Posts Tagged With: northern bobwhite

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

Sabbatical Ends – Summer Begins

It was June. The calendar announced summer was about to begin. June in Florida is hot and muggy. June in Georgia is hot and muggy.

There is a reason that makers of household cleaning products advertise “fresh pine scent” on labels. Likewise, one out of ten automobiles sport, hanging from the rear-view mirror, a dark green lump of cardboard cut into what an urban-dwelling marketer thinks a tree should look like and infused with what an aroma specialist imagines a cardboard pine tree should smell like.

As we turned from the four-lane highway onto a rural lane cutting through the heart of agricultural central Georgia, we slowed to a saner speed, opened the windows and enjoyed the fresh air, the unmistakable sensation of earth recently tilled and, yes, the resinous tang unique to members of the Pinus genus. No lump of cardboard or detergent could ever capture that essence.

Our journey was now of familiar places. We had developed a rhythm of sorts. Leave just before sunrise, breakfast on the Gulf of Mexico coast, ramble northward through fishing towns (trying to ignore the tourist advertising), marvel at antebellum architecture, gawk at huge farming operations, enjoy our barbeque lunch along the high-water raging Flint River and open all the windows to gulp deeply of the perfume of the south produced by tall conifers just for us. By mid-afternoon we are here, unhooking the cable across the drive, scanning the trees for birds, thankful we will soon be out of the car for a couple of days.

Early June birds are busy mating, nesting, raising young, constantly searching for food. The migrants have departed to do all of the above further north. It’s a busy time in the woods and fields for all living things. Exploring is a pleasure!

Our first night coincides with the full moon. Early native Americans referred to the June full moon as the Strawberry Moon, likely because it came at a time of harvest. In other parts of the world it has been called Honey or Full Rose Moon. Whatever name you ascribe, on this night it was pretty spectacular. The coyotes thought so, too, based on their singing. The clear morning air didn’t seem that humid, but my camera lens proved otherwise as I couldn’t use it for the first half hour despite constant wiping. A very heavy dew contributed to several pounds of water added to my pant legs but, thankfully, my boots resisted the dampness. Dry feet are a true blessing when hiking.

We enjoyed our visit with family again and returned home refreshed and thankful for such an enriching experience. Nature provided endless opportunities for discovery and we hope you don’t mind if we share a small sample of our observations.

 

Strawberry Moon. Astronomical trivia:  At this time, the moon appears “smaller” than other times as it’s at its farthest orbit from the earth.

Early County

 

A male Field Sparrow uses the top of a young Longleaf Pine to show off his virtuoso voice in the hope a female likes what she hears.

Early County

 

The path behind the barn leads through old-growth pines to an area of hardwood trees and eventually an open field.

Early County

 

At a back yard feeder, a male House Finch tries to bully his way around to getting all the seed for himself. Good luck with that! There are ten feeders in the yard – plenty for all.

Early County

 

Ladybugs (ladybird beetles) are hard to miss in their shiny red and black cloaks.

Early County

 

Year-around residents, Eastern Bluebirds have already mated and are busily bringing bugs to a nesting box full of hungry two-week old chicks.

Early County

 

I rounded a path and startled a White-tailed Deer. The doe stared at me for about five minutes before she decided discretion was the better part of valor and bolted across the cotton field into the safety of the woods.

Early County

 

Northern Cardinals were abundant and their clear calls echoed around the property every day.

Early County

 

Orb-weaver spiders are master engineers and their strong webs strung across a path during the night yield a good supply of nutritious insects every morning.

Early County

 

A male Northern Bobwhite is almost hidden in tall grass. Behind him was his harem of four females. Soon there will be small fluffy quail all over this area.

Early County

 

Passiflora incarnata, Passion Flower, makes a walk through the pine grove undergrowth a visually stunning experience.

Early County

 

Singing from the very top of a large Bay Tree, a male Brown Thrasher was very unhappy I was interrupting his serenade to a nearby female. I snapped a quick portrait and hustled on down the path.

Early County

 

This is the time of year for fresh blackberries! Getting to them before the birds and animals is nearly impossible.

Early County

 

Two of the top finalists for best vocals are the Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak. I was very lucky to have one of each appear in the treetops within 50 feet of one another – and me!

Early County

Early County

 

Some of the most interesting life forms can be found right at your feet – literally! A fungi extravaganza.

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

Early County

 

What a difference a day makes! The first photo above of a bright, colorful moon was followed the next evening by moonrise as a cool weather front approached bringing dark clouds drifting across the sky offering only fleeting glimpses of the lunar orb.

Early County

 

Our sabbatical ended but our visits will continue. All of us need the respite provided by an island of solace such as we have been fortunate to find. If you are able, such as I was, to benefit from the company of your very best friend in life, then you are indeed blessed.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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