Posts Tagged With: mute swan

Open To The Public

Not too long ago, a friend asked about a visit to a local area where I reported observing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and over 3,000 American White Pelicans. I confirmed those species and proudly talked about other unique birds I had seen during the same outing. He was quite excited as there were three species he had been striving to find in Florida and had been unsuccessful. I felt like a cad. Now I had to break it to him that this was a trip on land not open to the public. At the time, I felt  privileged to be asked to assist in a survey of bird life within this newly developed wetland. Little did I realize how bad I would later feel telling people they couldn’t visit the area.

Karma.

About a month after the above trip, I noted a report of several Burrowing Owls not too far away. My inquiry was met with, “Sorry, they were all on private land.”

Gini and I have been very fortunate to have traveled a modest amount during our time together. The nice thing about having a partner who is happy and positive all the time (yes, she wakes up smiling), is you just know something good is close by almost all the time. When we moved to a new area, we learned to explore close to home first and gradually expand our adventures. What a happy surprise to discover there are usually wonderful things within a stone’s throw of your front door.

Birding has been like that. It’s really exciting to visit a well-known “hotspot” and it’s not hard to figure out why these places are so popular. Plenty of birds! Also, plenty of birders! So we have tried to remember our early experiences and we seek out local parks to see what they have to offer. What we have found is that there are many birding “warmspots” that are all too easy to drive by as one speeds to the well-advertised “hotspots”! These local parks have something else that is missing from the more popular venues. A slower pace. I’m not worried about rushing to the “third tree on the left under the boat dock crouched under a lily pad” bird and getting in a line of sort-of birders who are more akin to contact sport athletes. Instead, I can leisurely walk around on a nicely constructed pathway, say “Good Morning” to a Mom pushing a stroller, admire the fortitude of runners perspiring profusely, take in the aroma of a grilled picnic lunch and still compile a respectable list of birds and perhaps even take a photograph or two.

Two days last month were spent visiting three such public parks. Relaxing, exciting and fun. What more could a very casual bird-watcher want?

 

Athletic fields have very tall poles atop which are mounted lights atop which are often found raptors searching for a meal. This American Kestrel has a great view from up there!

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

A large oak tree branch displayed the remains of what I think was a White Ibis. The lunch buffet was very fresh and a look around revealed a Bald Eagle skulking within the framework of tall utility line support structure. I’m not saying he was guilty, but he WAS near the scene of the dine……..

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Anhingas are common in our area and they use any available perch that’s open to the sun and wind to dry their feathers. Unlike other waterfowl, they secrete no oils to help them remain water-proof and could drown if unable to keep their feathers dry.

Patterson Park

 

A Double-crested Cormorant and Peninsula Cooter appear to be exchanging opinions as they share a convenient log.

Patterson Park

 

An important pollinator in our ecosystem, the Sweat Bee is so named for its attraction to the salt in human perspiration. Only the females sting and it hurts less than a Honeybee. There are over 49 species of Sweat Bee, including the one below, a Green Sweat Bee.

Patterson Park

 

For some reason, city planners feel the need to “enhance” local park lakes with exotic waterfowl, often with unfortunate results for native species. Some common city critters encountered are swans of all types. I guess, to a bureaucrat, bigger is better. This is a Black Swan, a native of Australia. The male Black Swan’s red eyes turn white during breeding season.

Lake Morton

 

Mute Swans originated in Europe and Asia and are the most common captive swans in North America.

Lake Morton

 

The Black-necked Swan is from South America and cannot survive very cold weather. They are more likely than other swan species to carry young on their backs.

Lake Morton

 

Widely held to be the ancestor of all domestic geese in North America, the Graylag Goose (Anser anser) is a large bulky bird and it is common to encounter a variety of plumages from all white to mostly gray. Hybrids are frequent. In many areas of the United States it is simply referred to as a “Barnyard Goose”.

Lake Morton

 

Ruddy Ducks visit our area only during migration but can sometimes be seen in fair numbers on larger bodies of water. Occasionally, we’ll see the male still in his breeding plumage of chestnut, white face and blue bill. (Below is a female.)

Lake Morton

 

Larger than the small Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Ducks also appear in the fall and many remain through the winter. In good light, the male’s head and neck appear iridescent.

Lake Morton

 

For sheer gaudiness, nothing compares to our native Wood Duck! Looks like an artist’s palette gone wild. Okay, gaudy but beautiful.

Lake Morton

 

At the other extreme of the color spectrum is the plain brown Limpkin. Plenty of apple snails in most public lakes attract these ancient-looking waders into the city.

Lake Morton

 

Good looking in its own right, the Common Gallinule is still confused as to why the “experts” changed his name (again) from Moorhen. Me, too.

Lake Morton

 

If you get a chance to look for rare birds on private land, go for it! Visit a popular birding “hotspot” whenever you can. For a relaxing day walking among familiar birds in a comfortable setting, check out the city park. You might be surprised at what you can find.

 

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

 

(Hah! You thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? Not yet.)

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

Early Urban Birding

It’s all about the light.  Read any text or take any course on photography and you’ll discover this mantra.  For some, taking photographs any time other than two hours before and after sunrise or sunset is illegal, immoral and bad for your teeth.  The bad news?  They’re usually right.  Sigh.  So much for sleeping in.

On Tuesday, I visited the lakes of downtown Lakeland, Florida.  At this time of year, many migratory water fowl use these lakes as a stopover point on their journey northward to rest and fuel up.

I dawdled a bit before exiting the truck.  Partly because there was coffee still in the cup but mostly because there was a howling wind and very low temperatures outside my nice warm metal cocoon.  Okay.  Let’s go.  Don’t lose the light.  It’s all about the light.  Brrr!

My subjects appeared to agree with me.  Hundreds of ducks were huddled in tight floating formations in the center of Lake Morton.  You could identify the more intelligent ones by noting which ones were positioned in the middle of the flock, surrounded by all the feathers of their friends.  Wading birds were not wading, hanging about instead on dry land.  Not many birds were flying, likely due to the strong winds.

As the sun began to cast its rays on the water, things began to change.  Wings stretched, beaks opened in protracted yawns, preening began in earnest and the noise level rose as the little lake awoke.  I even imagined I felt a bit warmer.

Light in this urban setting can be interesting.  The surrounding tall buildings absorb some light but the varied types of construction reflect light differently.  Some of the older, brick structures reflect very little light while the more modern architecture of steel and glass reflect quite a bit.  One nearly all-glass building can be blinding if you’re standing in the right (wrong?) spot as the sun strikes it in the morning.

Pictures are from two lakes in downtown Lakeland, Florida:  Lake Morton and Lake Mirror.  Lake Morton, the larger of the two, has a fair number of year-round residents, including the city’s famous swans (see our previous post:  “The Swans of Lakeland”), ducks, wading birds and relatively large numbers of Limpkins.  Lake Mirror is more of a “decoration”, with spraying water fountain, meeting buildings, formal gardens as a backdrop and  a platform in the lake for displaying the city’s Christmas Tree.  Both lakes play host to migratory birds during the winter and provide rest stops for those passing through in fall and spring.

 

Ring-necked Ducks begin to wake up after roosting on Lake Morton.  I counted about 200 of these ducks on the water this morning.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

 

As the sun’s rays reached their roosting spot, American White Pelicans began to stretch, yawn, preen and discuss where they were going to go fishing today.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

 

A flock of 85 Ruddy Ducks spent the night on the lake.  This male is transitioning from winter to breeding plumage.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

 

 

The lake has several exotic species as residents.  This Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) and mate have built a large nest, mostly from grass clippings they gather after the city crews mow the lawn around the lake.  I didn’t see any eggs or chicks present.

Black Swan

Black Swan

 

 

This is the base of a cypress tree and I just liked the color and texture combination.

Cypress Tree

Cypress Tree

 

 

Once the sun was up, flight activity began.  American White Pelicans left their roosting spots and spiraled up high above the lake to form into small groups to head southeast and search for food.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

 

Ring-necked Ducks also began to lift off from the lake’s surface in small formations.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

 

 

One of the pelicans seemed reluctant to leave the roosting area.  I can relate!

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

 

Early morning light enhances the beauty of the Mute Swan.  As if she needed any help!

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

 

 

Lake Mirror has its own beauty and attracts many of the same species as Lake Morton, but in smaller numbers.  This pair of Black Swans help show off the lake’s setting.

Black Swan

Black Swan

 

A platform in the lake is used for various displays, including the annual city Christmas Tree.  It also makes a fine roosting spot for Black Skimmers, Caspian Terns, Laughing Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and others.  (Note to the purchasers of plastic owls:  birds don’t appear to be scared of them.)

Roosting Birds

Roosting Birds

 

 

This Ring-billed Gull seems to prefer the soft freshly cut lawn to the cold water of the lake.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

 

It was difficult to walk anywhere without stepping on a Palm Warbler.  They were scooping up insects from the grass as well as plucking them from spider webs on light poles.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

 

A female Lesser Scaup samples a snail found along the edge of the lake.

Lesser Scaup (Female)

Lesser Scaup (Female)

 

 

The city recently purchased two pairs of Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) to enhance the appearance of Lake Mirror and act as an additional drawing card for potential visitors to Lakeland.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

 

 

Okay, the Mandarin Duck is nice looking.  However, (and I admit to being prejudiced for our native species) the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) can certainly compete for colorfulness!

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 

It was good to get back in the truck and out of the wind.  It was almost 9:00 a.m. and official sunrise took place at 6:50.  No more photos allowed, now, because – it’s all about the light!

 

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

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

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