Posts Tagged With: cypress dome

Prairie Pause

“We’re not leaving before sunrise?” Gini had those raised eyebrows which signaled “I don’t believe you”. True, it was completely out of character and I had to explain in detail before she thought I might be serious.

The impeccable weatherman-who-is-never-mistaken had forecast a cool front moving in from the northwest and heading southeast across the state. My plan was to travel to the east side of huge Lake Kissimmee, about an hour-and-a-half from the house. For some time, I’ve wanted to capture one of those sunsets over the lake where the sky is “on fire” with reddish-orange-pink-purple high clouds lit from underneath by the sinking sun.

After a leisurely breakfast and a pot of coffee, we packed some cold chicken and fruit and meandered eastward. Okay, that’s not quite true. The first half of the trip required a harrowing adventure on the expressway toward the Empire of Disney and other assorted tourist magnets. The good news is that receiving a citation for driving above the speed limit is not possible along this stretch of road as one is unlikely to move the speedometer above ten miles-per-hour.

Once past the gridlock, we turned south and were soon actually meandering through pasture land owned by the same families for a couple hundred years. Early some mornings, it’s possible to spot the tall white images of rare Whooping Cranes at the distant edges of these fields. Plenty of deer, feral hogs and turkey feed here as well.

Our initial target was the vast Three Lakes and Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Areas. Together they include over 70,000 acres (+28,000 Ha) of grass prairie, pine and hardwood uplands, freshwater lakes and marshes. The area was one of the last, large open range ranching in the United States and continued until 1949. The state acquired the property in 1974 in order to protect endangered flora and fauna as well as to preserve some of the last vestiges of Florida’s once vast grass prairies.

This is one of our favorite areas in Florida. Quiet, plenty of wildlife and wildflowers, great fishing and (shhhh!) not crowded.

The sky was encouraging! High clouds scudding across the open prairie promised a glorious sunset opportunity! We slowly worked our way through the back roads to time our arrival at the east shore of Lake Kissimmee just before sunset. The only spot for access is a public boat ramp with a private campground and small store. We had time to enjoy our late lunch/early supper and I found a spot to set up and wait for the magic moment.

Clouds. They move when pushed by wind.

About 30 minutes before sunset, the sky was almost clear. Sigh. Oh, well. A sunset at the lake is still special. Next time maybe a few pretty clouds will hang around.

We managed a few images in the afternoon with actual cloudy skies just to prove there HAD been some!

 

Cypress domes are stands of trees growing in a low place which usually stays wet year round.  The depression is lowest near the center of the dome and those trees grow more vigorously than the surrounding ones, thus creating the “dome” shape.

Three Lakes WMA

 

A large Bald Eagle’s nest has adorned this pine tree for years and has seen the birth of many new eagles. I don’t know if the nest has been used this year. It appeared unoccupied.

Three Lakes WMA

 

Gini called this a “cow tree” due to the pattern left from a fire. The texture of the burned outer bark and smooth inner bark was fascinating.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

Wildlife activity began to increase as daylight began to decrease. A Great Blue Heron stalked a frog in the grass near the shore of Lake Kissimmee.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

A Bald Eagle made a pass over my head in search of a fishy dinner along the shoreline.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

After taking this shot, I couldn’t get Frank Sinatra out of my head. Flyyy Me To The Moon …..

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Sunset over Lake Kissimmee. Almost clear skies.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

We took “the long way” home which allowed us to avoid the Empire of Disney. Whether you like your sunsets with or without clouds, enjoy them as often as you can. And if possible, be with someone you love. That way, clouds just won’t matter.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Lunch And A Matinee

Human beings like to be entertained.  Cave men whiled away the time between hunting and gathering by covering the walls of their homes with drawings.  Plays were staged to take our minds off the troubles of the day.  “Moving pictures” transformed entire societies and new industries were developed to satiate our ever-increasing desire for diversion.  If you question whether we are addicted to being entertained, try unplugging the televisions and computers in all our homes for a few hours and see how quickly rioting in the streets will begin.

Fortunately, I married wisely.  Gini is as easily entertained by the song of an Eastern Meadowlark as she would be by attending an orchestral performance of Mozart’s greatest hits.  We seem to find so much in Nature at which to marvel, it just doesn’t matter if we’re missing a favorite television show.  Besides, that’s why recording was invented!

Well, we lollygagged all morning on Peavine Trail (see our previous post “Happiness Is A Dirt Road”) and it was already time for lunch.  We drove to Overstreet Landing on the eastern shore of Lake Kissimmee which is always a treat because to get there you have to travel Overstreet Road.  This gives us the opportunity to view vast pastures, grasslands and sod farms.  The open area is richly populated with Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Meadowlarks, American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, Wild Turkeys, Northern Bobwhites, White and Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret and soaring Vultures.  With the fall migration, we also saw Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warblers and a Northern Harrier.

When we arrived at the shore of the lake, we parked under the welcoming branches of an oak tree, opened all the windows and doors of the truck so we could enjoy the breeze coming off the lake and prepared to enjoy our sandwiches with an unparalleled view of premier lake, prairie and grassland habitat.  We were soon joined by a Turkey Vulture who brought his own lunch of a decaying catfish carcass and settled on a fence post not far from us.  All present enjoyed a fine meal, peace and quiet.

After lunch, we spotted a Snail Kite in the distance hovering over the grass in the lake looking for the Apple Snail which makes up its diet almost exclusively.  A large flock of Cattle Egret flew in front of us, a Little Blue Heron hunted stealthily in the shallows and a group of four Wilson’s Snipe sprang into the air, startled by an incoming boat.

We drove a short distance to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and poked slowly along the rough dirt roads through scrub woods, long-leaf pines, palmetto, cypress domes* (see “Additional Resources”) and a long stretch of dry grass prairie.  Along the way, we tallied 40 species of birds and even found a few fall warblers:  Palm, Pine, Prairie, Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped.  A creek crossing produced a pair of Wood Ducks, Snowy and Great Egrets, Tricolored and Great Blue Herons and a Limpkin.  We found several American Kestrels and Eastern Phoebes taking advantage of millions of insects.  A lone pine tree in the prairie contained a large nest used by Bald Eagles last year to raise a family.  It seemed empty, but may be taken over soon by a Great Horned Owl.  We’ll check next month.

As the sun began to cast long shadows, we turned onto the paved road and spotted a group of Wild Turkeys, the strong light showing off the iridescence of their plumage.  The evening sky displayed colors no artist could duplicate.  As the curtain of night began to lower on our day, hundreds of Glossy Ibis headed to their roost.  We did the same.

We didn’t get a lot of useable photographs due to the time of day and position of the sun but here are a few images which may give you a flavor of our afternoon.

Our lunch guest.  The portion of the brain which detects smell is relatively large in the Turkey Vulture and they can detect carrion below a forest canopy.  And they’re so cute.  Besides who can argue with such an elegant scientific name?  Cathartes auraroughly translated as “Golden Purifier”!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The lakeside venue for our picnic included a panorama of lake, marsh, grassland, cattle egrets in flight – oh, yes – and a contented vulture.

Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture

Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture

 

A stealthy approach will yield results for this very patient Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

These pretty white blossoms are called Short Leaf Rose Gentian.  Stars scattered along our path.

Short Leaf Rose Gentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

Short Leaf Rose Gentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

 

Very small but very attractive is the Southern Fleabane.  (Please let me know if this is a different species.)

Southern Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) (?)

Southern Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) (?)

Our matinee was in living technicolor.  A Cloudless Sulphur extracting sweet nectar from Britton’s Wild Petunia.  Unfortunately, this is a very prolific invasive plant which has been vigorously marketed by nurseries as a “Mexican Petunia” and is driving out native plants throughout the region.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) on Britton's Wild Petunia (Ruellia simplex) - "Mexican Petunia" - Invasive Plant

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) on Britton’s Wild Petunia (Ruellia simplex) – “Mexican Petunia” – Invasive Plant

A lone pine tree in the prairie made a fine place for Bald Eagles to nest last year.

Bald Eagle Nest

Bald Eagle Nest

My camera lens will get dirty from time to time, but in this case, all the specks are flying insects.  Which is precisely why this happy Eastern Phoebe is perched in this location!

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Limpkins always remind me of something almost prehistoric, especially their calls to each other at dawn and dusk.  (Hear their call:  http://www.xeno-canto.org/102268.)  These birds have especially designed bills for opening Apple Snails and extracting the meat.

Limpkin

Limpkin

An example of the type of dry grass prairie which once stretched across a large part of Florida.

Prairie

Prairie

Cypress domes dot this area and provide refuge for an amazing variety of wildlife.  *(See Additional Resources.)

Cypress Dome

Cypress Dome

A Northern Mockingbird bid us farewell as we prepared to head home.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Wild Turkeys are highlighted in the strong light of the setting sun.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Nature provides the ultimate in “wide-screen” entertainment!

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

Glossy Ibis heading to a roost just after sunset.

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

We enjoy entertainment just as much as anyone.  It’s just that all the best stuff seems to be beyond the reach of an extension cord.  And when the power goes off, we won’t be all that upset.

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

Additional Resources:

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and Prairie Lakes Unit

(NOTE:  If you visit the Three Lakes WMA, check their website listed above for hunting dates.  If you venture afield during scheduled hunting times, be careful and wear an orange vest!  Be safe!)

*Cypress domes are stands of trees growing in a low place which usually stays wet year round.  The depression is lowest near the center of the dome and those trees grow more vigorously than the surrounding ones, thus creating the “dome” shape.

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

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