Posts Tagged With: eastern pondhawk

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

From our house, in about an hour-and-a-half (or four hours if we miscalculate rush hour), we could be standing in line waiting for our opportunity to enter the greatest entertainment complex in the universe: DISNEY WORLD! Depending on how many of the FOUR UNIQUE THEME PARKS we would like to visit in one day, we would only need to provide the happy ticket vendor with from $240 to $350. The keys to the Magic Kingdom could be OURS

Or —

From our house, in about an hour-and-a-half, we could be surrounded by pine trees, grass prairie, cypress hammocks, scrub palmetto, blue lakes, huge oak trees draped in gently swaying Spanish moss. No happy ticket vendor.

Small patches of ground fog hugged the low-growing palmetto surrounding the cypress domes which dotted the land. It is estimated that as late as the mid-1800’s, dry grass prairie covered over one million acres in central and south Florida. Due to population growth, cattle ranching and farming, these very unique environments can now only be found in a few areas north and west of Lake Okeechobee. We feel privileged to be able to enjoy all which this biologically diverse and special area has to offer.

Driving the dirt roads through the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area while trying to avoid the numerous pot-holes , we found a bounty of blooming wildflowers, white-tailed deer and a good selection of summer birds. Gini’s radar-like hearing detected the distant calls of a gang of feeding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. This endangered species nests here and populations are highly managed which has resulted in an amazing recovery from near extinction. Alas, none of the group wanted to be photographed today.

In the middle of this vast wilderness is Lake Jackson, one of the “Three Lakes” in the management area. We enjoyed a light breakfast on the lake’s shore while watching ducks, wading birds, alligators and soaring vultures. I took a bit of a meander through the adjacent hammocks where there was ample evidence of a healthy feral hog presence. The ground was so uneven from the pigs’ rooting it was difficult to walk.

By lunch time, we had made our way to the shore of another of the “Three Lakes”, huge Lake Kissimmee. Sandwiches under shady oak trees just seemed to taste better with a gentle breeze, clear blue sky, calling Limpkins, splashing Gallinules, Bald Eagles and Ospreys catching fish. Sigh.

The third lake in this vast management system, Lake Marian, would have to wait for another day. It was time to head home. As we drove by the exit for Disney World, we didn’t even notice.

We regret we have not yet figured out how to reproduce the aroma of the wildflowers or the feel of the breeze on your face. Hopefully, you can enjoy a few images. Close your eyes and imagine …

 

Lake Jackson is a shallow bowl-shaped lake of the kind typically found in central Florida. The fishing is very good and each year endangered Snail Kites nest along the remote shore line.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

During breakfast, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks kept a close watch on us and a pair of Wood Ducks flew overhead.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Wandering around a low place (hammock) near Lake Jackson I discovered this oak tree. It’s impressive spread supports so much life. Ferns, lichens, moss, air plants, vines. Not to mention the diverse animal population which could call it home.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Some form of Coreopsis is so prevalent in Florida that the entire genus has been named as the state wildflower. This is Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) and, fortunately for us, it was blooming throughout the management area.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Part of our lunch time entertainment was a Great Blue Heron stalking his own lunch v-e-r-y slowly.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Although the Limpkin’s plumage can be great for concealing its presence among reeds, once it emits its eerie call there is no doubt he’s nearby.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

With so much water around (uhh, it IS Florida!), insects abound. The Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and Four-Spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) are two very common dragonflies for our area.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Even though part of this area is called “dry grass” prairie, when it rains (and we have had abundant rain lately) the “dry grass” is interspersed with a whole lot of color. This pretty pink blossom is Rosy Camphorweed (Brachymesia gravida). When its leaves are crushed they give off a citrus odor. Early settlers may have used it to ward off fleas from bed linen and an old colloquial name for the plant is “Marsh Fleabane”.

Prairie Lakes

 

These white flowers were abundant along one stretch of road. Alligator Lily (Hymenocallis palmeri), is one of 40 members of this genus in the New World, 13 of which can be found in Florida. Plants in this group are known collectively as “Spider Lilies”.

Prairie Lakes

 

We bypassed the glitz and glare of crass commercialism and discovered our very own Magic Kingdom. No keys required. Hopefully, you all have a magical spot not too far from your own front door. If not, I know a place ready to take your hard-earned cash.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

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

Close Enough For Comfort

I should go birding or photographing every day. Alas, the requirements of everyday life simply prohibit such a luxury. Okay, that and the fact that I’m lazy by nature and can’t bring myself to leave the house at the totally unrealistic hour the sun decides to arise each day.

But if I wanted to make a short drive to a decent spot for birds and scenery, I could do so, thanks to my city’s thoughtfulness in providing a very nice park less than ten minutes from the house. Our city is not huge (a little over 100,000 population) but has included a good number of urban parks in its past and future planning. The one near our house, Lake Parker Park, is a very nice oasis surrounded by development. As you near the park entrance, you drive past a large baseball complex, winter home to a professional team. Just outside the park’s southern boundary is a fire department operations center which is quite loud on training days, not to mention smoky. Near the park’s northern entrance is a state police headquarters where driving tests are administered. Directly across the lake from the park one can view a picturesque coal-fired power plant complex.

Having said all of that, one can arrive as the park opens at dawn and spend a lovely hour or two of relative calm and quiet before the city awakens. Within the park are groves of huge oak trees, a sprinkling of pines and three different spots where mulberry trees provide ripe fruit each year. There are soccer fields which offer foraging areas for Killdeer and Mourning Dove and the tall light support structures provide ideal nesting platforms for Osprey and Great Horned Owls. The lake shoreline, a canal, a pond and small wetland all offer appealing habitat and feeding spots for a very diverse selection of birds.

Spring and fall migrants can make for exciting birding with the potential for a rare species always possible. Many northern visitors spend the entire winter within the park and the relatively confined area makes spotting them much more likely than at some other popular birding locales.

Now that summer is here, the park is a great place to find breeding birds. Water birds compete for prime nesting trees along the lake’s edge and woodland species enjoy the large populations of insects found near the water.

A few days ago, I managed to stumble out of bed early enough to go to the park in order to photograph a beautiful sunrise. Mother Nature provided a blanket of early morning fog for me to enjoy instead. Sigh. It was still a lovely morning and I even found a few cooperative birds, including a bit of a rarity which has been frequenting the park the past few weeks.

Patch:  Lake Parker Park

A blessing in disguise. Although the fog didn’t permit a photograph of a pretty sunrise, it does obscure the not-so-beautiful power plant across the lake.

Lake Parker Park

 

A local fisherman patiently waits for the fog to lift. Actually, the Great Blue Heron hunts just fine no matter the conditions.

Lake Parker Park

 

It’s difficult to find models willing to get up early and sit in the top of a cypress tree in the mist at dawn, but, fortunately for me, the Anhinga is beautiful (!) and works cheap. Gini suggested a bit less eye make-up but, hey, “cheap” was the key word.

Lake Parker

 

One of the more colorful residents of the park are Purple Gallinules. They are here all year and these chicks are probably about a month old.

Lake Parker

 

With abundant water and water-loving vegetation, insect life is prolific here. Some of the bugs are very attractive, such as this male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). The immature male begins life the same bright green as the female and then turns this characteristic powder blue. This color change can involve as many as 17 distinct color stages over a 2-3 week period.

Lake Parker Park

 

The smallest of North America’s herons, the Least Bittern (length: 13 inches, wingspan: 17 inches), is not often seen due to its size, coloration and “bittern” habit of holding still with its head pointed skyward to avoid detection within dense reeds. This one was hungry. He fixed his gaze on an unseen prey just beneath the surface, stretched his long neck and dove completely underwater for his breakfast snack.

Lake Parker

Lake Parker

Lake Parker

 

The Snail Kite population within Florida is estimated at less than 1,000 individuals. This is down from about 3500 in the late 1990’s. The decline is likely due to human development affecting the bird’s primary food source, the Florida Apple Snail. Accidental introduction of invasive apple snails from South America has recently provided a boost to the kite’s food supply. In the past five years, the kite population has increased slightly. The species still faces huge challenges as habitat loss still occurs. Also, nature provides its own issues. Last year, Hurricane Irma swept across Florida and in its wake biologists determined virtually all Snail Kite nests (over 40) on Lake Okeechobee in the south were destroyed. I felt fortunate to be able to observe this beautiful male catch and eat breakfast the other day.

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

 

Another local patch for which I am very thankful! Be better than I am when it comes to getting out of bed to go visit your own special spot.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Lake Parker Park

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

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