Posts Tagged With: rat snake

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

High Times In Highlands County

A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people– Will Rogers

I truly enjoy watching my wife tackle an artistic endeavor.  She analyzes what needs to be done, develops a plan of attack, gathers the necessary materials and then performs magic.  At least, it’s magic to me.  I possess no such talent for producing something beautiful from, literally, nothing but an idea.  Whether she’s drawing or making a gift box decorated with paper flowers and doves, observing her while she’s creating is awe-inspiring.

That’s the way it is with someone who has knowledge or skills we may not.  We envy that person, we wish we could do what they do, we are amazed at the results they achieve and we want to be around them in the hope some of that talent will transfer to us.  Guess what?  Sometimes it does.  We may not reach their level of expertise, but just by hanging around such folks we almost can’t avoid learning something!

Sunday morning coffee was in a paper cup which imparted a unique flavor to my daily dose of caffeine.  The truck zigzagged through the dark along a series of back roads en route to a pre-dawn rendezvous with two of Florida’s top birders.  They would be characteristically too modest to agree with that description, but, hey, it’s my blog!  One of them can hear a Scrub Jay whisper in a hurricane a half mile away.  The other personally knows the address of every bird in the county and requires migrants to file a flight plan with him.

Today we intended to explore likely birding locales in Highlands County (we are all residents of Polk County, to the immediate north).  As the sun broke the horizon, we squinted eastward across the surface of Lake Jackson in Sebring.  About a dozen migrating Black Terns were actively feeding near the public boat ramp and picnic area.  They have lost their black plumage and transitioned to non-breeding colors as they prepare to continue on to the Caribbean.  A Belted Kingfisher was there and is also a migrant, but may stay in the area all winter.

Highlands Hammock State Park on the south side of Sebring consists of over 9,000 acres of oak and cypress hammock, swamp, black water creeks, pine forest and scrub.  Hikes along a couple of different paths produced 9 warbler species, including a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, 4 woodpecker species, White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos, a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Summer Tanager.  Competing with the bird life were myriad insects, amphibians and reptiles.

After lunch (I can’t believe these guys stopped to eat), we explored a small park on the north side of Lake Istokpoga.  We were greeted at the parking area by a half dozen calling Sandhill Cranes and another half dozen Black Vultures (who were just finishing lunch themselves-armadillo, I think).  We found a colorful American Redstart, Tufted Titmice, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an adult and juvenile Purple Gallinule.

A short drive to the north and our noses alerted us we were nearing our objective, Bishop’s Dairy.  The continually wet mud which cows seem to enjoy is home to millions of insects.  Migratory shorebirds love this smorgasbord and we found a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers attending the banquet.  In an isolated mud puddle, a Solitary Sandpiper bathed and chased his own meal around the water.  Three dozen European Starlings, a couple dozen Cattle Egret, four dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Dove, White Ibises and a Loggerhead Shrike rounded out the attendees at the dairy buffet.

Just around the corner from the dairy is an area of extensive pasture land, low lying fields and scattered ponds.  The abundant rain this summer has inundated most of this area and has attracted quite a variety of bird life.  We counted over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were juveniles.  Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 80 Cattle Egret, two dozen White Ibis, 50 Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Sandhill Cranes, almost two dozen Yellowlegs, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 5 Loggerhead Shrikes and an American Kestrel, among others, were enjoying the abundance of food in these fields.  We found a recently plowed field which hosted a couple of dozen Kildeer, Least Sandpipers and a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers.  One of the highlights in this area was a “kettle” of vultures spiraling up into the blue sky.

As afternoon thunderstorms built up, we headed home, happy to have tallied over 80 species of birds for the day.  My thanks to two companions who were generous with their knowledge and patient with an old dog still trying to learn a new trick or two.  These guys aren’t just good birders, they are true gentlemen.

 

I managed a few snapshots during the day and have included a sampling in the hope you might share a bit of the experience we had.

Lake Jackson Area

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Highlands Hammock State Park

Path

Path

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

The smaller spider is the male.  Keeping his distance from his spouse!

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rat Snake

Yellow Rat Snake

Carolina Satyr

Carolina Satyr

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) - Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) – Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) - (?)

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) – (?)

 

This is the smallest toad species in North America with an average length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Lake Istokpoga Park

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) - Male

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) – Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – Male

Bishop’s Dairy

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Note how the parents station themselves at either end of the ducklings to stand watch.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Kettle of Vultures

Kettle of Vultures

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

As late afternoon thunderstorms build, Cattle Egret seek shelter, and so did we as we headed home.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

I may not be any smarter just for hanging around smart people, but I do enjoy being around anyone who can lead me to over 80 species of birds in one day.  And I do have my occasional strokes of genius.  After all, I was smart enough to marry Gini over 45 years ago!

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, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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