Posts Tagged With: polk county

That Primitive Urge

“Propelled by an ancient faith deep within their genes, billions of birds hurdle the globe each season, a grand passage across the heavens that we can only dimly comprehend and are just coming to fully appreciate.”  – Living On The Wind, Scott Weidensaul

 

It was cold. Just the thought of reaching outside the sleeping bag to find the zipper made me shiver and curl up even tighter. But the darkness was ever-so-slightly beginning to yield to inevitable sunrise. The tall grass around our small tent was barely discernible and resembled the stockade wall of a fortress. My brother, Steve, made the sacrifice and wriggled free of his goose-down cocoon and applied a match to the small burner which would soon heat enough oatmeal to fortify us both for an eventual beach adventure. A week before Christmas found us exploring what Maryland locals call “the Eastern shore”, that coastal expanse sandwiched between the huge Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Later in the day we would hike the rugged Atlantic shoreline of Chincoteague and admire the wild ponies of Assateague Island. At the moment, though, we relished hot oatmeal, trying to gulp each spoonful before the frigid air cooled it too much. Breakfast was interrupted when Steve asked:  “What’s that sound?” What followed was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever experienced in nature. Canada Geese. Tens of thousands appeared as a dark cloud from the west and gradually swept over us like a tidal wave of noise and darkness. We sat and marveled at the spectacle during which we literally couldn’t hear each other shouting. The geese were a small part of a huge number of migrants along the coast and had roosted in a nearby corn field during the night and were now moving toward the marshes and ponds to feed. What a glorious way to start a day!

More recently, while driving near Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Gini and I stumbled upon a field being plowed which contained over 500 Sandhill Cranes. Although Florida has a resident population of these large birds, each fall sees huge flocks migrating from the mid-west of the United States. That many cranes trumpeting can be deafening!  Last winter, we visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast and were excited to find hundreds of Northern Pintail and thousands of shorebirds enjoying the shallow water impoundments.

Such large numbers can provide a very dramatic birding experience. But at the moment, it’s August in Florida and it’s really hot and humid. It’s difficult to think about the above scenes of masses of migrating birds. Nevertheless, some sort of migration seems to always be happening in the bird world. Right now, a few species are beginning to head south for the winter and for the birder who’s willing to put up with high temperatures, regular thunderstorms and voracious mosquitoes, there are rewards to be found.

I travelled with two birding friends the other day to the southern part of our county (Polk) where there is a commercial sod operation. These fields can be productive for migrating shorebirds, especially if bad weather forces them to stay put for awhile. Alas, our weather was perfectly clear. We found plenty of Boat-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer, but only a smattering of shorebird migrants. A couple dozen Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Semipalmated Plover probed the soft soil of the fields. We did manage to hear an uncommon King Rail in a nearby wetland. Next, we visited a large dairy but again found no shorebirds to speak of. We did find a Solitary Sandpiper and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with young. Not far from the dairy we heard three more King Rails at various locations. We visited Paynes Creek Historical State Park in Hardee County and found a few Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and an eastern Wood-Pewee, all likely migrants. A nice bonus was at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers. We know they breed in this park but it’s always a treat to see this strikingly handsome bird! Our last stop of the day was back in Polk County along the Peace River Hammock Trail. We could only hike a portion of the trail due to flooding and the clouds of mosquitoes were particularly dense, but we found three Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a couple of Ovenbirds for our efforts.

Not a large number of migratory birds for the day but a very rewarding trip!

 

The little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is very active, usually travels in groups with other species and can be quite curious.

Lake Parker Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

One of the earliest warblers to migrate through our area is the Yellow Warbler. Some individuals can be very bright still in their breeding colors and others, especially first year birds, can be almost dull looking.

Banana Lake Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Although the Northern Parula breeds in Florida, during migration the trees become full of these brightly colored birds.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula

 

A quiet warbler which resembles a thrush is the Ovenbird. They can often be seen on the ground scratching through leaves but will stop for a look at an old guy stumbling over tree roots.

Fisheating Creek WMA

Ovenbird

 

True to its name, the Solitary Sandpiper is frequently seen alone and will check out any spot of mud for a meal.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Solitary Sandpiper

 

Pectoral Sandpipers resemble a larger version of a Least Sandpiper. As they feed, they seem to be always leaning forward about to fall over.

Avon Park Cutoff Road-Sod Fields

Pectoral Sandpiper

 

The Semipalmated Plover have very small bills and are not very large birds (seven inches). Normally seen in coastal areas, they can be found almost anywhere during migration.

Pool Road

Semipalmated Plover

 

One of our residents, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has thrived during the past couple of decades and can be found in large numbers throughout its range.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Also a resident, the Red-headed Woodpecker has not adapted very well to loss of traditional habitat and populations have seriously decreased in the past 20 years.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Florida is blessed with a climate which produces some sort of flowering plants throughout the year. Insects appreciate that. A White Peacock poses briefly.

Locklar Road

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

 

A small Delaware Skipper goes deep into the bloom of a Wild Potato Vine, a member of the morning-glory family.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

 

Dragon down! A Needham’s Skimmer got a bit too close to the water and became too wet to fly.

County Line Road (Polk)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

 

As migrants begin their long journey to warmer climates, we look forward to the privilege of sighting a few birds we don’t otherwise have an opportunity to observe. Hopefully, you, too, will be able to spot a few visitors as they snack their way through your neighborhood!

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Over The River, Through The Woods, Under Construction

BEEP – BEEP – BEEP – BEEP

It can’t be time to get up already. We just went to bed. Ever the gentleman, I offered to let my bride sleep in an extra hour – or two. “No, let’s get going.” I’m pretty sure she was smiling. She tends to wake up happy. Now I felt guilty for wanting to sleep in – uhh, for being considerate and wanting HER to get some extra rest. Up and at ’em.

Our target today was about an hour’s drive south on the eastern edge of the community of Fort Meade in southern Polk County. The Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area is about 125 acres of hardwood forest along the banks of the Peace River. Visitors to the park will find a canoe launch, plenty of picnic tables, grills, large pavilions, rest rooms and a fair view of adjacent ponds and wetlands. We wanted to see if work had been completed on a trail which was planned from the park to the southwest for 2.5 miles through a wetlands and ending at another canoe launch point on the Peace River.

BEEP – BEEP – BEEP – BEEP

The lullaby of dump trucks backing up as they delivered loads of dirt suggested that construction was still ongoing. Oh, well. Maybe we should find another spot to explore this morning. Wait, what’s that? Hey, a small flock of Cedar Waxwings! The first we have seen this year. Most waxwings migrate further south but a few remain through the winter as long as the weather is mild. Look! A Northern Parula. And a Black-and-white Warbler, no, two, no, three! Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Yellow-rumped Warblers seemed to be everywhere. A pair of Osprey were tending a nest. A Northern Harrier tilted low over the wetlands and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks splashed into a nearby spot of open water. We thoroughly enjoyed the next couple of hours as there seemed to be birds in every tree. Gini spotted a huge hornet’s nest, probably made last year by Bald-faced Hornets. They build new nests each spring and this one was empty, but impressive.

Heavy equipment was moving in and out of the park at a steady pace but it didn’t seem to bother the birds at all. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast on the bank of the river while being entertained by curious Tufted Titmice, various water birds including a Belted Kingfisher, three species of woodpeckers and warblers and vireos sucking up bugs from the leaves.

To think, we almost went elsewhere. Sometimes under construction should be taken under consideration.

 

Cedar Waxwings were very happily devouring berries and didn’t seem to mind me snapping a few candid photos.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Cedar Waxwing

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Cedar Waxwing

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Cedar Waxwing

 

The Black-and-white Warbler is distinctive not only in plumage but also in behavior. Thinking he must be related to a nuthatch, he scampers DOWN a tree trunk probing for insects along the way.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Black-and-white Warbler

 

This “peek-a-boo” image of a Tufted Titmouse was all I could manage. They were abundant and loud all morning but just would not give me a chance to get an unobstructed picture.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Tufted Titmouse

 

A utility pole made a good perch for a Red-bellied Woodpecker to announce her presence to the world. The back side of the pole had three old cavities which may have been used by this bird in the past.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Although not a very good photograph, this is one of the few times I’ve actually seen the “yellow belly” of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

 

Seeming to have a nice pair of spectacles, a Blue-headed Vireo remained above our heads for quite awhile and was curious as to why we were on the ground and not on a tree branch like a sensible animal should be.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Blue-headed Vireo

 

Gini’s hornet’s nest. Yes, she wanted me to retrieve it. No, I did not climb up a tree 50 feet to get it for her. Not this time.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Hornet’s Nest

 

The male American Kestrel is one of my favorite birds. A combination of good looks, athletic ability and pure attitude. Reminds me of someone – where is that mirror?

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

American Kestrel

 

Ignore the sound of that alarm! Pay no attention to the sound of construction! Get up! Get out! Go birding!

Right now!

 

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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