Posts Tagged With: moon

Riding In Cars With Birders

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a Bullock’s Oriole landed in a mesquite tree and my lovely, but excitable, bride grabbed me by the arm (which at the time was engaged in steering a fast-moving vehicle) and shouted all in one breath: “STOPDIDYOUSEETHATTURNAROUNDGOBACKITWASALLORANGEANDBLACKITWASGORGEOUS!!!!”.

The coming of age of a birder is a beautiful thing.

In that far away land of west Texas, there were few “birding venues”. It was so long ago, in fact, we didn’t even know we WERE birders, as the quaint reference to those engaged in the hobby was still simply “bird watcher”. (I still cling to that term as “birder” has come to infer a more competition-oriented personality and I’ve never been much of a score-keeper.) Since the nearest state park was a half-day’s drive, we were very content to simply drive the back roads and marvel at how vibrant and diverse the seemingly barren landscape could be. It was our first experience in a near-desert environment and we loved every minute of our several years there. That pattern has persisted over the eons.

“Why are there likenesses of Sandhill Cranes on all the street light poles?”, Gini asked. Being extremely cognizant of such matters concerning engineering and urban planning, I advised her in my usual condescending, scholarly manner: “I dunno”.

We were driving through the town of Wauchula, Florida a couple of months ago doing our “drive around looking for birds” thing. Wauchula is the seat of Hardee County, adjacent to our home in Polk County. Hardee County is smallish in size, consisting of 638 square miles (1650 sq. km). Of this area, only 0.6 sq. mi. is water – a bit unusual for central Florida. The county was named for Cary Hardee who was governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925. Settlement of the area began in 1849 when an Indian Trading Post was opened on a bend in Paynes Creek. Eventually, the city of Wauchula was established and the area became a center for cattle ranching. The name “Wauchula” is from a Mikasuki Indian word meaning “call of the Sandhill Crane”. AHA! Mystery of the light poles solved.

Today, Hardee County is lightly populated (about 27,000 in 2012) and has an agricultural-based economy. Annual citrus production has about a half-billion dollar market value, the county ranks 9th in the United States for beef cattle and phosphate mining plays a major role in employment and fertilizer production. In 2004, Hurricane Charlie swept across the county from the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 149 mph (240 kph) and almost every building in the county suffered some sort of damage with many being completely destroyed. Most renovation has been completed and the resilient population continues to enjoy their rural lifestyle.

Although the scarcity of open shallow water limits the presence of many water birds, the county is full of a wonderful variety of other birds. Most of the cattle ranches have small ponds which the cattle keep churned into mud holes which attracts shore birds. Burrowing Owls nest in the pastures, Crested Caracara roam the open spaces, fall and winter crops attract migrants, timberland is full of vireos, warblers and woodpeckers and, of course, Sandhill Cranes abound all year and large populations of the big birds spend the winter here. We like driving around in Hardee County!

Our most recent visit included over 45 different species (yes, I know, it’s sorta score-keeping) and we were treated to some really nice wildflower displays.

 

The Great Crested Flycatcher is a cavity nester and can be very aggressive about chasing woodpeckers from suitable nesting sites. For some reason, many of their nests have been found lined with shed snake skins.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

Killdeer love the fact that cattle keep the mud stirred up which makes insect and worm hunting a little easier.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Florida has an abundant Gray Squirrel population but Fox Squirrels – not so much. We have three species of Fox Squirrel. One is found mostly in the northwestern panhandle, another in the Everglades. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, although found throughout the state, is a “species of special concern”, primarily due to loss of habitat.

Sherman's Fox Squirrel

Sherman’s Fox Squirrel

 

A Red-bellied Woodpecker is hunting for a house. I think he found one he likes.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Leavenworth’s Tickseed is nearly endemic to Florida (a few grow in southern Georgia) and belongs to the Coreopsis family.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

It looks like grass which has been touched with white paint – Star Rush.

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

 

This Lesser Yellowlegs looks like the main course in a pot of broccoli soup. The thick Duckweed hides all sorts of food items wading birds love.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Such a beautiful bloom seems like it should have a more attractive name, but no matter what it’s called, Pickerelweed is lovely.

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

 

You just never know what you’ll find riding around the countryside. For instance, a hot-air balloon cruising over an orange grove!

Balloon

Balloon

 

Okay, time out for a test shot. New camera and new lens. The moon, 600mm hand-held. Now, if I could just find a bird —-

Moon

Moon

 

A field of Black-eyed Susan brightened the landscape.

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Vivid purple and yellow of the Pale Meadowbeauty are hard to ignore.

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Such an unfriendly plant with its spikes and thorns! Such a striking flower! Nuttall’s Thistle can be purple, pink, white or pale yellow.

Nuttall's Thistle  (Cirsium nuttallii)

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)

 

Although I don’t know how this wonderful bloom got its name, I’m very happy it grows along the roadside in Hardee County! The Carolina Desert-chicory.

Carolina Desert-chicory  (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

Carolina Desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

 

A gang of five Swallow-tailed Kites put on an aerial display as they swooped low over a pasture and snatched flying insects which they ate in flight. A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds tried to chase them from “their” territory, but were largely ignored by the sleek kites.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

 

This Wild Turkey was pretty sure I wouldn’t spot him as he tried to slink through the underbrush. He was wrong.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

No specific birding destination can sometimes provide surprisingly good birding! Grab your favorite birder. Get in a car. Drive around. Now.

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

 

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

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

Dragons At 12 O’Clock!

(“Mad dogs and Birders go out in the mid-day sun.” — Sincerest apologies to Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and whomever else may have coined the original saying.)

 

We have pretty much ceased to live by the calendar and clock. A life without a schedule has serious drawbacks. For example, I used to arrive home from the office by 5:45 and the family sat down to supper no later than 6:15. Now, however, Gini and I may have supper at 6:30. Or 6:42. See what I mean? Schedules keep us from falling into a state of pure chaos. Another extreme example. In order to conform to business society’s rules for a successful career, I visited my barber every seven days without fail. Last week, I realized in horror that it had been a full eight days since a razor had touched by increasingly sparse and graying strands. With no pre-planned guidelines to follow, we have become like ships adrift in life’s tidal flow with no compass and no anchor. Rudderless and adrift, it is a sheer miracle we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Lounging about the other day, with nothing whatsoever planned, Gini innocently asked: “What shall we do for lunch?”. Panic. My eyes began to dart from side to side. Sweat broke out on my forehead. She wants ME to make a decision! About lunch! This is big. I’m not normally entrusted with the IMPORTANT things. What to do? There’s no SCHEDULE!

“Uhh, how about a picnic?”, I heard my feeble voice say. “That’s a WONDERFUL IDEA!”, Gini said. “I have leftover boiled eggs in the fridge and can whip up some egg salad for sandwiches and we can take some fruit.”

Whew. That was close. Panic subsided but then began to well up again as I realized she would expect me to figure out where to go for this impromptu (UNSCHEDULED stuff again) adventure. Fortunately, I had been wanting to visit a local state park to check out some improvements they had recently made. Most of our picnics are “bird-centric”, and the park should provide some birding opportunities.

Central Florida in the summer at noon. Think “high temperatures with matching humidity”. Even the natives (and that’s us) usually have enough sense to remain indoors. In artificially cooled air. With large glasses of ice containing who-cares-what liquid in them. But we have already established that we are not “normal”.

Colt Creek State Park is only about ten miles from the house. It has a deep (for Florida) lake, pine and hardwood forests, open fields, cypress tree studded wetlands, very nice amenities (fishing pier, canoe rental, picnic areas, modern restrooms) and several miles of trails to explore. The sandwiches were superb, the fresh air (yes, it was hot) was exhilarating and the company was the absolute best.

What I said earlier about native Floridians having better sense than to be out at noon in the summer applies to the bird life, too. We saw one Eastern Bluebird smashing a caterpillar on a tree branch, one Common Gallinule floating listlessly in the cattails, one Anhinga perched on the pier and one sky-borne hunter described below. So I did what any other birder does in this situation. I admired the bugs.

Dragonflies are apparently impervious to heat. There were hundreds of the gossamer-winged creatures flitting about. They’re a bit of a challenge (for me, anyhow) to capture digitally, but it’s fun learning the different species and about their natural history. As I moved amongst the weeds trying to stalk these quick and elusive targets, there was a fellow dragonfly lover looking over my shoulder. The Swallow-tailed Kite just happens to love Odonata hors d’oeuvres.

Join us for our unscheduled lunch, from the comfort of your much cooler environment.

 

Even in the middle of the day, we sometimes find nice surprises when we venture forth. Such as a moon high overhead in a deep blue sky.

Moon

Moon

 

Flowers bloom even when no one is there to see them. Fortunately, we caught a few showing off their true colors. Such as this Leavenworth’s Tickseed, a beautiful member of the Coreopsis genus.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

My boyhood home here in central Florida was adjacent to a pasture where we found an abundance of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). These ancient reptiles have not changed much in over 60 million years. They dig a burrow which averages 30 feet deep and can eventually become home or provide shelter to myriad other life forms, including Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, they are now listed as an endangered species in Florida primarily due to loss of habitat.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

 

Enter the dragons. This male Blue Dasher is quite colorful with his yellow racing stripe thorax and cool blue abdomen. Perched with abdomens pointed up is called “obelisking” and is thought to reduce the amount of body surface the sun’s rays strike allowing the dragonfly to remain cooler.

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

The Carolina Saddlebags is found near water, usually small lakes or ponds with an abundance of submerged vegetation.

Carolina Saddlebags  -Female - (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags -Female – (Tramea carolina)

 

One of the most striking dragonflies found in North America is the Halloween Pennant. There is some speculation that the coloration along with their “fluttery” flight might mimic the Monarch Butterfly, which is distasteful to predators.

Halloween Pennant - Male(Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant – Male(Celithemis eponina)

 

A large dragonfly, the Great Blue Skimmer, is one of the few species with a white face. The first image is a typical female while the second picture shows an older female which has taken on the bluish body color of the male.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer - Mature Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Mature Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

The reddish-orange body and golden-tinted wings of Needham’s Skimmer really stand out along the lake shore. This medium sized dragon is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer. One difference is the rear legs of Needham’s are brownish as opposed to the black of the Golden-winged.

Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

Another colorful flower in our area is Tropical Sage. This native plant can grow to three or four feet tall and is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

 

A Gulf Fritillary gathers nectar from a thistle. Beautifully patterned from below, when seen from above it’s a striking orange that draws immediate attention as it glides from plant to plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

Nature attempts to maintain a balance in all things. Accordingly, she has given us such predators as this Robber Fly which preys upon butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, other flies and some spiders.

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

 

A Swallow-tailed Kite seemed quite interested in my presence. She was quite busy hawking dragonflies, one of her favorite food items. The kites will be gathering soon in pre-migration groups for their annual trip to South America for the winter. The actual migration can begin as soon as the beginning of August.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

I realize you don’t have it marked on your calendar or in your day-planner, but consider an unplanned picnic in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. You just never know what surprises await your discovery when you show up in Nature’s front yard unannounced!

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

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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