Posts Tagged With: pine warbler

Sabbatical – Part The First

“I got a piece of land out in the countryside

 Lay back and smell the Sun warm up the Georgia pine

 Feels so good to be taking it easy

 Why would I ever leave?” 

(Homegrown, Zac Brown Band)

 

“It’s really dark in the swamp at night.” Gini made no comment on the deep philosophical profoundness of my utterance. To be fair, I think she was asleep. We were hurtling through the inky blackness of central Florida’s Green Swamp, the car’s bright headlights struggling to illuminate the oncoming asphalt as far ahead as possible. One could be tempted on this 30 mile straight-as-an-arrow stretch of road to test the limits of acceleration possible. One, thankfully, also recalls how many times in the past a full-grown deer or wild pig has materialized from the misty marsh and stopped to stare into the mesmerizing brightness of halogen. I ease off of the accelerator a wee bit.

 

Gini’s brother has been working very hard over the past several years to transform a large tract of land in western Georgia into a homestead suitable for retirement in a few years. He and his gracious wife invited us to visit for a few days and we were looking forward to a change of venue. Eschewing the always busy interstate highway, we opted to travel along the coast road which would keep us near the Gulf of Mexico, allow us to enjoy picturesque small towns and force us into a more relaxed driving mode.

 

About an hour after sunrise, we left the highway and poked along through the salt marsh to a small park situated on the Gulf. There we breathed salty air in huge gulps while mullet broke the water’s surface and herons probed the shallow water for a breakfast crab. Gini had made egg salad sandwiches and along with some fresh orange slices we had a sumptuous, leisurely breakfast and watched as the sun’s early rays lit up the entire scene to our west. Simply beautiful!

 

Following a plan to avoid higher traffic areas, our route took us through rural north Florida into the pecan groves and cotton fields of southern Georgia. We found a small family-owned barbecue place where we got sandwiches to go and had lunch at a park filled with over-wintering Canada Geese. They “serenaded” us while we ate. Loudly.

 

The next couple of hours offered up scenes of bucolic central Georgia. Vast fields being plowed and preparing for spring crops, huge warehouses and silos where peanuts are stored for shipping, swift-flowing creeks flowing through pine forests, manicured groves of pecan trees which produce the sweetest nut imaginable, remnants of old cabins made of board and stone succumbing to over a hundred years of use, a friendly wave from a farmer on his tractor. Truly, a special place.

 

We arrived a little before dusk. Happy to not be driving for awhile, we enjoyed catching up with family news, had a light meal and just before bed I stood outside for a bit. No city lights visible, no traffic noise. A sky full of stars and the smell of pine. As I turned to go inside, a coyote announced to the pack that it was time for the hunt. I drifted off to sleep with the “song-dog’s” voice echoing in my head.

 

Early morning! A kiss and a cup of coffee for my sweetheart (in that order), and I was off to explore. A large grove of young Longleaf Pine, a vast area of mixed hardwood, a couple of grassy fields – a lot of potential. I was not disappointed! This was early spring and there was a nice mix of migratory songbirds as well as residents. The walk included some wary White-tailed Deer, a large covey (20+) of Northern Bobwhite, a Great-horned Owl calling in the distance and, not surprisingly, fresh coyote tracks from last night’s adventure.

We had a wonderful visit and will be returning soon. In the meantime, a couple of photographs may provide a sense of the homestead. Stay tuned for more …

 

A section of woods which contains huge pine trees, oaks, bay, hickory, wild plum – smell those pine needles?

Chancey Mill Road

 

With so many pine trees, I was happy to discover Brown-headed Nuthatches. True to form, they spent a lot of time running down tree trunks head first and hanging on to the underside of branches while they probed for bugs.

Chancey Mill Road

 

A lot of color in the tree tops with so many songbirds and warblers. Bright Pine Warblers were a common sight.

Chancey Mill Road

 

The property has a few huge pecan trees which will soon be covered in fresh green leaves.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Gini’s brother has placed a few nesting boxes around the property for Eastern Bluebirds. And here is one who appreciates his efforts!

Chancey Mill Road

 

American Goldfinches are in transition to their breeding plumage and the males will soon be extremely bright in their yellow and black suits. They don’t breed here and it won’t be long before they head a bit further north.

Chancey Mill Road

 

The diminutive Carolina Chickadee does breed here and they will soon be pairing up to build nests and will be loudly scolding anything that moves.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Some old buildings have been left standing and offer great exploring opportunities. This small barn is well over 150 years old and was constructed with boards from pine trees that were on the property. Foundations for some of the buildings were made with large rocks from the nearby Chattahoochee River.

Chancey Mill Road

 

We enjoyed noisy flocks of 20-30 migrating Chipping Sparrows while we were there. Although this species may be found here year round, most of these large groups will migrate on soon.

Chancey Mill Road

 

House Finches breed here and it was wonderful to hear their burbling song each day.

Chancey Mill Road

 

Birds aren’t the only critters that love the lush growth of this area. Here, a Cloudless Sulphur sips nectar and adds even more color to the landscape.

Chancey Mill Road

 

A pair of Common Ground Dove probes the clover and will soon make their loose grass nests in the nearby understory of the young pine grove.

Chancey Mill Road

 

More migrants! One morning a group of over 40 Cedar Waxwing descended into the yard. They hung around a couple of days before swooping northward.

Chancey Mill Road

Chancey Mill Road

 

Pine trees, a blackberry bramble, a path. Is there time to explore before supper?

Chancey Mill Road

 

 

Gini and I are truly blessed to live in an area we think is close to paradise. Even so, it’s nice once in awhile to explore new spots. How lucky to be able to take a vacation from paradise and visit – another paradise!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Fall Has Fell

“Ooohhh!” “Aaahhh!”

That’s an exact quote from our first sighting of a northeastern American forest in a riot of autumn color. Gini and I are native Floridians and as such we only knew two seasons:  green and brown. Our marriage some 48 years ago began a journey which has taken us many places and we have been fortunate to have experienced a world full of beauty. The forest near Syracuse, New York that fall day is indelibly etched in our mind’s album of special memories. Who knew so many different colors could be found on trees?

As our current year transitions from “green” to “brown”, we realized Mother Nature provides us with a sense of the colorful autumn our northern neighbors enjoy each year. The miracle of avian migration brings a myriad of colors fluttering on the wind’s breath to alight in our trees, on our lakes and along our roadsides and all we have to do is take the time to observe. Our time for exploring this year has been very limited but we are now almost back to what we think is “normal” and are attempting to make up for lost time.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been out and about and have been blessed with extraordinarily pleasant weather. Cool mornings, bright blue skies and balmy afternoons. A little water, egg salad sandwiches and fresh oranges are tossed into the truck along with about 500 pounds of optics and off we go! Cocooned in the vehicle with Gini as we re-discover old haunts and search for new seldom-traveled roads is the best life could offer. How lucky I am!!

Ride with us for awhile and enjoy a little fall birding in central Florida’s forests, marshes, lakes and fields.

 

A Snowy Egret concentrates on a potential meal hiding under the surface. As with many wading birds, the egret stirs the mud with a foot and hopes something delicious will appear.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Dagger-like beaks help Anhingas spear a fish dinner. In this case, the Anhinga is helping to rid Florida’s waters of an invasive catfish species. Suckermouth armored catfish, Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus, were likely introduced by escapes from tropical fish farms and aquarium owners dumping unwanted individuals into nearby waters. The overall impact of the species is unknown but in some areas it has disrupted native fish populations. Also, their nesting habit of burrowing into banks has caused siltation and erosion.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Announcing his presence to the entire marsh, a Tricolored Heron slowly flaps his way to a likely feeding spot.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

One of the lakes near our house, Lake Parker, has a small population of Caspian and Royal Terns most of the year. This Royal Tern is distinguished from the similar Caspian by a  yellow-orange beak (as opposed to the red of the Caspian), a white forehead during non-breeding season (the Caspian has black or at least gray smudges) and the underside of the primaries are light (the Caspian’s are dark).

Lake Parker

 

Our area maintains a robust population of Bald Eagles all year. During fall and winter migration, the eagle population soars with winter visitors. Hard to tell if this is a native or “snow bird”, but he/she was curious about what I was up to.

Sam Keen Road

 

Fish Hawk is what many folks call the Osprey. It’s a very apt name as they are excellent at securing a finny feast for themselves and their families.

East Lake Parker

 

Our mild weather allows many insects to breed multiple times during the year. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail gathering nectar from a Pickerelweed bloom just adds another dimension of color to our day.

Avon Park Cutoff Road Sod Fields

 

This European Starling is quite comfortable in a woodpecker cavity, at least until spring when woodpeckers will likely drive them from the area. All of the starlings in North America apparently descend from 100 individuals which were released in New York’s Central Park in the 1890’s. It seems a group of devoted Shakespeare fans wanted Americans to enjoy the birds mentioned in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Now there are estimated to be over 200 million European Starlings in North America and NOT everyone is overjoyed with this result! (Attempts to release other species mentioned by Shakespeare were not successful.)

Avon Park Cutoff Road Sod Fields

 

At the edge of a large commercial sod field which can hold large numbers of shorebirds during migration, a quartet of Lesser Yellowlegs finds shelter and nice, soft mud for probing along a small pond.

Avon Park Cutoff Road Sod Fields

 

During the past several days, Eastern Phoebes have begun to appear on almost every fence wire, tree snag and even our roadside mail box. They do not breed in our area and it’s a joy to see the sleek little flycatchers with their constantly pumping tails.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

The male Common Yellowthroat is a noisy, pugnacious and brightly adorned resident. The more subtly hued and demure female can easily be overlooked. Thankfully, this little lady posed for a moment before returning to the weedy undergrowth.

Cox Road

 

“Drink-your-tea.” The Eastern Towhee’s clear call resounds from all around us as we slowly drive along a dirt road with an orange grove on one side and a field of scrub oak on the other.

Eastern Towhee Call

Cox Road

 

Another butterfly taking advantage of Florida’s version of autumn, a Long-tailed Skipper.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

The female Summer Tanager is not as immediately recognizable as the all-red male, but she has a beauty all her own.

Lake Parker Park

 

We may not have bright yellow, red and orange leaves during the fall, but it sure seems colorful when we spot something like this Prairie Warbler!

Sam Keen Road

 

One of the most numerous warblers during fall migration is the Palm Warbler. The little birds with the constantly bobbing tail seems to be everywhere once they arrive.

Tenoroc-Bridgewater

 

Although the Pine Warbler is a year-round resident here, fall migrants swell the population significantly. These tree-top hunters can range from bright yellow to almost drab individuals. The first image is likely an adult male while the second may be a first-year female.

Lake Gwyn Park

Lake Parker Park

 

In its fall plumage, the Blackpoll Warbler is quite similar to the Pine Warbler. One helpful identifying feature is the Blackpoll’s yellow or orange feet. Some birds may have dark feet on the top, but the souls will always appear yellow or orange.

Gator Creek Reserve

 

Who is watching whom? A Yellow-throated Warbler contributes is bright black, white and yellow to our autumn outing.

Lake Parker Park

 

Gang leader. It seems whenever I hear a Tufted Titmouse calling, there will be a gaggle of other birds hanging around.

Lake Parker Park

 

We have a small population of Pied-billed Grebes which breed locally but the winter brings a ton of these little cuties. Yesterday, I counted 25 in one group hiding amongst bullrushes in a marsh.

East Lake Parker

 

A newly developed county park (Lake Gwyn near Winter Haven) has been littered with Apple Snail shells each time I’ve visited. One recent morning there were 14 Limpkins and five Snail Kites enjoying the buffet! I’m pretty sure the kites nested there this past spring and we look forward to monitoring their efforts this coming year.

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Near Lake Kissimmee in eastern Polk County, a drive along a road adjacent to a cattle ranch led to an encounter with two young Crested Caracara. They were not bothered by our presence and gave us that typical “ho-hum” look of disdain they apparently learn early in life.

Sam Keen Road

 

Although it’s autumn and the end of the year is rapidly approaching, nature continues to be in a constant state of renewal. At Lake Gwyn park where I found the Snail Kite above, a brand new family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks appeared from behind an island. A proud Mom and Dad surrounded their group of ducklings (plus one straggler) all decked out in their little “bumble-bee” suits. More fall colors added to our Florida autumn album!

Lake Gwyn Park

 

Thank you for joining us as we get back into a birding routine. Even though you might not have a forest full of changing colors to enjoy, I suspect there are some colorful bundles of feathers not too far from your window. Go take a look.

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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