Posts Tagged With: downy woodpecker

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

Can’t See The Forest For The Birds

“This fog sure is dense.” Gini was helping to scan the road ahead for vehicles or animals which might suddenly appear from the mist. I announced that when I saw the weather forecast last night I wasn’t worried about leaving too early as the fog would keep the bird activity down until the sun began to cause the gray blanket to dissipate. Two-and-a-half falsehoods in one sentence. I couldn’t take my eyes from the road, but I’m pretty sure those beautiful brown eyes next to me rolled heavenward.

Our target for today was the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest near Frostproof in Polk County. (See Additional Information below.) This section of the state forest consists of a single dead-end dirt road which roughly parallels the western shore of Lake Arbuckle (but you cannot see the lake from this road at any point). Several trails and side roads offer a lot of opportunity for exploring by vehicle, horse or hiking. Portable restrooms are located at the Check Station, where there are also picnic tables under huge shady oak trees. A short drive to Lake Godwin takes you past a wetland area where we found quite a few wading and water birds. The small lake has more picnic tables, a nice pier for fishing from and a loop trail through open pine and palmetto scrub.

Along the forest road, tracks in the damp red dirt told a story of the previous night. White-tailed Deer commuted along the road and then veered into the underbrush to feed. Raccoons are plentiful as every few yards displayed their claw marks crossing the road.  The soft earth revealed the unique three-toed print of a Nine-banded Armadillo. Very small tracks were likely from rodents and abstract curves made by serpents of the night were numerous. Indeed, we saw an Eastern Black Racer cross ahead of us, pausing briefly to raise his head to see us better.

Birds. We seldom traveled more than two minutes without seeing or hearing birds. Harsh rasps of Florida’s endemic Scrub Jays; woodpeckers calling and drumming; chips of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers; trills of a multitude of Pine Warblers; clear whistles of “drink-your-teeeeeea” as Eastern Towhees called from shrubs throughout the forest; exuberant White-eyed Vireos seemed intent on letting us know spring was on the way; soft burbling voices as a covey of Northern Bobwhite scurried alongside the road; a scream from a Red-shouldered Hawk.

It was a wonderful morning to be in the forest with its fresh pine scent and so much wildlife all around us!

As we left the forest road, instead of heading directly home, we took a short tour down another dead-end road (sensing a pattern?) to find Arbuckle Campground and Park, a county facility. It was badly damaged last year by Hurricane Irma and re-opened a couple of months ago. In addition to camping spots, the park has plenty of picnic tables, restrooms, showers (for campers) and a nice boat ramp. A fishing pier is still under repair. Huge cypress trees, oaks, bay and other “wet feet” species offer terrific cover for birds. We found warblers (including our first Northern Parula of the year), woodpeckers, migrating American Robins and plenty of water birds. We’ll return here soon!

A few images of birds seems appropriate about now.

A group of at least five Northern Bobwhite were along the edge of the road. We could hear them murmuring to each other, soft whistles and gurgles, but couldn’t spot them. This is why Gini gets the big bucks. “They’re right beside the car”, she whispered. I had been searching the underbrush beyond.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Little Downy Woodpeckers are always on the move, probing every part of a tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Winter visitors here, Chipping Sparrows like to hang out in groups and love the open pine forest. Their chestnut crown and un-streaked breast help them stand out a bit from all the brown and gray tree branches.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in our area and usually appear for a moment to see who is under their tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Bright, clear whistles rang out on all sides during the morning as Eastern Towhees vied for attention of females. The ladies aren’t as “contrasty” as the male but I think they’re every bit as good-looking.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Rubber duckies. Squeeze them and they squeak. Thirty feet up in a pine tree, rubber duckies were squeaking at us. The little Brown-headed Nuthatch may not have much of a voice, but they make up for it with a pugnacious attitude! They are quick to challenge anything in their territory, including a clunky-looking two-legged creature stomping around the underbrush.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The warbler which thinks it’s a nuthatch. Black-and-White Warblers probe tree bark while upside down on the trunk, just like a nuthatch.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The forest was full of Pine Warblers. Perhaps they’re gathering in groups preparing to migrate north for the spring. Perhaps there was a sale on bugs. Pine Warblers can range from drab gray to canary yellow. We saw those and every shade in between.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Prairie Warblers also can vary in plumage just about as much as the Pine. Their facial pattern seems to give them a somewhat sad look. Their brightness and pretty song brings a smile.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

During our break for breakfast, we were serenaded by a persistent White-eyed Vireo. He would go from tree branch to bush and back to the tree and just sang his heart out. Simply beautiful!

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Our short visit to the nearby campground and boat ramp area provided our first sightings of Northern Parula since the fall. They breed in our area but most of them spend the winter in South and Central America.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

A Tricolored Heron flew along the shoreline as we reluctantly headed for home.

Arbuckle Campground and Park

 

Many people are unaware that Florida has a state forest system which provides many opportunities for nature and wildlife observation. Check out the link below for a spot near you.

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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