Posts Tagged With: desoto county

A Charming Season

“One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.”

Daniel Boone (American Woodsman, 1734-1820)

 

“Let’s visit Punta Gorda”, said I. My wonderfully astute spouse agreed immediately. A part of her exists within my soul and she knows my thoughts before I even create them. In this case, she fully realized that what I actually said was “Let’s go get some fresh seafood and sit by that little lake with the scent of pine trees around us while we enjoy life.”

Founded in 1884, Punta Gorda (Spanish for “Fat Point”) juts into Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Like many port cities it has had a colorful history. The downtown area was severely damaged by fire in 1905. This resulted in a decree that all future buildings must be of brick or concrete. In 2004, the city was ravaged by Hurricane Charley and many historic landmarks, homes and structures were destroyed. The city has been revitalized and strolling around the cobblestone center of this sparsely populated port town is a relaxing endeavor. Shipping was a major factor in early settlement and in 1886 the Florida Southern Railroad began regular passenger service. My personal favorite, however, is the success of the local fishermen who netted mullet, Spanish mackerel and channel bass (redfish) once a local business developed a method (in 1891) to preserve and process the abundant harvest. How can I NOT like a company called “The Consolidated Ice Manufacturing, Refrigeration and Fish Company”?

Just outside the city limits is the Peace River Seafood and Crab Shack. It’s a small former “Cracker” cabin run by a fellow who has been a Florida crabber most of his life. The seafood is fresh, the menu interesting, the service friendly and they also have a market on site if you want to take home fresh seafood and fix it yourself.

No, we didn’t make the trip just for the food, although it would be worth the two hour drive to do so. Our birding destination (you were wondering if we had abandoned our purpose in life, weren’t you?) was the vast Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. Consisting of almost 66,000 acres, this is one of the last undeveloped expanses of hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. There is a small lake and ponds which have been stocked for fishermen. Seasonal hunting is allowed so check schedules and accessibility before you visit (see the link in Additional Information below). The pine woods here are interspersed with large areas of wet prairie and the wildflower display in spring and summer is stunning.

Following a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and huge, succulent shrimp, we explored the “unimproved” roads and managed to list 45 species of birds. In the right season and with a bit of luck, it’s very possible to see seven species of woodpecker, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which nests here. We observed four species on today’s trip. Other highlights for us were hearing Northern Bobwhite calling wherever we went, migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Bluebirds, a wetland containing 15 Little Blue Heron, 8 Great Egret, 6 Snowy Egret, 5 Anhinga, 5 Great Blue Heron, 7 Tricolored Heron, 2 Belted Kingfisher and a 10-foot alligator who swam over to say hello. An afternoon thunderstorm provided some interesting clouds over Lake Webb at sunset as we headed home. It was a good day.

BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!

Sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Some readers may have noticed our birding adventure above began after lunch. Oho, you’re thinking, they slept in today those lazy birders! Au Contraire, mes amis!

We seldom use the “main road” to go anywhere. Today was no different. Along a wonderfully vacant backroad we enjoyed field after field of serenading Eastern Meadowlarks. They just didn’t care that it was Autumn and we were the better for it. In a pasture, it appeared that a pair of Crested Caracara parents were instructing their youngster on proper hunting technique. The adults would perch next to Junior in the field where there appeared to be a recent kill (although they readily eat carrion, also). One of the adults would hop toward the prey, Junior would follow, the parents would fly to a nearby perch, Junior would cry. And cry. And cry. An adult would fly back, hop toward the prey and return to their perch. Junior would cry, and … you get the idea (especially if you’ve been a parent). Junior eventually seemed to eat a bit and then flew to a perch of his own, where I snapped his portrait. It’ll be about two years before he fully develops the handsome appearance of an adult. By the side of this same road we found our “first of the fall season” migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee.

A short detour led us to a local community park (Brownville Park) along the Peace River near Arcadia in DeSoto County. It’s a small park with a couple of nature trails and we had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long but still managed to tally two dozen species which included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an Ovenbird, three Vireo species and a marauding gang of Wrens, two of which visited Gini while she was in the car – one perched on the rear view mirror and the other hopped onto my pack in the back seat.

Lunch time. (See all the stuff above.)

Yep, I took a few photographs.

 

“Junior”. Typical youngster – feathers out of place, dirty face, constantly whining. It won’t be long before he’ll be a fine example of a grown-up Crested Caracara.

Crested Caracara - Immature

Crested Caracara – Immature

 

Our first Eastern Wood-Pewee of the fall season. The light underside, olive upper side, wing bars and orangish lower mandible help identify the species.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

 

A view of the Peace River from Brownville Park. This has been a wet year and the water level is higher than normal.

Peace River

Peace River

 

At Brownville Park, a Walnut Sphinx moth posed on the screen of the restroom door. Happily, I was not arrested while obtaining a photo.

Walnut Sphinx  (Amorpha juglandis)

Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis)

 

The ubiquitous Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

A Red-eyed Vireo paused to look at me then continued snatching bugs from branches.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

 

I was surprised to be buzzed by a pugnacious Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She perched on a limb and preened for a minute. I didn’t think they ever landed!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Female

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Female

 

One of a half-dozen Northern Parula warblers we found in Brownville Park. I love their subtle color combinations.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area offers a vast area of pine flatwoods and grass prairie which hosts abundant and diverse wildlife.

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tucker's Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Webb Lake

Webb Lake

 

While we ate lunch alongside Webb Lake, this Green Anole scurried around catching insects. Here he’s resting on the trunk of a Scrub Palmetto which has recently been burned and is just beginning to show new growth.  (Green Anoles can change their appearance somewhat to match their surroundings, thus, the brown color of this one.)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

 

Molting is revolting. Just ask this Eastern Towhee, who can’t wait to get his new feathers.

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

 

Looking like a disgruntled old man (hey, I resemble that remark!), a Green Heron uses his lookout perch to search for a careless frog.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

This fine reptile specimen was totally hidden in the grass. Well, as much as a ten-foot scaly remnant of the dinosaur age can hide. When I exited the truck to get some tourist photos, he slid into the water and swam in a very straight line toward the photographer, who wasted no time in re-entering the truck and starting the engine.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

A Snowy Egret all decked out in his finest bright yellow footwear.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

The Sandhill Crane is elegant and this one has the rusty plumage indicative of a mineral rich diet.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Belted Kingfishers don’t hesitate to voice their displeasure when a stumbling human encroaches on their hunting territory.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

 

All in all, a long, wonderful day. Returning home, I discovered that, “every gloomy and vexatious thought” had, indeed, been expelled. This is, truly, a charming season.

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

Additional Information

Babcock-Webb WMA

Brownville Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

A Big Day

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I was introduced to “bird watching”.  We were living in the kingdom of west Texas and had made friends with a couple with whom we shared many similar interests.  One day, they suggested we all go on a camping trip.  We secured the necessary supplies and headed east to the pine forest.  It was our first camping trip with our fairly new son and it was great fun.  During our first day, I discovered my friend standing with his head thrown back and gazing toward the top of a tall pine tree.  Upon inquiring as to his behavior, he shouted excitedly:  “There are Pine Warblers all over the place!”.  Ummm…okay.  Later that day, he bolted from his car shouting:  “Red-headed Woodpecker!”.  It was a two-day trip.  I didn’t have a chance.  Addicted.

On Sunday, my addiction was provided a major boost.  I joined some really expert birders for an all day, all out effort in nearby DeSoto County.  This area doesn’t receive much attention from birders as it has no major parks, no major bodies of water, no coastline and no road access to much of the county.

Our day began in darkness as we listened for night birds along a deserted road adjacent to pine woods and a damp field.  Not a whisper.  But I did see two shooting stars!  Cool.  We proceeded to a favorite night-time locale for birders – a cemetery.  Seriously.  Not a lot of traffic here!  It was still very dark and a few short whistles were soon answered by an Eastern Whip-poor-will!  This is a migratory species here and not very common.  The day was off to a great start!

By the time we headed home at sundown, our tally was over 80 species!  We had seen 12 warbler species, including some surprises:  Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Magnolia and Tennessee.  A wet field produced over 140 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were immature and juveniles.  I spotted a migratory Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched on a low fence wire.  The hit of the day was a  Say’s Phoebe, a western North American flycatcher who is a casual visitor to the eastern part of the country in the fall.

It was a great day and I continue to learn from these very patient birders.  My addiction is satisfied.  Until tomorrow……

There were not many opportunities for photos on this trip as much of the time we were in deep woods with only a partial view of birds or using spotting scopes for very distant birds.  Here are a few images from the day.

When Ponce de Leon arrived in the New World in 1513, he evidently spotted a few flowers and declared the place should be called “La Florida”, possibly in honor of Spain’s “feast of the flowers” (“Pasqua florida”), an Easter tradition.  There are still flowers here.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

We found a Green Heron on a utility wire – not exactly a natural perch for this water bird.  Apparently, he was a trend-setter.  As we looked around, we found five more Green Herons – all perched on utility wires!

Green Heron

Green Heron

This colorful bug is a Delta Flower Scarab Beetle.

Delta Flower Scarab Beetle (Trigonopeltastes delta)

Delta Flower Scarab Beetle (Trigonopeltastes delta)

Wood Storks are in trouble in much of their range so it’s always good to see a number of them together.

Wood Stork, Great Egret

Wood Stork, Great Egret

I think this is an immature male Eastern Pondhawk.  The young and females are bright green and the males eventually turn blue.  This one appears to be in transition.

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - (Immature Male)

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – (Immature Male)

Upon spotting the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, I snapped a “record” photo through the windshield.  It’s the only chance I got as the bird took off and we didn’t see it again.  I apologize for the poor image quality, but even I can’t diminish the beauty of this gorgeous bird.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Yes, there was a fungus among us.

Fungus

Fungus

The Bald-faced Hornet builds a very substantial nest.  This structure was about 30 feet up in the tree and they can be as large as 14 inches (35 cm) in diameter and 23 inches (60 cm) in length.  Many people like to collect these nests for decoration.  Many people discover how painful these hornet stings are!

Hornet Nest

Hornet Nest

A curious Ovenbird must wonder about strange creatures on the ground always looking up and making funny noises and pointing and shuffling noisily through the dry leaves.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Another dragonfly, another identification challenge.  My guess is a Band-winged Dragonlet.  Any other suggestions?

Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata) - (Female)

Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata) – (Female)

The ducks.  Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were not common in Florida just a few years ago.  Now, it’s hard to walk out of your house without stepping on one.  (Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.)  They are handsome birds, though!

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

If you, too, are an addict, you understand what a “fix” this kind of day can provide.  If you haven’t been hooked yet – oops, too late!

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

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: