Posts Tagged With: colt creek state park

Spring On The Wing

Where has Spring gone? Seems like we just started looking for spring migrants and “poof” the entire bird world is having babies! Perhaps it’s a feature of growing older. Someone hit the “fast forward” button and I can’t find it to turn the dang thing off.

The Beautiful Brown-Eyed Woman is obsessed with the season as well. “We simply MUST get going with the spring cleaning!” “Oh, look! A spring sale on linens!” “I love all the fresh produce we’re seeing this spring.”

Truth be told: She DOES put a spring into my step!

Colt Creek State Park. Twenty minutes from the house and some wonderfully diverse habitat. Entrance gates and parking lots. Probably the best birding spots on the planet. Today was no exception. Vireos and wrens sang from the underbrush, fish crows grunted overhead, curious catbirds popped onto a limb to give us the once-over and Holy Moley! It’s a Summer Tanager! Not necessarily rare but seldom seen.

A slow drive along the park roads yielded squeaky little nuthatches, woodpeckers, a gopher tortoise, clear-whistling titmice, deer calmly munching their grassy breakfast and a nice selection of migrants as well as resident birds.

The peaceful setting of the park’s primitive campground was a perfect spot for breakfast. From a nearby large oak tree came the ascending buzzy trill of Northern Parulas, recently arrived from their winter resort in South America. There! Just above the pine trees a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites, also returning from the tropics searching for a suitably tall tree to begin building a nest.

It seems as if Spring no sooner arrived than it’s time for high temperatures and daily thunderstorms to begin the wet season. Summer is not far away. More bird babies to locate!

Hope I finish my spring cleaning chores before the season is over.

 

At the park entrance, we were greeted by a bright red Summer Tanager.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Below the tree where the tanager was perched, a nervous Orange-crowned Warbler probed every twig and leaf for the protein-laden insects he’ll need to finish his northward migration.

Colt Creek State Park

 

This White-eyed Vireo looks like she had a rough night! A little preening and a sip of morning dew should soon set her right.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Songs of more returning breeding birds indicated the park was full of Red-eyed Vireos. We finally found one willing to pose for a moment.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Central Florida only has two species of sparrow which breed locally. The remainder, such as this Swamp Sparrow, will soon disappear until the fall.

Colt Creek State Park

 

One little bird we have an abundance of in summer is the diminutive and active Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Colt Creek State Park

 

In our area, three species of vireo breed: White-eyed, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated (pictured below with a caterpillar(?)).

Colt Creek State Park

 

A pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches were heard before our eyes could locate them. Ever squeezed a child’s toy rubber duck? Then you know what these pugnacious little creatures sound like. They begin breeding as early as mid-February here so this couple may already have chicks, which would account for them coming so near us to see if we might be a threat.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The clear whistle of the Tufted Titmouse can be heard at quite a distance and they’re usually the first to challenge us as we enter their area. During migratory seasons, they are also good indicators that other species may be nearby as they seem to act as gang leaders (okay, maybe tour guides).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Buzzy trills abound and Gini counted over a dozen of these colorful warblers as we drove through the park. Northern Parulas seemed to be everywhere, and that is just fine with us.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The photograph may not be that great but the feeling sure is! I seldom get to see this migrant much less have a chance to take his picture. The Northern Waterthrush has the characteristic stripes of the thrush family but is actually a warbler. Along with its cousin, the Louisiana Waterthrush, it walks along marshy ground constantly bobbing its tail as it pulls tasty morsels from the mud.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Carolina Wrens were calling throughout the park as they prepare to mate and are quick to respond to any intruders (that would be us).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Spring. Annual renewal. Migrants. Flashes of color. Exuberant songs. A fabulous time to explore the outdoors!

Oh. And, as I have just been reminded, a time to clean. Sigh.

 

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

 

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Colt Creek State Park

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

Dragons At 12 O’Clock!

(“Mad dogs and Birders go out in the mid-day sun.” — Sincerest apologies to Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and whomever else may have coined the original saying.)

 

We have pretty much ceased to live by the calendar and clock. A life without a schedule has serious drawbacks. For example, I used to arrive home from the office by 5:45 and the family sat down to supper no later than 6:15. Now, however, Gini and I may have supper at 6:30. Or 6:42. See what I mean? Schedules keep us from falling into a state of pure chaos. Another extreme example. In order to conform to business society’s rules for a successful career, I visited my barber every seven days without fail. Last week, I realized in horror that it had been a full eight days since a razor had touched by increasingly sparse and graying strands. With no pre-planned guidelines to follow, we have become like ships adrift in life’s tidal flow with no compass and no anchor. Rudderless and adrift, it is a sheer miracle we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Lounging about the other day, with nothing whatsoever planned, Gini innocently asked: “What shall we do for lunch?”. Panic. My eyes began to dart from side to side. Sweat broke out on my forehead. She wants ME to make a decision! About lunch! This is big. I’m not normally entrusted with the IMPORTANT things. What to do? There’s no SCHEDULE!

“Uhh, how about a picnic?”, I heard my feeble voice say. “That’s a WONDERFUL IDEA!”, Gini said. “I have leftover boiled eggs in the fridge and can whip up some egg salad for sandwiches and we can take some fruit.”

Whew. That was close. Panic subsided but then began to well up again as I realized she would expect me to figure out where to go for this impromptu (UNSCHEDULED stuff again) adventure. Fortunately, I had been wanting to visit a local state park to check out some improvements they had recently made. Most of our picnics are “bird-centric”, and the park should provide some birding opportunities.

Central Florida in the summer at noon. Think “high temperatures with matching humidity”. Even the natives (and that’s us) usually have enough sense to remain indoors. In artificially cooled air. With large glasses of ice containing who-cares-what liquid in them. But we have already established that we are not “normal”.

Colt Creek State Park is only about ten miles from the house. It has a deep (for Florida) lake, pine and hardwood forests, open fields, cypress tree studded wetlands, very nice amenities (fishing pier, canoe rental, picnic areas, modern restrooms) and several miles of trails to explore. The sandwiches were superb, the fresh air (yes, it was hot) was exhilarating and the company was the absolute best.

What I said earlier about native Floridians having better sense than to be out at noon in the summer applies to the bird life, too. We saw one Eastern Bluebird smashing a caterpillar on a tree branch, one Common Gallinule floating listlessly in the cattails, one Anhinga perched on the pier and one sky-borne hunter described below. So I did what any other birder does in this situation. I admired the bugs.

Dragonflies are apparently impervious to heat. There were hundreds of the gossamer-winged creatures flitting about. They’re a bit of a challenge (for me, anyhow) to capture digitally, but it’s fun learning the different species and about their natural history. As I moved amongst the weeds trying to stalk these quick and elusive targets, there was a fellow dragonfly lover looking over my shoulder. The Swallow-tailed Kite just happens to love Odonata hors d’oeuvres.

Join us for our unscheduled lunch, from the comfort of your much cooler environment.

 

Even in the middle of the day, we sometimes find nice surprises when we venture forth. Such as a moon high overhead in a deep blue sky.

Moon

Moon

 

Flowers bloom even when no one is there to see them. Fortunately, we caught a few showing off their true colors. Such as this Leavenworth’s Tickseed, a beautiful member of the Coreopsis genus.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

My boyhood home here in central Florida was adjacent to a pasture where we found an abundance of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). These ancient reptiles have not changed much in over 60 million years. They dig a burrow which averages 30 feet deep and can eventually become home or provide shelter to myriad other life forms, including Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, they are now listed as an endangered species in Florida primarily due to loss of habitat.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

 

Enter the dragons. This male Blue Dasher is quite colorful with his yellow racing stripe thorax and cool blue abdomen. Perched with abdomens pointed up is called “obelisking” and is thought to reduce the amount of body surface the sun’s rays strike allowing the dragonfly to remain cooler.

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

The Carolina Saddlebags is found near water, usually small lakes or ponds with an abundance of submerged vegetation.

Carolina Saddlebags  -Female - (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags -Female – (Tramea carolina)

 

One of the most striking dragonflies found in North America is the Halloween Pennant. There is some speculation that the coloration along with their “fluttery” flight might mimic the Monarch Butterfly, which is distasteful to predators.

Halloween Pennant - Male(Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant – Male(Celithemis eponina)

 

A large dragonfly, the Great Blue Skimmer, is one of the few species with a white face. The first image is a typical female while the second picture shows an older female which has taken on the bluish body color of the male.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer - Mature Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Mature Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

The reddish-orange body and golden-tinted wings of Needham’s Skimmer really stand out along the lake shore. This medium sized dragon is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer. One difference is the rear legs of Needham’s are brownish as opposed to the black of the Golden-winged.

Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

Another colorful flower in our area is Tropical Sage. This native plant can grow to three or four feet tall and is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

 

A Gulf Fritillary gathers nectar from a thistle. Beautifully patterned from below, when seen from above it’s a striking orange that draws immediate attention as it glides from plant to plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

Nature attempts to maintain a balance in all things. Accordingly, she has given us such predators as this Robber Fly which preys upon butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, other flies and some spiders.

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

 

A Swallow-tailed Kite seemed quite interested in my presence. She was quite busy hawking dragonflies, one of her favorite food items. The kites will be gathering soon in pre-migration groups for their annual trip to South America for the winter. The actual migration can begin as soon as the beginning of August.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

I realize you don’t have it marked on your calendar or in your day-planner, but consider an unplanned picnic in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. You just never know what surprises await your discovery when you show up in Nature’s front yard unannounced!

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

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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