Posts Tagged With: lake arbuckle

Can’t See The Forest For The Birds

“This fog sure is dense.” Gini was helping to scan the road ahead for vehicles or animals which might suddenly appear from the mist. I announced that when I saw the weather forecast last night I wasn’t worried about leaving too early as the fog would keep the bird activity down until the sun began to cause the gray blanket to dissipate. Two-and-a-half falsehoods in one sentence. I couldn’t take my eyes from the road, but I’m pretty sure those beautiful brown eyes next to me rolled heavenward.

Our target for today was the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest near Frostproof in Polk County. (See Additional Information below.) This section of the state forest consists of a single dead-end dirt road which roughly parallels the western shore of Lake Arbuckle (but you cannot see the lake from this road at any point). Several trails and side roads offer a lot of opportunity for exploring by vehicle, horse or hiking. Portable restrooms are located at the Check Station, where there are also picnic tables under huge shady oak trees. A short drive to Lake Godwin takes you past a wetland area where we found quite a few wading and water birds. The small lake has more picnic tables, a nice pier for fishing from and a loop trail through open pine and palmetto scrub.

Along the forest road, tracks in the damp red dirt told a story of the previous night. White-tailed Deer commuted along the road and then veered into the underbrush to feed. Raccoons are plentiful as every few yards displayed their claw marks crossing the road.  The soft earth revealed the unique three-toed print of a Nine-banded Armadillo. Very small tracks were likely from rodents and abstract curves made by serpents of the night were numerous. Indeed, we saw an Eastern Black Racer cross ahead of us, pausing briefly to raise his head to see us better.

Birds. We seldom traveled more than two minutes without seeing or hearing birds. Harsh rasps of Florida’s endemic Scrub Jays; woodpeckers calling and drumming; chips of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers; trills of a multitude of Pine Warblers; clear whistles of “drink-your-teeeeeea” as Eastern Towhees called from shrubs throughout the forest; exuberant White-eyed Vireos seemed intent on letting us know spring was on the way; soft burbling voices as a covey of Northern Bobwhite scurried alongside the road; a scream from a Red-shouldered Hawk.

It was a wonderful morning to be in the forest with its fresh pine scent and so much wildlife all around us!

As we left the forest road, instead of heading directly home, we took a short tour down another dead-end road (sensing a pattern?) to find Arbuckle Campground and Park, a county facility. It was badly damaged last year by Hurricane Irma and re-opened a couple of months ago. In addition to camping spots, the park has plenty of picnic tables, restrooms, showers (for campers) and a nice boat ramp. A fishing pier is still under repair. Huge cypress trees, oaks, bay and other “wet feet” species offer terrific cover for birds. We found warblers (including our first Northern Parula of the year), woodpeckers, migrating American Robins and plenty of water birds. We’ll return here soon!

A few images of birds seems appropriate about now.

A group of at least five Northern Bobwhite were along the edge of the road. We could hear them murmuring to each other, soft whistles and gurgles, but couldn’t spot them. This is why Gini gets the big bucks. “They’re right beside the car”, she whispered. I had been searching the underbrush beyond.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Little Downy Woodpeckers are always on the move, probing every part of a tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Winter visitors here, Chipping Sparrows like to hang out in groups and love the open pine forest. Their chestnut crown and un-streaked breast help them stand out a bit from all the brown and gray tree branches.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in our area and usually appear for a moment to see who is under their tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Bright, clear whistles rang out on all sides during the morning as Eastern Towhees vied for attention of females. The ladies aren’t as “contrasty” as the male but I think they’re every bit as good-looking.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Rubber duckies. Squeeze them and they squeak. Thirty feet up in a pine tree, rubber duckies were squeaking at us. The little Brown-headed Nuthatch may not have much of a voice, but they make up for it with a pugnacious attitude! They are quick to challenge anything in their territory, including a clunky-looking two-legged creature stomping around the underbrush.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The warbler which thinks it’s a nuthatch. Black-and-White Warblers probe tree bark while upside down on the trunk, just like a nuthatch.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The forest was full of Pine Warblers. Perhaps they’re gathering in groups preparing to migrate north for the spring. Perhaps there was a sale on bugs. Pine Warblers can range from drab gray to canary yellow. We saw those and every shade in between.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Prairie Warblers also can vary in plumage just about as much as the Pine. Their facial pattern seems to give them a somewhat sad look. Their brightness and pretty song brings a smile.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

During our break for breakfast, we were serenaded by a persistent White-eyed Vireo. He would go from tree branch to bush and back to the tree and just sang his heart out. Simply beautiful!

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Our short visit to the nearby campground and boat ramp area provided our first sightings of Northern Parula since the fall. They breed in our area but most of them spend the winter in South and Central America.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

A Tricolored Heron flew along the shoreline as we reluctantly headed for home.

Arbuckle Campground and Park

 

Many people are unaware that Florida has a state forest system which provides many opportunities for nature and wildlife observation. Check out the link below for a spot near you.

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

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

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