Posts Tagged With: prairie

Long Water

Droplets of moisture decorated the edges of everything in sight like so many small jewels displayed for all to admire. Stepping from the solid platform of wood firmly attached to dry land into a small boat which felt like it was ready to slip out from underneath your feet always seems like the proverbial “leap of faith” that it won’t. In the early morning fog, we moved slowly across the mirror-smooth surface of the lake straining to see ahead and listening for other boats. Common sense prevailed and we slipped into a cove covered in lily pads and pretended to fish until it was safe to travel. Finally, the sun forced the thick mist to begin its retreat and we sped to our favorite spot and began the ritual of gathering what would be several meals of fresh fish.

Raised in a land surrounded by water, it would be easy to take for granted the luxurious environment we enjoy. We know, however, there are many in the world without sufficient water resources and we pray for solutions.

One of the lakes we really love to visit is within an hour’s drive and not only provides outstanding fishing but is in the middle of a diverse ecological system which produces superb birding opportunities. Lake Kissimmee is in central Florida and covers about 35,000 acres (over 14,000 hectares). It forms part of the northern Everglades watershed and the Kissimmee River flows south from the lake for about 100 miles to Florida’s largest natural lake, Lake Okeechobee. “Kissimmee” is derived from a Native American word meaning “long water” and the name is descriptive as you view the lake on a map.

Along its 100 mile journey south, the floodplain of the river, historically, was about three miles wide and was inundated by annual rains. The runoff from this periodic flooding trickled southward through small tributaries, was filtered by vegetation and eventually replenished the vast Everglades with fresh, clean water. As human settlement spread into the area, this flooding began to devastate farms and ranches and strong hurricanes took many lives, over 2,000 in the early 1900’s in one storm. In 1947, the government authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to “do something” to control the flooding. They began a program of building levees around huge Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River was “channelized”. This once meandering, beautifully wild stream was turned into a dredged 30 foot deep straight-line canal which became deprived of oxygen and life over time. Additionally, the floodplain-dependent ecosystem was destroyed resulting in over 90% of the waterfowl disappearing and a 70% reduction in the nesting of Bald Eagles.

With significant help of concerned scientists and residents, the government realized (too late?) the error of their ways. In 1999 a project began to restore the Kissimmee River to its original flow and completion is targeted for 2019. There is some good news to report. For the portion of the project completed to date, there has been a significant return of waterfowl and the ecosystem does seem to be recovering, albeit slowly. We continue to hope future generations will be able to enjoy the land as it once was.

In addition to all the water, the area south and east of Lake Kissimmee contains one of the largest tracts of grass prairie in the United States. One of our favorite destinations is the vast Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area (which includes the Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Area). Over 8,000 acres (3200 hectares) of dry prairie, wet prairie, marsh and pine-flatwoods. This area boasts the largest concentration of nesting Bald Eagles in the contiguous United States and is home to several endangered bird species including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow and Snail Kite.

Recent trips on Lake Kissimmee and to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area produced a diverse list of birds, interesting wildlife encounters, tremendous open vistas of grassland, beautiful wildflowers and a couple of days filled with deep breathing of fresh air. We are truly blessed.

 

Here are a few images of why we like it here.

 

Sunrise on Lake Kissimmee.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

This is the first lock on the Kissimmee River as it exits Lake Kissimmee. If you look on the right side of the photo, you can see the channelized river heading straight south in the distance.

Kissimmee River - Lock

Kissimmee River – Lock

 

The Kissimmee River flows into Lake Kissimmee from Lake Hatchineha to the north. This is looking northward into Lake Hatchineha from the river.

Kissimmee River

Kissimmee River

 

Cypress trees abound in wet conditions throughout Florida. The complex root system of the trees can be seen here as they’re exposed by low water.

Cypress Trees

Cypress Trees

 

An immature Bald Eagle checks us out from a fence post and an adult cruises for a fresh fish breakfast.

Bald Eagle - Immature

Bald Eagle – Immature

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

This is one of the many reasons we love this lake.

Grassy Island - Lake Kissimmee

Grassy Island – Lake Kissimmee

 

An endangered Snail Kite hovers over a spot where he hopes to find an Apple Snail.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite

 

Food for wading birds such as this Great Egret is plentiful around the lake.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Back on dry land, a road through part of the prairie within the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area indicates the openness of this environment.

Prairie - Three Lakes WMA

Prairie – Three Lakes WMA

 

We think about a time when people traversed this area on foot or horseback. Hard to imagine.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

A few scattered palm trees don’t offer much shade and those trees in the distance are a very long walk!

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

Grassy plains such as this used to cover a huge area of central and south Florida.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

False Dragonhead provides a little color along the way.

False Dragonhead  (Physostegia purpurea)

False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

 

Splashes of yellow Black-eyed Susan dot the prairie.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

This is a spot which is normally filled with water. You can see the white sand “slide” that this alligator has used often to lay in wait for food. He apparently didn’t get the memo about the low water.

Dry Watering Hole

Dry Watering Hole

 

Pitted Stripeseed usually spreads along the ground but occasionally stands tall to display its beautiful blooms.

Pitted Stripeseed  (Piriqueta cistoides subsp. caroliniana)

Pitted Stripeseed (Piriqueta cistoides subsp. caroliniana)

 

We were privileged to watch the courtship flight of the Common Nighthawk. The male will fly high, hover for a moment, then fold his wings for a steep dive. Just before he crashes, he opens his wings and flies back up to do it again. The wind rushing through the suddenly open wings makes a distinct “hum”. Hopefully, this will impress the female and they will soon produce little Nighthawks.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

 

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

 

This open land is inviting for Swallow-tailed Kites as they soar above the grasses hunting for insects.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

A female Needham’s Skimmer is quite lovely, but the mature males are a bright reddish-orange and usually grab the limelight.

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami)

 

No, this is not ZZ Top preparing for a performance. It’s a species of Robber Fly with a wasp/bee thing he snagged for lunch.

Robber Fly  (Asilidae)

Robber Fly (Asilidae)

 

An Eastern Black Racer grudgingly moves off the path for us. Gini wanted to play with it but I persuaded her to not molest the wildlife. (She’s bad about that.)

Eastern Black Racer

Eastern Black Racer

 

As the prairie merged into pine-flatwoods, we heard the sweet song of Bachman’s Sparrow and very soon an accommodating male serenaded us and posed for a few candid pics. It was by far the best look we’ve had of one of these beauties. Not too long ago, they were known as Pine Tree Sparrows, which is quite descriptive of their habitat.

Bachman's Sparrow

Bachman’s Sparrow

 

Another tree-dweller, the Red-headed Woodpecker, probed for bugs on a utility pole. Too bad they’re not more brightly colored …..

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

The Long Water refreshes – and we take advantage and are thankful. If you have a chance, go and marvel at what Nature has to offer.

 

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

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

Lunch And A Matinee

Human beings like to be entertained.  Cave men whiled away the time between hunting and gathering by covering the walls of their homes with drawings.  Plays were staged to take our minds off the troubles of the day.  “Moving pictures” transformed entire societies and new industries were developed to satiate our ever-increasing desire for diversion.  If you question whether we are addicted to being entertained, try unplugging the televisions and computers in all our homes for a few hours and see how quickly rioting in the streets will begin.

Fortunately, I married wisely.  Gini is as easily entertained by the song of an Eastern Meadowlark as she would be by attending an orchestral performance of Mozart’s greatest hits.  We seem to find so much in Nature at which to marvel, it just doesn’t matter if we’re missing a favorite television show.  Besides, that’s why recording was invented!

Well, we lollygagged all morning on Peavine Trail (see our previous post “Happiness Is A Dirt Road”) and it was already time for lunch.  We drove to Overstreet Landing on the eastern shore of Lake Kissimmee which is always a treat because to get there you have to travel Overstreet Road.  This gives us the opportunity to view vast pastures, grasslands and sod farms.  The open area is richly populated with Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Meadowlarks, American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, Wild Turkeys, Northern Bobwhites, White and Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret and soaring Vultures.  With the fall migration, we also saw Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warblers and a Northern Harrier.

When we arrived at the shore of the lake, we parked under the welcoming branches of an oak tree, opened all the windows and doors of the truck so we could enjoy the breeze coming off the lake and prepared to enjoy our sandwiches with an unparalleled view of premier lake, prairie and grassland habitat.  We were soon joined by a Turkey Vulture who brought his own lunch of a decaying catfish carcass and settled on a fence post not far from us.  All present enjoyed a fine meal, peace and quiet.

After lunch, we spotted a Snail Kite in the distance hovering over the grass in the lake looking for the Apple Snail which makes up its diet almost exclusively.  A large flock of Cattle Egret flew in front of us, a Little Blue Heron hunted stealthily in the shallows and a group of four Wilson’s Snipe sprang into the air, startled by an incoming boat.

We drove a short distance to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and poked slowly along the rough dirt roads through scrub woods, long-leaf pines, palmetto, cypress domes* (see “Additional Resources”) and a long stretch of dry grass prairie.  Along the way, we tallied 40 species of birds and even found a few fall warblers:  Palm, Pine, Prairie, Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped.  A creek crossing produced a pair of Wood Ducks, Snowy and Great Egrets, Tricolored and Great Blue Herons and a Limpkin.  We found several American Kestrels and Eastern Phoebes taking advantage of millions of insects.  A lone pine tree in the prairie contained a large nest used by Bald Eagles last year to raise a family.  It seemed empty, but may be taken over soon by a Great Horned Owl.  We’ll check next month.

As the sun began to cast long shadows, we turned onto the paved road and spotted a group of Wild Turkeys, the strong light showing off the iridescence of their plumage.  The evening sky displayed colors no artist could duplicate.  As the curtain of night began to lower on our day, hundreds of Glossy Ibis headed to their roost.  We did the same.

We didn’t get a lot of useable photographs due to the time of day and position of the sun but here are a few images which may give you a flavor of our afternoon.

Our lunch guest.  The portion of the brain which detects smell is relatively large in the Turkey Vulture and they can detect carrion below a forest canopy.  And they’re so cute.  Besides who can argue with such an elegant scientific name?  Cathartes auraroughly translated as “Golden Purifier”!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

The lakeside venue for our picnic included a panorama of lake, marsh, grassland, cattle egrets in flight – oh, yes – and a contented vulture.

Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture

Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture

 

A stealthy approach will yield results for this very patient Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

These pretty white blossoms are called Short Leaf Rose Gentian.  Stars scattered along our path.

Short Leaf Rose Gentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

Short Leaf Rose Gentian (Sabatia brevifolia)

 

Very small but very attractive is the Southern Fleabane.  (Please let me know if this is a different species.)

Southern Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) (?)

Southern Fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) (?)

Our matinee was in living technicolor.  A Cloudless Sulphur extracting sweet nectar from Britton’s Wild Petunia.  Unfortunately, this is a very prolific invasive plant which has been vigorously marketed by nurseries as a “Mexican Petunia” and is driving out native plants throughout the region.

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) on Britton's Wild Petunia (Ruellia simplex) - "Mexican Petunia" - Invasive Plant

Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) on Britton’s Wild Petunia (Ruellia simplex) – “Mexican Petunia” – Invasive Plant

A lone pine tree in the prairie made a fine place for Bald Eagles to nest last year.

Bald Eagle Nest

Bald Eagle Nest

My camera lens will get dirty from time to time, but in this case, all the specks are flying insects.  Which is precisely why this happy Eastern Phoebe is perched in this location!

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Limpkins always remind me of something almost prehistoric, especially their calls to each other at dawn and dusk.  (Hear their call:  http://www.xeno-canto.org/102268.)  These birds have especially designed bills for opening Apple Snails and extracting the meat.

Limpkin

Limpkin

An example of the type of dry grass prairie which once stretched across a large part of Florida.

Prairie

Prairie

Cypress domes dot this area and provide refuge for an amazing variety of wildlife.  *(See Additional Resources.)

Cypress Dome

Cypress Dome

A Northern Mockingbird bid us farewell as we prepared to head home.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Wild Turkeys are highlighted in the strong light of the setting sun.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Nature provides the ultimate in “wide-screen” entertainment!

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

Glossy Ibis heading to a roost just after sunset.

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

We enjoy entertainment just as much as anyone.  It’s just that all the best stuff seems to be beyond the reach of an extension cord.  And when the power goes off, we won’t be all that upset.

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

Additional Resources:

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and Prairie Lakes Unit

(NOTE:  If you visit the Three Lakes WMA, check their website listed above for hunting dates.  If you venture afield during scheduled hunting times, be careful and wear an orange vest!  Be safe!)

*Cypress domes are stands of trees growing in a low place which usually stays wet year round.  The depression is lowest near the center of the dome and those trees grow more vigorously than the surrounding ones, thus creating the “dome” shape.

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

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