Posts Tagged With: northern parula

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

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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