Posts Tagged With: great crested flycatcher

Riding In Cars With Birders

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a Bullock’s Oriole landed in a mesquite tree and my lovely, but excitable, bride grabbed me by the arm (which at the time was engaged in steering a fast-moving vehicle) and shouted all in one breath: “STOPDIDYOUSEETHATTURNAROUNDGOBACKITWASALLORANGEANDBLACKITWASGORGEOUS!!!!”.

The coming of age of a birder is a beautiful thing.

In that far away land of west Texas, there were few “birding venues”. It was so long ago, in fact, we didn’t even know we WERE birders, as the quaint reference to those engaged in the hobby was still simply “bird watcher”. (I still cling to that term as “birder” has come to infer a more competition-oriented personality and I’ve never been much of a score-keeper.) Since the nearest state park was a half-day’s drive, we were very content to simply drive the back roads and marvel at how vibrant and diverse the seemingly barren landscape could be. It was our first experience in a near-desert environment and we loved every minute of our several years there. That pattern has persisted over the eons.

“Why are there likenesses of Sandhill Cranes on all the street light poles?”, Gini asked. Being extremely cognizant of such matters concerning engineering and urban planning, I advised her in my usual condescending, scholarly manner: “I dunno”.

We were driving through the town of Wauchula, Florida a couple of months ago doing our “drive around looking for birds” thing. Wauchula is the seat of Hardee County, adjacent to our home in Polk County. Hardee County is smallish in size, consisting of 638 square miles (1650 sq. km). Of this area, only 0.6 sq. mi. is water – a bit unusual for central Florida. The county was named for Cary Hardee who was governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925. Settlement of the area began in 1849 when an Indian Trading Post was opened on a bend in Paynes Creek. Eventually, the city of Wauchula was established and the area became a center for cattle ranching. The name “Wauchula” is from a Mikasuki Indian word meaning “call of the Sandhill Crane”. AHA! Mystery of the light poles solved.

Today, Hardee County is lightly populated (about 27,000 in 2012) and has an agricultural-based economy. Annual citrus production has about a half-billion dollar market value, the county ranks 9th in the United States for beef cattle and phosphate mining plays a major role in employment and fertilizer production. In 2004, Hurricane Charlie swept across the county from the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 149 mph (240 kph) and almost every building in the county suffered some sort of damage with many being completely destroyed. Most renovation has been completed and the resilient population continues to enjoy their rural lifestyle.

Although the scarcity of open shallow water limits the presence of many water birds, the county is full of a wonderful variety of other birds. Most of the cattle ranches have small ponds which the cattle keep churned into mud holes which attracts shore birds. Burrowing Owls nest in the pastures, Crested Caracara roam the open spaces, fall and winter crops attract migrants, timberland is full of vireos, warblers and woodpeckers and, of course, Sandhill Cranes abound all year and large populations of the big birds spend the winter here. We like driving around in Hardee County!

Our most recent visit included over 45 different species (yes, I know, it’s sorta score-keeping) and we were treated to some really nice wildflower displays.

 

The Great Crested Flycatcher is a cavity nester and can be very aggressive about chasing woodpeckers from suitable nesting sites. For some reason, many of their nests have been found lined with shed snake skins.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

Killdeer love the fact that cattle keep the mud stirred up which makes insect and worm hunting a little easier.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Florida has an abundant Gray Squirrel population but Fox Squirrels – not so much. We have three species of Fox Squirrel. One is found mostly in the northwestern panhandle, another in the Everglades. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, although found throughout the state, is a “species of special concern”, primarily due to loss of habitat.

Sherman's Fox Squirrel

Sherman’s Fox Squirrel

 

A Red-bellied Woodpecker is hunting for a house. I think he found one he likes.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Leavenworth’s Tickseed is nearly endemic to Florida (a few grow in southern Georgia) and belongs to the Coreopsis family.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

It looks like grass which has been touched with white paint – Star Rush.

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

 

This Lesser Yellowlegs looks like the main course in a pot of broccoli soup. The thick Duckweed hides all sorts of food items wading birds love.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Such a beautiful bloom seems like it should have a more attractive name, but no matter what it’s called, Pickerelweed is lovely.

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

 

You just never know what you’ll find riding around the countryside. For instance, a hot-air balloon cruising over an orange grove!

Balloon

Balloon

 

Okay, time out for a test shot. New camera and new lens. The moon, 600mm hand-held. Now, if I could just find a bird —-

Moon

Moon

 

A field of Black-eyed Susan brightened the landscape.

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Vivid purple and yellow of the Pale Meadowbeauty are hard to ignore.

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Such an unfriendly plant with its spikes and thorns! Such a striking flower! Nuttall’s Thistle can be purple, pink, white or pale yellow.

Nuttall's Thistle  (Cirsium nuttallii)

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)

 

Although I don’t know how this wonderful bloom got its name, I’m very happy it grows along the roadside in Hardee County! The Carolina Desert-chicory.

Carolina Desert-chicory  (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

Carolina Desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

 

A gang of five Swallow-tailed Kites put on an aerial display as they swooped low over a pasture and snatched flying insects which they ate in flight. A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds tried to chase them from “their” territory, but were largely ignored by the sleek kites.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

 

This Wild Turkey was pretty sure I wouldn’t spot him as he tried to slink through the underbrush. He was wrong.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

No specific birding destination can sometimes provide surprisingly good birding! Grab your favorite birder. Get in a car. Drive around. Now.

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

 

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Listen …

“Do you hear that?”

“What?”, Gini asked.

“Exactly!”

This may not be what Simon and Garfunkel had in mind when they composed one of my favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”, but I was certainly enjoying this particular melody. Standing in the middle of the road with eyes closed, there was no traffic noise, no wailing of emergency vehicle sirens, no incessant barking of a neighbor’s dog, no electric click as the air conditioner activated, no telephone ringing, no television talking head giving me bad news – no sound of “civilization” whatsoever.

Cicadas. The cry of a Red-shouldered Hawk. From my old Roger Tory Peterson “A Field Guide To The Birds”: “…a buzzy trill or rattle that climbs the scale and trips over at the top: zeeeeeeeee-up“, describing the song of a Northern Parula Warbler. The clear, pure sound etched in my dream world of childhood which even now causes my lips to reflexively purse and give a reply: “Bob-WHITE“.

Gini and I seem to have solidified our opinion that this is our newest favorite place. The Avon Park Air Force Range. Not a very appealing moniker. I don’t care what it’s named, this area of south-central Florida consists of 106,000 acres (42, 897 hectares) of wilderness to explore. We have been there three times and seldom encountered any other visitors. We have encountered lush growths of flowers, extensive pine forests, hardwood hammocks, a lake, a river, wetlands, vast grass prairies, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and rare endangered species. (If you plan to visit, check the link below and be sure to call the number listed FIRST for a recorded message on possible range closures. The area is only open to visitors Thursday at noon through Monday.)

Although we have entered the wet season here and have had periods of heavy rain, the couple of weeks prior to our visit were dry and made for dusty driving on the unimproved roads. By the way, be sure to get a map of the area from the very kind folks at the Outdoor Recreation Office (where you must check in anyway), and when the little map symbol indicates “Four-Wheel Drive Recommended”, change that last word to “Or Else”. There are some “challenging” driving opportunities! The recent rains produced a bumper crop of flora for us to enjoy.

We hope you’ll come along for the ride as we show you a very small bit of what this vast area has to offer.

 

This native Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) has quite a “rusty” plumage. My understanding is this is due to feeding in iron-rich soils. Normally, the bird is more gray overall.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Brown Anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas but were first reported in Florida as early as the late 1880’s. There has been concern they may be causing declines of the native Green Anole.

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

 

Male Eastern Pondhawks are powdery blue when mature and adult females are jade green. Immature males of this species begin adult life the same color as females and in about a week begin changing to blue. The process takes two-three weeks and those in transition sport both colors.

Eastern Pondhawk - Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk - Immature Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Immature Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Along the southern boundary of the Air Force Range is beautiful Lake Arbuckle. There is little development around the lake and the fishing is reportedly quite good.

Lake Arbuckle

Lake Arbuckle

 

The Largeflower Primrosewillow is abundant in wet areas.

Largeflower Primrosewillow (Ludwigia grandiflora)

Largeflower Primrosewillow (Ludwigia grandiflora)

 

Patches of Yellow Milkwort brightened up several areas of the forest and roadside. Also known by locals as Batchelor’s Buttons, this beauty is endemic to Florida.

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)

Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii)

 

Bugs beware! The attractive Hooded Pitcher Plant is the final resting place for many insects as they become trapped in the plant and are digested.

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

 

The Cloudless Sulphur does a pretty good imitation of a leaf as it collects nectar from a Buttonbush bloom.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

 

Small white flowers extend above the fairly large pointed leaves of a Grassy Arrowhead plant found in very wet places.

Grassy Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea)

Grassy Arrowhead (Sagittaria graminea)

 

Even more color variety is provided by the Largeflower Rosegentian. We came across large sections covered in these delicate pink blooms.

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers left cattle they had brought from Europe in several areas of Florida. These hardy animals became wild, flourished and were eventually raised by Florida’s cowboys, called “Crackers” due to the cracking sound made by their long whips used to herd the cattle. This unique species is known as “Cracker” or “Florida” Cattle.

Cracker Cattle

Cracker Cattle

 

Cracker Cattle

Cracker Cattle

 

A Great Crested Flycatcher was not happy with our presence since he and the Missus were building a nest nearby.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

The Florida Scrub Jay has been endangered for several years due to habitat loss throughout its former range. Scientists have kept close watch over the jay families calling the Air Force Range their home and these birds have been doing quite well. (All the Scrub Jays here have been banded (ringed) and are routinely examined for health status.)

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay

 

A Pale Meadowbeauty doesn’t seem all that pale as the bright purple and yellow was obvious from a great distance.

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Black-eyed Susans seemed to be alongside almost every road in some places. Which was just fine with us!

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

This petite damselfly is a Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) and has several different geographically specific variations. Our Florida version has an all black abdomen (except for the tip) and is also called a “Black Dancer”.

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

The leaflets of the Sensitive Brier will actually fold up toward each other when disturbed to expose the stem’s briers. The flower is kinda pretty, too!

Sensitive Brier (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata)

Sensitive Brier (Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata)

 

In the late spring and early summer, the plains of central and south Florida exude a perfume no chemist can duplicate. The blooming Saw Palmetto produces a subtly sweet fragrance that, thankfully, can only be experienced if you are outside in the fresh air.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

 

Diminutive Brown-headed Nuthatches breed in this area. You know they’re around when the tops of pine trees sound like a convention of “rubber duckies” as that’s what their squeaky calls sound like. These are pugnacious little birds and will challenge anything intruding on their territory.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

 

In addition to a variety of birds, the pine scrub habitat is attractive to all manner of animal life, including white-tailed deer, wild (feral) hogs, both Eastern Gray and endangered Sherman’s Fox Squirrels, bobcat, bear, fox and occasional birders.

Pine Scrub

Pine Scrub

 

Fittingly, as we were leaving the area for the day, a pair of Northern Bobwhite crossed the road in front of us, hopefully on their way to produce more of this handsome species.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

As we pulled onto the main highway, it was good to be heading home to rest in our familiar, “civilized” surroundings. We shall be returning soon, though, to once again experience a very special place where we know we can listen to our own “Sound of Silence”.

 

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

 

Additional Resources

Avon Park Air Force Range

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: