Posts Tagged With: raccoon

Birding Bridgewater Before Breakfast

“I’ll be back in time for a late breakfast.”

She is still laughing.

Part of the 7,000+ acre Tenoroc Public Use Area, the “Bridgewater Tract” is literally five minutes from the house. Unfortunately, one must first check in at the headquarters building which is about 15 minutes up the road. A small inconvenience. We visit Tenoroc often due to its proximity and diverse mix of bird species. With over 1,000 acres of lakes, open grassy areas, mixed pine and hardwood forests and wetlands, the potential for a really good birding day is always high.

The Bridgewater Tract is adjacent to Lake Parker, a 2100 acre body of water within the city limits of Lakeland, Florida. Like the rest of the Tenoroc lands, Bridgewater consists of reclaimed phosphate mining areas. The former mining pits have been stocked with fish and the surrounding habitat has been managed to somewhat resemble what it looked like over 50 years ago. The results are apparently agreeable with the birds.

All the lakes within the Tenoroc system are fairly deep, following years of phosphate extraction. Relatively deep water begins almost immediately along the shoreline. With very little shallow water available, wading birds and “puddle” ducks are scarce. Abundant trees and dense undergrowth, especially near the water, is very attractive to a large number of other birds. A few trails wind through open grass and wetland areas as well as through woodlands.

Of course, I knew very well breakfast would be nothing but a memory by the time I finished exploring. Gini had managed to stop laughing by the time I returned and had lunch almost ready. Best. Wife. Ever.

My morning observations broke no records but it sure was enjoyable!

 

A small group of Common Grackles were excited about a hawk in their territory. Our geographic variant of this species shows a bit more purple iridescence than birds in other parts of the country.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Joining the grackles in screaming about the hawk, a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds flew into the tree tops.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

North America’s smallest woodpecker is the Downy Woodpecker. With a splash of bright red on his head, this male inspected every inch of several branches, scooping up insects almost without any hesitation.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Pine Warblers have an incredible range of plumage, from almost all gray to bright yellow. Even this somewhat drab bird has a beauty which cannot be denied.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Birders’ affliction. We are either gazing upward or have binoculars glued to our faces trying to discern what exactly is in the center of a bush. As a result of this affliction, we stumble over logs and roots, step into puddles, frighten poor snakes trying to get out of our way and are sometimes surprised to find someone gazing back at us. The raccoon was quick to depart.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Migration is in full swing and one species whose numbers really burgeon during this time is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This one held still longer than most.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

A cautious female Common Yellowthroat is not as bright as the male but her subdued plumage exudes a beauty all its own.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

“Butcher Bird”. I grew up using this name for the Loggerhead Shrike. Apparently, it is a widely used nickname for the small gray hunter. Carcasses of insects and lizards impaled on a thorn, twig or barbed-wire fence are tell-tale signs of a shrike in the area.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Although it is almost officially winter, here in subtropical Florida we are still blessed with the presence of dragons. One of the small and colorful Odonata, a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), allowed a quick photo op before “dashing” to chase a mosquito. I knew I liked dragonflies for a reason!

20191108 Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract 00012.jpg

 

One of our winter visitors, an Eastern Phoebe, gave me a quizzical glance as I neared her perch, trying to decide if I meant her any harm. I changed direction and she kept up her search for breakfast.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

As a Bald Eagle soared overhead, I realized how high the sun was above the horizon. Leaving the eagle to search for a breakfast fish, I headed home.

Tenoroc FMA Bridgewater Tract

 

Hiking around the lakes and among the trees, observing nature as it awakened to a new day was worth missing breakfast. Returning home to the welcoming embrace of the woman I love reminded me how truly blessed I am. Find a place near you to observe birds and wild things – just remember to appreciate what is really important in your life.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

51st Anniversary Road Trip

“Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly.”

We were on the deck immediately outside the back door of the cottage. The dark waters of the Aucilla River swirled past us toward the Gulf of Mexico about three miles away. Straining to hear, Gini (the one with good ears) could not hear any traffic noise at all, no sirens, no dogs barking, no neighbors slamming doors. Sigh.

Phil, of the internationally renown blogging phenomenon, Another Bird Blog, recently asked why we would want to take a vacation since we live in Florida? The answer is, we did not take a vacation “from” Florida, but “within Florida”. Our Sunshine State has an incredible variety of adventure to offer. Even for a couple of natives such as us.

It’s amazing to think we have been married 51 years. Gini makes it seem like yesterday when we were running barefoot along the beach. We still do that, except for the running part. Thanks to her, every day is fresh, new, exciting and filled with anticipation!

Our road trip began at the southern boundary of Dixie County at the town of Suwannee, where the scenic river of song empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Winding our way northward through the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, we passed through hardwood hammocks, vast marshes, tidal streams, beaches (not the touristy white-sand type, the muddy reed and cabbage-dotted wildlife-filled ones), pine uplands and fishing villages. The day began with a thick sea-fog which didn’t begin lifting until almost noon.

A small cottage on the Aucilla River near the eastern boundary of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was our home for a few days of exploration. Located at the end of an old logging road, the small house has a solid wall of glass at the rear offering an unobstructed view of the beautiful dark river and wild western shoreline. Three other houses are nearby, only one of which is occupied but only on the weekends. Nightly concerts were provided by Eastern Screech, Great Horned and Barred Owls. Dawn was announced by noisy flocks of Double-crested Cormorants flying low and heading down river.

We spent a lot of time at nearby St. Marks NWR where the birds are abundant and people are not. Local seafood was fresh, abundant and inexpensive. Back roads produced even more bird life and superb scenery. A comfortable bed was welcome at day’s end and it was refreshing to peek out from the covers each morning and see the river come to life in the predawn light.

A few images are provided to give you a sense of our adventure. Also, see Additional Information below for a link to a map giving an idea of where we traveled.

 

Just north of the town of Suwannee, the Dixie Mainline Trail winds through vast swamps and hammocks and crosses a half-dozen tidal creeks. Side trails offer great views of the salt marsh bounded to the west by the Gulf of Mexico.Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP

 

With all the water, fungus is plentiful. Why does it grow on a particular tree but not on others immediately adjacent?

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP

 

Tidal creeks beg to be explored.

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Lower Suwannee River NWP

 

This beauty may be a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake, a hybrid of a Gray and Yellow Rat Snake. Any expert opinions are welcome.

Lower Suwannee River NWP

 

This vast marsh is part of Shired Island which has a very nice campground, picnic area and fishing pier. I have flagged this spot to return for some night photography later in the year.

Lower Suwannee River NWP

 

We spotted a large piece of driftwood covered in shells. Combined with the texture of the wood, this collection seemed almost like a painting.

Lower Suwannee River NWP

 

The old logging road leading to our cottage was long and straight.

The Moorings At Mandalay

 

 

The Moorings at Mandalay. Serene, scenic, soothing.

The Moorings At Mandalay

 

As you step out the back door, you are on a deck above the gorgeous Aucilla River.

Aucilla River

Aucilla River

 

On the deck, a Green Anole and a kitten.

The Moorings At Mandalay

Aucilla River

 

Around midnight, we discovered what we thought was a bird feeder was actually a raccoon feeder! (And opossum feeder, too, but he was camera shy.)

The Moorings At Mandalay

 

At St. Marks NWR, a Red-bellied Cooter almost got hit by a speeding truck so I moved him to the safety of the water. As I turned toward the car, I spotted a Vermilion Flycatcher, uncommon in Florida. Thanks, Turtle!

St. Marks NWR

 

Vermilion Flycatcher. A male and female spent the winter here, from birding reports. We got good looks at the female, but she would not pose for any pics. The male had no problem doing so.

St. Marks NWR

St. Marks NWR

 

This Great Horned Owl appropriated an old Bald Eagle nest to raise two owlets, one of which can be seen here.

St. Marks NWR

 

Gini said during her early years, one of her favorite beach activities was collecting Fiddler Crabs. We found a few to add to her memory bank.

Bottoms Road

 

A sub-adult Bald Eagle found a great perch to keep watch over the marsh.

St. Marks NWR

 

The lighthouse at St. Marks is the second oldest still standing in Florida.

St. Marks NWR

 

The vast marsh disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.

St. Marks NWR

 

Not far from our cottage is the Goose Pasture campground on another of Florida’s scenic dark rivers, the Wacissa. It is formed from and fed by a series of a dozen clear springs.

Goose Pasture

 

One final sunset on the Aucilla River near where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Aucilla River

 

We had a wonderful vacation, even if we didn’t leave the state! Both of us agreed to do this again in another 51 years.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Florida’s Nature Coast

St. Marks NWR

Lower Suwannee NWR

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

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