Posts Tagged With: red-headed woodpecker

That Primitive Urge

“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

 

It was cold. Just the thought of reaching outside the sleeping bag to find the zipper made me shiver and curl up even tighter. But the darkness was ever-so-slightly beginning to yield to inevitable sunrise. The tall grass around our small tent was barely discernible and resembled the stockade wall of a fortress. My brother, Steve, made the sacrifice and wriggled free of his goose-down cocoon and applied a match to the small burner which would soon heat enough oatmeal to fortify us both for an eventual beach adventure. A week before Christmas found us exploring what Maryland locals call “the Eastern shore”, that coastal expanse sandwiched between the huge Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Later in the day we would hike the rugged Atlantic shoreline of Chincoteague and admire the wild ponies of Assateague Island. At the moment, though, we relished hot oatmeal, trying to gulp each spoonful before the frigid air cooled it too much. Breakfast was interrupted when Steve asked:  “What’s that sound?” What followed was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever experienced in nature. Canada Geese. Tens of thousands appeared as a dark cloud from the west and gradually swept over us like a tidal wave of noise and darkness. We sat and marveled at the spectacle during which we literally couldn’t hear each other shouting. The geese were a small part of a huge number of migrants along the coast and had roosted in a nearby corn field during the night and were now moving toward the marshes and ponds to feed. What a glorious way to start a day!

More recently, while driving near Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Gini and I stumbled upon a field being plowed which contained over 500 Sandhill Cranes. Although Florida has a resident population of these large birds, each fall sees huge flocks migrating from the mid-west of the United States. That many cranes trumpeting can be deafening!  Last winter, we visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast and were excited to find hundreds of Northern Pintail and thousands of shorebirds enjoying the shallow water impoundments.

Such large numbers can provide a very dramatic birding experience. But at the moment, it’s August in Florida and it’s really hot and humid. It’s difficult to think about the above scenes of masses of migrating birds. Nevertheless, some sort of migration seems to always be happening in the bird world. Right now, a few species are beginning to head south for the winter and for the birder who’s willing to put up with high temperatures, regular thunderstorms and voracious mosquitoes, there are rewards to be found.

I travelled with two birding friends the other day to the southern part of our county (Polk) where there is a commercial sod operation. These fields can be productive for migrating shorebirds, especially if bad weather forces them to stay put for awhile. Alas, our weather was perfectly clear. We found plenty of Boat-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer, but only a smattering of shorebird migrants. A couple dozen Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Semipalmated Plover probed the soft soil of the fields. We did manage to hear an uncommon King Rail in a nearby wetland. Next, we visited a large dairy but again found no shorebirds to speak of. We did find a Solitary Sandpiper and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with young. Not far from the dairy we heard three more King Rails at various locations. We visited Paynes Creek Historical State Park in Hardee County and found a few Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and an eastern Wood-Pewee, all likely migrants. A nice bonus was at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers. We know they breed in this park but it’s always a treat to see this strikingly handsome bird! Our last stop of the day was back in Polk County along the Peace River Hammock Trail. We could only hike a portion of the trail due to flooding and the clouds of mosquitoes were particularly dense, but we found three Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a couple of Ovenbirds for our efforts.

Not a large number of migratory birds for the day but a very rewarding trip!

 

The little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is very active, usually travels in groups with other species and can be quite curious.

Lake Parker Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

One of the earliest warblers to migrate through our area is the Yellow Warbler. Some individuals can be very bright still in their breeding colors and others, especially first year birds, can be almost dull looking.

Banana Lake Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Although the Northern Parula breeds in Florida, during migration the trees become full of these brightly colored birds.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula

 

A quiet warbler which resembles a thrush is the Ovenbird. They can often be seen on the ground scratching through leaves but will stop for a look at an old guy stumbling over tree roots.

Fisheating Creek WMA

Ovenbird

 

True to its name, the Solitary Sandpiper is frequently seen alone and will check out any spot of mud for a meal.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Solitary Sandpiper

 

Pectoral Sandpipers resemble a larger version of a Least Sandpiper. As they feed, they seem to be always leaning forward about to fall over.

Avon Park Cutoff Road-Sod Fields

Pectoral Sandpiper

 

The Semipalmated Plover have very small bills and are not very large birds (seven inches). Normally seen in coastal areas, they can be found almost anywhere during migration.

Pool Road

Semipalmated Plover

 

One of our residents, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has thrived during the past couple of decades and can be found in large numbers throughout its range.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Also a resident, the Red-headed Woodpecker has not adapted very well to loss of traditional habitat and populations have seriously decreased in the past 20 years.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Florida is blessed with a climate which produces some sort of flowering plants throughout the year. Insects appreciate that. A White Peacock poses briefly.

Locklar Road

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)

 

A small Delaware Skipper goes deep into the bloom of a Wild Potato Vine, a member of the morning-glory family.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

 

Dragon down! A Needham’s Skimmer got a bit too close to the water and became too wet to fly.

County Line Road (Polk)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

 

As migrants begin their long journey to warmer climates, we look forward to the privilege of sighting a few birds we don’t otherwise have an opportunity to observe. Hopefully, you, too, will be able to spot a few visitors as they snack their way through your neighborhood!

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

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

Leftovers

It’s time to show you my favorite photographs from blogging during the past year!

Relax. Not really. I already did that to you once. And you were all very kind. Thank you for that!

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know (or strongly suspect) that I’m more of a contrarian than a conformist. So instead of trying to determine which images I liked the best, I shall serve you a heaping dish of leftovers. Scraps. Remains. Dregs. Residue. Leavings. Remnants. Stuff acquired during 2015 which didn’t quite fit into a nice, neat blogging category. Maybe it was a picture from a Sunday drive or a single image from a trip where no other suitable images were made or a snapshot from the back yard.

For those of you who have never participated in that grandest of American feasting holidays, Thanksgiving, I’m sorry. Typically, our extended family (along with friends who we think of as family) meet at a central location and everyone brings food to share. The table is usually overburdened with roast turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, pies, cakes … it’s quite a spectacle. At the end of the day, any food items remaining are parceled out for those who are interested in taking them home. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast turkey on Thanksgiving Day is a turkey sandwich the next day. And to enjoy that sandwich on the edge of a lake with Gini by my side while we count migrating ducks, well, that’s something special.

No sooner had we cleaned out the refrigerator of Thanksgiving leftovers than Christmas arrived. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast ham on Christmas Day is a ham sandwich the next day. And to enjoy it on the edge of a lake…. (you know the rest).

One week later. Happy New Year! Now, although a leftover sandwich made from a standing rib roast is really good (especially to enjoy it on the edge of a lake, etc.), Gini is able to turn the remaining meat and bones into a pot of heavenly harmony affectionately known as “hash”. Originating from the French for “to cut or chop”, Gini’s hash contains the aforementioned remnants of a superb roast, including bones, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and ingredients so secret even the government doesn’t know about them. Just the aroma of her hash being warmed has been known to make grown men weep and Southern Women swoon. It’s that good.

Well, all of the above culinary delights are now but a memory and the food planning calendar contains a lot of salad and bean items. Sigh. Before the glow fades from these fond memories, I offer you a platter of luminous leftovers. Don’t forget your napkin.

Enjoy.

 

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest hawk species in North America and has been observed in an amazing range of plumages. From almost all black to almost all light-colored, the signature brick red tail is usually present in adult birds. Where better to find one of our most beautiful raptors than hiking around all day in summer at – the local landfill. (The sacrifices I make for you all.)

North Central Landfill

Red-tailed Hawk

 

Also known as “traffic warden”, this Eastern Phoebe reminds visitors to get out and walk.

Saddle Creek Park

Eastern Phoebe

 

For those with acute hearing (which would NOT be me), the Sedge Wren readily announces his location. The problem is once you find his location, he usually remains hidden deep within the reeds. This one couldn’t resist taking a peek at the guy in the camouflage shirt which he could CLEARLY SEE. (I must get my money back.)

McKendree Road

Sedge Wren

 

I stooped to new lows this past year to locate damsels in distress. This Variable Dancer remained motionless for a micro-second and a single shutter click captured a gorgeous miniature ballerina.

Mosaic FMA

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

When Little Blue Herons are young, they are white. As the year progresses, they begin to show their slaty plumage bit by bit and it’s common to spot “calico” herons in the marsh. This fellow had an itch and is sporting the latest teen hairdo so popular in today’s heron society.

Lake Gwyn

Little Blue Heron – Immature

 

An artsy moment in which I search for my roots.

Saddle Creek Park

Roots

 

Short-tailed Hawks (Buteo brachyurus) are not common in North America and probably number less than 500 in Florida. This small tropical hawk usually soars quite high (often above vultures) and drops quickly and unexpectedly to capture small songbirds. This is the first one I’ve ever seen perched. There are two forms, light (as pictured) and an all dark morph.

Saddle Creek Park

Short-tailed Hawk

 

A Wood Stork and White Ibis may share a perch but they don’t have to speak to each other.

McKendree Road

White Ibis, Wood Stork

 

Visitors are surprised to learn there are hills and valleys in Florida. Okay, they aren’t very dramatic, but parts of the state are not as flat as most think. This pasture land is only about a half hour from our house and is prime habitat for one of our favorite birds …..

Pasco County

Trilby Road Pasture

 

Burrowing Owls love the open, closely cropped fields found in pastures. Within a couple of square miles of this burrow were eight additional burrows, all with one or two owlets last year. Here, Mom stands guard while the two youngsters begin to explore around the burrow entrance. They quickly learn to use those big eyes to scan the sky often. Hawks eat little owls.

Pasco County

Burrowing Owl

 

It has been amazing to discover the world of dragons! Incredible diversity of colors, expert hunters, dedicated parents, acrobatic fliers – and to think they spend their first three or four years under water! This Roseate Skimmer is one of the more colorful members of the species.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Skimmer – Male (Orthemis ferruginea)

 

The American Redstart is seen in our area only during spring and fall migration. They flash their tails and wings frequently as they move through a tree’s foliage to flush insects from hiding.

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – Female

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – male

 

Although the Sedge Wren above likes to remain hidden, the Marsh Wren aggressively jumps out of the weeds to see who’s invading his territory. A lot of attitude for his size!

Saddle Creek Park

Marsh Wren

 

This immature Wood Stork isn’t as handsome as the adult yet (okay, maybe there’s no difference), but he still can’t help but admire himself as he quenches his thirst.

Banana Lake Park

Wood Stork

 

Almost any visit to the marsh offers a vision in pink overhead. The Roseate Spoonbill is hard to miss in clear sky.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Spoonbill

 

A trip to refill the back yard bird bath revealed a surprise. A Cooper’s Hawk, who usually invites birds to dinner, decided to try squirrel for a change of pace. He was polite enough to wait to begin his meal until I returned with the camera.

Polk County

Cooper’s Hawk

 

Even though the population of the Red-headed Woodpecker has declined significantly over the past 25 years, it has been a bit encouraging to discover they are nesting successfully in good numbers in our area. Hopefully, they will continue to stage a comeback.

Lake Garfield

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Our community hosts a modest farmer’s market every Saturday and it’s a nice way to find locally produced goods. There is often a good selection of organic fruits and vegetables. We even have a train that goes through the center of town. (Much to the chagrin of commuters every day.)

Lakeland Market

Market

Lakeland Market

Tomatoes

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Peaches

Lakeland Market

Pastry

Lakeland Market

Flowers

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Train

 

 

Well, we hope you enjoyed your leftovers this year! I’m already dreaming of Gini’s hash for next year. After such a feast, there’s only one sensible thing to do —

Rolling Woods Lane

Mourning Dove

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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