Posts Tagged With: chipping sparrow

Can’t See The Forest For The Birds

“This fog sure is dense.” Gini was helping to scan the road ahead for vehicles or animals which might suddenly appear from the mist. I announced that when I saw the weather forecast last night I wasn’t worried about leaving too early as the fog would keep the bird activity down until the sun began to cause the gray blanket to dissipate. Two-and-a-half falsehoods in one sentence. I couldn’t take my eyes from the road, but I’m pretty sure those beautiful brown eyes next to me rolled heavenward.

Our target for today was the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest near Frostproof in Polk County. (See Additional Information below.) This section of the state forest consists of a single dead-end dirt road which roughly parallels the western shore of Lake Arbuckle (but you cannot see the lake from this road at any point). Several trails and side roads offer a lot of opportunity for exploring by vehicle, horse or hiking. Portable restrooms are located at the Check Station, where there are also picnic tables under huge shady oak trees. A short drive to Lake Godwin takes you past a wetland area where we found quite a few wading and water birds. The small lake has more picnic tables, a nice pier for fishing from and a loop trail through open pine and palmetto scrub.

Along the forest road, tracks in the damp red dirt told a story of the previous night. White-tailed Deer commuted along the road and then veered into the underbrush to feed. Raccoons are plentiful as every few yards displayed their claw marks crossing the road.  The soft earth revealed the unique three-toed print of a Nine-banded Armadillo. Very small tracks were likely from rodents and abstract curves made by serpents of the night were numerous. Indeed, we saw an Eastern Black Racer cross ahead of us, pausing briefly to raise his head to see us better.

Birds. We seldom traveled more than two minutes without seeing or hearing birds. Harsh rasps of Florida’s endemic Scrub Jays; woodpeckers calling and drumming; chips of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers; trills of a multitude of Pine Warblers; clear whistles of “drink-your-teeeeeea” as Eastern Towhees called from shrubs throughout the forest; exuberant White-eyed Vireos seemed intent on letting us know spring was on the way; soft burbling voices as a covey of Northern Bobwhite scurried alongside the road; a scream from a Red-shouldered Hawk.

It was a wonderful morning to be in the forest with its fresh pine scent and so much wildlife all around us!

As we left the forest road, instead of heading directly home, we took a short tour down another dead-end road (sensing a pattern?) to find Arbuckle Campground and Park, a county facility. It was badly damaged last year by Hurricane Irma and re-opened a couple of months ago. In addition to camping spots, the park has plenty of picnic tables, restrooms, showers (for campers) and a nice boat ramp. A fishing pier is still under repair. Huge cypress trees, oaks, bay and other “wet feet” species offer terrific cover for birds. We found warblers (including our first Northern Parula of the year), woodpeckers, migrating American Robins and plenty of water birds. We’ll return here soon!

A few images of birds seems appropriate about now.

A group of at least five Northern Bobwhite were along the edge of the road. We could hear them murmuring to each other, soft whistles and gurgles, but couldn’t spot them. This is why Gini gets the big bucks. “They’re right beside the car”, she whispered. I had been searching the underbrush beyond.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Little Downy Woodpeckers are always on the move, probing every part of a tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Winter visitors here, Chipping Sparrows like to hang out in groups and love the open pine forest. Their chestnut crown and un-streaked breast help them stand out a bit from all the brown and gray tree branches.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in our area and usually appear for a moment to see who is under their tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Bright, clear whistles rang out on all sides during the morning as Eastern Towhees vied for attention of females. The ladies aren’t as “contrasty” as the male but I think they’re every bit as good-looking.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Rubber duckies. Squeeze them and they squeak. Thirty feet up in a pine tree, rubber duckies were squeaking at us. The little Brown-headed Nuthatch may not have much of a voice, but they make up for it with a pugnacious attitude! They are quick to challenge anything in their territory, including a clunky-looking two-legged creature stomping around the underbrush.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The warbler which thinks it’s a nuthatch. Black-and-White Warblers probe tree bark while upside down on the trunk, just like a nuthatch.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The forest was full of Pine Warblers. Perhaps they’re gathering in groups preparing to migrate north for the spring. Perhaps there was a sale on bugs. Pine Warblers can range from drab gray to canary yellow. We saw those and every shade in between.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Prairie Warblers also can vary in plumage just about as much as the Pine. Their facial pattern seems to give them a somewhat sad look. Their brightness and pretty song brings a smile.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

During our break for breakfast, we were serenaded by a persistent White-eyed Vireo. He would go from tree branch to bush and back to the tree and just sang his heart out. Simply beautiful!

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Our short visit to the nearby campground and boat ramp area provided our first sightings of Northern Parula since the fall. They breed in our area but most of them spend the winter in South and Central America.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

A Tricolored Heron flew along the shoreline as we reluctantly headed for home.

Arbuckle Campground and Park

 

Many people are unaware that Florida has a state forest system which provides many opportunities for nature and wildlife observation. Check out the link below for a spot near you.

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: