Posts Tagged With: colt creek state park

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

And now for something completely different.

Overslept. Last week sunrise was around 7:40. This week it’s an hour earlier. Who is the genius that decided it was okay to mess around with Mother Nature’s timing?

A slice of toast, a bit of Black Forest ham and out the door. Gini and I made it to Colt Creek State Park as the gate was opening. Perfect timing despite the clock manipulators. Fall migration has brought an influx of visitors to the park and it seems they were all talking at once. Palm Warblers littered the ground, Eastern Phoebes adorned snags and tops of weeds, Vireos tried to out sing one another, diminutive Blue-gray Gnatcatchers darted along limbs, a gang of five Gray Catbirds huddled in one small pine tree and Gini found a cluster of three early House Wrens, each scolding us loudly.

In a secluded spot along the park’s namesake, Colt Creek, we spied an immature Black-crowned Night Heron. In typical heron fashion, she stood perfectly still on a log, orange eyes scanning the algae-covered surface for any movement which might indicate breakfast was ready.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The Black-crowned Night Heron is fairly common throughout North America ranging as far north as Alberta, Canada. They inhabit all sorts of wetlands in fresh as well as salt water. Northern birds migrate south for the winter, either to southern states or to Central and South America. Individuals in warm climates may migrate to the southern region of their area during colder months. These medium size herons are opportunistic feeders and will eat a large variety of prey, such as fish, crabs, insects, birds, eggs, snakes, turtles, etc. They normally grasp their prey instead of stabbing it.

True to their name, most feeding is done at night so they don’t compete with other herons and egrets using the same habitat during the day. They will feed during daylight in breeding season to maintain adequate energy. Their nests are usually constructed of sticks in a tree or among reeds and they frequently nest in colonies. Young birds normally leave the nest within a month of hatching and roam the wetlands at night by foot with other young birds until they can fly at about six weeks old.

Immature birds can be confused with Yellow-crowned Night Herons where their ranges overlap. Young Black-crowned Night Herons will have yellow lower mandibles versus all dark beaks, broader blurred chest streaks and larger white spots on wing coverts.

Shortly after watching young Miss Heron (could have been Mister, sexes are similar), we found a perfectly quiet spot to enjoy some freshly sliced oranges. Eastern Phoebes were reminding us of their name as they constantly called, Black Vultures circled lazily overhead, butterflies floated among the weeds, a Red-shouldered Hawk screamed from his nearby pine tree branch. Confirmed:  Life is good.

Home before lunch time.

A few images from the archives.

An immature bird hunting in the rain.

S-65A Access Road

 

Stalking prey from the reeds.

Moore Road

 

Sleeping birds tuck their beaks into their breast feathers.

Lake Parker Power Plant

 

Masterful hunters, prey is grasped in the beak rather than stabbed.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The long plumes on their head can be raised when alarmed or during breeding season.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

An adult Black-crowned Night Heron heads to a daytime roost after a night hunting in the marsh.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

 

Look for these water birds in your area and marvel at their skillful hunting and sleek good looks.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , | 14 Comments

Naturally Motivated

It’s hot outside. The “dog days” of summer are in full swing here in sub-tropical central Florida. Leave the air-conditioned coolness of home or auto and one is immediately enveloped in a steamy cloud of vapor which soaks through clothing and produces an instant soggy mess of a person. Did I mention it’s hot? Weather experts are issuing dire warnings that children and the elderly should remain indoors.

Gini fairly regularly refers to me as “child like”. According to my joints, hair, skin and driver’s license – there is a better than 50% chance that I am “elderly”. We should remain indoors.

The alarm screeched rudely and my beautiful (yes, even in the dark) bride gently rubbed my arm. “Time to get up.” A half-hour later, I put my feet on the floor and went through the ritual of “getting ready”. State parks in Florida, in a rare moment of sanity, decided the proper time to open to the public is 8:00 A.M. This meant we had time to gather our equipment, breakfast components, water tumblers packed with ice and leisurely drive about 20 minutes north to reach Colt Creek State Park precisely at — uhh — well, not too long after they opened the gate.

While Gini settled in to enjoy a good book in the car, I stomped along the edge of tall grass and small trees trying to find an opening into a swampy area. Yes, on purpose. The huge cypress trees thrust up from the green surface of the water and their thick branches allowed only a smattering of morning sun to filter through. It’s quiet in the swamp. After taking a few pictures we ambled along the park roads and found birds, bugs and blooms in profusion.

Breakfast by the lake. A walk through a thistle thicket proved to be a bug bonanza! Trees bordering open fields made great ambush perches for a variety of birds. White-tailed deer loafed along a road edge. A gopher tortoise can move surprisingly fast when it wants to! Shallow water was just deep enough for young alligators to submerge as I approached. A black racer (one of our most common snakes), true to its name, was across the path and gone before I could lift the camera.

Clearly, the inhabitants of the park had not seen the dire warnings of the weather experts.

Clearly, we were happy to have ignored the experts. Our motivation to enjoy what nature offers easily overcame our discomfort from heat and humidity.

Okay, it WAS nice to head home for lunch in a cool, air-conditioned car. Suspicions confirmed:  we’re human.

 

Chaos in the swamp. The cypress trees provide order and stability but everything else seems to grow in all directions with no plan whatsoever. The green covering over the water is an aquatic weed and offers shelter to myriad creatures.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Between the water of the swamp and the edge of the woods is a space where oak, pine and other tree species thrive. Among the detritus on the forest floor, a bright red mushroom asserts its presence.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The vertical, tear-drop pattern on the breast identifies this Red-shouldered Hawk as an immature bird. By this time next year, it will sport the horizontal rusty stripes of an adult.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A quick glance might result in thinking the bright red in the tree top is a Northern Cardinal instead of a Summer Tanager. This tanager’s mate, a subdued yellow-green color, flew overhead and he dutifully followed her into the forest.

Colt Creek State Park

 

In the middle of the road, a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) was probably trying to extract a bit of water from – whatever that glop might be. (Don’t want to know.)

Colt Creek State Park

 

More gloppy stuff in the road. This time, a gaggle of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) were having a party.

Colt Creek State Park

 

This industrious insect is working hard to clear the road of obstacles. Probably coyote scat. Aren’t you glad you asked? There are over 7,000 species of Dung Beetle (Fam. Geotrupidae) in the world (more if you count bureaucrats) and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. It’s believed if they did not exist, we would soon be buried in excrement.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Off the beaten path, I wandered among a field of thistles. I was not alone.

One of my favorite butterflies, a Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus), refused to come near so I resorted to a distant somewhat fuzzy image. Even blurry, it’s a beautiful bug!

Colt Creek State Park

 

The Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes), one of the skippers, is frequently seen with a “short” tail as it’s a convenient place for predators to grab.

Colt Creek State Park

 

A loud hum and large profile is always a bit startling and at first it would be easy to think you’ve spotted a Hummingbird. But it’s actually the impressive Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Several Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) flitted past my head ignoring me as they sipped nectar from one blossom after another. These beauties have wingspans that can reach up to 7.5 inches (19 cm)!

Colt Creek State Park

 

The underside of this Cloudless Sulphur  (Phoebis sennae) appears green and may be immature, but if you can catch it with its wings spread you can readily see the yellow from which it gets its name.

Colt Creek State Park

 

An American Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca americana), as you might suspect, is quick to sprout wings and fly away if you approach too closely.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Found in the southeastern United States and Bahamas, the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper  (Romalea microptera), is considered a pest in many parts of the country as they consume a very diverse assortment of plants. Their bright color warns predators they won’t like the taste and their body contains a toxin which will cause the consumer to throw up. But they ARE handsome!

Colt Creek State Park

 

Heat, humidity and enjoyment. Florida nature at its finest. Even if you don’t have our high temperatures and steamy air, we just know that nature has some wonderful things to show you when you have a little time.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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