Posts Tagged With: northern mockingbird

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

Recovery

“There’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.” Not what I wanted to hear earlier this week.

In late August, we called our son in Houston to see if he and his family needed to visit us in Florida until Hurricane Harvey passed. My son reminded us ever-so-diplomatically that if he were to have any flood damage at his house he would have to turn in his geology degree. They weathered the monster storm just fine.

A couple of weeks later, our son was on the phone asking if we needed to visit them in Houston until Hurricane Irma passed.

Mother Nature. Who knew she had a sense of humor?

I have no degree in geology but assured him we had weathered storms before. Of course, that was just bravado. We did the requisite stocking of supplies and prayed a lot. The intensity of our praying may have increased with the ferocity of the winds howling outside as rude Irma passed directly overhead during the night.

The current storm, Nate, is churning toward my sister’s house in Florida’s panhandle. It shouldn’t give them any problems. Shouldn’t. I don’t trust Mother Nature to play fair.

A couple of days after Irma caused devastation to Florida, Gini and I ventured out to survey our local area. We didn’t get far. Within just a few miles from the house, roads were covered in water and blocked by downed trees and power lines. We returned to the house and prayed some more. For those who would be weeks without water and power.

After a few more days, we again set out and found most roads passable. (A HUGE thank you to the responders from law enforcement, tree companies, utilities workers – literally thousands from other states – who have worked so hard to get Florida back to a sense of normalcy.) Since our normal birding haunts within public parks and reserves were closed we checked on accessible areas such as pastures, country roads and lake shores. Wildlife was abundant and we remain amazed at how resilient nature can be.

We have made a half-dozen forays since Irma tromped on Florida and life is returning to its normal pace. Today’s photographs are a compilation of what we found within two weeks of the hurricane’s passing. Migratory songbirds don’t read headlines and don’t watch the Weather Channel, so they have been showing up in treetops as they have for millennia.  We appreciate it.

 

We visited this area in southern Hardee County a week before the hurricane and could see no water at all.

County Line Road

 

A pair of Crested Caracara found something of interest in a field and keep a sharp lookout for thieves.

10 Mile Grade

 

Wading birds don’t mind the flooded fields at all! An immature White Ibis flapped by us on his way to probe the soft mud for breakfast.

10 Mile Grade

 

This Northern Mockingbird extracts a grub from an oak tree branch.

East Lake Parker

 

A Caspian Tern takes a dive at a local lake. There was a pier between me and where the tern entered the water but I was able to peek through the railings in time to see him fly off with his prize.

East Lake Parker

East Lake Parker

20170913 Lake Parker 00047

 

Ants are on the menu as the sticky tongue and bill of this Red-bellied Woodpecker are covered with the little morsels.

East Lake Parker

 

Driving along a remote country road, we found a Roseate Spoonbill taking advantage of water running across the road and washing all sorts of goodies into his waiting, well, spoon bill. I don’t know if he was looking to the heavens in thanks or wishing we would move along!

Green Pond Road

 

Water is returning to somewhat normal levels in many wetlands and residents, such as this young Red-shouldered Hawk, are thankful to find old perches and fresh food.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

With so much water, vegetation is flourishing. A Cloudless Sulphur finds nectar from Caesar Weed (Urena lobata), an invasive species with an attractive bloom.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Near Lake Kissimmee, about an hour east of us, we found several large and small flocks of Wild Turkey.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

A pair of European Collared-Dove perched picturesquely on a pier.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

It’s the time of year Bald Eagles begin courtship and the males can display some pretty spectacular aerobatics as they try to impress the ladies. I managed to follow one such fellow through a series of tight turns as he screamed throughout the show. There were four eagles involved in the demonstration but I tried to ignore the others (not easy!) to get a series of this guy. Here are four out of the two dozen images I took.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Limpkins are plentiful in our area thanks to a plethora of Apple Snails. These large waders are the only members of their species (Aramidae) in the world. Their name comes from their “limping” gait.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Along one dirt road, we stopped counting the webs of the Golden Silk Orbweaver, as they seemed to be everywhere. The strong silk is very effective at capturing large insects, such as the grasshopper here.

Joe Overstreet Road

 

Purple Gallinules are not very accomplished songsters, but they sure make up for it in the colorful looks department!

Lake Parker Park

 

Fall migration is in full swing. Most of the time, the birds are too high in the tree tops or in dense cover which makes photography impossible. Occasionally, I get lucky.

Yellow Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Prairie Warbler

East Lake Parker

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Black-and-White Warbler

Saddle Creek Park

 

Northern Parula

Saddle Creek Park

 

Cape May Warbler

Lake Parker Park

 

Baltimore Oriole (female)

Saddle Creek Park

 

American Redstart (male)

Saddle Creek Park

 

There is nothing “fun” about a storm, especially a huge tropical Hurricane. Damage to our region has been severe. The same is true for Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, other islands of the Caribbean and even Nate, while “just” a tropical depression, has taken 22 lives in Central America.

We are extremely thankful to have had minimal damage.

Our routine has been disrupted but our lives have not. Nature continues its cycle of life and we continue to be in awe of its magnificence.

As Gini and I recover from the storm, to be fortunate enough to see a mighty Bald Eagle perform a courtship flight or to marvel at the flash of bright orange as a Redstart startles insects from a hiding place – this is how we know we are truly blessed. To be able to do it together is something really special.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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