Posts Tagged With: cloudless sulphur

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

Rejoicing In The Familiar

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a young man and his family began a journey that would return them to their native home. It had been over a thousand days and a thousand nights since they had last seen their homeland. Their excitement could not be contained and as they glimpsed the place they had missed so much, tears of joy welled in their eyes. Over the next few days and weeks, there was a lot of catching up to be done. Renewing acquaintances with the once familiar. Round door knobs, toilets with handles instead of overhead chains, pizza, blue sky, sandals, unreliable public transportation. It was good to be home!

Fast-forward several hundred years. Birders are weird. Some of us are quite content to enjoy the view from the kitchen window of regular visitors to our garden feeders and bird bath. Others of us prefer the challenge of the chase, spending the equivalent of a small nation’s gross national product each year to answer rare bird alerts from Antarctica to Zanzibar. The vast majority of us fit somewhere in between these two extremes. We do. As much as we enjoy watching “yard birds”, we love exploring and finding birds in interesting new places or seeing new species or ones we see infrequently. As for the chasing around the world thing, we’re not much for that lifestyle (i.e., we’re poor!).

No matter how far afield we go or what exotic species we may have just checked off our list, it’s always a sheer joy to see the birds with which we are most familiar. It’s comfortable. The eminent birder, ringer and blogger, Phil S., recently opined: “… it’s the same old species which provide the buzz of birding, knowing and appreciating a regular patch.” (If you haven’t visited Phil’s blog, well, why not?? Go here: Another Bird Blog. Do it now. I’ll wait.)

It’s that element of familiarity, with a known place populated with known species, that continually draws us to it as surely as steel to a magnet.  It gives us that “buzz” which Phil mentioned. We relish seeing a “wild” Mockingbird just as much as his suburban counterpart who nests in our yard. A bright red Cardinal and his piercing whistle are immediately recognized in the scrub oak tree we drove three hours to get to just as is the sight and call of the father of our neighborhood Cardinal family. Sure, we love finding new birds or migrants or rarities. A day spent with birds we know well, however, is just – comfortable.

Although too far away to be called our “patch”, we find ourselves regularly pulled in the direction of Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. (See, Additional Information below.) Consisting of nearly 64,000 acres (25,900 ha) and located on the eastern side of Lake Kissimmee in Osceola County, this vast area consists primarily of dry prairie, cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, pineland and scrub. The diversity of flora and fauna is truly incredible. Our latest trip there was like visiting the home of an old friend. We encountered familiar birds and animals within a familiar environment. And we rejoiced.

 

Some images.

 

A distinctive black mask identifies the Common Yellowthroat male while his mate is more subdued in color but still sports the yellow throat for which the species was named.

Common Yellowthroat - Male

Common Yellowthroat – Male

 

Common Yellowthroat - Female

Common Yellowthroat – Female

 

Florida’s state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. Here he looks rather “stately” as he keeps a wary eye on us until we leave his domain.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

Native Green Tree Frogs have had a tough time holding their own against the invading horde of Cuban Tree Frogs. Once very common, these small amphibians are now quite scarce. This one was either napping or praying we wouldn’t spot him. These little guys are typically from 1-2.5 inches (2.5-6.4 cm) long.

Green Tree Frog  (Hyla cinerea)

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

 

Narrowleaf sunflowers were on display just about everywhere that day.

Narrowleaf Sunflower  (Helianthus angustifolius)

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

 

This is not a good photograph, but I had never seen this insect before. It flew into the truck and landed for a moment on the ceiling. Turns out it’s a Katydid Wasp and it’s clutching, yep, a Katydid.

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

Katydid Wasp (Sphex nudus)

 

We drove past what I thought was a long green palmetto leaf but it didn’t look right. Turns out it was a Florida Rough Green Snake. I estimated its length at about 30 inches (76.2 cm). It didn’t move as I lay prone in the middle of the road a few feet away.  One of its defensive mechanisms is to “freeze”. Of course, this fellow forgot that technique works best for him in the green canopy of a tree, not on the stark white of a sand road!

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 Rough Green Snake  (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus)

 

A native Florida Box Turtle is quite handsome despite some serious wear and tear to its outer shell.

Florida Box Turtle  (Terrapene carolina bauri)

Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri)

 

AS SEEN ON TELEVISION!! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. The highlight of the trip was Gini spotting this Dung Beetle rolling its package across the road. I have only seen this on television documentaries. Who knew Florida had Dung Beetles?? I found it fascinating the bug uses its rear legs to do the rolling while it walks on its forelegs. I couldn’t figure out if the two flies on the beetle’s back were drivers, supervisors or government contractors.

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle  (Canthon pilularius)

Dung Beetle (Canthon pilularius)

 

Occasional patches of Pale Meadowbeauty certainly brightened the prairie!

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

A curious White-eyed Vireo alternately sang and gave his alarm call. Guess he couldn’t make up his mind whether we were friend or foe.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

 

Shortleaf Rosegentian offered yet another color dimension to Nature’s incredible display.

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian  (Sabatia brevifolia)

Shortleaf Rosegentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

 

A small butterfly, the Whirlabout, perches atop a slim stalk of Blazing Star.

Whirlabout - Male  (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

Whirlabout – Male (Polites vibex) On Blazing Star (Liatrus spp.)

 

Even more purple. This Cloudless Sulphur apparently likes the nectar from a Mexican Petunia.

Cloudless Sulphur  (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia  (Ruellia brittoniana)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) On Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana)

 

We even found dragons. A Carolina Saddlebags hangs on to a stalk of grass.

Carolina Saddlebags - Female  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags – Female (Tramea Carolina)

 

I was almost on top of this Killdeer before he moved slightly and I saw him. Amazing camouflage provided by the subtle plumage matched the surrounding rocks.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Obligatory alligator photograph. State law. Can’t be helped. Move along.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Butcher Bird. The Loggerhead Shrike feeds mainly on insects which she will impale on a thorn, branch or barb of fence wire. This makes it easier for them to eat. They have been known to cache several insects for later consumption.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

As we left the area, one more familiar face bade us farewell. The lovely countenance of the Black Vulture with those chocolate brown eyes. One could almost discern a tear forming in his eye as we drove into the sunset.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

 

 

Our day was full of familiar sights, sounds and experiences. We will return. Again and again. If, at the end of the day, you find your checklist has only the same old species with a mark beside it – rejoice! You have discovered the buzz of birding!

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

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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