Posts Tagged With: florida peninsula cooter

“May I Take Your Order?”

When I was a teenager, you knew you had achieved a true milestone in life when you got your first car. It might not have actually been “yours” since your parents likely sent the bank a monthly sum for the privilege of letting you drive the thing. And it probably wasn’t exactly fresh out of the factory either. Which is why there was a class in high school called “auto shop”. Way back then cars were still mechanically simple enough that a few hand tools and enough oil could nurse most vehicles through a couple of years. Prior to this significant event, you were relegated to riding with someone who did have a car (immediately elevating them to the status of “best friend”) or suffering the ultimate ignominy – gulp – riding your bicycle. Once you achieved “car owner” status, one of the requirements was to be seen in the new machine on Friday nights after the football game at the Drive-In. Hamburgers, French fries, a frosted mug of root beer – all brought right to your car and affixed to the window of YOUR CAR on a tray – life was good.

Then came the Drive-Thru. Our planet’s quality of life has declined ever since.

At first, it was a wonderful experience. Drive up, tell the speaker what you want, pick up your food and go – where? Home. Open the bag. Eat your food. Throw away the bag. No one saw you in your cool car. You didn’t visit with your friends. You became surly if the “fast food” wasn’t ready fast enough. As a culture, we became impatient with everything. Quick service replaced quality service in every facet of our lives. The trend continues.

So it was with a huge dose of skepticism and trepidation that I first visited a location touted as a “drive-thru nature experience”. Yikes! Will there be a clown taking my order for which birds I want to see?

I have written a few times here about the truly wonderful Viera Wetlands (officially known as the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands) located near Florida’s east coast in Brevard County. It takes us about an hour-and-a-half to get there but it’s worth it to be able to experience the diversity of life in the area. Part of Brevard County’s water treatment efforts, the wetlands consists of 200 acres and includes four “cells” of about 35 acres each and a central lake. The cells are of differing depths to attract a variety of wildlife including thousands of migrating waterfowl each winter. There are berms around the facility which can be driven, biked or hiked. (See the link below for a number to call and check the condition of the roads as they are often closed during the rainy season. They can be accessed by foot almost any time.) More and more communities are beginning to follow this model for water treatment facilities and we hope it will be as successful as this one. What a wonderful boon to those who are not physically capable of hiking who can now enjoy nature just outside the car window!

Gini and I visited the wetlands this spring and were treated to a very healthy dose of pure Nature. Although our species list of birds (40) was less than prior trips we had some pretty neat highlights: two dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, over a dozen Anhinga and Great Blue Herons (most nesting and/or with juveniles), almost 250 American Coot, several migratory Marsh Wrens, Savannah Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows, a couple of calling King Rails and a half dozen Least Bitterns.

Following our picnic lunch, we paid a visit to Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, near Christmas, Florida. This is a huge area (almost 31,000 acres) bordered by the Indian River and has over 60 miles of trails to explore. It was late in the day and we didn’t get to do a lot of birding but sure found a host of beautiful blooms!

Photographs can’t really do justice to the experience of all we found, so, you’ll just have to go and see for yourself!

 

Old palm tree stumps make good potential nesting sites for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Many of the palm trees in the wetlands were in use as nesting platforms by Great Blue Herons. This parent was very attentive to its chick and when Junior raised his head for a better look at this grand-paparazzo, Mama placed a foot on his head and gently persuaded him to keep a lower profile.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

Great Blue Heron – Juvenile

 

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

Great Blue Heron – Juvenile

 

Nest building and decoration were the order of the day. Here, an Anhinga moves a newly harvested green twig for better Feng shui. Below, four young Anhinga juveniles impatiently await someone to bring fish for breakfast. (Did you know young Anhinga were almost all white?)

Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga

 

For me, Least Bitterns are usually heard but seldom seen. I felt fortunate to actually spot three different individuals today.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

 

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

 

A Great Blue Heron is called a wading bird for a reason. This one didn’t get the memo and attempts to swim after a meal. He soon realized those long legs weren’t long enough and when he regained solid footing took off for the shallow end of the pool.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Pacing like an expectant father in a maternity ward, a Crested Caracara waits for a Softshell Turtle to finish laying eggs. The turtle nest was adjacent to the road and passing traffic flushed the hungry Caracara. We don’t know if he returned. (This bird has appeared in our blog previously. See: East Coast Adventure and Crested Caracara – An Update. We found out this guy was originally banded/ringed here at Viera Wetlands on October 16, 2006 and was estimated to be two years old at that time. He’s still here which underscores one of the traits of this species which is being very site faithful.)

Crested Caracara, Softshell Turtle

Crested Caracara, Softshell Turtle

 

Only seen here during migration, a Savannah Sparrow forages for seeds and insects.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

Yes, it’s one more picture of an American Alligator. This one shows off the results of excellent dental hygiene.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

At Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, we found Ying and Yang the twin turtles (Florida Peninsula Cooter).

Florida Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)

Florida Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)

 

As we drove toward the Indian River along a very dusty dirt road, it seemed every few feet displayed a different type flower. In a wet section shaded by oak and bay trees was a large section of Lizard’s Tail.

Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus)

Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus)

 

In a more prairie-like area we found the showy Largeflower Rosegentian.

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

 

Near the ground peeking out from leaves of larger plants was the very small but bright Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass.

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

 

Eastern False Dragonhead is also known as Obedient Flower, due to the fact a flower can be turned to face a different direction and it will stay there instead of returning to its original position.

Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

 

Almost anywhere there was standing water we saw the beautiful Prairie Iris, also called Dixie Iris.

Prairie Iris (Iris hexagona)

Prairie Iris (Iris hexagona)

 

In water that was shallow and not moving, a blanket of yellow signified the presence of carnivorous Bladderwort. The damselfly on this bloom is probably too large to worry about being devoured.

Damselfly On Floating Bladderwort

Damselfly On Floating Bladderwort

 

We had a fantastic day with birds, babies and blooms and we didn’t even have to get out of the car. Don’t be afraid to explore your local drive-thru nature center and maybe order up a Crested Cararcara with a side of Least Bittern!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Viera Wetlands

Tosohatchee WMA

 

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Springing Into Action !

Each season of the year offers something wonderful for us all to enjoy. Summer conjures up images of a trip to the beach or the cool mountains and backyard barbeques. Autumn means a riot of color in the woods and migrating birds to observe. As winter approaches, those blessed with mounds of snow to play in look forward to the cleansing effect the white stuff seems to have and marvel at all the tracks left by unseen creatures in a favorite tract. Springtime. Ahh, that most special time of the year we each await with utmost anticipation. Dew time. Specifically, Honeydew time. “Honey, dew the yard!” “Honey, dew the windows!” “Honey, dew the gutter cleaning!” “Honey, dew the taxes!”

Huh? Wait a minute. That’s not where I meant to go with this……..

Springtime. Ahh, there are birds out there flying north and others are building nests and some are already having babies for goodness’ sake! We must act now! Lists must be made! Pictures must be taken! Data must be compiled! Reports must be sent! More importantly, we need more time together.

(Pretty hard to argue with that last one, right?)

As our Spring has sprung in earnest around here, we’ve really been getting out a lot. The last blog was a compilation of several spots visited and this one will be the same. The time period covered is about ten days. Places visited are all in central west Florida and include: Lake Bonny Park (Lakeland), Paynes Creek Historic State Park (Bowling Green), Peace River Hammock (Fort Meade), Sumter County (several back roads, no specific place), West Lake Wales Road (near Lake Wales airport) and Hardee Lakes Park (Bowling Green). Some of the above were new to us and others were return visits to old friends.

Come on! Put a Spring in your step! Let’s go!

 

A pair of Turkey Vultures found a bench they like. Sort of reminds me of a couple of birders I know……

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

Loggerhead Shrikes may already have a nest nearby, but they weren’t telling.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

It’s easy to overlook the beauty of a Boat-tailed Grackle as they are usually numerous, loud and behave like bullies.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

 

Our Florida state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, is very adaptable and will make a home near human habitation or in the remotest part of the state. And sing happily about it non-stop!

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

Gini insisted we take what looked like a maintenance road around a cypress hammock and (as usual) she was absolutely right. A Barred Owl looked up at our approach, decided we weren’t a threat and continued his deep sleep with a big sigh.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

 

Not far from the above owl was a Great Horned Owl on a nest. We didn’t want to get too close and disturb the egg sitting duties so we snapped a few distant photos and quietly retreated.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

Yellow Jessamine blooms were in profusion. Taking pictures is preferred but if you decide to pick a flower or grab a branch be certain to wash your hands well as the sap is poisonous.

Yellow Jessamine

Yellow Jessamine

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron expressed his displeasure at my presence on his stretch of shoreline.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

This Little Blue Heron didn’t care who was nearby as he was too busy concentrating on a potential meal to be disturbed.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

Florida Tickseed is a variety of Coreopsis, which includes the Florida state wildflower.

Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana)

Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana)

 

The Common Mullein is an introduced species and can grow over six feet tall. Parts of the plant have been used as herbal remedies (but don’t take my word for it – research first!). I thought the colors and patterns of the small flowers were special.

Common Mullein (Verbascum rhapsus)

Common Mullein (Verbascum rhapsus)

 

Northern Shovelers will soon be “shoveling” off for their breeding homes further north. The male is striking in coloration and the oversized bill is unique.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

 

Although many Northern Parulas migrate through our area, we also have a resident population which remains year-around and breeds. This one thought he was hidden in the shade.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

Another winter visitor is the Vesper Sparrow. He will often fly up to an exposed perch, unlike most of his little brown brethren who dive into the grass and run away.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

 

Pretty soon, our area will be devoid of tail-wagging Palm Warblers, which is hard to believe, since they just about form a carpet around here during the winter. They will exchange their relatively drab plumage for much brighter yellow underparts and vibrant chestnut streaks and caps.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

This Downy Woodpecker probed around and around this small pine tree so fast I got dizzy just watching it.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

Such a flimsy-looking nest for the large White-winged Dove! I couldn’t believe she intended to actually lay eggs in it!

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

 

Even in the dense fog, there is no mistaking the profile and colors of a Wood Duck.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 

A tremendous splashing near the shore of a lake followed by several alarm calls of herons and egrets led me to investigate. I was surprised to encounter a Coyote! They usually skulk about at night and keep their distance from us two-legged critters. Fortunately, he took one look at me and almost turned himself inside out running away. (I have that effect on a lot of people, too.)

Coyote

Coyote

 

Ospreys are large birds and require large nests in which to raise their families. This fellow seems intent on having the biggest and strongest place in the neighborhood!

Osprey

Osprey

 

Any dental hygienist would praise the fine condition of these teeth. This proud Mama ‘gator was surrounded by her family (I counted a total of 14 “children”). For a little perspective, the “baby” alligators in the second image ranged from about 12 inches to about 3 feet long. I estimate Mama at over ten feet (>3 meters). (Did I mention being grateful for telephoto lenses?)

Since alligator eggs typically hatch in late summer and fall, the smallest of this group is probably about 5-6 months old and the largest (about a 3-footer in the right of the photo) is likely around three years old.

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Green Herons are expert hunters and exhibit incredible patience. It seems their beak moves towards its target so slowly at first and then the strike happens so fast we can’t see it.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

These Florida Peninsula Cooters have found a nice dry log on which to catch a little sunshine. Their maximum length is about 15 inches and I think these were close to that.

Florida Peninsula Cooter

Florida Peninsula Cooter

 

From my resting place along the grassy bank, it was easy to see how the Peace River got its name.

Peace River

Peace River

 

I’m afraid Gini almost went through the windshield when I “vigorously” applied the brakes after spotting this year’s first Burrowing Owl. The image is poor due to the distance involved and because it was my first attempt at taking a photograph through my new spotting scope. We didn’t see a mate and couldn’t quite tell if it was adjacent to a burrow. We’ll keep checking on it as the season progresses.

Burrowing Owl (Digiscoped)

Burrowing Owl (Digiscoped)

 

As I was scanning the pasture where we found the owl above, I found a new “life bird”! Two Whooping Cranes were feeding among the cattle. These are an endangered species and these two individuals are part of an experimental group breeding in central Florida. All of these birds have large yellow leg markers and each is equipped with a radio transmitter so biologists can track their movements.

West Lake Wales Road

Whooping Crane

 

 

There was no doubt this Paper Wasp was watching my every move as it attended a new larva. I respected its desire for privacy and backed away – quickly.

Paper Wasp

Paper Wasp

 

Red-winged Blackbirds are pairing up, males are singing, nest sites are being scouted and the marsh is a noisy place!

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

 

Butcher Bird! That’s the alias of the Loggerhead Shrike (as well as other shrikes around the world). These birds will often impale their prey (insects/lizards) on a small branch, thorn or barb of a fence and eat it piecemeal. Sometimes, you’re just hungry and don’t feel like a formal dining experience. That was the case with this guy as he swallowed the Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus sp.) so fast I missed the picture!

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

It’s an exciting time outdoors! So, “dew” yourself a favor and “Spring” into action! Don’t forget to have fun!

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

 

 

Additional Resources

Lake Bonny Park

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Peace River Hammock

Hardee Lakes Park

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

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