Posts Tagged With: downy woodpecker

Watch Out For Falling Birds !

The miracle of bird migration is typically portrayed by images of thousands of ducks and geese filling the skies with noisy quacking and honking as they lift off from northern climes headed for the warmth of tropical locations each autumn. If one is fortunate enough to observe flights of such large numbers of birds it is truly awe-inspiring.

There is another aspect of avian migration not well known to “non-birders”. It involves stealthy little feathered jewels who travel mostly at night and may never be seen by human eyes as they complete their annual journey of survival. Small songbirds begin showing up here in central Florida in late summer and even though they may travel in groups it is not unusual for them to escape unnoticed as they make their way south.

We sometimes describe Florida as having two seasons – green and brown. The sub-tropical climate is perfect for billions of insects to breed and bird migration is timed to perfectly coincide with the peak of the bug birth bonanza. With little fanfare, warblers and other woodland birds arrive in dribs and drabs surprisingly ahead of what the calendar says is the first “official” day of autumn.

So here we were, the last week of August, trudging along a sandy path at dawn already soaked due to high humidity, craning our necks to see what that movement is in the very tops of the tallest trees in the area. (Aren’t there perfectly good bugs in the lower branches?) By noon, a serious case of “warbler neck” would be making itself felt.

Today we were exploring Tenoroc Public Use Area, which was formerly a vast phosphate mining operation in Polk County. As the minerals were extracted to the maximum extent possible, the land was eventually sold to the state and private parties. An effort began to reclaim the mining pits, restore the land to a more natural ecology and develop an area which has become a premier destination for fishermen. Largemouth Bass grow well in the deep waters of the pits and careful management has made the area very popular for those seeking a “trophy”. All bass must be returned to the water immediately so the gene pool is kept intact.

Mining operations ceased here over 50 years ago, and the reclamation process by humans as well as natural forces has been impressive. In addition to great fishing, the diverse habitat has resulted in the area being a “gateway” for birding. The large number of lakes (former mining pits), wetlands, open grasslands, hardwood and pine forests – make this a very rewarding place to visit for a casual walk or serious day of birding.

It was early in the year to be expecting a very large number of migrants but we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of what we did find. By noon we had observed 50 species of birds.

(Some individual totals which are more than one would expect on a “normal” day here: 10 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 8 Downy Woodpecker, 10 Prairie Warbler, 8 Yellow-throated Warbler, 5 Black-and-White Warbler, 5 Ovenbird, 12 Tufted Titmouse, 13 Northern Cardinal, 9 Carolina Wren, 26 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 27 Northern Parula.)

So although the calendar (and thermometer!) says it is “summer” – fall migration is under way!

 

Tenoroc FMA

Great Crested Flycatcher

Tenoroc FMA

Downy Woodpecker

Tenoroc FMA

Prairie Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Yellow-throated Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Tenoroc FMA

Carolina Chickadee

Tenoroc FMA

Ovenbird

Tenoroc FMA

Tufted Titmouse

Tenoroc FMA

Northern Parula

Tenoroc FMA

Carolina Wren

Tenoroc FMA

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The sleek yellow and blue Prothonotary Warbler has long been a “nemesis” bird for me, escaping my lens too often.

Tenoroc FMA

Prothonotary Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Black-and-white Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Swallow-tailed Kites breed in Florida, migrate to South America and return in mid-February. This bird should have left the state a couple of weeks ago!

Tenoroc FMA

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Not a migrant nor a warbler. Just beautiful to look at.

Tenoroc FMA

Black Vulture

 

When you visit Tenoroc, be certain to check in at the ranger station. It’s a big area and they try to keep track of all their visitors.

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

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

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

Would You Prefer Your Woods Hydric Or Mesic?

“The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”
(Eeyore), A.A. Milne

 

Florida! The Sunshine State! Except when it’s raining.

Summer. The wet season. Wait, yesterday it didn’t start raining until after 3:00. Maybe tomorrow will be like that and we’ll have several hours to explore! Hmmm, the weather forecast is for 85% chance of scattered thunderstorms. That means we have a 15% chance of NOT getting rained on! AND – the storms are supposed to be scattered! Maybe it will actually rain somewhere other than where we are!

See what a problem my poor Gini faces? I’m an eternal optimist with no common sense at all. (She thinks “common” means EVERYONE has some sense about practical matters. Please don’t tell her.)

We had been wanting to return to Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area for some time. It’s about two hours from the house and near the gulf coast. It’s easy to find as it’s just off the interstate highway. With over 80,000 acres (+32,000 Ha.) it’s also easy to quickly forget how close to that highway you are. That’s a good thing, in our opinion.

A large portion of this land was purchased by Mr. Fred Babcock in the 1930’s for raising cattle, timbering and hunting. For awhile, the area was famous for a thriving pineapple industry. The state bought the land in 1941 and somewhere along the way they added the name of one of the fish and game commissioners with Mr. Babcock’s to produce the unwieldy official name: Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area.

This vast area represents the largest tract of undeveloped hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. Combined with some drier areas (“mesic” flatwoods), open wet prairies, a few lakes and ponds – it is a wonderfully diverse habitat supporting a good mix of flora and fauna. Old logging roads provide easy access to much of the management lands, but take care if it has been raining or if your vehicle has low clearance. Also, this is a hunting area, so check the on-line calendar for current open hunting times. If you decide to visit during hunting season, wear a blaze orange vest and BE CAREFUL! It’s amazing how much we humans can resemble White-tailed Deer.

We arrived shortly after sunrise and our morning was filled with breathing the scent of fresh pine, admiring an incredible variety of blooming flowers, listening to woodpeckers hammering, chasing dragonflies along the edge of the wetlands, watching in awe as a group of Common Nighthawks put on a spectacular aerial display – just for us.

Egg sandwiches along with fruit was the perfect breakfast for the outdoors. It seemed we were stopping every few yards to gawk at something new. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. How had we lost track of time? We seem to do that a lot.

A few images may give you an idea of why we could care less about looking at a watch.

(Pssst. No sign of thunderstorms yet, scattered or otherwise.)

What’s for lunch?

 

An immature Bald Eagle soared over the open wet prairie searching for her own breakfast.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

There are around 40 species of Spider Lily in the New World and 13 of them are in Florida. This is the Alligatorlily (Hymenolcallis palmeri), fairly common but beautiful. Up close it has a wonderful fragrance.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Dragons and damsels were in abundance. Convincing them to pose for a photograph was a challenge. The colorful Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) would be hard to mistake for anything else. During the day we saw dozens floating above the reeds.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Pink seemed to be the color of the day for flowers in the flatwoods and prairie. A lovely Large Flower Rose Gentian (Sabatia grandiflora) languished right by the side of the road.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

One of the more common birds in this habitat is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. This one was busy finding bugs and hustling back to a nest cavity where junior was likely squawking “Hurry up!”.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Frequently found at commercial nurseries, American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) somehow seems more elegant in the wild.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

A common dragonfly throughout our area is Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami). This female was very patient while I knelt down to her level for a portrait.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Resembling snapdragons, the Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea) is sometimes called Obedient Plant for the tendency of blossoms to remain in place if pushed or twisted.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Peeking through a curtain of pine needles, a diminutive Downy Woodpecker wastes no time in checking up, down and around limbs for signs of insects.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Much smaller than the American White Waterlily above, Big Floatingheart (Nymphoides aquatica) more than holds its own in the beauty department.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Part of maintaining a healthy habitat, prescribed burns take place regularly to help reduce accumulation of hazardous fuel (dead wood, etc.), to restore some ecological communities and to improve overall wildlife habitat. In an area of a recent burn, we found this pine tree with dripping resin “frozen” on the trunk.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

A section of wet prairie resembles a “green sky” dotted with pink “stars”.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Rounding a bend on a back road, we were blessed to watch a group of four Common Nighthawks put on an impressive aerial display as they twisted and turned at high speed chasing clouds of insects. Fast birds!

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Whew! Busy morning! We’re now at the shore of Webb Lake enjoying cold chicken and discussing whether to begin the trip home or …

Next up, Part Two.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area

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

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