Posts Tagged With: florida

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

Swiftly Flow The Days*

Time. We talk about slowing it down. Reversing it, even. Many throughout history have tried to stop it altogether. About 500 years ago, a guy from Spain tromped around not too far from here looking for a spring from which a sip of cool water, it was said, would keep him eternally youthful. (Not a bad yarn to tell your Queen if you need a load of money for men, ships and supplies! “And of course, Your Majesty shall be the only recipient of such a precious gift.“)

I am a time criminal. I waste it profusely. There are important tasks to be performed and I delay beginning them. Perhaps at some point the important tasks will diminish in significance and I won’t have to accomplish them at all. Alas, I was assigned a Time Guardian. She knows my proclivity toward procrastination and will not allow my idleness to interfere with important tasks. Once upon a time, I thought I could disguise my laziness by “appearing” to be busy. That is when I discovered my guardian could read my mind. She can divert my inattention before I even know I am about to delay the start of an important task. It isn’t natural. But it sure is effective.

Fortunately, my Time Guardian is, on occasion, amenable to looking the other way if she thinks my avoidance of an important task might be of a worthy nature. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest she may be an actual accomplice to my crimes against time, but …..

Me:  “Tomorrow the sunrise and moonset times are close to each other and it might present a chance for some interesting photographs at the beach.”

Time Guardian: “There’s some cold chicken in the fridge and we can throw in some fruit. What time do we need to leave?”

The following images are from the past several days and were taken from various places of local interest which we have visited many times. Each represents a trip taken on “the spur of the moment” and each was an avoidance of some important task on my part. I could not have been successful in these endeavors without assistance from a complicit Time Guardian.

 

Sunrise can be the most beautiful part of any day! Or, it can be shrouded in fog where one has to strain to see anything at all. The sun rising over Lake Kissimmee begins to give shape to familiar objects such as the bridge over the river.

Lake Kissimmee

 

Before the woods begin to glow from a rising sun, many creatures enjoy the cover of darkness to carry on their business without being seen. With huge light-gathering eyes and a sort of “radar”, the Eastern Screech Owl can easily locate some of those creatures for breakfast. We had been hearing Whip-poor-wills calling and thought that’s what this was until a flashlight showed our error.

Gator Creek Reserve

 

On a rainy morning in the Lake Marion Wildlife Management Area (east of Haines City), we found several Barred Owls hunting over the upland pine tract. This one didn’t want to leave his perch as we walked underneath.

Huckleberry Island Tract

 

Hillsborough River State Park was established in the mid-1930’s and is one of Florida’s oldest parks. With the rainy season beginning in earnest, the river’s rapids are higher than normal.

Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park

 

It seems no matter where we go, if there are trees and bushes, there are White-eyed Vireos.

Huckleberry Island Tract

 

In between rain showers, dragons are on the hunt. This one is a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

Lake Parker Park

 

It is still spring and many birds are courting, nesting and raising chicks. This pair of Eastern Towhees were likely not pleased at our intrusion.

Huckleberry Island Tract

 

One of our favorite places to stop for a quick look is close to a very busy highway. SUMICA is a French acronym (Societe Universelle Mining Industrie, Commerce et Agriculture) which described a turpentine and sawmill town which existed from about 1917 to 1927. A Loggerhead Shrike welcomed us with song. (Okay, he was more likely singing to a nearby female shrike.)

SUMICA

 

As with the dragons, a few moments of sunshine brings out other insects, such as a bright Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).

Tenoroc FMA

 

Closer to home, nearby Lake Parker Park is host to a diverse population of birds, especially water birds. I found this cute pair of new Green Herons close to one of the footpaths.

Lake Parker Park

 

Also at Lake Parker Park, a young Limpkin is impatient for Mom to show her how to open a freshwater mussel. Their bills are especially adapted for getting into an apple snail, but the mussels require brute force. Mom used her bill like a hammer until the shell broke open.

Lake Parker Park

 

With our abundance of rain, it hasn’t always been possible to enjoy a sunset. This one was from an area near the house which is a reclaimed phosphate mining area. Saddle Creek Park offers fishing, camping, hiking and some of the county’s best birding, especially during warbler migration. This evening, storm clouds remain, but parted just long enough for a pretty spectacular end to the day.

Saddle Creek Park

 

“Sunrise, sunset

Swiftly fly the years”*

 

Time is an issue for all of us humans. There never seems to be enough of the stuff for us to do what we want. It is important to have a Time Guardian to help us efficiently organize what limited time we have. And if she happens to understand the importance of bending the rules once in awhile, consider yourself lucky. I know I do!

 

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

 

*(From Sunrise, Sunset, written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick for the musical Fiddler On The Roof.)

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

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