Posts Tagged With: circle b bar reserve

A Comfortable Contrarian

It was good to be back. I couldn’t believe it had been eight months since my last visit. Some things in life maintain a “comfort level” which never fades. When living in Germany, I purchased a light jacket with leather panels on the front and loosely knit wool in the back. It was perfect for hiking the steep trails through dark forests of fir where the leather buffered the chilly wind and wool at the back allowed fresh air to circulate. Comfortable. Two pairs of walking shoes in the closet are almost identical in design and appearance yet one is used much more often. They’re just more – comfortable. Most mornings I reach in the cabinet and pull down the same cup which for years has held the juice from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. It holds the same amount as other cups and even looks similar to many. But there is something about its weight, the way my hand fits through the handle, the Meerschaum quality of the coffee-stained china. Comfortable.

I drove through the entrance gates of the Circle B Bar Reserve on the north shore of Lake Hancock, parked at the first picnic table, slung the camera over my shoulder and hung binoculars around my neck. After walking 50 yards, I stopped and turned 360 degrees. There! That’s the feeling! Spanish moss hanging almost to the ground was parted slightly by the wind’s unseen hand revealing huge hundred-year old oak trees, Northern Cardinals leaped through the underbrush, dragonflies shimmered in the sunlight on tall weeds along the path and ahead the walkway met the bright blue sky which beckoned one to discover something wondrous. An involuntary deep sigh caught me by surprise. I was – comfortable. It was good to be back.

Years ago, upon first discovering the Circle B, I tried to visit often. It’s a former cattle ranch which has been developed into a marsh and has restored the flow of Saddle Creek into Lake Hancock. The result is one of the most spectacular birding venues in Florida. A diverse habitat attracts a huge number of birds throughout the year. The day before my visit, a friend (and one of the state’s best birders) sent an email that he spotted a Ruff on the mud flats which have been exposed due to our recent very dry weather. I don’t usually “chase” rarities, but I’ve never seen a Ruff and Circle B is only 30 minutes away…..

Being the experienced and veteran birder and photographer which I so clearly am, I know that one must arrive to a potential birding spot early in the day in order to take advantage of the “golden hours” for best photographic light and maximum bird activity. Not to mention it is much cooler early in the morning.  Armed with this knowledge, I arrived on site promptly at – 3:00 in the afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky so the light was wonderfully harsh. Not a sound to be heard except cicadas buzzing so all the birds were likely sleeping. And the temperature was a balmy 95 F, perfect for hiking out to the marsh without a bit of shade along the way. (There were appointments in the morning, you see, and I was afraid to wait until the next morning as the Ruff would surely leave on its northward journey, and besides I may not be as much of an expert as has been advertised.)

Gini says I am a natural contrarian but adds sweetly:  “But you’re MY contrarian!”. She’s so diplomatic.

The good news is, even under less than ideal circumstances, the Circle B is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. I found a couple hundred shorebirds on the mud flats, and there may well have been a Ruff (or a dozen) amongst the crowd of sandpipers, plovers, skimmers and others. Unfortunately, they were about 500 miles away and even when I enlarged the many photographs I attempted, it just appeared to be a mass of mottled brown with nothing in focus at all. Sigh.

So, I wandered around and discovered not ALL of the wildlife was taking a nap. Overhead were Bald Eagles, a Red-shouldered Hawk, vultures, Wood Storks and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites. Not to mention water birds of all types flying from one spot of water to another. I even found a flock of Bobolinks filling up on grass seed before resuming their migration. It was even comforting to see so many alligators still here, right where I left them so many months ago.

Despite the lousy light, heat, limited activity and no rare bird, I still (although reluctantly) took a few pictures. Just for you.

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron runs toward a potential meal.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Snowy Egret already has his meal, well, maybe more like a snack. Another Snowy glides overhead, looking almost like an x-ray against the bright sky.

 

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

The Great Blue Heron is a large bird, standing almost four feet tall. This young alligator was not impressed. He swam back and forth in front of the heron and twice made a sudden lunge in its direction. The heron was likewise not impressed and never flinched.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A female Bobolink loads up on seeds. She was part of a flock of about two dozen. They are not residents here and we only see them during migration.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This male Black-necked Stilt was busy feeding and there were reports of an occupied nest in this area. I’ll have to return soon to try and find it. Maybe I can get lucky and discover young ones.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are normally seen in groups. This one evidently found a spot in the mud he liked as I couldn’t see others anywhere.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A resting Roseate Spoonbill keeps one eye on its surroundings. Good idea. Lots of ‘gators wandering by. Not to mention two-legged critters making clicking noises. A little further down the path and I found another spoonbill soaring overhead.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle leaves a wide path as it scoots along in the soft mud of the marsh. Another one suns itself on a log. The weeds and algae on their shells hide a really pretty reddish-orange pattern.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

I startled an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and he hurried out of sight.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A bit later, an immature night heron hid behind some moss. This is likely a second-year bird as first-year night herons are mottled brown but this one doesn’t have the contrasting black and gray of a full adult (see the one above). Plus its eyes are not quite as red as an adult’s.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A large female Florida Softshell Turtle throws sand and gravel in the air as she tries to dig a nest along the hard-packed side of the trail. She’ll need to find some softer sand or mud before she can deposit her 10-30 eggs.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This is a common pose for the Great Blue Heron and may be used to warm the inside of the wings enough to drive out small biting bugs such as mites.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

As the sun began to set, a Nine-banded Armadillo foraged in the dry leaves of the oak woods looking for insects. These fascinating animals remind me of Winnie The Pooh’s friend, Piglet.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

 

No Ruff today. Despite my contrariness, I found some wonderful birds, several interesting animals and had an exhilarating outdoor experience. Back at the car, I turned back for one more look at where I had been. There was that sigh again. I felt – comfortable.

 

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

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

The Trap

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” ~Aldous Huxley

 

I turned the pillow over again. Have I been in bed for an hour? Two? Is the room becoming a bit brighter? If I go through the woods first, I might find some migrant warblers. But it will be too dark under the canopy for good photographs. The trail by the windmill was where I saw that bobcat last year, but lately one has been reported by the lake shore. The open marsh is where the early action will probably be best. It seems it always takes me forever to get there, though, because there’s so much to see along the way. A Sora is a good possibility on that path, as well as an American Bittern. Not to mention Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with babies. The Barred Owl should be along the canal and nests are being built in that area by eagles and herons. It’s cool enough maybe the mosquitoes won’t be horrible. I turned the pillow over one more time.

The drive to Circle B Bar Reserve is less than 30 minutes. Long enough to finish a cup of coffee. Stumbling out of the truck in the almost-darkness of pre-dawn, even MY poor hearing is assaulted by the shrieks of Limpkins announcing the new day. (Limpkin Call) As I stood on the asphalt of the parking lot, a Barred Owl added a bit of tenor to the soprano of the Limpkins. The clear whistle of a Northern Cardinal reminded the world it’s Spring! Shuffling along the path to the marsh I marveled at the beauty of an almost full moon, still bright even as the sun approached the horizon behind me. Sandhill Cranes trumpeted in the distance. Ouch! Mosquitoes. Not horrible, but awake. And hungry. I am easily impressed by Nature and this place is pretty special. Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, flora – it’s all here in abundance.

Three hours later I came through the front door and after the mushy stuff (that’s guy talk for “romantic greeting involving hugging and kissing”), Gini asked: “So how was the birding?” A pause. “The dragonflies are really showing up now with the warmer weather.” Uh-oh. “Not many birds today?” She doesn’t miss much. “It was good. There seemed to be a lot of activity but I could only come up with 48 species.”

I know. I feel so ashamed.

It’s difficult to visit the Circle B and not have tallied over 50 species, even if you’re only having a picnic. With one eye closed. But that’s not why I felt guilty. I recently chatted with a birder visiting Florida from one of our far northwestern states. His highest single day list was 21 species. Most trips result in single digits. Of course, he was thrilled to be enjoying our birding paradise, but you knew he simply loved birding. As do we all. I have no problem at all being similarly thrilled with each trip, no matter how many birds I “list”. If I should fall into the trap of becoming complacent and bemoaning that I saw “only” 48 species within a couple of hours – I’ll recall that young birder who becomes ecstatic with a dozen!

Highlights of the morning’s stroll about the marsh include: a young Black-crowned Night Heron, a Bald Eagle guarding a nest, a curious Swamp Sparrow who followed me along the trail, a sun-lit Purple Galllinule, the Double-crested Cormorant with the turquoise eyes and a hungry armadillo oblivious to my presence.

 

The Circle B Bar Reserve is on the north shore of Lake Hancock which in some winters hosts up to 4,000 American White Pelicans. This pair was checking out some of the open water areas within the marsh.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

Blue-winged Teal don’t mind including a Common Gallinule in their breakfast club. They do have a little different feeding style than the Gallinule.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal, Common Gallinule

Blue-winged Teal, Common Gallinule

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

When it’s time to eat, the Tricolored and Little Blue Herons are all serious business.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

This Swamp Sparrow couldn’t figure out what I was and kept flitting in and out of low shrubs along the path almost right beside me. He finally got bored and flew back to where I first saw him.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

 

I keep trying to find a better word than “handsome” to describe the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, but no luck so far.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

When viewed in this sitting position, one might never suspect how long the Green Heron’s neck can stretch!

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

The morning sun really enhanced the vibrant colors of the Purple Gallinule. He may have been checking himself out in the reflection.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

An immature Black-crowned Night Heron was busy stalking a frog and I could only get a partial view of her. She’ll soon become the more familiar black and gray color of an adult.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

With a prehistoric look, settlers used to call the Wood Stork “Old Flinthead” due to the gray, stone-like appearance of his head.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

(Obligatory alligator image required by state tourism board.) Yes, this American Alligator is sound asleep so you can pet him with no worries. Pay no attention to the smile on his face.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

At least two pairs of Bald Eagles are nesting within the reserve. This adult was vigorously driving away any bird flying too close to his nest. A pretty good sign there are eggs or young birds in the nest.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

I waited patiently for this Blue-headed Vireo to turn around for a pleasant portrait. Never happened. Sigh. Well, we need to be able to identify birds from the rear, too, don’t we?

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

The Double-crested Cormorant may not be the first bird one thinks of as “beautiful”, but those turquoise eyes are stunning! This one was perched in a red maple tree and gave me one chance for a quick shot.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

 

A couple of migrants put in an appearance just before I returned to the parking lot. The Black-and-White Warbler usually feeds like a nuthatch, running down a tree trunk or walking along the underside of a branch. A Pine Warbler can vary from a dull yellow-green to bright yellow and can be distinguished by its face pattern, broken eye-ring, wing bars and white belly and undertail coverts.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

 

Florida’s Nine-banded Armadillo has very poor eyesight but an extremely keen sense of smell. They’re often seen standing on their hind legs sniffing the air. Their powerful claws can dig a substantial hole in short order. This one heard the camera shutter click, gave me a quick glance and returned to his search for brunch. Ho-hum. Paparazzi.

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

 

It was a great day in a wonderful location. I am truly thankful for having been able to identify 48 species of birds within a couple of hours. Please don’t fall into the trap of taking whatever you have for granted!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Circle B Bar Reserve

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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