Posts Tagged With: prickly pear

Census Stimulates Senses

Knocking on doors to gather information about individuals and families can be a challenging and sometimes thankless task. Especially if the residents have no doors. And can’t speak. And try to peck your eyes out. The second Florida Breeding Bird Atlas project continues apace and is producing some interesting results. Effects of the expansion of human habitation have, predictably, altered avian habitation. Some species appear to be adapting to the changes, others not so much. The Atlas will attempt to catalogue bird species breeding within Florida from 2011-2016. The first Atlas was conducted 25 years ago and the update will hopefully provide scientists with important data which might be used to enhance resource management for future bird populations.

Happily, I am not a scientist. (Surprise!) Therefore, the heavy thinking is left to those qualified and I am free to saunter about the countryside watching birds and making a note if I happen to see a nest, courtship (between birds!) or maybe a baby bird. Pretty much what Gini and I do anyhow.

I am quite fortunate to occasionally team up with a pair of Florida’s better birders and I always learn volumes from these two gentlemen. Recently, we covered portions of three counties (Hardee, Highlands and Polk) and by the end of the day had sighted over 90 species of birds and added significant breeding information to the current Atlas.

For me, birding is about so much more than just birds. Nature always seems to have something special to show us. All we have to do is show up. This day began in the dark, on a dirt road bordering an orange grove and small wooded area. The soft trill of an Eastern Screech Owl a few yards away is far more stimulating than any cup of coffee to start one’s day. From the grove came the sharp, clear announcement that Chuck-Will’s-Widow was looking for love. An hour later, the eastern sky displayed colors impossible to duplicate by any artist and it seemed the whole world was suddenly awake. The day was filled with sights, sounds and scents only Nature could produce and I am better for the experience.

A small sample of what we encountered follows but my poor images cannot provide anything close to the real thing. If you get a chance, step outside for awhile soon. Drink it all in. Life is good.

 

Nature has a way of giving spectacular notice when a day begins and ends. A simple field and a few trees are transformed into an ethereal artistic masterpiece with the addition of a multicolored sky and a bit of fog.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

A Crested Caracara made several low passes overhead. No doubt he was curious what these strange-looking creatures were doing in his neighborhood.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

 

Roseate Spoonbills preen in the morning mist, using the water’s surface as a mirror to ensure they look their best to greet the day.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Mud can be very attractive to a large variety of insect life. A large variety of insect life can be very attractive to Dowitchers and Yellowlegs looking for breakfast.

Dowitchers and Yellowlegs

Dowitchers and Yellowlegs

 

Raucous calls from above directed our attention to a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers attempting to evict a Red-bellied Woodpecker from her nest cavity in a utility pole. Mrs. Woodpecker objected. Loudly. Mr. Woodpecker showed up and convinced the interlopers they should look elsewhere for lodging.

Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker

Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

This critter may be a bee belonging to the Megachilidae family (leafcutters and mason bees). I think it’s of the Osmia species but if anyone knows, please chime in!

Osmia spp. (Mason Bee?)

Osmia spp. (Mason Bee?)

 

Ebony Jewelwing is a damselfly and is incredibly beautiful. One day, I’ll have a macro lens and go insect hunting.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

 

Florida’s tropical climate is conducive to a proliferation of air plants, epiphytes. These special plants are not parasites so don’t harm their host trees.

Epiphyte

Epiphyte

 

I’m trying to not include too many photographs of poor quality, but will continue to make exceptions for stuff I like. This is my first sighting this year of a Prothonotary Warbler and it’s high on my list of stuff I like.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

 

Given Florida’s tropical environment, it seems a bit surprising that a cactus would grow well here. The Prickly Pear is quite prolific and produces outstanding yellow flowers. The fruit is delicious, too!

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

 

The colors of the Ornate Pennant blend well with the habitat and allow it to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata)

Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata)

 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are one species which has not adapted well to man’s destruction of their preferred habitat. When I was young, they seemed to be everywhere and I took them for granted. Now, I get very excited about spotting one at all.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Sandhill Crane families are showing up everywhere right now. This “colt” (young crane) appears to have reached “teenager” size and is busy talking back to Mom. Dad’s looking the other way pretending not to hear.

Sandhill Cranes With Colt

Sandhill Cranes With Colt

 

Two juvenile Killdeer blend in with the surrounding landscape and we could have easily missed them if they hadn’t been so noisy. Mom and Dad were nearby and kept telling them to “shush”! Which, of course, they didn’t.

Killdeer (Juvenile)

Killdeer (Juvenile)

 

The mottled shades of brown show why the Wilson’s Snipe is so easy to walk right past. They’re confident in their camouflage, too, and will often wait until the last second to burst into the air to make an escape.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

 

If you look carefully, you can spot the beak and eye of a second Great Blue Heron chick in this nest. She’s to the left and below her sibling.

Great Blue Heron Chicks

Great Blue Heron Chicks

 

On the campus of a local university, we found non-native Egyptian Geese with a new family. Several of this species have bred in the wild around the state over the past few years. Native to North Africa, they were introduced into local parks and zoos. I’m not so sure about the grown-ups, but babies of most species sure are cute!

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

 

 

The day was almost an overload of my senses, but I’ll take that overdose any time! If you happen to be out and about in our Sunshine State and observe birds engaged in the process of creating or raising a family, let your local Breeding Bird Atlas coordinator know about it. Some bird’s future may be counting on you! (To find your area’s coordinator, send an email to the state coordinator, Rick West at: RickLWest@aol.com.)

 

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

 

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

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Pumpkin Hanging Place

Squirrel Tree Frog and Wasp on Button Bush

Climbing Butterfly-Pea

Little Yellow On Prickly Pear

Partridge-Pea

There’s something about being in a forest during a light rain that refreshes the spirit.  It’s late August and we expected heat, humidity, heavy air and an abundance of ravenous insects.  The insects didn’t disappoint.  But we were happily surprised to encounter a pleasant atmosphere within the depths of the woods.  Despite the rain, the humidity wasn’t oppressive, probably due to the lower temperature from the overcast skies.  It almost felt as though we were in the Appalachians.

Chassahowitzka is the largest and most pristine hardwood swamp south of the Suwannee River.  The Seminole’s named this region “pumpkin hanging place” due to the abundance of a climbing variety of pumpkin.  We were less than five miles from the Gulf of Mexico and within a mile of one of the busiest highways on Florida’s west coast.  The only sound we could hear from within the dark woods was a Red-bellied Woodpecker announcing his presence and the droplets of rain striking the surface of puddles.  In the early 1900’s, the area was heavily logged for bald cypress.  Once the marketable cypress was removed, lumber companies cut Southern red cedar for pencils and cigar boxes.  Elevated trams were built to haul the logs out of the swamp to a railroad in nearby Homosassa.  Some of these trams still exist and make excellent hiking trails.

Once the cypress had been removed from the swamp, other species, primarily oak, took over and altered the landscape.  For many years, fires were suppressed, something that had occurred regularly from lightning and which renewed the old cypress growth.  In recent years, forest managers have been trying to restore the growth of long-leaf and slash pine.  Controlled burning is removing the oak and other species in an effort to return the area to an open, dry woodlands and hardwood swamp.  It’s a slow process.

The hottest part of the year is not when we expected to encounter wildflowers.  What a nice surprise!  Within the depths of the forest, we discovered Buttonbush in bloom providing a pincushion of pollen for a wasp and a potential meal for a Squirrel Tree Frog (okay, maybe his eyes are bigger than his stomach!).  The Climbing Butterfly-Pea with its soft lavender petals and paintbrush-like strokes of purple and white was abundant and gorgeous against the backdrop of the dark forest.  Occasionally, we found a splash of white and yellow flowers dotting a Loblolly Bay tree, as if forest nymphs wanted to brighten up the place.  As we moved to a bit higher elevation of the surrounding sandhills, a prickly pear was almost bursting with pride at the yellow bloom it had produced.  A thankful butterfly agreed to pass along a bit of pollen in exchange for a sip of nectar.  Likewise, another butterfly visited a different yellow beauty, the Partridge-Pea.  With feather-like leaves, the profuse yellow blossoms held the rain droplets as long as possible.  To round out Nature’s palette, a fiery orange Butterfly Weed demanded its portrait be recorded.  Closer inspection revealed a similarly colored caterpillar munching his way along a stem.

It was a morning of unexpected pleasures.  That’s Nature’s way, though.  Try to keep an open mind and She will fill it with wonders for you to enjoy and contemplate.

Caterpillar on Butterfly Weed

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

Take a look at “Chassahowitzka WMA – August 2012” in the Gallery for more images.

Additional Resources:

Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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