Posts Tagged With: prairie warbler

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

Migration Fascination (A Love Story)

“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

 

Florida. Sub-tropical, humid. Economical for raising children. Toss ’em outdoors. Tell ’em to come back when they get hungry. Minimum investment in clothing, no shoes required, Mother Nature provides the toys. (If you are under 40 years old and, by accident, have stumbled upon this article, the above will make no sense to you and may even cause you to question whether you should alert authorities. I don’t blame you. Proceed as your conscience guides you. But – call your Mother first and see what she thinks.)

Thus, two products of such an upbringing met in middle school, discovered sea shells, caught fish, swam, tossed rotten oranges (okay, I was the only tosser), held hands, kissed over the fence (yes, Gini was the girl next door), married and immediately moved 1200 miles from home. My Uncle Sam insisted I attend Syracuse (New York) University before sending me around the world for the next 20 years. That girl next door has remained as beautiful as when I first saw her in the band room those many years ago. (We shall not speak of what happened to yours truly in those ensuing years.)

“Wow!” My lady has a knack for understatement. Autumn. This was something new for us. Florida has two seasons:  green and brown. Upstate New York puts on a show around the middle of October that simply has to be seen to be appreciated, as mere words or photographs are totally inadequate. The colors, the crispness of the air, the crunchiness of the forest floor littered with confetti from the trees – overwhelming for a couple of flatlanders!

The Air Force allowed us to reside in Europe for almost ten years and autumnal scenes reminiscent of  New York were replayed for our enjoyment. Eventually, we returned home. Two seasons. Which we thoroughly enjoy! However, images of “fall color” on calendars, magazine covers or television screens  elicit heavy sighs at this time of year from each of us.

Ma Nature has compensated us, somewhat, by sending little balls of colorful feathers our way every year so that we may enjoy our memories of yellow, red and orange leaves drifting on the breeze. If we worked at it, we could catalogue a lengthy list of migratory birds as they travel through Florida on their annual journey to the southern hemisphere. Key word, “work”. So, we are content to make shortish trips and scan the tippy-tops of impossibly high trees in the hope of spotting impossibly small birds. Fun!

Here, for your enjoyment, are a few of the world travelers we have met this fall. We wish them a safe journey and hope to see them again next year.

 

The Tufted Titmouse is a gang leader. Their clear whistle is usually the first sound to be heard in the woods and they will soon appear above our heads with a quizzical look as they try to figure out what sort of danger we pose. The good news is, they are usually accompanied by an assortment of fellow gang members. Safety in numbers.

Colt Creek State Park

 

With plenty of water in our area, it doesn’t take long to hear the chattering from a low twig of a bush near a pond or stream indicating a Common Yellowthroat is in the area. They are quick to jump out of their hiding spot to see who’s there, but just as quick to dart back into the shadows, chattering all the time.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Mr. and Mrs. American Redstart are quite a handsome couple! Insects are frightened from hiding places as these warblers flare their wings and tails with bright patches of color.

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

Colt Creek State Park

 

Looking more like a thrush than a warbler, the Ovenbird even acts like a thrush as she scours the forest floor, scratching up leaves and twigs hunting for a meal. Raising her crest, she lets me know I intruded a bit too close to her dinner table.

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

 

Pine Warblers can be quite variable in plumage. Some individuals are very bright yellow with crisp markings while others may be quite drab (and easy to overlook!).

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

Bereah Road East

Bereah Road East

 

Speaking of bright, this Prairie Warbler was very curious about what I was up to. He followed me for quite awhile before losing interest.

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

 

With behavior more like a nuthatch, Black and White Warblers really stand out with their striped plumage. Running “down” a tree trunk or clinging to the underside of a tree limb is just “un-warbler” like!

Colt Creek State Park

 

Most of the waterfowl have not yet arrived on the scene. With the exception of the advanced guard. The Pied-billed Grebe. These little water warriors live here all year, but in the fall they are joined by fair numbers of their northern cousins. Have you ever seen a Pied-billed Grebe fly? Me either. I have a theory they migrate by bus.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Florida has a diverse population of resident woodpecker species. One we only see in migration is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. In the photo, you can see the characteristic drill pattern around the tree trunk which may be designed to expose sap which in turn will attract insects for the bird to scoop up.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Downy Woodpeckers breed in our area but we also see many non-resident birds during migration. I really don’t know if this male and female are residents or tourists. I just like the picture.

Saddle Creek Park

 

Our wetlands are “abuzz” this time of year. Lots of insects, as usual, but new voices come from the noisy wren family. The diminutive Marsh Wren has that “attitude” which all the wrens seem to possess. Daring you to come out in the marsh and say that to his face.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Just as pugnacious as his relatives, the House Wren is easy to identify by having virtually no identifying features. A “plain brown wrapper.”

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Most of the year, Florida is devoid of sparrows, except for the old world House Sparrow and endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Fall is, for me, a time when I get to re-learn which sparrow is which! They all look the same for awhile. Okay, more than awhile. This Swamp Sparrow remained in the open long enough to see the nice bright brown wing patches and distinct facial pattern.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

In a ball of moss, among the fronds of a palm tree or on a twig, the bright black and white and yellow of the Yellow-throated Warbler is hard to miss.

Coleman Landing

 

As with many warblers, Magnolia Warblers in fall plumage are much different than in breeding season. The subtle colors and striping makes me think twice about what I’m seeing.

McIntosh Tract

 

Palm Warblers are one of our most numerous fall migrants. Arriving earlier than most, little mobs of the tail-waggers can show an amazing difference in plumage range. Two races (eastern, western) can be seen in our area with the eastern being brighter overall.

Bereah Road East

Lake Parker Park

 

Not much later than the Palm Warblers are the invading hordes of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Just as numerous as their Palm cousins, these bright birds usually prefer trees while the Palm is equally happy foraging on the ground. A hint of yellow on the shoulder, dark streaking, two wing bars and the namesake yellow rump all help to identify this enthusiastic bug hunter.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

Lake Gwyn Park

 

For the past couple of weeks, every path taken has resulted in cat-calls. The Gray Catbird has arrived! Dozens of these handsome birds have been seen (but especially heard!) on each trip.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

For a bit of relief from so much yellow, we found a half-dozen Eastern Bluebirds hanging out with a flock of Palm, Pine and Prairie Warblers on the edge of an orange grove last week. Not sure if these are residents or not?

Bereah Road East

 

It’s not all warblers. The White-eyed Vireo sings almost constantly to ensure we don’t overlook him.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Although the White-eyed Vireo above might be a resident, we only see the Blue-headed Vireo during migration. It’s song is very vireo-like, but quite different than the White-eyed.

Saddle Creek Park

 

Fall means Phoebe is here! And she CONSTANTLY reminds us her name is:  “FEE – bee!!” The Eastern Phoebe, with its wagging tail, is very common at the moment, but numbers will subside a bit as many birds will continue on further south.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Once in awhile, a rare bird shows up. A resident of the western United States, the Yellow-headed Blackbird is noted passing through Florida once every two or three years. Luckily, this was one of those years! (Remind me to tell you about crawling through blackberry brambles to get this shot.)

McIntosh Tract

 

 

Gini and I are thankful we experienced fall foliage and it’s one of the things we do miss by living in central Florida. (Snow is very pretty. Miss it? That’s another story …) If you live in an area which provides a riot of color each autumn, get out and relish it. Don’t take it for granted. If, like us, you are season-limited, check out the little fluffs of color in your trees. You will be amazed.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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