Posts Tagged With: eastern gray squirrel

Ever Have That Dream Where You’re Falling?

Naive. I think that’s the best word to describe us. When we were young, of course. Now that Gini and I are all grown up, we are quite sophisticated, worldly and wise. Well, Gini is wise. I’m just along for the ride. After a whirlwind wedding squeezed in between military assignments, these two Florida native kids pointed a fully loaded station wagon north and our continuing trip has been glorious!

Growing up in central Florida, we enjoyed the changing of the seasons to the fullest. The green of Spring, the green of Summer, the green of Autumn and the mostly brown of Winter. Ahh, Nature’s infinite variety. Thus, in the Spring of our marriage traveling from Florida to Syracuse, New York, we were quite perplexed during a roadside picnic in western Pennsylvania. The setting was gorgeous. Forest on all sides and a fast-running stream of clear water by our table. Gini gazed upstream and asked about all that white foam along the shoreline? At that time, I still had nimble legs and an intrepid (read: “not necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed”) nature. I scrambled down a bank of wet, slippery leaves, scampered across boulders, investigated thoroughly and reported back to my new commander-in-chief (yes, she still makes me call her that). “It’s snow.” Our first encounter with the white stuff of northern legends. We looked at each other and blinked. “In March?” Of course, back home, waaaaay to the south, it was still 90+ degrees (F) and 100% humidity. Since then, we’ve experienced changing seasons in several parts of the planet and marveled at Nature’s beauty.

Fast forward a whole bunch of years. We really love all the places we have lived and each has its own beauty. I think the most pleasant surprise for us was discovering the kindness of the human race. It still fuels our hope for this world. Once settled back in our central Florida landscape, we again became accustomed to the local “changing” of the seasons. Usually, the calendar is the only way we know what time of year it is as Mother Nature doesn’t give us a lot of hints here in the Sunshine State.

One little hint she does provide – our bird watching changes. That’s happening now and it makes routine birding forays a bit more exciting. There is an expectant feeling that today you might see a flash of color belonging to a seldom seen warbler or a flock of brown shorebirds hunched over feeding in a sod field or a raft of ducks floating on a usually barren lake surface. Hooray! Fall is here!

Our local park at Lake Parker didn’t provide a plethora of passing migrants, but we found a few visitors enjoying the tree-top buffet. In our listing of 54 species were migratory Yellow Warblers, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Spotted Sandpiper. The coming weeks will be fun!

Here are a few images of regulars, visitors, non-avian fauna and one red flower to begin the day.

 

The bright Scarletcreeper is a native vine which certainly adds some nice color to the landscape.

Scarletcreeper  (Ipomoea hederifolia)

Scarletcreeper (Ipomoea hederifolia)

 

This Eastern Gray Squirrel had just visited the local home supply store for his living room remodeling project. He didn’t have time to stop and talk.

Gray Squirrel

Gray Squirrel

 

A fairly common butterfly locally, Horace’s Duskywing looks pretty drab at first glance but upon closer inspection has a lot of design detail to see.

Horace's Duskywing  (Erynnis horatius)

Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)

 

Another “drab” butterfly which is more attractive than initial impression is Dorantes Longtail, one of the spread-wing skippers.

Dorantes Longtail  (Urbanus dorantes)

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

 

One of Lake Parker’s residents, the Great Egret is quite regal looking on its perch by the shore.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

We are at the southern limit of the Northern Paula’s breeding range so this may be a year-round resident or a visiting migrant. No matter. It’s a pretty bird.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

As with the Northern Parula, the Yellow-throated Warbler may breed in our area. Today I found four of them and at least one or two may be likely migrants.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

The bright Yellow Warbler is one of our earliest fall migrants and a half dozen were in the park this morning.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are year-round residents but are always striking with their contrasting plumage. These big tree ducks were virtually unknown in our area 25 years ago but now are quite numerous.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Shorebirds often migrate in large flocks and remain together even once they reach their winter destinations. The Spotted Sandpiper may fly in small groups for safety but prefers his own company when feeding. Distinctive black spots on the undersides usually disappear during the winter. They feed with a distinctive nodding and teetering action.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

Although autumn is approaching, our semi-tropical weather permits late season breeding and this Mourning Dove is fortifying an existing nest. I found the nest and a second bird appeared to be brooding eggs.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

 

This young Red-bellied Woodpecker is fully fledged and even though he can feed himself he still shouts for Mom to bring him something to eat. Kids are the same everywhere.

Red-bellied Woodpecker  -  Immature

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Immature

 

A pair of young Limpkins were nothing more than small lumps of feathers a couple of months ago. Now they have no problem locating their own Apple Snails among the cattails and making quick work of extracting the meat.

Limpkin (Immature)

Limpkin (Immature)

 

Just as a reminder of how damp our summer has been, a small sampling of fungi encountered during the morning walk.

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

Fungus

 

 

We may not have the extensive change of tree foliage or freshly fallen snow to soften our footfall in the woods, but our seasons here bring excitement just the same. If you’re having that dream – go ahead and “fall” into a great birding trip!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

High Times In Highlands County

A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people– Will Rogers

I truly enjoy watching my wife tackle an artistic endeavor.  She analyzes what needs to be done, develops a plan of attack, gathers the necessary materials and then performs magic.  At least, it’s magic to me.  I possess no such talent for producing something beautiful from, literally, nothing but an idea.  Whether she’s drawing or making a gift box decorated with paper flowers and doves, observing her while she’s creating is awe-inspiring.

That’s the way it is with someone who has knowledge or skills we may not.  We envy that person, we wish we could do what they do, we are amazed at the results they achieve and we want to be around them in the hope some of that talent will transfer to us.  Guess what?  Sometimes it does.  We may not reach their level of expertise, but just by hanging around such folks we almost can’t avoid learning something!

Sunday morning coffee was in a paper cup which imparted a unique flavor to my daily dose of caffeine.  The truck zigzagged through the dark along a series of back roads en route to a pre-dawn rendezvous with two of Florida’s top birders.  They would be characteristically too modest to agree with that description, but, hey, it’s my blog!  One of them can hear a Scrub Jay whisper in a hurricane a half mile away.  The other personally knows the address of every bird in the county and requires migrants to file a flight plan with him.

Today we intended to explore likely birding locales in Highlands County (we are all residents of Polk County, to the immediate north).  As the sun broke the horizon, we squinted eastward across the surface of Lake Jackson in Sebring.  About a dozen migrating Black Terns were actively feeding near the public boat ramp and picnic area.  They have lost their black plumage and transitioned to non-breeding colors as they prepare to continue on to the Caribbean.  A Belted Kingfisher was there and is also a migrant, but may stay in the area all winter.

Highlands Hammock State Park on the south side of Sebring consists of over 9,000 acres of oak and cypress hammock, swamp, black water creeks, pine forest and scrub.  Hikes along a couple of different paths produced 9 warbler species, including a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, 4 woodpecker species, White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos, a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Summer Tanager.  Competing with the bird life were myriad insects, amphibians and reptiles.

After lunch (I can’t believe these guys stopped to eat), we explored a small park on the north side of Lake Istokpoga.  We were greeted at the parking area by a half dozen calling Sandhill Cranes and another half dozen Black Vultures (who were just finishing lunch themselves-armadillo, I think).  We found a colorful American Redstart, Tufted Titmice, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an adult and juvenile Purple Gallinule.

A short drive to the north and our noses alerted us we were nearing our objective, Bishop’s Dairy.  The continually wet mud which cows seem to enjoy is home to millions of insects.  Migratory shorebirds love this smorgasbord and we found a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers attending the banquet.  In an isolated mud puddle, a Solitary Sandpiper bathed and chased his own meal around the water.  Three dozen European Starlings, a couple dozen Cattle Egret, four dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Dove, White Ibises and a Loggerhead Shrike rounded out the attendees at the dairy buffet.

Just around the corner from the dairy is an area of extensive pasture land, low lying fields and scattered ponds.  The abundant rain this summer has inundated most of this area and has attracted quite a variety of bird life.  We counted over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were juveniles.  Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 80 Cattle Egret, two dozen White Ibis, 50 Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Sandhill Cranes, almost two dozen Yellowlegs, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 5 Loggerhead Shrikes and an American Kestrel, among others, were enjoying the abundance of food in these fields.  We found a recently plowed field which hosted a couple of dozen Kildeer, Least Sandpipers and a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers.  One of the highlights in this area was a “kettle” of vultures spiraling up into the blue sky.

As afternoon thunderstorms built up, we headed home, happy to have tallied over 80 species of birds for the day.  My thanks to two companions who were generous with their knowledge and patient with an old dog still trying to learn a new trick or two.  These guys aren’t just good birders, they are true gentlemen.

 

I managed a few snapshots during the day and have included a sampling in the hope you might share a bit of the experience we had.

Lake Jackson Area

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Highlands Hammock State Park

Path

Path

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

The smaller spider is the male.  Keeping his distance from his spouse!

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rat Snake

Yellow Rat Snake

Carolina Satyr

Carolina Satyr

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) - Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) – Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) - (?)

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) – (?)

 

This is the smallest toad species in North America with an average length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Lake Istokpoga Park

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) - Male

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) – Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – Male

Bishop’s Dairy

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Note how the parents station themselves at either end of the ducklings to stand watch.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Kettle of Vultures

Kettle of Vultures

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

As late afternoon thunderstorms build, Cattle Egret seek shelter, and so did we as we headed home.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

I may not be any smarter just for hanging around smart people, but I do enjoy being around anyone who can lead me to over 80 species of birds in one day.  And I do have my occasional strokes of genius.  After all, I was smart enough to marry Gini over 45 years ago!

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, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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