Posts Tagged With: great blue heron

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

From our house, in about an hour-and-a-half (or four hours if we miscalculate rush hour), we could be standing in line waiting for our opportunity to enter the greatest entertainment complex in the universe: DISNEY WORLD! Depending on how many of the FOUR UNIQUE THEME PARKS we would like to visit in one day, we would only need to provide the happy ticket vendor with from $240 to $350. The keys to the Magic Kingdom could be OURS

Or —

From our house, in about an hour-and-a-half, we could be surrounded by pine trees, grass prairie, cypress hammocks, scrub palmetto, blue lakes, huge oak trees draped in gently swaying Spanish moss. No happy ticket vendor.

Small patches of ground fog hugged the low-growing palmetto surrounding the cypress domes which dotted the land. It is estimated that as late as the mid-1800’s, dry grass prairie covered over one million acres in central and south Florida. Due to population growth, cattle ranching and farming, these very unique environments can now only be found in a few areas north and west of Lake Okeechobee. We feel privileged to be able to enjoy all which this biologically diverse and special area has to offer.

Driving the dirt roads through the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area while trying to avoid the numerous pot-holes , we found a bounty of blooming wildflowers, white-tailed deer and a good selection of summer birds. Gini’s radar-like hearing detected the distant calls of a gang of feeding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. This endangered species nests here and populations are highly managed which has resulted in an amazing recovery from near extinction. Alas, none of the group wanted to be photographed today.

In the middle of this vast wilderness is Lake Jackson, one of the “Three Lakes” in the management area. We enjoyed a light breakfast on the lake’s shore while watching ducks, wading birds, alligators and soaring vultures. I took a bit of a meander through the adjacent hammocks where there was ample evidence of a healthy feral hog presence. The ground was so uneven from the pigs’ rooting it was difficult to walk.

By lunch time, we had made our way to the shore of another of the “Three Lakes”, huge Lake Kissimmee. Sandwiches under shady oak trees just seemed to taste better with a gentle breeze, clear blue sky, calling Limpkins, splashing Gallinules, Bald Eagles and Ospreys catching fish. Sigh.

The third lake in this vast management system, Lake Marian, would have to wait for another day. It was time to head home. As we drove by the exit for Disney World, we didn’t even notice.

We regret we have not yet figured out how to reproduce the aroma of the wildflowers or the feel of the breeze on your face. Hopefully, you can enjoy a few images. Close your eyes and imagine …

 

Lake Jackson is a shallow bowl-shaped lake of the kind typically found in central Florida. The fishing is very good and each year endangered Snail Kites nest along the remote shore line.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

During breakfast, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks kept a close watch on us and a pair of Wood Ducks flew overhead.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Wandering around a low place (hammock) near Lake Jackson I discovered this oak tree. It’s impressive spread supports so much life. Ferns, lichens, moss, air plants, vines. Not to mention the diverse animal population which could call it home.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Some form of Coreopsis is so prevalent in Florida that the entire genus has been named as the state wildflower. This is Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) and, fortunately for us, it was blooming throughout the management area.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Part of our lunch time entertainment was a Great Blue Heron stalking his own lunch v-e-r-y slowly.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Although the Limpkin’s plumage can be great for concealing its presence among reeds, once it emits its eerie call there is no doubt he’s nearby.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

With so much water around (uhh, it IS Florida!), insects abound. The Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and Four-Spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) are two very common dragonflies for our area.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Even though part of this area is called “dry grass” prairie, when it rains (and we have had abundant rain lately) the “dry grass” is interspersed with a whole lot of color. This pretty pink blossom is Rosy Camphorweed (Brachymesia gravida). When its leaves are crushed they give off a citrus odor. Early settlers may have used it to ward off fleas from bed linen and an old colloquial name for the plant is “Marsh Fleabane”.

Prairie Lakes

 

These white flowers were abundant along one stretch of road. Alligator Lily (Hymenocallis palmeri), is one of 40 members of this genus in the New World, 13 of which can be found in Florida. Plants in this group are known collectively as “Spider Lilies”.

Prairie Lakes

 

We bypassed the glitz and glare of crass commercialism and discovered our very own Magic Kingdom. No keys required. Hopefully, you all have a magical spot not too far from your own front door. If not, I know a place ready to take your hard-earned cash.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

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

Patch On The Edge

Okay, so maybe I’m stretching this “patch” thing a bit by including a spot that’s almost a 40 minute drive from the house. As the Corvus flies, it’s only 17 miles away. Alas, not being a handsome crow, I must climb into a hunk of metal and negotiate highways, bi-ways and expressways all the while trying to avoid a collision with other humanoids within their own hunks of metal scurrying along at unreasonably high rates of speed and by the time I reach the lovely setting of Lake Gwyn Park I’m ready for a peaceful walk in a wetland.

This is another man-made wetland which attempts to mitigate decades of poor irrigation and agricultural practices. An old canal dug for taking water from Lake Gwyn to nearby farms long ago completely drained the lake and “Lake” Gwyn has been devoid of water for many years. The canal eventually flows into the Peace River which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The filtered water of the newly developed wetlands will help keep the river, and ultimately, the gulf, cleaner for the future.

The first phase of a multi-year project has developed the western portion of the former lake into a series of open water pools of varying depths and has included plantings of vegetation known to be effective natural filters. The result has been to provide attractive habitat for diverse bird species, especially during fall and spring migration. Resident birds like the place, too. Last spring we found six Snail Kites in the park and I’m pretty certain they bred there.

There is a trail of about two miles along a raised berm and through a section of pine woods which offers nice views of the wetland and a pleasant walk through shady forest. Recreation and picnic facilities are currently under construction and planning has begun for the second phase of the project which will restore the eastern half of the lake area.

As I mentioned, fall through spring can offer very good birding opportunities, but even an early morning summer walk is rewarding. Many birds have adopted the new area as home and other animals are finding the wetland to their liking as well. A patch totally worth a little drive.

Patch:  Lake Gwyn Park

Clean water, lush vegetation, a few trees. What more could a bird (or birder) ask for?

Lake Gwyn Park

Lake Gwyn Park

 

If the Great Blue Heron is present, you know the hunting and fishing are good.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

A pair of Green Herons fussed at me all along the eastern berm trail leading me to believe they had a nest nearby. They are normally silent and slink away as I approach. This one flew up to a snag and kept a close eye on me. Unusual.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

This Red-winged Blackbird announced his happiness in song from atop the same snag the Green Heron above was using. A female further along the path seemed just as happy.

Lake Gwyn Park

Lake Gwyn Park

 

A pair of River Otters were very curious about what I was doing in their territory. The presence of these mammals indicate the wetland is doing its job of providing clean water, good habitat and a healthy supply of forage. All good news.

Lake Gwyn Park

Lake Gwyn Park

Lake Gwyn Park

 

This brings to a close (stop cheering) my summary of local birding patches which Gini and I frequent. You will see the names of these spots again as they really are wonderful places to go birding, photographing, exploring and just plain relaxing. We hope you have your own list of patches where you may also experience all of the above.

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Gwyn Park

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

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