“One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.”
Daniel Boone (American Woodsman, 1734-1820)
“Let’s visit Punta Gorda”, said I. My wonderfully astute spouse agreed immediately. A part of her exists within my soul and she knows my thoughts before I even create them. In this case, she fully realized that what I actually said was “Let’s go get some fresh seafood and sit by that little lake with the scent of pine trees around us while we enjoy life.”
Founded in 1884, Punta Gorda (Spanish for “Fat Point”) juts into Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Like many port cities it has had a colorful history. The downtown area was severely damaged by fire in 1905. This resulted in a decree that all future buildings must be of brick or concrete. In 2004, the city was ravaged by Hurricane Charley and many historic landmarks, homes and structures were destroyed. The city has been revitalized and strolling around the cobblestone center of this sparsely populated port town is a relaxing endeavor. Shipping was a major factor in early settlement and in 1886 the Florida Southern Railroad began regular passenger service. My personal favorite, however, is the success of the local fishermen who netted mullet, Spanish mackerel and channel bass (redfish) once a local business developed a method (in 1891) to preserve and process the abundant harvest. How can I NOT like a company called “The Consolidated Ice Manufacturing, Refrigeration and Fish Company”?
Just outside the city limits is the Peace River Seafood and Crab Shack. It’s a small former “Cracker” cabin run by a fellow who has been a Florida crabber most of his life. The seafood is fresh, the menu interesting, the service friendly and they also have a market on site if you want to take home fresh seafood and fix it yourself.
No, we didn’t make the trip just for the food, although it would be worth the two hour drive to do so. Our birding destination (you were wondering if we had abandoned our purpose in life, weren’t you?) was the vast Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. Consisting of almost 66,000 acres, this is one of the last undeveloped expanses of hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. There is a small lake and ponds which have been stocked for fishermen. Seasonal hunting is allowed so check schedules and accessibility before you visit (see the link in Additional Information below). The pine woods here are interspersed with large areas of wet prairie and the wildflower display in spring and summer is stunning.
Following a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and huge, succulent shrimp, we explored the “unimproved” roads and managed to list 45 species of birds. In the right season and with a bit of luck, it’s very possible to see seven species of woodpecker, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which nests here. We observed four species on today’s trip. Other highlights for us were hearing Northern Bobwhite calling wherever we went, migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Bluebirds, a wetland containing 15 Little Blue Heron, 8 Great Egret, 6 Snowy Egret, 5 Anhinga, 5 Great Blue Heron, 7 Tricolored Heron, 2 Belted Kingfisher and a 10-foot alligator who swam over to say hello. An afternoon thunderstorm provided some interesting clouds over Lake Webb at sunset as we headed home. It was a good day.
BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!
Sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Some readers may have noticed our birding adventure above began after lunch. Oho, you’re thinking, they slept in today those lazy birders! Au Contraire, mes amis!
We seldom use the “main road” to go anywhere. Today was no different. Along a wonderfully vacant backroad we enjoyed field after field of serenading Eastern Meadowlarks. They just didn’t care that it was Autumn and we were the better for it. In a pasture, it appeared that a pair of Crested Caracara parents were instructing their youngster on proper hunting technique. The adults would perch next to Junior in the field where there appeared to be a recent kill (although they readily eat carrion, also). One of the adults would hop toward the prey, Junior would follow, the parents would fly to a nearby perch, Junior would cry. And cry. And cry. An adult would fly back, hop toward the prey and return to their perch. Junior would cry, and … you get the idea (especially if you’ve been a parent). Junior eventually seemed to eat a bit and then flew to a perch of his own, where I snapped his portrait. It’ll be about two years before he fully develops the handsome appearance of an adult. By the side of this same road we found our “first of the fall season” migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee.
A short detour led us to a local community park (Brownville Park) along the Peace River near Arcadia in DeSoto County. It’s a small park with a couple of nature trails and we had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long but still managed to tally two dozen species which included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an Ovenbird, three Vireo species and a marauding gang of Wrens, two of which visited Gini while she was in the car – one perched on the rear view mirror and the other hopped onto my pack in the back seat.
Lunch time. (See all the stuff above.)
Yep, I took a few photographs.
“Junior”. Typical youngster – feathers out of place, dirty face, constantly whining. It won’t be long before he’ll be a fine example of a grown-up Crested Caracara.
Crested Caracara – Immature
Our first Eastern Wood-Pewee of the fall season. The light underside, olive upper side, wing bars and orangish lower mandible help identify the species.
A view of the Peace River from Brownville Park. This has been a wet year and the water level is higher than normal.
At Brownville Park, a Walnut Sphinx moth posed on the screen of the restroom door. Happily, I was not arrested while obtaining a photo.
Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis)
The ubiquitous Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
A Red-eyed Vireo paused to look at me then continued snatching bugs from branches.
I was surprised to be buzzed by a pugnacious Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She perched on a limb and preened for a minute. I didn’t think they ever landed!
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Female
One of a half-dozen Northern Parula warblers we found in Brownville Park. I love their subtle color combinations.
Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area offers a vast area of pine flatwoods and grass prairie which hosts abundant and diverse wildlife.
While we ate lunch alongside Webb Lake, this Green Anole scurried around catching insects. Here he’s resting on the trunk of a Scrub Palmetto which has recently been burned and is just beginning to show new growth. (Green Anoles can change their appearance somewhat to match their surroundings, thus, the brown color of this one.)
Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)
Molting is revolting. Just ask this Eastern Towhee, who can’t wait to get his new feathers.
Eastern Towhee (Molting)
Looking like a disgruntled old man (hey, I resemble that remark!), a Green Heron uses his lookout perch to search for a careless frog.
This fine reptile specimen was totally hidden in the grass. Well, as much as a ten-foot scaly remnant of the dinosaur age can hide. When I exited the truck to get some tourist photos, he slid into the water and swam in a very straight line toward the photographer, who wasted no time in re-entering the truck and starting the engine.
A Snowy Egret all decked out in his finest bright yellow footwear.
The Sandhill Crane is elegant and this one has the rusty plumage indicative of a mineral rich diet.
Belted Kingfishers don’t hesitate to voice their displeasure when a stumbling human encroaches on their hunting territory.
All in all, a long, wonderful day. Returning home, I discovered that, “every gloomy and vexatious thought” had, indeed, been expelled. This is, truly, a charming season.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!