At this time of year, many of us have a full plate of activities on the tables of our lives. For us, everything revolves around family. Although our children now have children of their own, we worry about how they’re doing and experience more than our fair share of angst over not being with them all at this wonderful time of year. (Okay, we have angst about that all year long!) There is baking, shopping, wrapping, mailing, decorating and a myriad of other chores which must be done. Accordingly, when I received a call to visit a newly opened conservation area to check out the birding potential, I responded maturely and appropriately. “What time?”
The new area is just southeast of Orlando near the town of Kissimmee. It’s called Twin Oaks Conservation Area and is located on Macy Island Road on the northeast side of Lake Tohopekaliga. It’s a very pretty area with picnic pavilions, fishing pier, separate observation pier, hiking trail, equestrian trail and modern restrooms. Its position on the lake is a spot known as Goblet’s Cove which provides a fairly large protected area inviting to waterfowl. The park consists of just under 400 acres and offers a large grassland area, lake and lakefront, wetlands and a stand of hardwood trees.
We spent a couple of hours here and without too much effort tallied 50 species of birds. On the lake were Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Pied-billed Grebe and an estimated 3500 American Coot. Sandhill Cranes were trumpeting almost non-stop from before sunrise until we left almost three hours later. Savannah Sparrows were abundant in the tall grass where we also found Swamp Sparrows, House Wrens, Sedge Wrens and Eastern Meadowlarks. With all the open water and grassland, raptors were prevalent and included two endangered Snail Kites, four Bald Eagles, two migratory Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk. Limpkins were active along the shoreline trying to get to the large Apple Snails before the Snail Kites found them. In the oak trees we found warblers and vireos. It was a pleasant place and we’ll be returning soon.
On the way home, we stopped briefly at several small parks and found interesting birds and wildlife at each place. I’ve added a link to some of the spots we visited below under “Additional Information“.
The following images will give you a small idea of our exploration.
Sunrises are always special and this one was no exception. A light fog hugged the ground as Sandhill Cranes began moving from their nightly roosts to the grasslands to feed, trumpeting loudly along the way.
Goblet’s Cove and the fishing pier, complete with fishermen! All of that grass was full of sparrows.
I’ve been working on getting decent images of sparrows but have not yet been successful. In the meantime, this Swamp Sparrow shows his distinctive dark back streaks before disappearing into the thick grass.
A trio of Sandhill Cranes head to where the bugs are, “talking” to each other during the commute.
These Savannah Sparrows posed briefly before doing that disappearing trick thing.
I apologize for such a poor image, but this Blue-headed Vireo was a life bird for me. Yes, it’s also on my list of “get a good picture” birds.
Indian Blanket, Firewheel, Gaillardia. Call them anything you like. They’re simply beautiful.
Bumble Bees sounded like small airplanes as they buzzed among the flowers of the grassland.
Although common in our area, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is a handsome bird and very efficient at gathering insects.
Two spiders of the orb weaver family which specialize in entangling unsuspecting hikers in sticky webs. They love to string their artful creations across paths and are very successful at trapping a large number of insects during the night. The Golden Silk spider is the larger member of this family but the Arrowshaped Orbweaver, although much smaller, is no slouch when it comes to coloration.
The invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove is as beautiful as it is prolific. This species was introduced in the Bahamas in the 1970’s when a few birds escaped a pet shop during a burglary. A few other birds were released on the island of Guadeloupe due to an impending volcanic eruption. Some of the above birds made it to Florida in the 1980’s and the species has now colonized in most of North America.
Stink bugs thrive in most parts of the world. I think this one is a Rough Stink Bug but would appreciate a correct identification.
A Black-and-White Warbler enjoys a bug of his own.
This lime-green larva is that of a Pine Sawfly (not certain of the exact species). Although it resembles a caterpillar, it’s actually a member of the same order to which ants, bees and wasps belong (Hymenoptera). The adult resembles a wasp but doesn’t have the narrow abdomen. These insects can do a lot of damage to pine trees.
Yes, yet another photograph of an alligator. (YOU try saying no to one!)
This five-foot beauty is a Florida Banded Water Snake. They are not venomous but can give you pause when you step over a log and one scoots between your boots.
Orchids are among the most showy of flowers on the planet. Most orchids, that is. This subtly colored species is a Florida native and is found on the floor of pine forests. They produce an odor at night which is very attractive to moths, thus increasing the odds of successful pollination.
A Poem –
It can be nice to wander and roam,
It’s nicer still, to be back home.
I have my list of chores and I’m checking it twice;
If all was done it sure would be nice.
When the holiday pressure starts to get you down,
Grab your bird book and get out of town!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Lakefront and Brinson Parks (This link is for fishing enthusiasts but provides good information and a map. Birding can be very good all along this area and is sometimes a good place from which to observe endangered Snail Kites feeding.)