Posts Tagged With: limpkin

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

Jump-Starting The Day

Modern automobiles are fairly reliable things. A little regular maintenance and they perform well and seldom give us pause for concern. It was not always thus. Once upon a time, we didn’t dare leave the driveway without a few basic tools, a can of oil and jumper cables.

That sickening “click-click-click” when you turn the ignition key makes you close your eyes and turn it again, knowing full well you will hear the same sound. You open the hood, twist the cables to be sure they’re tight and gaze around for a minute pretending you know what you’re doing. With older batteries, you would check for water in the cells. In the end, you find a healthy vehicle or call road service, hook up the cables and smile when the engine roars to life!

Our days can be like that. We get busy with work, family, chores, bills – we run down. Late in the day we find ourselves sighing heavily and looking out the window. We seem to be ready to go to bed earlier than normal. Morning arrives sooner than we hoped. Getting out of bed takes effort. The coffee has no taste and the caffeine does nothing to provide a boost.

We need a jump-start!

Setting foot on the trail as the sky begins to lighten about a half-hour before dawn and taking in one long, deep breath – that will do it. Add the trumpeting of a pair of Sandhill Cranes overhead, the chattering of a coot, a distant Barred Owl call answered by another, a light fog hugging the surface of the lake. The serene atmosphere is abruptly disturbed as the eerie screeching of Limpkins signals it’s time for all creatures to be awake!

I am one of the luckiest of mortal men as one glance at Gini each morning provides all the jump starting I could ever handle. When we combine our mutual electricity with Nature’s, it is an awesome experience!

A few days before Christmas, a wander around Tenoroc Fish Management Area helped jump-start a fabulous day. Some images from the morning follow.

 

An Anhinga silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky prepares for a day of fishing.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

Heard long before they were seen, a pair of Sandhill Cranes loudly announced they were heading to the day’s feeding grounds.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

As the sun dries the night’s dew, a Yellow-rumped Warbler is ready as insects ¬†begin to emerge from their night-time hiding places.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

New fencing has recently been erected (and looks really dangerous!) and a Loggerhead Shrike can’t wait to impale his breakfast bugs on some of those shiny new barbs!

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

Central Florida in late December means we get to enjoy some insects not active in cooler climates. An early morning Barred Yellow (Eurema daira) visits a Beggarticks (Bidens alba) for a bit of nectar.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

Keeping an eye on me from within the brush a Gray Catbird constantly “mewed” to let others know I was in the area. Tattletail.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

A Limpkin hung onto a grass stem by the lake side as it scanned for an Apple Snail.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

The shimmering iridescent plumage of a Glossy Ibis was a pleasant sight as the sun began its climb from the horizon.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

My normal view of the migratory Sharp-shinned Hawk is a brown streak as it zips past at supersonic speed chasing a songbird. This one circled overhead for almost 15 seconds before disappearing into a nearby wooded area.

Tenoroc FMA, Bridgewater

 

Sufficiently jump-started, I was reminded of the only downside to beginning a day in Nature like this. It is addictive. I still highly recommend it for anyone feeling the need for recharging. Wait! I highly recommend it for everyone!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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