Posts Tagged With: florida red-bellied turtle

A Comfortable Contrarian

It was good to be back. I couldn’t believe it had been eight months since my last visit. Some things in life maintain a “comfort level” which never fades. When living in Germany, I purchased a light jacket with leather panels on the front and loosely knit wool in the back. It was perfect for hiking the steep trails through dark forests of fir where the leather buffered the chilly wind and wool at the back allowed fresh air to circulate. Comfortable. Two pairs of walking shoes in the closet are almost identical in design and appearance yet one is used much more often. They’re just more – comfortable. Most mornings I reach in the cabinet and pull down the same cup which for years has held the juice from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. It holds the same amount as other cups and even looks similar to many. But there is something about its weight, the way my hand fits through the handle, the Meerschaum quality of the coffee-stained china. Comfortable.

I drove through the entrance gates of the Circle B Bar Reserve on the north shore of Lake Hancock, parked at the first picnic table, slung the camera over my shoulder and hung binoculars around my neck. After walking 50 yards, I stopped and turned 360 degrees. There! That’s the feeling! Spanish moss hanging almost to the ground was parted slightly by the wind’s unseen hand revealing huge hundred-year old oak trees, Northern Cardinals leaped through the underbrush, dragonflies shimmered in the sunlight on tall weeds along the path and ahead the walkway met the bright blue sky which beckoned one to discover something wondrous. An involuntary deep sigh caught me by surprise. I was – comfortable. It was good to be back.

Years ago, upon first discovering the Circle B, I tried to visit often. It’s a former cattle ranch which has been developed into a marsh and has restored the flow of Saddle Creek into Lake Hancock. The result is one of the most spectacular birding venues in Florida. A diverse habitat attracts a huge number of birds throughout the year. The day before my visit, a friend (and one of the state’s best birders) sent an email that he spotted a Ruff on the mud flats which have been exposed due to our recent very dry weather. I don’t usually “chase” rarities, but I’ve never seen a Ruff and Circle B is only 30 minutes away…..

Being the experienced and veteran birder and photographer which I so clearly am, I know that one must arrive to a potential birding spot early in the day in order to take advantage of the “golden hours” for best photographic light and maximum bird activity. Not to mention it is much cooler early in the morning.  Armed with this knowledge, I arrived on site promptly at – 3:00 in the afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky so the light was wonderfully harsh. Not a sound to be heard except cicadas buzzing so all the birds were likely sleeping. And the temperature was a balmy 95 F, perfect for hiking out to the marsh without a bit of shade along the way. (There were appointments in the morning, you see, and I was afraid to wait until the next morning as the Ruff would surely leave on its northward journey, and besides I may not be as much of an expert as has been advertised.)

Gini says I am a natural contrarian but adds sweetly:  “But you’re MY contrarian!”. She’s so diplomatic.

The good news is, even under less than ideal circumstances, the Circle B is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. I found a couple hundred shorebirds on the mud flats, and there may well have been a Ruff (or a dozen) amongst the crowd of sandpipers, plovers, skimmers and others. Unfortunately, they were about 500 miles away and even when I enlarged the many photographs I attempted, it just appeared to be a mass of mottled brown with nothing in focus at all. Sigh.

So, I wandered around and discovered not ALL of the wildlife was taking a nap. Overhead were Bald Eagles, a Red-shouldered Hawk, vultures, Wood Storks and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites. Not to mention water birds of all types flying from one spot of water to another. I even found a flock of Bobolinks filling up on grass seed before resuming their migration. It was even comforting to see so many alligators still here, right where I left them so many months ago.

Despite the lousy light, heat, limited activity and no rare bird, I still (although reluctantly) took a few pictures. Just for you.

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron runs toward a potential meal.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Snowy Egret already has his meal, well, maybe more like a snack. Another Snowy glides overhead, looking almost like an x-ray against the bright sky.

 

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

The Great Blue Heron is a large bird, standing almost four feet tall. This young alligator was not impressed. He swam back and forth in front of the heron and twice made a sudden lunge in its direction. The heron was likewise not impressed and never flinched.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A female Bobolink loads up on seeds. She was part of a flock of about two dozen. They are not residents here and we only see them during migration.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This male Black-necked Stilt was busy feeding and there were reports of an occupied nest in this area. I’ll have to return soon to try and find it. Maybe I can get lucky and discover young ones.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are normally seen in groups. This one evidently found a spot in the mud he liked as I couldn’t see others anywhere.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A resting Roseate Spoonbill keeps one eye on its surroundings. Good idea. Lots of ‘gators wandering by. Not to mention two-legged critters making clicking noises. A little further down the path and I found another spoonbill soaring overhead.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle leaves a wide path as it scoots along in the soft mud of the marsh. Another one suns itself on a log. The weeds and algae on their shells hide a really pretty reddish-orange pattern.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

I startled an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and he hurried out of sight.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A bit later, an immature night heron hid behind some moss. This is likely a second-year bird as first-year night herons are mottled brown but this one doesn’t have the contrasting black and gray of a full adult (see the one above). Plus its eyes are not quite as red as an adult’s.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A large female Florida Softshell Turtle throws sand and gravel in the air as she tries to dig a nest along the hard-packed side of the trail. She’ll need to find some softer sand or mud before she can deposit her 10-30 eggs.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This is a common pose for the Great Blue Heron and may be used to warm the inside of the wings enough to drive out small biting bugs such as mites.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

As the sun began to set, a Nine-banded Armadillo foraged in the dry leaves of the oak woods looking for insects. These fascinating animals remind me of Winnie The Pooh’s friend, Piglet.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

 

No Ruff today. Despite my contrariness, I found some wonderful birds, several interesting animals and had an exhilarating outdoor experience. Back at the car, I turned back for one more look at where I had been. There was that sigh again. I felt – comfortable.

 

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

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

Random Acts of Birding

Many of us did not set out to become “birders”.  We typically absorbed the avocation gradually, often following an encounter with a friend or relative who seemed enthusiastic about their experiences.  Sometimes there is an epiphany.  Such was the case with my wonderful wife, Gini.  She became an addict….ummm, avid observer….while we were driving along a highway in west Texas.  She abruptly screamed:  “Stop!  Turn around!”.  Assuming I had just run over a small child, I slammed on the brakes and executed a quick U-turn.  She pointed breathlessly to a Mesquite tree in the median of the road and whispered:  “Look!”.  The sighting of her first male Bullock’s Oriole shall remain one of birding history’s most dramatic moments.

Once “hooked”, birding becomes as natural a process as breathing.  You go to the grocery and scan the parking lot and light poles for gulls.  A stop at the gas station involves inspecting the eaves of the roof for Sparrows and the utility lines for Grackles or Starlings.  Visits to a relative’s house mean dawdling in the driveway to check the front yard trees for passerines.  There are no more picnics, only birding trips with food involved.

Although we usually have a specific destination when we go on an “actual” birding trip, we just naturally observe our surroundings as we travel to and from such places.  Sometimes we even see a few birds along the way.

The following images are of “incidental” sightings we made while heading somewhere else.  Some of these were taken during scouting trips made in preparation for the recent Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count.  Others were taken during one of those “non-picnics” mentioned above.  Still others were made for such reasons as:  “I wonder what might be in that retention pond behind the church/factory/store/mall?”.

You get the idea.

 

The Osprey is abundant in Florida and I certainly seem to take a lot of pictures of them.  This one was just finishing a snack near the coast as we were on the way to dinner.  I think I like them so much because we’re so much alike.  We both love seafood and are incredibly good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle was still shimmering with water as he crossed a path in front of me.  He was about 24 inches (610 mm) long and simply beautiful.

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

 

Purple Gallinules brighten up the marsh with their iridescent plumage.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

During breeding season, the adult Ring-billed Gull’s head will become pure white.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

We found a stream flowing from a marsh into a larger creek which provided a nice feeding area for a group of Least Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs.  The small sandpipers blended in very well with the rocks.  The Yellowlegs flew a short distance upstream when we first approached and the calls helped confirm them as Greater.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 

Hooded Mergansers winter in our area and often seem to prefer small retention ponds for feeding during the day.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 

A Forster’s Tern dives headlong into a local lake to snag a small fish.  Seems like they need helmets!

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

This Great Egret has captured an Armored Catfish for lunch.  This species of catfish may be the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus), a non-native species probably introduced accidentally during the past several decades by aquarium owners and/or the pet trade.  I could find no evidence this fish is harmful except for possibly causing erosion of banks due to their habit of digging out holes for nesting.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Strong morning light made a detailed photograph of this Eastern Bluebird impossible but I liked the way he was looking back at us.  He was up early in a local cemetery we were scouting for the Christmas Bird Count.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

 

Also in the cemetery was a female Downy Woodpecker cleaning out an old nest cavity.  She was hauling out sawdust and expelling it.  I think she intended to use the hole as a warm resting spot as the weather had turned quite cold.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Blue-headed Vireo posed very briefly and took off when the camera clicked.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

Yes, I know, a face only a mother could love.  But there’s a beauty in the vulture that just can’t be ignored.  To see this creature up close is to marvel at its flight feathers and unique head design, knowing how effective it is for its intended purpose.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The event was a water-side supper while enjoying the sunset.  The reality was another one of those birding trips involving food.  I just “had” to peek down the shoreline and this is what I saw.  Mostly Least Sandpipers.  The more you look, the more you’ll see.  It resembled “moving rocks”.

Shorebirds

Shorebirds

 

The Ring-billed Gull towers over a group of feeding Dunlin.

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull

 

A Dunlin in non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Comparing sizes of Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher and Black-bellied Plover.  Shhh!

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

Black-bellied Plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin

 

A meeting of the local Storks Club.  This was during another pre-Christmas Bird Count scouting foray.  A small cattle pond hosted over 80 Wood Storks.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

Again while scouting a potential spot for Sparrows a few days ahead of the Christmas count, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks appeared directly overhead doing a little scouting of their own.  I think this is a juvenile as it lacks a strong dark trailing edge to the wings which is characteristic in adults.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

If you have any interest in observing birds, you will understand the process of continually being in “birding” mode.  If you do not yet consider yourself a birding enthusiast, beware!  Just by looking at this blog you are in danger of becoming one of us!  Then you, too, will be committing random acts of bird watching – just because you can.

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

 

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: