and fresh food.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

With so much water, vegetation is flourishing. A Cloudless Sulphur finds nectar from Caesar Weed (Urena lobata), an invasive species with an attractive bloom.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Near Lake Kissimmee, about an hour east of us, we found several large and small flocks of Wild Turkey.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

A pair of European Collared-Dove perched picturesquely on a pier.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

It’s the time of year Bald Eagles begin courtship and the males can display some pretty spectacular aerobatics as they try to impress the ladies. I managed to follow one such fellow through a series of tight turns as he screamed throughout the show. There were four eagles involved in the demonstration but I tried to ignore the others (not easy!) to get a series of this guy. Here are four out of the two dozen images I took.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Limpkins are plentiful in our area thanks to a plethora of Apple Snails. These large waders are the only members of their species (Aramidae) in the world. Their name comes from their “limping” gait.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Along one dirt road, we stopped counting the webs of the Golden Silk Orbweaver, as they seemed to be everywhere. The strong silk is very effective at capturing large insects, such as the grasshopper here.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

Purple Gallinules are not very accomplished songsters, but they sure make up for it in the colorful looks department!

Lake Parker Park

 

Fall migration is in full swing. Most of the time, the birds are too high in the tree tops or in dense cover which makes photography impossible. Occasionally, I get lucky.

Yellow Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Prairie Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Black-and-White Warbler

Saddle Creek Park

 

Northern Parula

Saddle Creek Park

 

Cape May Warbler

Lake Parker Park

 

Baltimore Oriole (female)

Saddle Creek Park

 

American Redstart (male)

Saddle Creek Park

 

There is nothing “fun” about a storm, especially a huge tropical Hurricane. Damage to our region has been severe. The same is true for Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, other islands of the Caribbean and even Nate, while “just” a tropical depression, has taken 22 lives in Central America.

We are extremely thankful to have had minimal damage.

Our routine has been disrupted but our lives have not. Nature continues its cycle of life and we continue to be in awe of its magnificence.

As Gini and I recover from the storm, to be fortunate enough to see a mighty Bald Eagle perform a courtship flight or to marvel at the flash of bright orange as a Redstart startles insects from a hiding place – this is how we know we are truly blessed. To be able to do it together is something really special.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Old Man Winter Blinks

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.

“So it is.”

And freezing.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

(The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne)

 

“What’s that?”, Gini asked. “Where?”, I replied. “Over there, along the banks of the stream.” My eyes followed the direction of her outstretched finger. It was March and we were in western Pennsylvania. Our small station wagon was straining to contain all our worldly possessions and we had been married less than a week. The journey north began in our native Florida, land of sunshine, sand and salt and we were bound for Syracuse, New York, to attend university and begin a life together. Now, we were taking a lunch break in the springtime woods with trees unknown to us sprouting leaves and flower buds. It was cold. Venturing forth to investigate my bride’s query of curiosity, I marveled at the clarity of the swiftly moving water and the rippled design of the sandy stream bed. The sky appeared as though dirty white pillow cases had been rumpled up and discarded about carelessly. The object of my search looked like soap suds such as one would see from a washing machine drain line or perhaps sea foam from a pounding surf along the wrack line at the beach. As I put my fingers into the white concoction and closed my hand around the iciness I realized I had just made a snowball. Hurrying back before it could all melt into nothingness, I breathlessly exclaimed “It’s snow!!”. My Lady was duly impressed and implored that we linger here, in the woods, in the Spring of our lives, admiring Our First Snow.

We soon discovered that moderation in many things in Life may be the key to happiness. I found this to be especially true regarding snow. This epiphany came to me during my sixth consecutive day of chipping ice from the car door and shoveling that lovely, wet, heavy white stuff from the driveway just for the privilege of driving slippery-slidy on a road full of cars performing the same circus-like act. Those glorious days were to be followed by equally glorious years in which we were blessed to have lived in many different locations. The lush forests and lakes of upstate New York with blazing autumns and deep snows provided everlasting fond memories. Living in the near-desert environment of west Texas was totally surprising. The astounding diversity of wildlife, amazingly adaptive flora, the genuine honesty and welcoming nature of the residents – still one of our favorite experiences. Several years in Europe taught us that people are much the same the world over. Kind, warm, accepting. A recurring theme we were happy to discover everywhere we traveled. Germany reminded us how beautiful a fresh snow in a deep forest can be and how much fun it is to shovel the stuff from one’s driveway every day for months on end (there’s that moderation thing again).

Each experience taught us a bit about specific locations, the world in general and, most importantly, about ourselves. One thing we eventually realized – we missed Home. Although, thanks to Gini’s resilience and cheerful optimism, we truly felt at “home” wherever we lived. We settled back into the Florida lifestyle without too much effort. The warmth of the sun on our faces almost all year, damp beach sand between our toes, plucking an orange from the tree and squeezing its contents down our throats, the tug of a speckled trout on the line, the taste of that trout cooked over a wood fire, the sound of hundreds of Spring “peeper” frogs in the marsh at night and the ability to go birding and spot dozens of species just about any day of the year.

All of this is not meant to “rub it in” for any of you not equally blessed. Rather, it’s just a reminder that we all live in a truly wonderful spot full of potential. If you are currently experiencing more than your fair share of cold or wet or unpleasantness of any sort, take heart! Spring is not too far away and soon your woods, streams, mountains, birding and attitudes shall be renewed.

In the meantime, please enjoy a small bit of winter birding from our local patch. As the population changes with the seasons, Lake Parker Park can be quite productive due to its lake frontage, small marshy areas, wooded tracts and open grassy expanses. A recent trip produced 58 species, my personal high for this location. Highlights included wintering warblers, terns, gulls, a hunting night heron, surprising a raptor and a fisherman demonstrating his technique.

Don’t let Old Man Winter get you down He has blinked and will soon be asleep.

 

We enjoy large numbers of Palm Warblers during our winter season. A few arrive still in breeding plumage and we see both eastern (a bit brighter yellow overall) and western (browner versions) species. They’re fun to watch with their constant tail pumping and habit of foraging on the ground sucking bugs from every blade of grass.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

Royal Terns are typically found near salt water but for some reason Lake Parker is home to a few who seem to like it here. Almost as large as the Caspian, North America’s largest tern, Royals are identified by their large orange-colored bills and clean white foreheads. The forehead will turn black during the breeding season (March-July). The second image shows an adult and immature tern, the youngster showing dark wing bars, a faint bit of striping on the head and a small bit of yellow still on the feet (younger birds have yellow legs/feet).

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

The big Caspian Tern has a redder bill than the Royal and the forehead usually shows some black all year. Some first year birds may have a white forehead. Also, Caspians will show some dark under primaries while a Royal will be mostly white.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

 

Ring-billed Gulls are fairly common at the lake and are about the same size as a Caspian Tern. The immature gull shown here has a pinkish bill and legs, a lot of brown in the plumage, dark wing bars and a dark band on the tail (seen when flying). The adult is almost all light gray with dark wingtips and yellow bill.

Ring-billed Gull - Immature

Ring-billed Gull – Immature

 

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

The Osprey in central Florida is so commonplace it’s easy to pay no attention to them. I tend to watch them for long periods because, well, they’re just so good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

I was fortunate to find a Black-crowned Night Heron foraging in a small marshy area covered in a lush growth of duckweed. He stabbed into the green stuff several times but I never saw any prey. A friendly fellow walking his very noisy small yappy dog stopped to ask what I was photographing. I pointed to the pretty gray and black bird quietly flapping deeper into the woods and wished him a pleasant day. No, really, I did.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

It’s amazing how such a starkly patterned bird like the Black-and-White Warbler can become almost invisible against a tree trunk. The first image is the female with a paler head pattern and white throat. The male is more intensely streaked.

Black and White Warbler - Female

Black and White Warbler – Female

Black and White Warbler - Male

Black and White Warbler – Male

 

Winter brings an influx of Pied-billed Grebes to our area and it’s a rule that one must be included in any collection of photographs due to their “adorable” factor.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

One of our year-round residents is also one of the most attractive. Common Yellowthroats are quick to investigate anything intruding into their territory, are usually very vocal and as this male demonstrates, aren’t too bad to look at, either.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

Typically foraging in the higher reaches of the tree canopy and constantly on the move, a Pine Warbler is beautiful when you actually get a glimpse of one.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

 

Speaking of beautiful, even with his mouth full, this Yellow-throated Warbler really brightens up the park.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

The most effective fisherman at the lake by far is the Great Blue Heron. Here, he shows the correct method for swallowing a whole fish. (Do not try this at home.)

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

There I was, scanning a small pond for birds and coming up empty. As I turned and started down the path, I discovered I was being watched as well. A young Red-shouldered Hawk was less than 20 feet from me and let me take exactly one photograph before relocating to a less busy location.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Probably the most numerous species to be found during any walk in the woods here is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. During winter it’s not unusual to find 20-30 of these little vacuum cleaners amongst the tree branches. This one took a break from his insect collecting to do a bit of preening.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

 

It was another wonderful day of birding in our local patch. Less than ten minutes from the house. On a winter’s day full of sunshine and warmth and birds. I should be careful and remember my own admonition about moderation. But, honestly, how can I get TOO much of this?? Hopefully, Old Man Winter is blinking wherever you may be. (As for those of you south of the equator, please read all of this again in June.)

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Parker Park

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

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