Posts Tagged With: hardee lakes park

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

Confusion In The South

It can be tough living in central Florida. For one thing, we are prone to being in physically poor condition as we have no snow to shovel during the winter and it’s too hot and humid in summer to engage in strenuous outdoor activities. Nature provides us with only two seasons here: “green” and “brown”. We are forced to contend with water all around us containing salt. The spaces between our toes gather excessive amounts of sand as we linger along our coasts attempting to acquire a fish or group of crustaceans for a meager dinner – broiled over driftwood coals – sprinkled with lemon juice – accompanied by boiled red potatoes and freshly husked corn. Yes, it’s tough being a Floridian.

Even our wild creatures aren’t sure how to behave. It’s late summer and some birds are still singing in hopes of attracting a mate. Insects continue to be prolific and seem to be buzzing about in greater numbers than ever. Other birds are forming pre-migration assemblies in preparation for their southward journey to spend the winter in South America. Winter! (That would be “brown” in Florida-speak.)

Just before we took a hastily planned trip to Texas a couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to visit one of our favorite venues: Hardee Lakes Park. Two reasons for our affection of this locale: diversity of habitat (and therefore birdlife) and the fact that not many folks visit the place (shhh! don’t tell them!).

The park is a little over an hour to our south and opens at 7:00 so we got an early start. Gini and I love being out at this time of day. The darkness gently gives way to an almost imperceptible increase in light. One almost doesn’t notice the change. By the time we entered the park the sun was elbowing its way above the trees at the far eastern side of the first of the park’s four lakes. We hear the loud, clear call of a male Northern Bobwhite, incessantly repeating the whistle of his namesake, “Bob WHITE”. We located him perched on a fence post, his head thrown back, eyes closed, beak wide open, letting the world know he is awake and ready for what this day shall offer. So were we.

We proceeded with our exploration and reveled in Mother Nature’s delights. A Red-bellied Woodpecker landed at the entrance to her nest cavity with a huge caterpillar for her babies’ breakfast. I found an intact bird’s nest which had fallen to the ground and marveled at the intricate construction which had served so well to raise a new family this past spring. Noisy Common Gallinules fed along the shore and Anhingas swam in the shallows spearing small fish, then perched on low tree limbs with wings extended to dry before the next foray. As the morning air evaporated the previous night’s dew, insects began to hover above the ground and soon filled the sky with color and motion. A group of three dozen Northern-rough Winged Swallows hawked the ever more active bugs as they need to store a lot of fuel in preparation for their upcoming migration. A Great Egret squawked his displeasure at my presence on “his” lake shore. The deep bellow of a male alligator nearby reminded me to watch my step.

After a bit of fruit and cool water, we bid the park farewell until the next time and headed a bit further south. I recalled a spot from last fall where we had seen several Swallow-tailed Kites soaring together. These marvelous raptors gather in late summer and gorge on insects before migrating to South America in large groups. Luck was with us and we found a recently harvested melon field with kites busily grabbing dragonflies near the ground. We counted at least 28 kites working the field but that may be a low estimate as the action was so fast we were concerned about double-counting. Just to the north of where we live, birders have encountered similar groups of kites numbering near 300.

A quail singing his “spring” song, raptors and swallows grouping up for “winter” migration, insects just not seeming to care – any season is a good one to be able to enjoy such things!

 

A male Northern Bobwhite sings his heart out in the early morning. Not the best photo as it was taken at quite a distance and cropped.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

The Blue Dasher shows off his yellow and black racing stripe body and amazing eye structure.

Blue Dasher - Male - (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male – (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

It wouldn’t be Florida without an Osprey!

Osprey

Osprey

 

Subdued orange of the Needham’s Skimmer can change to a brilliant red in some males.

Needham's Skimmer  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

North America’s smallest dragonfly is the Eastern Amberwing. They are near the size of a large wasp and have adopted the wasp’s flying style to help avoid being eaten by predators.

Eastern Amberwing - Female (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing – Female (Perithemis tenera)

 

A very dark dragonfly, the male Four-spotted Pennant is quite aggressive and will attack anything trespassing within his space.

Four-spotted Pennant - Male -  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male – (Brachymesia gravida)

 

Northern Rough-winged Swallows spend much of their time in groups to help provide safety from potential enemies. A couple of them were curious whether I might be a bad guy.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

 

As I neared the shore of one of the lakes, this Great Egret took flight and spent the next five minutes yelling at me. About the same time, a deep bellowing from a male alligator in the reeds nearby indicated I might be too close to his personal space. I took both warnings as a sign it was time to move along.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

I chased this Common Buckeye for hours and hours (okay, about six minutes – but it seemed longer) to get a picture. He would land, I would lay prone in the grass, focus the camera, he would take off. This act was repeated until I almost gave up due to physical exhaustion – mine, not his.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

 

A bright green Katydid stands out on a light-colored background. Once in the grass or bush with green leaves, however, and it’s a challenge to find her!

Katydid

Katydid

 

Here are a few images of the Swallow-tailed Kites we discovered. Their aerobatic prowess was a joy to watch! They would swoop low over the field, grasp a dragonfly in a talon and then munch it on the fly. Great entertainment!

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

If you observe confusing critter behavior in your local area, don’t worry too much about it. Just make a note of what you see and check the calendar. It may be later than you think!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Hardee Lakes Park (NOTE: Park is currently only open Friday-Monday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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