Posts Tagged With: eastern wood-pewee

A Drive In The Country

“Clouds of insects danced and buzzed in the golden autumn light, and the air was full of the piping of the song-birds. Long, glinting dragonflies shot across the path, or hung tremulous with gauzy wings and gleaming bodies.”

Arthur Conan Doyle

 

“That alligator came up almost completely out of the water chasing that fish!” Gini was filling me in on what I had missed when I took a short walk under the oak trees, searching in vain for small, colorful migrating warblers. After about an hour’s drive from home and another hour poking along looking at flowers, birds and bugs we were taking care of granola bars and tangerines. A late, but satisfying, breakfast.

The scene before us was a tranquil lake bordered by tall cypress trees mixed with bay and willow. A small island was decorated with the white, black and brown of dozens of egrets, herons, anhinga and cormorants. In a couple of months the population will swell as raucous courtship, mating and nesting occurs. This annual cycle of renewal is not unknown to other creatures as well. Such as birders, like us. Oh, and we counted well over two dozen alligators chasing fish, watching us, watching the birds, disappearing into the depths of the lake.

Some days it’s nice to just drive with no specific destination in mind. Explore side roads. Decide to unexpectedly turn left instead of right. Today was such a day.

We were in the southwest corner of Polk County, Florida. The Peace River flows a few miles to the east and the area is dotted with deep lakes, former phosphate mining pits which have been reclaimed and the surrounding land restored to something resembling its former state. There is a robust agriculture industry here as well as several large cattle ranches. The mix of farming, pasture land and lakes provides an excellent environment for diverse flora and fauna.

We didn’t find any migrating warblers today and most of the birds we did see were very camera shy. One migrant, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, took pity on us and posed for a moment. Distant woodpeckers, high-flying hawks, the aforementioned water birds – all good to see but none came near enough for photos. The day was beautiful, so was my partner, and we just kept driving.

Off the main road, we followed a path along a fence line. On one side, a pasture with curious cattle. On the other side, a pair of lakes with tall hardwood trees and dense undergrowth. A very nice combination!

The strands of barbed wire were quite popular for all sorts of insects, mostly dragonflies. Perching, eating, obelisking. And what a nice collection of different species! The water and trees attracted a whole separate set of specimens. It was well past lunch time and getting hot when we reluctantly headed home.

Our trip to nowhere in particular had been spectacular.

 

I almost walked into this awesome creature! Both me and the spider, a Spiny Orb-weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis), were happy no web was harmed in the making of this picture.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

A new dragonfly for us! The Twilight Darner (Gynacantha nervosa)  is quite plain and blends in with twigs as it hangs around waiting for – twilight. Then it will fly along the bank of the lake dining on some of the pesky mosquitoes we’ve been swatting all day.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

It’s a bird! Eastern Wood-Pewees are not residents here and we see a few of these small flycatchers each fall as they head for South America.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

 

A female Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) has smudges on her wings whereas the male displays large black spots.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

 

The facial pattern of a Two-striped Forceptail (Aphylla williamsoni) is quite menacing. Reminds me of a hockey player.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

One characteristic of the darner family is they like to hang vertically. They are strong flyers and can fly for long periods without landing. I got lucky and found a Blue-faced Darner (Coryphaeschna adnexa) taking a break.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

 

On about every other fence post, a lizard was waiting in ambush on the shady side. Most were Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei).

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Native to Asia, the Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia) was introduced to southern Florida in 1975. It has spread throughout the southern part of the peninsula since. The male is distinctive as it is all bright red. The female is golden.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Dragonflies aren’t the only fence-sitters in these parts. A Whirlabout (Polites vibex), one of the small grass-skipper butterflies, thinks the view is just fine from up here.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Another one of those hanging jewels, the Common Green Darner (Anax junius) can really blend with the leaves of certain trees – like this one!

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Small but aggressive. A Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) is “obelisking”, holding its abdomen vertically, which is thought to help with heat dispersion.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

The male Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) is hard to miss all dressed in purple. The female may not be as brightly colored, but she is still quite the looker. This one is finishing up a meal.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

A large grasshopper along the trail got our attention. It’s a new one for us, called an Obscure Birdwing Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura).

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Yet another large dragonfly, the Regal Darner (Coryphaeschna ingens). This female is ovipositing on lily pads near the lake shore.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Having a goal is always a good thing. Once in awhile, though, wandering aimlessly about the countryside can be very rewarding. Try it!

 

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

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

A Charming Season

“One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.”

Daniel Boone (American Woodsman, 1734-1820)

 

“Let’s visit Punta Gorda”, said I. My wonderfully astute spouse agreed immediately. A part of her exists within my soul and she knows my thoughts before I even create them. In this case, she fully realized that what I actually said was “Let’s go get some fresh seafood and sit by that little lake with the scent of pine trees around us while we enjoy life.”

Founded in 1884, Punta Gorda (Spanish for “Fat Point”) juts into Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Like many port cities it has had a colorful history. The downtown area was severely damaged by fire in 1905. This resulted in a decree that all future buildings must be of brick or concrete. In 2004, the city was ravaged by Hurricane Charley and many historic landmarks, homes and structures were destroyed. The city has been revitalized and strolling around the cobblestone center of this sparsely populated port town is a relaxing endeavor. Shipping was a major factor in early settlement and in 1886 the Florida Southern Railroad began regular passenger service. My personal favorite, however, is the success of the local fishermen who netted mullet, Spanish mackerel and channel bass (redfish) once a local business developed a method (in 1891) to preserve and process the abundant harvest. How can I NOT like a company called “The Consolidated Ice Manufacturing, Refrigeration and Fish Company”?

Just outside the city limits is the Peace River Seafood and Crab Shack. It’s a small former “Cracker” cabin run by a fellow who has been a Florida crabber most of his life. The seafood is fresh, the menu interesting, the service friendly and they also have a market on site if you want to take home fresh seafood and fix it yourself.

No, we didn’t make the trip just for the food, although it would be worth the two hour drive to do so. Our birding destination (you were wondering if we had abandoned our purpose in life, weren’t you?) was the vast Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. Consisting of almost 66,000 acres, this is one of the last undeveloped expanses of hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. There is a small lake and ponds which have been stocked for fishermen. Seasonal hunting is allowed so check schedules and accessibility before you visit (see the link in Additional Information below). The pine woods here are interspersed with large areas of wet prairie and the wildflower display in spring and summer is stunning.

Following a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and huge, succulent shrimp, we explored the “unimproved” roads and managed to list 45 species of birds. In the right season and with a bit of luck, it’s very possible to see seven species of woodpecker, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which nests here. We observed four species on today’s trip. Other highlights for us were hearing Northern Bobwhite calling wherever we went, migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Bluebirds, a wetland containing 15 Little Blue Heron, 8 Great Egret, 6 Snowy Egret, 5 Anhinga, 5 Great Blue Heron, 7 Tricolored Heron, 2 Belted Kingfisher and a 10-foot alligator who swam over to say hello. An afternoon thunderstorm provided some interesting clouds over Lake Webb at sunset as we headed home. It was a good day.

BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!

Sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Some readers may have noticed our birding adventure above began after lunch. Oho, you’re thinking, they slept in today those lazy birders! Au Contraire, mes amis!

We seldom use the “main road” to go anywhere. Today was no different. Along a wonderfully vacant backroad we enjoyed field after field of serenading Eastern Meadowlarks. They just didn’t care that it was Autumn and we were the better for it. In a pasture, it appeared that a pair of Crested Caracara parents were instructing their youngster on proper hunting technique. The adults would perch next to Junior in the field where there appeared to be a recent kill (although they readily eat carrion, also). One of the adults would hop toward the prey, Junior would follow, the parents would fly to a nearby perch, Junior would cry. And cry. And cry. An adult would fly back, hop toward the prey and return to their perch. Junior would cry, and … you get the idea (especially if you’ve been a parent). Junior eventually seemed to eat a bit and then flew to a perch of his own, where I snapped his portrait. It’ll be about two years before he fully develops the handsome appearance of an adult. By the side of this same road we found our “first of the fall season” migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee.

A short detour led us to a local community park (Brownville Park) along the Peace River near Arcadia in DeSoto County. It’s a small park with a couple of nature trails and we had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long but still managed to tally two dozen species which included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an Ovenbird, three Vireo species and a marauding gang of Wrens, two of which visited Gini while she was in the car – one perched on the rear view mirror and the other hopped onto my pack in the back seat.

Lunch time. (See all the stuff above.)

Yep, I took a few photographs.

 

“Junior”. Typical youngster – feathers out of place, dirty face, constantly whining. It won’t be long before he’ll be a fine example of a grown-up Crested Caracara.

Crested Caracara - Immature

Crested Caracara – Immature

 

Our first Eastern Wood-Pewee of the fall season. The light underside, olive upper side, wing bars and orangish lower mandible help identify the species.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

 

A view of the Peace River from Brownville Park. This has been a wet year and the water level is higher than normal.

Peace River

Peace River

 

At Brownville Park, a Walnut Sphinx moth posed on the screen of the restroom door. Happily, I was not arrested while obtaining a photo.

Walnut Sphinx  (Amorpha juglandis)

Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis)

 

The ubiquitous Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

A Red-eyed Vireo paused to look at me then continued snatching bugs from branches.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

 

I was surprised to be buzzed by a pugnacious Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She perched on a limb and preened for a minute. I didn’t think they ever landed!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Female

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Female

 

One of a half-dozen Northern Parula warblers we found in Brownville Park. I love their subtle color combinations.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area offers a vast area of pine flatwoods and grass prairie which hosts abundant and diverse wildlife.

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tucker's Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Webb Lake

Webb Lake

 

While we ate lunch alongside Webb Lake, this Green Anole scurried around catching insects. Here he’s resting on the trunk of a Scrub Palmetto which has recently been burned and is just beginning to show new growth.  (Green Anoles can change their appearance somewhat to match their surroundings, thus, the brown color of this one.)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

 

Molting is revolting. Just ask this Eastern Towhee, who can’t wait to get his new feathers.

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

 

Looking like a disgruntled old man (hey, I resemble that remark!), a Green Heron uses his lookout perch to search for a careless frog.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

This fine reptile specimen was totally hidden in the grass. Well, as much as a ten-foot scaly remnant of the dinosaur age can hide. When I exited the truck to get some tourist photos, he slid into the water and swam in a very straight line toward the photographer, who wasted no time in re-entering the truck and starting the engine.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

A Snowy Egret all decked out in his finest bright yellow footwear.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

The Sandhill Crane is elegant and this one has the rusty plumage indicative of a mineral rich diet.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Belted Kingfishers don’t hesitate to voice their displeasure when a stumbling human encroaches on their hunting territory.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

 

All in all, a long, wonderful day. Returning home, I discovered that, “every gloomy and vexatious thought” had, indeed, been expelled. This is, truly, a charming season.

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

Additional Information

Babcock-Webb WMA

Brownville Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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