Posts Tagged With: lake wales ridge state forest

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

Seeing The Forest For The Trees (And The Lake, And The Marsh, And The Prairie)

The very name “Lake Wales Ridge State Forest” appears to be a double oxymoron. One does not usually think of Florida as containing “ridges” or “forests”. The more typical mental image of those not familiar with our “Sunshine State” is of beaches, warm winters and all things Disney. These images may be accurate, but there is so much more to experience. For an idea of how much forest land is managed by the state, check out the link under “Additional Information”.

Here is a description of the area known as the Lake Wales Ridge:

“The most important remaining patches lie along the Lake Wales Ridge, a chain of paleoislands running for a hundred miles down the center of Florida, in most places less than ten miles wide. It is relict seashore, tossed up more than a million years ago when ocean levels were higher and the rest of the peninsula was submerged. That ancient emergence is precisely what makes the Lake Wales Ridge so precious; it has remained unsubmerged, its ecosystems essentially undisturbed since the Miocene.”

John Jerome, Author “Scrub, Beautiful Scrub” in Heart of the Land

We recently had a chance to revisit one of the four tracts of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, the Prairie Tract. (See our prior post on this area: Wet, Wild, Wonderful!)  Once again, we were privileged to have as our guide, Mr. Dave Butcher of the Florida Forest Service. We really appreciated his expert knowledge of the area, willingness to take us through any terrain in our search for breeding birds and outstanding patience in putting up with us all day long.

This is a truly diverse area, ecologically. We explored citrus groves, pastures, grass prairie, hardwood hammocks, stands of pine trees, low-water/marshy areas and the shoreline of one of the state’s largest natural lakes, the beautiful Lake Kissimmee. Evidence of breeding birds was just about everywhere. The day began with the calls of Chuck-Will’s-Widows and “peent” calls of Common Nighthawks as they dove headlong toward the ground in their courtship dive, punctuated by the loud rush of air through their feathers as they put on the brakes. The things one must do to impress a mate!

Dense fog shrouded our surroundings as the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes announced the dawn. White-tail Deer materialized in the mist and just as quickly bounded away at our approach. Wild turkey, heads low to the ground, slinked into the palmetto scrub, confident we never saw them. White-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinals, Eastern Meadowlarks – all were competing for some sort of “loudest singer” prize. As we approached a corral in a large pasture, two young Crested Caracara shuffled nervously on their post perches. It’s possible they had not yet seen a human in their relatively short life so far. As we progressed through the pasture, we counted five adult Burrowing Owls, some showing off their hunting prowess as they hovered Kestrel-like before diving onto an unsuspecting grasshopper or lizard. Two big surprises of the day: an Upland Sandpiper who should have migrated north a month ago and a Ring-necked Pheasant, likely a left-over or escapee from a hunting club. The highlight of our day, however, was the discovery of an endangered Florida Scrub Jay nest with young being fed by an adult. What a tremendous thing it is to see new life thriving in a species not that far away from total extinction.

A few random photographs might offer a tantalizing flavor of our day.

A large number of Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) spend the winter in Florida and points south.  There is a sub-species, the Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis), which is a non-migratory resident.  Once you hear the resounding trumpet call of either species you won’t soon forget it.  (Hear the call:  http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/133093.)

 

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

The Eastern Lubber Grasshopper is a large, colorful insect which can grow up to about three inches (8 cm) in length.  Adults are bright yellow and orange.  The black immature Lubbers seen here were climbing en masse to the top of a fence post near the end of the day, likely to escape predators during the night.

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

 

The song of the Brown Thrasher can easily be mistaken for a Northern Mockingbird.  Both are members of the family Mimidae and are quite adept at copying the songs of other birds.  The Brown Thrasher will typically repeat a phrase only two or three times and move on to something else.  The Northern Mockingbird may repeat the same song many times (sometimes it seems like all night during the summer!).  In this case, the helpful bird hopped on a post to make certain we knew who the neighborhood belonged to.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

 

With so much diversity, predators abound.  We saw tracks of Bobcat and Coyote and there are Black Bears and the rare Florida Panther here as well.  Raptors, such as this Red-shouldered Hawk thrive in this lush environment.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

The White-tail Deer is abundant in the area but not often seen as they are very wary (as most wild animals need to be!).  They are also curious.  Sometimes, a small sound, such as a camera shutter click, will cause them to stop and look toward the source of the noise.  So although the first picture may not be useable, you might have a second chance at that beautiful face.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

 

Most birders in Florida don’t head into the field with “Ring-necked Pheasant” on their list of expected birds.  This female is likely a survivor of a hunt club or escapee from a game bird farm.  In any event, she’s beautiful.  (The shadow line at the bottom of the photo is the roofline of the truck.  She was literally right outside the door of the vehicle.)

Ring-necked Pheasant (Female)

Ring-necked Pheasant (Female)

 

Northern Bobwhite were singing everywhere!  That’s good news as their population has been in general decline over the past couple of decades.  This pair will hopefully breed successfully.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

 

We were fortunate to spot several Burrowing Owls during the day.  They pretty much ignored our presence but were very keen on looking in all directions, including upwards, as they scanned for potential predators.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

 

Two immature Crested Caracara perch over a watering trough as they keep an eye out for a meal.  When they mature, their facial skin will become redder, the face/neck feathers more white and their legs more yellow.  Mom and Dad were perched about 50 yards away keeping watch.

Crested Caracara (Immature)

Crested Caracara (Immature)

 

Dragonflies are beginning to become very abundant.  I think this is a Common Baskettail but would certainly appreciate a definitive identification.

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) - ??

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) – ??

 

I happen to think one of our native flowers is just about as attractive a plant as any I’ve seen.  Pickerelweed may not be a pretty name, but – well, just look.

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

 

Speaking of nice looking natives, this one isn’t too shabby, either.

American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata)

American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata)

 

A Limpkin flew into a marshy spot with a freshly caught Apple Snail.  As soon as he landed, a baby Limpkin ran out for his portion of escargot.  Another chick was running in from another direction, out of camera range.

Limpkin

Limpkin

Limpkin (Adult and Chick)

Limpkin (Adult and Chick)

 

Well, it was time for two tired birders to head home.  As we did so, we spotted two tired birds doing the same thing.  These Wild Turkeys trudged up a hill in a newly plowed field reaching the crest just at sunset.  A wonderful way to end a great day.

Wild Turkeys At Dusk

Wild Turkeys At Dusk

 

 

If you’re looking for new places in Florida to explore, our State Forests offer vast amounts of hiking trails, lakes, streams, primitive campsites, wildlife and, yes, even actual trees!

 

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

 

Additional Information:

Florida State Forests

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: