Posts Tagged With: hardee lakes park

In Our Comfort Zone

“Okay to have lunch at the usual spot?” A bit elevated, we can find a shady place to park near the wetlands boardwalk which offers a nice view of two lakes. As we pulled off the dirt road, my Chief Navigator astutely announced:  “This isn’t gonna work. The windows are already covered with bugs!” We were faced with leaving the windows rolled up, keep the air-conditioner on and eat our lunch in a cocoon – or find a different location. Gini suggested Option Number Two. (Okay, it may not have been an actual suggestion. More like just a “look”. But, it was “THE LOOK”. We found a very nice alternate spot.)

The large number of insects which disrupted our lunch plans were what we native Floridians call “Blind Mosquitoes”, actually the adult stage of freshwater midges in the family Chironomidae. The good news is they don’t bite, sting or suck your blood. The bad news is they occur in such huge numbers that when encountered they plug up your eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth – eating a sandwich is virtually impossible.

Earlier, we had entered Hardee Lakes Park not long after sunrise and had been leisurely exploring the shorelines of the park’s four lakes and adjacent woods and wetlands. We were hoping to catch early migrating passerines. Alas, no luck in that department. The park did, however, offer its usual array of bugs, birds and blooms as well as some surprises.

This 1200 acre county park has been one of our favorite places to visit for several years. About an hour from the house, it has four lakes which were formerly phosphate mining pits but have been reclaimed for over 20 years and provide excellent fishing and wildlife habitat. (I am concerned that recent efforts to manage the park may be bordering on the “too much of a good thing” department. Killing of vegetation around the lakes’ shorelines has resulted in severe reduction of potential cover and nesting sites for water birds.) A diverse environment of water, wetlands, hardwood and conifer forest and open grassy areas make this a great destination for birders at any time of year.

Our familiarity with the park, knowing what birds are resident, anticipation of seasonal migrants and the fact we almost always find something unexpected will keep us coming back for more. We just hope the county’s efforts to lure more campers, hold community events (e.g., “mud runs”) and the aforementioned temptation to over-manage the natural resources won’t result in long-term negative results for folks like us who think selfishly. (We don’t like sharing our outdoors with anybody!).

Not many bird images this trip. Many avian residents are dealing with new family members and molting. As a result, they were pretty shy. No worries! Plenty to see here for those willing to look.

 

This immature Sandhill Crane will soon look like Mom. We heard two families trumpeting back and forth throughout the morning.

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature Sandhill Crane

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult Sandhill Crane

 

One of Florida’s most abundant yellow butterflies is the Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa). The male is sparsely marked below. Typically, views of the bright yellow upper wings are rare except when in flight.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is common in the state and its various stages of growth offer quite different appearances.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As with many dragonflies, male and female Four-spotted Pennants (Brachymesia gravida) may not look at all alike.

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

 

Even authoritative field guides admit it’s often difficult to identify members of the Duskywing butterfly family. I’m going out on a limb and stating this is Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), based on the above wing markings and white behind the eyes.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) had been as busy as – well – a bee, collecting pollen and storing it in a leg pouch. Inquiring minds will want to know that pouch is called a “corbicula” and only occurs on the hind tibiae of the female.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

This is not Hawaii. To my knowledge, there are no beets grown within Hardee Lakes Park. Imagine our astonishment, then, to find a Hawaiian Beet Webworm Moth (Spoladea recurvalis) feeding right at our feet! Turns out the larvae of this moth and two others closely related can cause quite a bit of damage to leafy green crops. In Florida, this species is sometimes called the Spinach Moth and is not usually abundant. It is found worldwide.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers brought a few pigs with them to serve as a food source while they explored Florida’s peninsula. They didn’t take them back when they left. Today the state has a feral pig problem. The animals occur in all 67 of the state’s counties. Rooting with their broad snouts can leave vast tracts looking like a plowed field, destroys vegetation and disturbs topsoil. They can be hunted and trapped (with landowner permission) without a license or permit and there is no limit on how many may be harvested. This group was oblivious to my presence. (There were an additional eight individuals nearby.)

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly is, at first glance, similar to the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and like its cousin can taste bitter to predators. The bad taste is believed to be due to this species’ preference for milkweed plants as hosts for their larva.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Also called Lance-leafed Arrowhead and Duck Potato, Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia) is very common in our area. The corms (underground rhizomes) are about the size of chestnuts and supposedly are edible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Grass-skippers are small, vary in color from brown to dull orange and fly very erratically. Did I mention they can be difficult to identify? I’m pretty sure this one is a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), but if anyone has a correction, I’d welcome another opinion!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we rounded a curve, we spotted a family of White-tailed Deer in a clearing. We were blessed to be able to observe as a gentle rain fell and a mother took care of her new fawns.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

It’s exciting to discover new places to explore, but returning to a familiar location which has become “comfortable” has its own rewards. Find your own comfort zone and visit as often as possible.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park, Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Reclamation Exclamation

I never learned to curse properly. Even today I can’t seem to exhale expletives as smoothly as most five-year olds. If an inappropriate utterance does happen to escape my lips it seems to hang in the air while my sweet Gini’s mouth gradually opens wider and wider and her coffee-with-cream brown eyes become twice their normal size under eyebrows which are arching toward the sky. I blame my parents. I don’t recall them ever cussing. Plenty of my peers were expert in the art of foul-mouthed oratory. A military career exposed me daily to an entire sub-language of obscenity I never knew existed. Oh well. I may be too far gone to learn new habits at this point so I’ll just continue to struggle along living with the shame of remaining verbally deficient.

“Look at that crane!” Gini said she couldn’t see it. “How can you miss THAT??” She still didn’t spot it. Then it dawned on me she thought I meant one of our Florida Sandhill Cranes. “The walking crane.” Oh, she said, obviously disappointed. The “walking crane” is a common sight in west central Florida where phosphate mining is common. These behemoths are so large they can’t move easily from one spot to another as they are too heavy to be mounted on wheels or a track system like other cranes. They use a unique cam system which raises the whole crane up and moves it slightly forward on specially designed “feet”. It won’t win any speed contests. Most folks who love nature despise the idea of phosphate mining on several different levels, not the least of which is the destruction of native habitat for profit. It’s easy to hate big, faceless corporations who strip our land of its resources for nothing more than unabashed greed.

Gosh, I wish I knew how to curse.

On the other hand…..

Without the fertilizer which comes from the phosphate mined here, many areas of our planet would experience famine. Without the jobs created by the phosphate industry in Florida, many families would be destitute and have to rely on government support to survive. I’m not defending big business, but there are many sides to issues which may at first glance seem all negative. I grew up in this area and mining was a part of the landscape. As an ignorant teenager (yeah, I know, redundant term), I enjoyed many hours of really productive fishing in reclaimed phosphate pits. Today, we still enjoy great fishing and now some of our best birding occurs in areas which were mined and have been restored by the big, bad corporate cabals.

One such reclaimed mining area has become a favorite destination. Hardee Lakes Park near Bowling Green, Florida. It’s only an hour’s drive from the house and offers four lakes and 1150 acres of hardwood forest, swamp and pine woods. The park has recently been renovated to include an improved camping area with modern showers and it is now open every day of the week beginning at 0700. Our recent visit produced 52 species of birds. The four lakes are all former phosphate pits which means they are deep and have almost no shallow water near the shoreline. Accordingly, there are not many wading or shore birds found here. Most of Florida’s natural lakes are like shallow bowls, gradually declining to maximum depths of only four to eight feet. Phosphate pits may be 20-40 feet deep or deeper. During the day we saw over two dozen White-tailed Deer, Sherman’s Fox Squirrel (a species of special concern), Gopher Tortoises, a few migratory warblers, four Black Terns (first time we’ve seen them here), Northern Bobwhite sneaking through the forest and we heard calling Barred Owls. We enjoyed lunch at one of the picnic tables on the shore of a lake and reluctantly headed home after a very relaxing morning. In over five hours in the park, we encountered exactly one (1) other human being, a park ranger. Our kind of park.

 

We saw quite a few White-tailed Deer in the park today. These deer can become almost tame in parks which have a lot of campers who mistakenly think they’re “helping” deer by feeding them (usually marshmallows and cookies). These deer were quite wary and wild.

An alert buck.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

 

A watchful doe.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

 

A carefree fawn.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

 

Although I mentioned not many shorebirds due to no shallow water, this Spotted Sandpiper enjoyed hunting for breakfast along an artificial “beach”.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

The four lakes offer good fishing for humans but the birds have discovered it’s productive for them, too. Forster’s Terns are already in their non-breeding plumage. We were surprised to find four Black Terns this morning. They’re not rare in this area, but neither are they common.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

 

On a boardwalk through a hardwood swamp area, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was busy chasing insects. He picked up a piece of grass, contorted his body to get a better look at me and flew to the safety of a tree to ponder if I was a threat.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

This Red-shouldered Hawk loudly objected to my presence. She must have been about to capture a meal when I came around a bend in the path because she remained on her perch instead of flying away.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Mr. and Mrs. Northern Bobwhite scurry across the path. These birds are normally in more grassy areas but may have been headed to the lake for a drink/bath.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

Along the lake shores, American Lotus were in bloom providing a nice splash of color. The spent seed pods are sought after by florists to include in arrangements. Almost all parts of the plant are edible and were used extensively in Native American dishes.

American Lotus

American Lotus

American Lotus

American Lotus

 

The male Eastern Pondhawk is powdery blue when mature. Immature males are green and resemble the adult female.

Eastern Pondhawk - Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Female Four-spotted Pennants are more brown and have more subtle wing spots than the dark males.

Four-spotted Pennant - Female  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Female (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

 

On the way home, we counted 13 Wild Turkeys in one flock on the south side of the road and less than a quarter mile later we spotted a group of 14 on the north side of the road. And we’re pretty sure they were talking about us……

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

There may be plenty to curse about in our world, but perhaps in our exploration of Nature we can reclaim our ability to exclaim how wonderful it can be!

 

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

 

Additional Information:

Hardee Lakes Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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