Posts Tagged With: lake jackson

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

From our house, in about an hour-and-a-half (or four hours if we miscalculate rush hour), we could be standing in line waiting for our opportunity to enter the greatest entertainment complex in the universe: DISNEY WORLD! Depending on how many of the FOUR UNIQUE THEME PARKS we would like to visit in one day, we would only need to provide the happy ticket vendor with from $240 to $350. The keys to the Magic Kingdom could be OURS

Or —

From our house, in about an hour-and-a-half, we could be surrounded by pine trees, grass prairie, cypress hammocks, scrub palmetto, blue lakes, huge oak trees draped in gently swaying Spanish moss. No happy ticket vendor.

Small patches of ground fog hugged the low-growing palmetto surrounding the cypress domes which dotted the land. It is estimated that as late as the mid-1800’s, dry grass prairie covered over one million acres in central and south Florida. Due to population growth, cattle ranching and farming, these very unique environments can now only be found in a few areas north and west of Lake Okeechobee. We feel privileged to be able to enjoy all which this biologically diverse and special area has to offer.

Driving the dirt roads through the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area while trying to avoid the numerous pot-holes , we found a bounty of blooming wildflowers, white-tailed deer and a good selection of summer birds. Gini’s radar-like hearing detected the distant calls of a gang of feeding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. This endangered species nests here and populations are highly managed which has resulted in an amazing recovery from near extinction. Alas, none of the group wanted to be photographed today.

In the middle of this vast wilderness is Lake Jackson, one of the “Three Lakes” in the management area. We enjoyed a light breakfast on the lake’s shore while watching ducks, wading birds, alligators and soaring vultures. I took a bit of a meander through the adjacent hammocks where there was ample evidence of a healthy feral hog presence. The ground was so uneven from the pigs’ rooting it was difficult to walk.

By lunch time, we had made our way to the shore of another of the “Three Lakes”, huge Lake Kissimmee. Sandwiches under shady oak trees just seemed to taste better with a gentle breeze, clear blue sky, calling Limpkins, splashing Gallinules, Bald Eagles and Ospreys catching fish. Sigh.

The third lake in this vast management system, Lake Marian, would have to wait for another day. It was time to head home. As we drove by the exit for Disney World, we didn’t even notice.

We regret we have not yet figured out how to reproduce the aroma of the wildflowers or the feel of the breeze on your face. Hopefully, you can enjoy a few images. Close your eyes and imagine …

 

Lake Jackson is a shallow bowl-shaped lake of the kind typically found in central Florida. The fishing is very good and each year endangered Snail Kites nest along the remote shore line.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

During breakfast, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks kept a close watch on us and a pair of Wood Ducks flew overhead.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Wandering around a low place (hammock) near Lake Jackson I discovered this oak tree. It’s impressive spread supports so much life. Ferns, lichens, moss, air plants, vines. Not to mention the diverse animal population which could call it home.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Some form of Coreopsis is so prevalent in Florida that the entire genus has been named as the state wildflower. This is Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) and, fortunately for us, it was blooming throughout the management area.

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

 

Part of our lunch time entertainment was a Great Blue Heron stalking his own lunch v-e-r-y slowly.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Although the Limpkin’s plumage can be great for concealing its presence among reeds, once it emits its eerie call there is no doubt he’s nearby.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

With so much water around (uhh, it IS Florida!), insects abound. The Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) and Four-Spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) are two very common dragonflies for our area.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Even though part of this area is called “dry grass” prairie, when it rains (and we have had abundant rain lately) the “dry grass” is interspersed with a whole lot of color. This pretty pink blossom is Rosy Camphorweed (Brachymesia gravida). When its leaves are crushed they give off a citrus odor. Early settlers may have used it to ward off fleas from bed linen and an old colloquial name for the plant is “Marsh Fleabane”.

Prairie Lakes

 

These white flowers were abundant along one stretch of road. Alligator Lily (Hymenocallis palmeri), is one of 40 members of this genus in the New World, 13 of which can be found in Florida. Plants in this group are known collectively as “Spider Lilies”.

Prairie Lakes

 

We bypassed the glitz and glare of crass commercialism and discovered our very own Magic Kingdom. No keys required. Hopefully, you all have a magical spot not too far from your own front door. If not, I know a place ready to take your hard-earned cash.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

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

High Times In Highlands County

A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people– Will Rogers

I truly enjoy watching my wife tackle an artistic endeavor.  She analyzes what needs to be done, develops a plan of attack, gathers the necessary materials and then performs magic.  At least, it’s magic to me.  I possess no such talent for producing something beautiful from, literally, nothing but an idea.  Whether she’s drawing or making a gift box decorated with paper flowers and doves, observing her while she’s creating is awe-inspiring.

That’s the way it is with someone who has knowledge or skills we may not.  We envy that person, we wish we could do what they do, we are amazed at the results they achieve and we want to be around them in the hope some of that talent will transfer to us.  Guess what?  Sometimes it does.  We may not reach their level of expertise, but just by hanging around such folks we almost can’t avoid learning something!

Sunday morning coffee was in a paper cup which imparted a unique flavor to my daily dose of caffeine.  The truck zigzagged through the dark along a series of back roads en route to a pre-dawn rendezvous with two of Florida’s top birders.  They would be characteristically too modest to agree with that description, but, hey, it’s my blog!  One of them can hear a Scrub Jay whisper in a hurricane a half mile away.  The other personally knows the address of every bird in the county and requires migrants to file a flight plan with him.

Today we intended to explore likely birding locales in Highlands County (we are all residents of Polk County, to the immediate north).  As the sun broke the horizon, we squinted eastward across the surface of Lake Jackson in Sebring.  About a dozen migrating Black Terns were actively feeding near the public boat ramp and picnic area.  They have lost their black plumage and transitioned to non-breeding colors as they prepare to continue on to the Caribbean.  A Belted Kingfisher was there and is also a migrant, but may stay in the area all winter.

Highlands Hammock State Park on the south side of Sebring consists of over 9,000 acres of oak and cypress hammock, swamp, black water creeks, pine forest and scrub.  Hikes along a couple of different paths produced 9 warbler species, including a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, 4 woodpecker species, White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos, a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Summer Tanager.  Competing with the bird life were myriad insects, amphibians and reptiles.

After lunch (I can’t believe these guys stopped to eat), we explored a small park on the north side of Lake Istokpoga.  We were greeted at the parking area by a half dozen calling Sandhill Cranes and another half dozen Black Vultures (who were just finishing lunch themselves-armadillo, I think).  We found a colorful American Redstart, Tufted Titmice, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an adult and juvenile Purple Gallinule.

A short drive to the north and our noses alerted us we were nearing our objective, Bishop’s Dairy.  The continually wet mud which cows seem to enjoy is home to millions of insects.  Migratory shorebirds love this smorgasbord and we found a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers attending the banquet.  In an isolated mud puddle, a Solitary Sandpiper bathed and chased his own meal around the water.  Three dozen European Starlings, a couple dozen Cattle Egret, four dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Dove, White Ibises and a Loggerhead Shrike rounded out the attendees at the dairy buffet.

Just around the corner from the dairy is an area of extensive pasture land, low lying fields and scattered ponds.  The abundant rain this summer has inundated most of this area and has attracted quite a variety of bird life.  We counted over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were juveniles.  Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 80 Cattle Egret, two dozen White Ibis, 50 Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Sandhill Cranes, almost two dozen Yellowlegs, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 5 Loggerhead Shrikes and an American Kestrel, among others, were enjoying the abundance of food in these fields.  We found a recently plowed field which hosted a couple of dozen Kildeer, Least Sandpipers and a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers.  One of the highlights in this area was a “kettle” of vultures spiraling up into the blue sky.

As afternoon thunderstorms built up, we headed home, happy to have tallied over 80 species of birds for the day.  My thanks to two companions who were generous with their knowledge and patient with an old dog still trying to learn a new trick or two.  These guys aren’t just good birders, they are true gentlemen.

 

I managed a few snapshots during the day and have included a sampling in the hope you might share a bit of the experience we had.

Lake Jackson Area

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Highlands Hammock State Park

Path

Path

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

The smaller spider is the male.  Keeping his distance from his spouse!

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rat Snake

Yellow Rat Snake

Carolina Satyr

Carolina Satyr

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) - Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) – Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) - (?)

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) – (?)

 

This is the smallest toad species in North America with an average length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Lake Istokpoga Park

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) - Male

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) – Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – Male

Bishop’s Dairy

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Note how the parents station themselves at either end of the ducklings to stand watch.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Kettle of Vultures

Kettle of Vultures

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

As late afternoon thunderstorms build, Cattle Egret seek shelter, and so did we as we headed home.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

I may not be any smarter just for hanging around smart people, but I do enjoy being around anyone who can lead me to over 80 species of birds in one day.  And I do have my occasional strokes of genius.  After all, I was smart enough to marry Gini over 45 years ago!

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

 

 

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

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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