Posts Tagged With: eastern phoebe

Day Or Night – Birding Is Great!

It’s dark in a cemetery at night. Okay, I know, it’s dark at night – duh. But it seems darker in a cemetery. The mosquitoes didn’t care. They bite when and where they find you.

Dawn was still over an hour away. We had actually hoped to hear the call of the Eastern Whip-poor-will. Happily, we heard the soft trilling call of an Eastern Screech Owl. They are usually closer than I think. Perhaps the darkness does something to my sense of distance.

We were at the Tenoroc Fish Management Area just before Christmas scouting for the upcoming annual bird count. An old cemetery provided a clearing surrounded on three sides by woods and two lakes were nearby. A perfect hunting patch for an owl.

Scanning the tree line with a flashlight, I hoped to spot the reflecting eyes of the Screech Owl, when a movement caught my attention. There he was! Right behind the car on a mid-level branch. I had pre-set the camera to its highest ISO, widest aperture and lowest shutter speed I thought would work with my shaky hands. Not wanting to shine the light in the bird’s eyes, I kept it pointed at the lower tree trunk and clicked a few images. We walked down the road to give the owl time to leave the area so as not to traumatize him any further.

Twenty minutes later, we found another Screech Owl and heard two Barred Owls calling to each other some distance away. The day was off to a nice beginning!

The rest of the morning was filled with small birds, hammering woodpeckers, soaring raptors and busy flycatchers. Our final tally bode well for the volunteers who would be searching this area in a few days.

All aspects of birding are exciting for us! But there seems to be something a little extra special about standing in the darkness, deprived of sight, and hearing an owl call from a few yards away. In a cemetery. With a mosquito on the end of your nose.

 

Eastern Screech Owl. Not a great technical photograph, but was pleased with the results considering how dark it was.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Gang leader. When we find a Tufted Titmouse in the fall and winter, it seems there are usually other small birds in the area. The titmice seem to act as “lookouts” and determine threat levels before the rest of the group show themselves.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Two white wing bars, a broken eye-ring and yellow breast with white belly identify the Pine Warbler.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Not a resident in Florida, the migratory Eastern Phoebe is constantly on the hunt for insects. Even from a distance, the pumping tail and posture help in identification.

Tenoroc FMA

 

The perch used by the Phoebe above was apparently popular. Another winter visitor, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, chased the smaller flycatcher away so she could enjoy the view for herself.

Tenoroc FMA

 

There are not many field marks to help identify the Orange-crowned Warbler, which actually helps to identify it, by process of elimination. Not many warblers are this “indistinct”. Overall plain yellow/yellow-green, grayish head and always with yellow undertail coverts.

Tenoroc FMA

 

From fall through spring, one of our most numerous migratory visitors is the Yellow-rumped Warlber. Groups of these industrious bug eaters swarm tree branches throughout the state.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Sometimes, a picturesque setting can enhance the photogenic qualities of a subject. The jury may still be out on whether this works for the Black Vulture.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A curious Prairie Warbler checked us out. Yellow underneath with black streaks along its flanks, white eye arc and grayish head indicate this is a female or immature bird.

Tenoroc FMA

 

What? A dragonfly in December? We love Florida. I chased this dragon a couple hundred yards (well, maybe 20 feet) to snap a photo. This was only my second sighting of a Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata).

Tenoroc FMA

 

Diminutive and agitated. The tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet seems to be a non-stop bundle of energy, flashing its wings and scouring every leaf on a branch for an insect morsel.

Tenoroc FMA

 

From the dense brush along almost every path, the bubbling song of a White-eyed Vireo serenaded as we wandered. Although, once we got too close, the serenading turned into scolding until we were out of sight.

Tenoroc FMA

 

 

Beginning in darkness, ending with chasing a dragon. What a wonderful morning! If you have a chance to stand in the dark and listen for an owl, do it! Even if it is in a cemetery. With bugs biting you. You won’t soon forget it!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Mining For Birds

“Beans.”

“You want beans for breakfast?”

“Yes.”

The night before a big adventure requires precision planning for maximum efficiency. Cell phones were charging, optics had been cleaned, fresh battery was inserted into the camera, memory cards formatted, wardrobe laid out and now Gini was confirming the arrangements for provisions.

As any school child can tell you, breakfast is THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY! I wasn’t going to risk running out of energy mid-morning due to an insufficient morning meal.

“Exactly what kind of beans do you want?”

“The usual.”

I could hear her eyes roll heavenward from the living room. “You’re impossible.”

I guess that means I will be brewing my own coffee in the morning.

 

We were headed south to Hardee County, adjacent to our home county of Polk in west central Florida. It was dark but the weatherman promised “chamber of commerce” weather for the day. That worried me.

Our arrival at Hardee Lakes Park coincided nicely with sunrise. No clouds, pleasant temperature and – wind. Very gusty wind from the south. At dawn. Small birds are going to be a challenge to find today.

This park was mined for phosphate beginning in 1980 and reclamation of the land started by the end of the decade. After restoring the land and allowing the area to remain unused, the phosphate company donated 1200 acres to Hardee County in 2001 for a recreation area. The park opened in 2004 and today visitors can enjoy fishing in four lakes, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping and picnicking. Oh, and birding! The park is well maintained and the staff is very friendly and helpful.

Park roads are unimproved but the main roads are in good shape. You can drive around three of the four lakes, but be careful as there can be deep ruts and holes hidden by grass and it can be dicey after periods of rain. There are several trails and a boardwalk through a wetland.

We have always had a terrific experience here and today was no exception.

The day began with dozens of warblers at our first stop. Yellow-rumped, Palm, Pine – scooping up insects in the tree tops and moving en masse from oaks to pines and back again. (They were undeterred by the gusty winds.)

American White Pelicans flew overhead moving from their nightly roosts toward lakes to the north where they would spend the day feeding. Bald eagles crashed through the lake’s surface and emerged with fresh fish in their talons. Noisy Killdeer scooted along a gravel road chasing grasshoppers. Eastern Phoebes and Loggerhead Shrikes sallied forth from elevated perches to hawk flying insects. White-tailed Deer grazed in the park and have become somewhat accustomed to humans. Gray and Southern Fox Squirrels foraged under trees and scampered to a high branch as we approached. The morning was punctuated by the eerie call of the Limpkin and trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes.

All of a sudden, it was lunchtime! How did that happen? We just got here!

Gini’s selection of chicken and fruit was perfect. Just like our day.

 

“Butcher Bird” or Loggerhead Shrike uses that curved beak to grab a dragonfly, moth, grasshopper or even a lizard. Often, the prey is impaled on a thorn or barbed wire fence to make it easier to consume.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A young White-tailed Deer buck knows he is within the park boundary where hunting is not permitted. Otherwise, we likely would never see him in the open.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Pine Warblers can vary from very drab to very bright yellow. Their white wing bars and face patterns help in identification.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Like the Pine, Palm Warblers can also appear quite plain or show a lot of yellow. The constantly pumping tail gives it away even at a distance.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Small, fast and hungry. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers will fly to a low branch to examine you closely then, poof, they’re back in the top of that tree to resume the snack search.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, is not only wonderful to listen to, but is pretty nice looking, too!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Bright yellow with dark streaks on its sides and distinctive face pattern describe a Prairie Warbler. This one was focused on a bug in a bush and let me get fairly close.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Female Black-and-White Warblers are paler than the male with a gray instead of black cheek. Both think they belong to the Nuthatch family as they run headfirst down a tree trunk or explore the underside of a branch.

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

I had a glimpse of a Limpkin here five years ago and never saw another until today. I was beginning to think they were avoiding me.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Typical of former mining pits, all four lakes at Hardee Lakes Park are quite deep for Florida lakes. Double-crested Cormorants don’t mind diving for their dinner and they thrive here.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Although they can dive deep, the small Pied-billed Grebe would just as soon grab her lunch nearer the surface when possible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Long legs, double breast bands, orange eyes – the Killdeer runs, stops, runs, stops – until he nabs a bug. Then he does it all over again. Noisily.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Yellow-rumped Warblers have a split personality. There are two sub-species: “Myrtle” Warbler of the eastern U.S. has a white throat, yellow sides and yellow rump. “Audubon’s” Warbler of the west has a yellow throat, yellow sides and yellow rump. Here in Florida we occasionally see “Audubon’s” during migration.

Hardee Lakes Park

“Myrtle” Warbler

Just looking at her makes my arm hurt. Horse Fly (Tabanus atratus). From 0.75-1.25 inches long (1.9-3.18 cm). Avoid!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Winter means we get to enjoy that dedicated hunter, the Eastern Phoebe. They are plentiful and beautiful and we will be sad when they all head north in the spring.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Bald Eagles are common throughout our area since central Florida has so many lakes. Also, migration adds to the number of these magnificent raptors. Resident birds are busy with courtship and nesting now through January. Today we enjoyed watching adult and immature birds soar and fish.

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature

Also concentrating on courtship, territorial battles and nest building are many water bird species. This Great Blue Heron is circling around to rejoin two other herons. We couldn’t determine if the ongoing kerfuffle was courtship or territory related.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Sandhill Crane siesta includes taking time to preen all those long feathers.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Southern Fox Squirrel nibbles a piece of mushroom in the shade of a pine tree by the lake side.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Around the shoreline of the lakes were vast patches of bright Bur-marigold (Bidens laevis). No, I didn’t pack a wide-angle lens. Sigh. It was still a lovely sight.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we exited the park, I saw some movement in a large oak tree and discovered a Pileated Woodpecker seemingly with his hair on fire.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

We are blessed to have such places to visit within an easy ride from the house. Our thanks to the forward-thinkers a few decades ago who planned for reclaiming this formerly very ugly mining area and transforming it into a haven for those who love nature.

Whew! What a day! I am SO glad I began the morning with a cup of beans for breakfast. Ground up. Hot water poured over them. Sipped slowly. Ahhhh.

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

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park – Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

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

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