Posts Tagged With: least bittern

Close Enough For Comfort

I should go birding or photographing every day. Alas, the requirements of everyday life simply prohibit such a luxury. Okay, that and the fact that I’m lazy by nature and can’t bring myself to leave the house at the totally unrealistic hour the sun decides to arise each day.

But if I wanted to make a short drive to a decent spot for birds and scenery, I could do so, thanks to my city’s thoughtfulness in providing a very nice park less than ten minutes from the house. Our city is not huge (a little over 100,000 population) but has included a good number of urban parks in its past and future planning. The one near our house, Lake Parker Park, is a very nice oasis surrounded by development. As you near the park entrance, you drive past a large baseball complex, winter home to a professional team. Just outside the park’s southern boundary is a fire department operations center which is quite loud on training days, not to mention smoky. Near the park’s northern entrance is a state police headquarters where driving tests are administered. Directly across the lake from the park one can view a picturesque coal-fired power plant complex.

Having said all of that, one can arrive as the park opens at dawn and spend a lovely hour or two of relative calm and quiet before the city awakens. Within the park are groves of huge oak trees, a sprinkling of pines and three different spots where mulberry trees provide ripe fruit each year. There are soccer fields which offer foraging areas for Killdeer and Mourning Dove and the tall light support structures provide ideal nesting platforms for Osprey and Great Horned Owls. The lake shoreline, a canal, a pond and small wetland all offer appealing habitat and feeding spots for a very diverse selection of birds.

Spring and fall migrants can make for exciting birding with the potential for a rare species always possible. Many northern visitors spend the entire winter within the park and the relatively confined area makes spotting them much more likely than at some other popular birding locales.

Now that summer is here, the park is a great place to find breeding birds. Water birds compete for prime nesting trees along the lake’s edge and woodland species enjoy the large populations of insects found near the water.

A few days ago, I managed to stumble out of bed early enough to go to the park in order to photograph a beautiful sunrise. Mother Nature provided a blanket of early morning fog for me to enjoy instead. Sigh. It was still a lovely morning and I even found a few cooperative birds, including a bit of a rarity which has been frequenting the park the past few weeks.

Patch:  Lake Parker Park

A blessing in disguise. Although the fog didn’t permit a photograph of a pretty sunrise, it does obscure the not-so-beautiful power plant across the lake.

Lake Parker Park

 

A local fisherman patiently waits for the fog to lift. Actually, the Great Blue Heron hunts just fine no matter the conditions.

Lake Parker Park

 

It’s difficult to find models willing to get up early and sit in the top of a cypress tree in the mist at dawn, but, fortunately for me, the Anhinga is beautiful (!) and works cheap. Gini suggested a bit less eye make-up but, hey, “cheap” was the key word.

Lake Parker

 

One of the more colorful residents of the park are Purple Gallinules. They are here all year and these chicks are probably about a month old.

Lake Parker

 

With abundant water and water-loving vegetation, insect life is prolific here. Some of the bugs are very attractive, such as this male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). The immature male begins life the same bright green as the female and then turns this characteristic powder blue. This color change can involve as many as 17 distinct color stages over a 2-3 week period.

Lake Parker Park

 

The smallest of North America’s herons, the Least Bittern (length: 13 inches, wingspan: 17 inches), is not often seen due to its size, coloration and “bittern” habit of holding still with its head pointed skyward to avoid detection within dense reeds. This one was hungry. He fixed his gaze on an unseen prey just beneath the surface, stretched his long neck and dove completely underwater for his breakfast snack.

Lake Parker

Lake Parker

Lake Parker

 

The Snail Kite population within Florida is estimated at less than 1,000 individuals. This is down from about 3500 in the late 1990’s. The decline is likely due to human development affecting the bird’s primary food source, the Florida Apple Snail. Accidental introduction of invasive apple snails from South America has recently provided a boost to the kite’s food supply. In the past five years, the kite population has increased slightly. The species still faces huge challenges as habitat loss still occurs. Also, nature provides its own issues. Last year, Hurricane Irma swept across Florida and in its wake biologists determined virtually all Snail Kite nests (over 40) on Lake Okeechobee in the south were destroyed. I felt fortunate to be able to observe this beautiful male catch and eat breakfast the other day.

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

 

Another local patch for which I am very thankful! Be better than I am when it comes to getting out of bed to go visit your own special spot.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Parker Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Storm Dodging

My dad didn’t know I was using his long-handled minnow net to scrape along the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to catch crayfish. That changed when I hit an unforgiving root and bent the frame of the net. Fortunately, he was more forgiving than the root and a quick twist of the pliers and the net was as good as new. But I wouldn’t be using it in the drainage ditch anymore, he said.

That was in Miami, Florida about 60 years ago. At about that same time, a towheaded tomboy was busy trying to catch tadpoles in a drainage ditch near Tampa, Florida. Two kids, two drainage ditches, infinite curiosity about nature, 200 miles apart. Who knew fate would bring us together in a music room where love eventually blossomed and is still in full bloom.

Florida summers bring sudden and ferocious thunderstorms with raindrops the size of quarters, earth shaking rumbles and bright streaks of lightning hurled from inky skies. The only thing more frightening than the storm was what would happen to my rear end if my Mother had to call me indoors more than once! Although the storm would usually pass quickly, it was difficult to be patient. I knew the rain would add more water to the drainage ditches which could hold frogs, their thousands of tadpoles, turtles, crayfish and who knew what other wonders!

We are older now and much wiser, with enough sense to remain indoors when a severe storm is brewing —–

NOT!

Why, that’s when all the birds are busy hunting for a last minute meal before the rains begin! We simply MUST be out there with them!

Thus, so it was last Wednesday. About a week ago, as I was traveling to an appointment downtown, I thought I glimpsed a Snail Kite along the shore of Lake Parker. There was too much traffic to stop safely and I was running a bit late so confirmation would have to wait. Until Wednesday. Until gathering storm clouds motivated me to pile Gini and bins and camera into the truck and go hunting. Bingo! There she was, atop a small cypress tree. She didn’t like my slinking around trying to hide behind trees to get close enough for a photo, but she remained in the area and I snapped a few shots for the record and left quickly so she could continue hunting for her escargot lunch. Before the storm.

We decided to check out a couple of the public boat ramp areas on the south and east sides of the lake since the rain had not yet begun. At the south ramp, a pair of Royal Terns were busy criss-crossing the lake in front of us while a young Limpkin extracted an apple snail from its shell. Half a dozen Osprey appeared to be suspended in the sky as they faced into the stiffening wind of the coming storm.  At the east ramp, there are more trees and we found a group of 14 Yellow Warblers feeding voraciously. Along with these migrants were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a couple of Prairie Warblers and a Yellow-throated Warbler. I even got a rare glimpse of a migratory Northern Waterthrush, a bird usually heard but not often seen very well. A couple of woodpeckers and a vireo were scouring the branches of a large oak tree. Along a canal leading to the lake, the soft “chortle” of a Least Bittern led me to the spot where he slowly emerged for exactly one picture before he melted back into the reeds. A young alligator was totally unconcerned about any storms as he was way too busy demonstrating how to relax. In a protected spot, a dragon posed in the sunlight before the storm clouds rolled in.

Gini and I found a small barbeque place that sold us a couple of sandwiches and we parked on the shore of a small lake and enjoyed Nature’s show while we ate. The lake’s surface was whipped into whitecaps, the sky was black as night, thunder rolled, quarter-sized drops hit the windshield and we reminisced about running barefoot in a drainage ditch full of rain water. I am blessed.

Images from before the storm.

 

This lady started it all today. A Snail Kite, endangered due to loss of habitat throughout Florida but, happily, holding their own.

Lake Parker

Snail Kite

 

A Royal Tern enjoys the breeze before the storm rolls in.

Lake Parker

Royal Tern

 

A secretive Least Bittern. In the proper habitat, they are usually heard but prefer to remain deep in the reeds. (It is a smallish heron measuring only 11-14 inches (28-36 cm) in length.) Here is its soft chuckling call:  Least Bittern Call.

Lake Parker Park

Least Bittern

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in Florida but in fall we begin to see numbers of them as migrants head south for the winter.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

A Prairie Warbler can have very subtle or very vivid facial markings. This one is a bit in between the extremes. These birds don’t breed in our area and are only enjoyed during migration.

Lake Parker Park

Prairie Warbler

 

Another migrant, the Northern Waterthrush resembles a member of the thrush family (even bearing the name!) but is actually a warbler. It spends most of its time on the ground or low perches in boggy areas.

Lake Parker Park

Northern Waterthrush

 

This Red-bellied Woodpecker is likely a first-year bird transitioning into adult plumage. Thus the “dirty” face.

Lake Parker Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Small Downy Woodpeckers are common in our area. This female is examining a lichen-covered branch hoping to find a snack.

Lake Parker Park

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Yellow-throated Vireo stopped hunting for a moment to gaze down at the old guy gazing up. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if this is a local or a fall visitor.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

When we drove up to the east side boat ramp area, before we got out of the truck, a gang of Yellow Warblers was very actively feeding in trees adjacent to the parking lot. It was interesting that within the group we spotted brightly colored males, the more subtly hued females and some almost gray looking immature birds.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Storms hold no fear for a dragon! Well, I imagine once the wind and rain begin, this dragon will seek shelter. This is a Four-spotted Pennant and is a young female. As she matures, the spots on each wing will become darker. The bright white stigmas on each wing leading edge and the slender abdomen are diagnostic for this species.

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

 

“Storm? What storm?” Typical alligator attitude.

East Lake Parker

American Alligator

 

We love living in the Sunshine State with its clear bright blue skies most of the year. But when the storms arrive, we still don’t mind dodging the raindrops to find a few birds. And if we happen to spot a drainage ditch full of water, well, these shoes and socks can disappear pretty quick!

 

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

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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