Posts Tagged With: killdeer

Mining For Birds

“Beans.”

“You want beans for breakfast?”

“Yes.”

The night before a big adventure requires precision planning for maximum efficiency. Cell phones were charging, optics had been cleaned, fresh battery was inserted into the camera, memory cards formatted, wardrobe laid out and now Gini was confirming the arrangements for provisions.

As any school child can tell you, breakfast is THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY! I wasn’t going to risk running out of energy mid-morning due to an insufficient morning meal.

“Exactly what kind of beans do you want?”

“The usual.”

I could hear her eyes roll heavenward from the living room. “You’re impossible.”

I guess that means I will be brewing my own coffee in the morning.

 

We were headed south to Hardee County, adjacent to our home county of Polk in west central Florida. It was dark but the weatherman promised “chamber of commerce” weather for the day. That worried me.

Our arrival at Hardee Lakes Park coincided nicely with sunrise. No clouds, pleasant temperature and – wind. Very gusty wind from the south. At dawn. Small birds are going to be a challenge to find today.

This park was mined for phosphate beginning in 1980 and reclamation of the land started by the end of the decade. After restoring the land and allowing the area to remain unused, the phosphate company donated 1200 acres to Hardee County in 2001 for a recreation area. The park opened in 2004 and today visitors can enjoy fishing in four lakes, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping and picnicking. Oh, and birding! The park is well maintained and the staff is very friendly and helpful.

Park roads are unimproved but the main roads are in good shape. You can drive around three of the four lakes, but be careful as there can be deep ruts and holes hidden by grass and it can be dicey after periods of rain. There are several trails and a boardwalk through a wetland.

We have always had a terrific experience here and today was no exception.

The day began with dozens of warblers at our first stop. Yellow-rumped, Palm, Pine – scooping up insects in the tree tops and moving en masse from oaks to pines and back again. (They were undeterred by the gusty winds.)

American White Pelicans flew overhead moving from their nightly roosts toward lakes to the north where they would spend the day feeding. Bald eagles crashed through the lake’s surface and emerged with fresh fish in their talons. Noisy Killdeer scooted along a gravel road chasing grasshoppers. Eastern Phoebes and Loggerhead Shrikes sallied forth from elevated perches to hawk flying insects. White-tailed Deer grazed in the park and have become somewhat accustomed to humans. Gray and Southern Fox Squirrels foraged under trees and scampered to a high branch as we approached. The morning was punctuated by the eerie call of the Limpkin and trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes.

All of a sudden, it was lunchtime! How did that happen? We just got here!

Gini’s selection of chicken and fruit was perfect. Just like our day.

 

“Butcher Bird” or Loggerhead Shrike uses that curved beak to grab a dragonfly, moth, grasshopper or even a lizard. Often, the prey is impaled on a thorn or barbed wire fence to make it easier to consume.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A young White-tailed Deer buck knows he is within the park boundary where hunting is not permitted. Otherwise, we likely would never see him in the open.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Pine Warblers can vary from very drab to very bright yellow. Their white wing bars and face patterns help in identification.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Like the Pine, Palm Warblers can also appear quite plain or show a lot of yellow. The constantly pumping tail gives it away even at a distance.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Small, fast and hungry. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers will fly to a low branch to examine you closely then, poof, they’re back in the top of that tree to resume the snack search.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, is not only wonderful to listen to, but is pretty nice looking, too!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Bright yellow with dark streaks on its sides and distinctive face pattern describe a Prairie Warbler. This one was focused on a bug in a bush and let me get fairly close.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Female Black-and-White Warblers are paler than the male with a gray instead of black cheek. Both think they belong to the Nuthatch family as they run headfirst down a tree trunk or explore the underside of a branch.

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

I had a glimpse of a Limpkin here five years ago and never saw another until today. I was beginning to think they were avoiding me.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Typical of former mining pits, all four lakes at Hardee Lakes Park are quite deep for Florida lakes. Double-crested Cormorants don’t mind diving for their dinner and they thrive here.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Although they can dive deep, the small Pied-billed Grebe would just as soon grab her lunch nearer the surface when possible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Long legs, double breast bands, orange eyes – the Killdeer runs, stops, runs, stops – until he nabs a bug. Then he does it all over again. Noisily.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Yellow-rumped Warblers have a split personality. There are two sub-species: “Myrtle” Warbler of the eastern U.S. has a white throat, yellow sides and yellow rump. “Audubon’s” Warbler of the west has a yellow throat, yellow sides and yellow rump. Here in Florida we occasionally see “Audubon’s” during migration.

Hardee Lakes Park

“Myrtle” Warbler

Just looking at her makes my arm hurt. Horse Fly (Tabanus atratus). From 0.75-1.25 inches long (1.9-3.18 cm). Avoid!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Winter means we get to enjoy that dedicated hunter, the Eastern Phoebe. They are plentiful and beautiful and we will be sad when they all head north in the spring.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Bald Eagles are common throughout our area since central Florida has so many lakes. Also, migration adds to the number of these magnificent raptors. Resident birds are busy with courtship and nesting now through January. Today we enjoyed watching adult and immature birds soar and fish.

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature

Also concentrating on courtship, territorial battles and nest building are many water bird species. This Great Blue Heron is circling around to rejoin two other herons. We couldn’t determine if the ongoing kerfuffle was courtship or territory related.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Sandhill Crane siesta includes taking time to preen all those long feathers.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Southern Fox Squirrel nibbles a piece of mushroom in the shade of a pine tree by the lake side.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Around the shoreline of the lakes were vast patches of bright Bur-marigold (Bidens laevis). No, I didn’t pack a wide-angle lens. Sigh. It was still a lovely sight.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we exited the park, I saw some movement in a large oak tree and discovered a Pileated Woodpecker seemingly with his hair on fire.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

We are blessed to have such places to visit within an easy ride from the house. Our thanks to the forward-thinkers a few decades ago who planned for reclaiming this formerly very ugly mining area and transforming it into a haven for those who love nature.

Whew! What a day! I am SO glad I began the morning with a cup of beans for breakfast. Ground up. Hot water poured over them. Sipped slowly. Ahhhh.

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, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

TEXAS !

Grandchildren. They may be the most powerful forces on the planet. We have two located in Houston, Texas. Recently, Gini and I drove 1,000 miles to see our granddaughter perform in a play. She and her younger brother held us captivated for several days before we were able to escape. Magic was surely involved.

Texas is big. Over 268,000 square miles (+696,000 sq. km). It’s almost twice as large as Germany and Japan. With that much territory, Texas has an incredibly diverse geography. Exploring is challenging and exciting.

While visiting with our grandkids (and their parents), we took some time to investigate a couple of nearby wildlife refuges. This entry is about our time at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour west of Houston.

This refuge was established specifically for attempting to replenish an almost extinct population of Attwater’s Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri), a subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken. About 100 years ago, there were over a million of these small grouse in the coastal plains of Texas and Louisiana. By the 1930’s, there were less than 9,000 birds in Texas and they have continued to decline since. Refuge personnel at Attwater refuge tracked only 29 individuals in mid-2017, most of which were hens. In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey wreaked incredible devastation across southeast Texas, mostly due to extensive flooding. Post-storm tracking could locate only five remaining birds within the refuge.

We felt quite privileged to observe a hen almost as soon as we entered the refuge property. Captive breeding is ongoing at two zoos and some local private landowners are helping out by allowing birds to be released on their land. We hope our sighting will one day be repeated by those grandchildren once they become adults.

The weather refused to cooperate during our foray into the prairie. We dodged rainstorms and the wind was fairly high all day. Despite adverse conditions, we found a wonderful array of birds, flowers and scenery. I complained about bad lighting as I happily accumulated several hundred images. (No, you don’t have to sit through them all!)

 

Typical coastal prairie habitat located at about the center of the refuge. Local ranchers are allowed to have cattle forage in the more than 10,000 acres of grassland. Grazing helps keep open pathways through the grass for young birds of several species.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Greater Prairie Chicken (Attwater’s). This hen surprised us by a sudden roadside appearance. She allowed a few photographs and took off toward the interior of the refuge in a straight flight just above the tops of the grass.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

An adult Killdeer tried to divert our attention, using the “broken wing” ruse. We soon saw why. Three very new chicks were feeding along the road.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

A creek crossing attracted about three dozen Cliff Swallows. Their pale forehead and dark throat helps to differentiate them from the similar Cave Swallow.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

A new bird for us! With spring migration still in progress we were surrounded by Dickcissels. The bright yellow chest with dark breast band gave an initial appearance of a miniature Meadowlark. The smaller size and thick beak helped identify them as members of the Bunting family.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

From a thorny perch, this White-crowned Sparrow carefully searched for seeds.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

A pair of Northern Bobwhite stealthily made their way through the grass. The female showed her crest and the male was striking with his black and white head pattern.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

The rain stopped for a bit and we were thrilled to have a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers spend some time just outside the car window. They likely had a nest nearby but we couldn’t locate it and they weren’t telling.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Although the Savannah Sparrow may be common, it is nonetheless a very attractive bird.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

At home, in Florida, we see Northern Grasshopper Sparrows like this once in awhile during migration. A subspecies, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, is quite rare and has become endangered.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

In this prairie habitat, myriad flowers bloom. We missed the “prime” spring bloom by a week or so, but were very pleased with those that were still showing off. Amazing diversity.

Evening Primrose

Houston

 

Texas Coneflower

Houston

 

Scarlet Pimpernel

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Prairie Rose-gentian

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Winecup

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Prairie Nymph

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Texas Bullnettle, Drummond’s Phlox

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Cherokee Rose

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

Perhaps a caterpillar of one of the Tiger Moth species?

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

Imported Fire Ants are a huge problem. They were introduced to the United States in the early 1900’s from South America. They continue to spread throughout the east and south and cause damage to many crops and wildlife. If you’ve ever been bitten by one, you know what a painful experience it can be.

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

A White-tailed Deer pauses from feeding to gaze across the prairie. We really enjoyed our time at the refuge.

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

 

 

If you have a chance to visit Texas, do it! Whatever your destination within this huge state, you’re sure to find something to please your sense of adventure.

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

 

Additional Information

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

Categories: Birds, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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