Posts Tagged With: palm warbler

Old Man Winter Blinks

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.

“So it is.”

And freezing.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

(The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne)

 

“What’s that?”, Gini asked. “Where?”, I replied. “Over there, along the banks of the stream.” My eyes followed the direction of her outstretched finger. It was March and we were in western Pennsylvania. Our small station wagon was straining to contain all our worldly possessions and we had been married less than a week. The journey north began in our native Florida, land of sunshine, sand and salt and we were bound for Syracuse, New York, to attend university and begin a life together. Now, we were taking a lunch break in the springtime woods with trees unknown to us sprouting leaves and flower buds. It was cold. Venturing forth to investigate my bride’s query of curiosity, I marveled at the clarity of the swiftly moving water and the rippled design of the sandy stream bed. The sky appeared as though dirty white pillow cases had been rumpled up and discarded about carelessly. The object of my search looked like soap suds such as one would see from a washing machine drain line or perhaps sea foam from a pounding surf along the wrack line at the beach. As I put my fingers into the white concoction and closed my hand around the iciness I realized I had just made a snowball. Hurrying back before it could all melt into nothingness, I breathlessly exclaimed “It’s snow!!”. My Lady was duly impressed and implored that we linger here, in the woods, in the Spring of our lives, admiring Our First Snow.

We soon discovered that moderation in many things in Life may be the key to happiness. I found this to be especially true regarding snow. This epiphany came to me during my sixth consecutive day of chipping ice from the car door and shoveling that lovely, wet, heavy white stuff from the driveway just for the privilege of driving slippery-slidy on a road full of cars performing the same circus-like act. Those glorious days were to be followed by equally glorious years in which we were blessed to have lived in many different locations. The lush forests and lakes of upstate New York with blazing autumns and deep snows provided everlasting fond memories. Living in the near-desert environment of west Texas was totally surprising. The astounding diversity of wildlife, amazingly adaptive flora, the genuine honesty and welcoming nature of the residents – still one of our favorite experiences. Several years in Europe taught us that people are much the same the world over. Kind, warm, accepting. A recurring theme we were happy to discover everywhere we traveled. Germany reminded us how beautiful a fresh snow in a deep forest can be and how much fun it is to shovel the stuff from one’s driveway every day for months on end (there’s that moderation thing again).

Each experience taught us a bit about specific locations, the world in general and, most importantly, about ourselves. One thing we eventually realized – we missed Home. Although, thanks to Gini’s resilience and cheerful optimism, we truly felt at “home” wherever we lived. We settled back into the Florida lifestyle without too much effort. The warmth of the sun on our faces almost all year, damp beach sand between our toes, plucking an orange from the tree and squeezing its contents down our throats, the tug of a speckled trout on the line, the taste of that trout cooked over a wood fire, the sound of hundreds of Spring “peeper” frogs in the marsh at night and the ability to go birding and spot dozens of species just about any day of the year.

All of this is not meant to “rub it in” for any of you not equally blessed. Rather, it’s just a reminder that we all live in a truly wonderful spot full of potential. If you are currently experiencing more than your fair share of cold or wet or unpleasantness of any sort, take heart! Spring is not too far away and soon your woods, streams, mountains, birding and attitudes shall be renewed.

In the meantime, please enjoy a small bit of winter birding from our local patch. As the population changes with the seasons, Lake Parker Park can be quite productive due to its lake frontage, small marshy areas, wooded tracts and open grassy expanses. A recent trip produced 58 species, my personal high for this location. Highlights included wintering warblers, terns, gulls, a hunting night heron, surprising a raptor and a fisherman demonstrating his technique.

Don’t let Old Man Winter get you down He has blinked and will soon be asleep.

 

We enjoy large numbers of Palm Warblers during our winter season. A few arrive still in breeding plumage and we see both eastern (a bit brighter yellow overall) and western (browner versions) species. They’re fun to watch with their constant tail pumping and habit of foraging on the ground sucking bugs from every blade of grass.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

Royal Terns are typically found near salt water but for some reason Lake Parker is home to a few who seem to like it here. Almost as large as the Caspian, North America’s largest tern, Royals are identified by their large orange-colored bills and clean white foreheads. The forehead will turn black during the breeding season (March-July). The second image shows an adult and immature tern, the youngster showing dark wing bars, a faint bit of striping on the head and a small bit of yellow still on the feet (younger birds have yellow legs/feet).

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

 

The big Caspian Tern has a redder bill than the Royal and the forehead usually shows some black all year. Some first year birds may have a white forehead. Also, Caspians will show some dark under primaries while a Royal will be mostly white.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

 

Ring-billed Gulls are fairly common at the lake and are about the same size as a Caspian Tern. The immature gull shown here has a pinkish bill and legs, a lot of brown in the plumage, dark wing bars and a dark band on the tail (seen when flying). The adult is almost all light gray with dark wingtips and yellow bill.

Ring-billed Gull - Immature

Ring-billed Gull – Immature

 

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

The Osprey in central Florida is so commonplace it’s easy to pay no attention to them. I tend to watch them for long periods because, well, they’re just so good-looking.

Osprey

Osprey

 

I was fortunate to find a Black-crowned Night Heron foraging in a small marshy area covered in a lush growth of duckweed. He stabbed into the green stuff several times but I never saw any prey. A friendly fellow walking his very noisy small yappy dog stopped to ask what I was photographing. I pointed to the pretty gray and black bird quietly flapping deeper into the woods and wished him a pleasant day. No, really, I did.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

It’s amazing how such a starkly patterned bird like the Black-and-White Warbler can become almost invisible against a tree trunk. The first image is the female with a paler head pattern and white throat. The male is more intensely streaked.

Black and White Warbler - Female

Black and White Warbler – Female

Black and White Warbler - Male

Black and White Warbler – Male

 

Winter brings an influx of Pied-billed Grebes to our area and it’s a rule that one must be included in any collection of photographs due to their “adorable” factor.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

One of our year-round residents is also one of the most attractive. Common Yellowthroats are quick to investigate anything intruding into their territory, are usually very vocal and as this male demonstrates, aren’t too bad to look at, either.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

Typically foraging in the higher reaches of the tree canopy and constantly on the move, a Pine Warbler is beautiful when you actually get a glimpse of one.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

 

Speaking of beautiful, even with his mouth full, this Yellow-throated Warbler really brightens up the park.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

The most effective fisherman at the lake by far is the Great Blue Heron. Here, he shows the correct method for swallowing a whole fish. (Do not try this at home.)

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

There I was, scanning a small pond for birds and coming up empty. As I turned and started down the path, I discovered I was being watched as well. A young Red-shouldered Hawk was less than 20 feet from me and let me take exactly one photograph before relocating to a less busy location.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Probably the most numerous species to be found during any walk in the woods here is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. During winter it’s not unusual to find 20-30 of these little vacuum cleaners amongst the tree branches. This one took a break from his insect collecting to do a bit of preening.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

 

It was another wonderful day of birding in our local patch. Less than ten minutes from the house. On a winter’s day full of sunshine and warmth and birds. I should be careful and remember my own admonition about moderation. But, honestly, how can I get TOO much of this?? Hopefully, Old Man Winter is blinking wherever you may be. (As for those of you south of the equator, please read all of this again in June.)

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Parker Park

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Circle of Friends

 

Parents are required to tell their newly fledged teenagers: “Always remember, nothing good happens after midnight.” Which, of course, has for centuries motivated teenagers throughout the universe to do everything in their power to try and discover what that magical time has to offer, because they know if it’s not good for them it must be FUN!!

Gini and I still sneak out after midnight for a bit of fun. There’s nothing quite like parking at the end of a secluded country lane, surrounded by complete darkness, the sky packed with so many stars it seems another wouldn’t fit, snuggling close next to the one you love and whispering “Was that a Screech Owl in the distance?”.

(NOTE: For the gullible amongst you who believe the above scenario could ever end that way, I have some Florida swampland to sell you.)

More birding trips than not start out in darkness since it takes time to travel to a destination and the “magical fun” time for many birds is a bit before the sky begins to lighten as it prepares for official sunrise. Here in sub-topical central Florida this is also the “magical fun” time for mosquitoes, so a thorough chemical bath is required before venturing into the marsh. The particular marsh for today’s visit has rapidly become known as a birding “hotspot”. That means on a weekend you likely won’t find a spot to park.

Circle B Bar Reserve (just “Circle B” to those who frequent the reserve) used to be a working cattle ranch and was acquired jointly in late 2000 by Polk County Environmental Lands and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The reserve is operated and maintained by the county. A recently built visitor’s center has conference rooms and very nice displays of flora and fauna one might find within the reserve. The reserve was developed to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock which borders the reserve on the south and to restore the marsh of Banana Creek which flows from the north into Lake Hancock. Over eight miles of trails take the visitor on levees around the marsh, along the shoreline of the lake, through stands of oak hammock and hardwood swamp. It’s fairly routine to spot 50-60 species of birds in an outing with the added bonus of alligators, feral hogs, bobcats, otters, turtles, snakes, insects and a diverse array of flora. All of this within two miles of the city limits of Lakeland which has a population over 100,000.

I had only taken a few steps from the parking lot when I realized the big “moth” that buzzed by my ear was a hummingbird. Furiously dialing in an astronomically high ISO number on the camera, I could barely make out the little bundle of feathers in the darkness. I attempted to focus and fired off a few shots, fully expecting to trash them later. The images are, indeed, horrible, but there may be someone who has never seen a hummingbird in the dark so one is included below. The rest of the morning was a typical Circle B kind of day. So much to see, so little time. It seemed as if every few steps revealed some new wonder. A Purple Gallinule perched precariously on a slim limb searching for seeds, an American White Pelican flew over the marsh on the way to join a few thousand of his closest friends floating on the lake, young Whistling Ducks, dragonflies – in the winter, a multi-colored avian delight that looked like a refugee from a paint store war. As I encountered another crossroads in the path, my senses pulled me toward the unexplored while my internal alarm reminded me I told Gini I’d only be “a couple of hours”. That was four hours ago. Sigh. Another day can’t get here soon enough.

A few photographs cannot adequately provide the sense of being overwhelmed by Nature one has when visiting the Circle B. Which, of course, hasn’t stopped me from trying.

 

There’s nothing like an early morning fly-by of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird to get your adrenalin flowing! The mosquitoes here are as big but not nearly as colorful. And they require a blood donation before letting you pass.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Purple Gallinules thrive in this lush marsh and will even go out on a limb to show off for visitors.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

This Tricolored Heron became annoyed with me trying to take a picture while he was trying to catch breakfast. I moved on quickly, but he still grumbled.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

Lake Hancock plays host each winter to several thousand American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are residents here and love the vast marsh with all its hiding places to raise a family. A morning walk at the Circle B wouldn’t be complete without hearing the characteristic “whistle” in the sky as these large ducks commute back and forth.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

I surprised this Eastern Phoebe near the path and instead of taking flight he just gave me “the look”. I hurried along as requested.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

Even in the winter, House Wrens let the world know they’re just happy to be here. Me too.

Carolina Wren

House Wren

 

Common Yellowthroats chatter on every side of the footpath and dart in and out so fast you’re not sure if you saw a pretty yellow flower or a bird. I think this one is a bird……

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

Great Blue Herons are patient hunters and are usually rewarded for their efforts. This meal of Armored Catfish will take a bit of maneuvering to position it just right for swallowing whole without getting punctured by a stiff fin. The green specks on the fish are common duckweed.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Dragonflies and damselflies were enjoying a typical Florida winter day. Warm and sunny!

Carolina Saddlebags  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea Carolina)

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

Atlantic Bluet - Male  (Enallagma doubledayi)

Atlantic Bluet – Male (Enallagma doubledayi)

 

One of our most numerous winter visitors, the Palm Warbler, obviously admired my cap. Or, more likely, spotted a bug on it.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

Another permanent resident, the Limpkin, is represented in the marsh by one of the state’s largest populations. At dawn, the eerie calls of dozens of these distant rail relatives make it difficult to carry on a conversation. This one signaled that I should pass him on the right.

“Quite courteous is the Limpkin.

Provides instructions easy enough to follow that any chimp-kin.”

(Serious apologies to Ogden Nash.)

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

Walking along the lakeshore path provided occasional glimpses of Painted Buntings as they hopped into the grass and immediately flitted into the brambles and out of sight. While the females are a pleasing greenish, the gaudy males are dressed in every hue of the Artist’s palette.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

 

It’s always enjoyable to visit my “Circle B” of friends. The only downside is that with each visit my addiction grows stronger. But I’m certain I’m the only one thus affected …..

 

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

 

 

Additional Information

Circle B Bar Reserve

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

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