Posts Tagged With: common buckeye

Sabbatical – Part The Second

Conchs – Zippers – Mayhaw.  “Remind me to stop here on the way back.” This was now our third visit to Georgia, the second along this route. The first trip was mostly using high-speed interstate highways. No more of that. Taking the road less traveled is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is – well – it’s less traveled. The bad news is there simply isn’t enough time to do it properly. “Oh! That looks like an interesting road!” becomes a phrase so common that after a hundred miles Gini doesn’t even utter it anymore. Just gives me “the look”. We both sigh, vowing to explore further but knowing the chances are very remote we ever will.

If you are from the American Southeast (or have ever spent time here), you are probably very familiar with the seasonal signs which pop up at markets, produce stands, highway intersections and private yards advertising “conchs, zippers and mayhaw jelly”. Freshly picked peas (conchs and zippers) and the juice extracted from the fruit of the swamp- loving Mayhaw tree are considered delicacies by this household. Conchs, zippers, creamers, purple hull – all local varieties of the generic “southern field pea”. All delicious when Gini works her magic on them. Mayhaw trees (Crataegus sp.) are indigenous to the southeastern United States and each spring produce red berries similar in size to small crabapples. The berries are very tart and are typically made into jellies and preserves or used in desserts. The clear, pale crimson substance placed inside a piping hot buttermilk biscuit – breakfast is transformed into something special.

We pulled onto Gini’s brother’s property in mid-afternoon and what a change had taken place! It had only been two weeks since our last visit, but spring has arrived in full force! Adjacent to the young grove of longleaf pine trees was a vast swath of red clover. Stunning! The previously bare pecan trees all had lush new growth, flowers were blooming just about everywhere, insects were buzzing and birds went about the business of nest building, mating and feeding young. Unpack. Rocking chairs have been added to the newly constructed back porch. Relax. Catch up on family news. Supper. Dark. From the comfort of a rocking chair on the open porch, listen. Crickets, cicadas. No man-made sound at all. Sleep.

A walk around the property at dawn almost feels familiar now. I anticipate where the quail will be chattering, where to look for deer and coyote tracks in the soft red clay and when I will be challenged as I pass near the towhee’s territory. The scent of fresh pine fills my nostrils and I breathe it in deeply. I still haven’t learned to pay attention to the path ahead as I scan all around for birds and walk through a spider web spun during the night by a Golden Silk Spider, of the orb weaver family. Occupational hazard. Male birds are singing everywhere as the mating season begins in earnest. A House Wren burbles from a fence post as I near the house and from a stump near the barn his larger cousin, the Carolina Wren, shows off his rambunctious repertoire.

The aroma of brewing coffee beckons and I am soon hugging my girlfriend (despite her protestations:  “Eww, you’re soaking wet!”). A hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits and yes, hot biscuits which I eagerly stuff with Mayhaw jelly – and a new day begins.

A few images may help to visualize why we return to this slice of heaven. Alas, poor quality photographs are no substitute for the real thing but try to imagine – no car noise, no television, no sirens – just, Nature.

 

A healthy patch of red clover provides forage for deer, rabbits, dove, quail and a whole universe of insects. Not to mention, it’s rather nice to look at.

Early County

Early County

 

Eastern Bluebirds have already mated, built nests and are busy flying non-stop bug deliveries to the nursery.

Early County

 

Longleaf Pines once blanketed the southeastern United States. Lumbering took its toll over the years. Property owners are encouraged to plant these wonderful conifers and Gini’s brother has about 35 acres he planted eight years ago. In the spring, new shoots from the tops create a sea of light yellow which shimmers in the early morning sun.

 

In addition to beautiful sights, Nature produces wonderful aromas. Huge tangles of Honeysuckle vines send forth delicate blossoms which create a perfume that’s almost overwhelmingly sweet.

Early County

 

Sights, smells, sounds – we can even find delicious treats in the wild. The understory provides brambles to shelter small animals and birds and in another few weeks these Blackberry bushes will yield delicious fruit – if you can get to them before those animals and birds!

Early County

 

Eastern Towhee males are showing off their vocal range hoping to attract the right mate. The first image has pale yellow eyes, not uncommon in this area, and the second is the more widespread red-eyed species.

Early County

Early County

 

The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is commonly seen in brown or green and may even change coloration a bit to better blend with its surroundings. This species is being supplanted in some areas (especially Florida) by the invasive Cuban Brown Anole.

Early County

 

Something made a path through the clover last night. Perhaps an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit?

Early County

 

Even a spiny Thistle has a special beauty in the spring.

Early County

 

Bumble Bees (Bomba sp.) love clover and gladly keep the plants pollinated.

Early County

 

So many colors in nature! A bright purple Verbena stands out among all the red clover blossoms.

Early County

 

One of the Skipper species of butterfly flits from bloom to bloom. It’s like it can’t decide which flower to sip from first because they all look so good.

Early County

 

Just two weeks ago, these Pecan trees were bare and looked like tree skeletons. In a few more weeks, within the lush green foliage, fruit will begin to form and produce the sweetest pecans in the world!

Early County

 

These male Brown-headed Cowbirds are having a serious discussion about personal space and females – typical guys.

Early County

 

A Common Buckeye soaks up a little morning sun to dry her wings.

Early County

 

Another Georgia specialty. When ripe, pluck one of these from the tree, take a bite — the juice runs over your lips, onto your hand, down your arm, drips off your elbow — but you don’t care. The sensation of that fresh peach reaching your taste buds is unforgettable. Now you know why they place an image of this fruit on their car license plate!

Early County

 

Similar to the Bumble Bee (genus Bombus) in appearance, the Carpenter Bee (genus Xylocopa) can be a very destructive pest. They bore into wood, make tunnels and lay eggs. Untreated wood can be extensively damaged as the larvae chew their way out.

Early County

Early County

 

A pair of Common Ground Dove serenaded us with their monotonic song as we loaded the car to head home.

Early County

 

Another wonderful trip to paradise as part of our segmented Springtime Sabbatical. If you’re fortunate enough to find a spot devoid of human-made noise, savor it. I know we do.

Yes, we did remember to stop on the way back and loaded up on fresh conchs, zippers and mayhaw jelly! The little market also had fresh cane syrup, smoked country sausage and just-picked garden tomatoes.

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Confusion In The South

It can be tough living in central Florida. For one thing, we are prone to being in physically poor condition as we have no snow to shovel during the winter and it’s too hot and humid in summer to engage in strenuous outdoor activities. Nature provides us with only two seasons here: “green” and “brown”. We are forced to contend with water all around us containing salt. The spaces between our toes gather excessive amounts of sand as we linger along our coasts attempting to acquire a fish or group of crustaceans for a meager dinner – broiled over driftwood coals – sprinkled with lemon juice – accompanied by boiled red potatoes and freshly husked corn. Yes, it’s tough being a Floridian.

Even our wild creatures aren’t sure how to behave. It’s late summer and some birds are still singing in hopes of attracting a mate. Insects continue to be prolific and seem to be buzzing about in greater numbers than ever. Other birds are forming pre-migration assemblies in preparation for their southward journey to spend the winter in South America. Winter! (That would be “brown” in Florida-speak.)

Just before we took a hastily planned trip to Texas a couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to visit one of our favorite venues: Hardee Lakes Park. Two reasons for our affection of this locale: diversity of habitat (and therefore birdlife) and the fact that not many folks visit the place (shhh! don’t tell them!).

The park is a little over an hour to our south and opens at 7:00 so we got an early start. Gini and I love being out at this time of day. The darkness gently gives way to an almost imperceptible increase in light. One almost doesn’t notice the change. By the time we entered the park the sun was elbowing its way above the trees at the far eastern side of the first of the park’s four lakes. We hear the loud, clear call of a male Northern Bobwhite, incessantly repeating the whistle of his namesake, “Bob WHITE”. We located him perched on a fence post, his head thrown back, eyes closed, beak wide open, letting the world know he is awake and ready for what this day shall offer. So were we.

We proceeded with our exploration and reveled in Mother Nature’s delights. A Red-bellied Woodpecker landed at the entrance to her nest cavity with a huge caterpillar for her babies’ breakfast. I found an intact bird’s nest which had fallen to the ground and marveled at the intricate construction which had served so well to raise a new family this past spring. Noisy Common Gallinules fed along the shore and Anhingas swam in the shallows spearing small fish, then perched on low tree limbs with wings extended to dry before the next foray. As the morning air evaporated the previous night’s dew, insects began to hover above the ground and soon filled the sky with color and motion. A group of three dozen Northern-rough Winged Swallows hawked the ever more active bugs as they need to store a lot of fuel in preparation for their upcoming migration. A Great Egret squawked his displeasure at my presence on “his” lake shore. The deep bellow of a male alligator nearby reminded me to watch my step.

After a bit of fruit and cool water, we bid the park farewell until the next time and headed a bit further south. I recalled a spot from last fall where we had seen several Swallow-tailed Kites soaring together. These marvelous raptors gather in late summer and gorge on insects before migrating to South America in large groups. Luck was with us and we found a recently harvested melon field with kites busily grabbing dragonflies near the ground. We counted at least 28 kites working the field but that may be a low estimate as the action was so fast we were concerned about double-counting. Just to the north of where we live, birders have encountered similar groups of kites numbering near 300.

A quail singing his “spring” song, raptors and swallows grouping up for “winter” migration, insects just not seeming to care – any season is a good one to be able to enjoy such things!

 

A male Northern Bobwhite sings his heart out in the early morning. Not the best photo as it was taken at quite a distance and cropped.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

The Blue Dasher shows off his yellow and black racing stripe body and amazing eye structure.

Blue Dasher - Male - (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male – (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

It wouldn’t be Florida without an Osprey!

Osprey

Osprey

 

Subdued orange of the Needham’s Skimmer can change to a brilliant red in some males.

Needham's Skimmer  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

North America’s smallest dragonfly is the Eastern Amberwing. They are near the size of a large wasp and have adopted the wasp’s flying style to help avoid being eaten by predators.

Eastern Amberwing - Female (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing – Female (Perithemis tenera)

 

A very dark dragonfly, the male Four-spotted Pennant is quite aggressive and will attack anything trespassing within his space.

Four-spotted Pennant - Male -  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male – (Brachymesia gravida)

 

Northern Rough-winged Swallows spend much of their time in groups to help provide safety from potential enemies. A couple of them were curious whether I might be a bad guy.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

 

As I neared the shore of one of the lakes, this Great Egret took flight and spent the next five minutes yelling at me. About the same time, a deep bellowing from a male alligator in the reeds nearby indicated I might be too close to his personal space. I took both warnings as a sign it was time to move along.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

I chased this Common Buckeye for hours and hours (okay, about six minutes – but it seemed longer) to get a picture. He would land, I would lay prone in the grass, focus the camera, he would take off. This act was repeated until I almost gave up due to physical exhaustion – mine, not his.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

 

A bright green Katydid stands out on a light-colored background. Once in the grass or bush with green leaves, however, and it’s a challenge to find her!

Katydid

Katydid

 

Here are a few images of the Swallow-tailed Kites we discovered. Their aerobatic prowess was a joy to watch! They would swoop low over the field, grasp a dragonfly in a talon and then munch it on the fly. Great entertainment!

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

If you observe confusing critter behavior in your local area, don’t worry too much about it. Just make a note of what you see and check the calendar. It may be later than you think!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Hardee Lakes Park (NOTE: Park is currently only open Friday-Monday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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