Posts Tagged With: red-winged blackbird

Sex & Bugs & Flock & Pole

(Sincerest apologies to Ian Drury and The Blockheads.)

 

Somehow it felt like cheating. Looking back over 60-something years, our upbringing seems like a cliche. Work hard, be honest, treat others well, you will be rewarded. My Sunday School teacher had to explain (on a weekly basis) why a spiritual reward was far better than monetary recompense. So when we drove through the gate of the wildlife drive entrance last Friday and from the comfort of the car within the first 20 yards saw Blue Grosbeaks, Painted Buntings, Northern Cardinals, myriad water birds, low-flying hawks and a soaring eagle, it almost seemed unfair. Almost.

Great birding is supposed to involve great effort. Much hiking, climbing, crawling, sweating, fighting wild animals to reach some sort of avian apex of achievement! But here we were, resting on comfortable cushioned upholstery, cool drinks stashed in adorable beverage holders within easy reach, protected from the sun and wind, icy air conditioning available at the touch of a button – and seeing birds, and LOTS of them – on all sides as we slowly made our way along an 11 mile stretch of good road through a vast wetland area. Yes, totally unfair. And we feel very guilty about enjoying ourselves so much without any actual labor involved. Quite guilty, indeed. So guilty, we may not indulge in such birding luxury again. For at least a couple of weeks.

Lake Apopka, a large 48 square mile body of water northwest of Orlando, was once a fishing paradise and in the 1960’s boasted nine fish camps and numerous resorts. Unfortunately, a long history of agricultural abuses culminated in massive fish and bird kills and the once beautiful lake became one of the nation’s most polluted bodies of water. Today, no fish camps, no vacation resorts. A massive effort begun in the late 1980’s has resulted in an astonishing recovery. There is still work to be done, but the wildlife has responded spectacularly and the outlook is excellent. In 2011, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count produced 346 species, more than even Everglades National Park that year! See the link below if you plan to visit. There are several access points for hiking, biking and the one we visited, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

It was a fantastic day of birding and scenic driving which ended with lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Yalaha German Bakery. A plate of curry wurst, sauerkraut and potato salad. Apple strudel and fruit tart for later. (Hey, maybe this is some of that spiritual reward thing my Sunday School teacher meant!)

Birding highlights included singing Blue Grosbeaks, a first-year male Orchard Oriole also singing his heart out, a very large (500+) flock of migrating Bobolinks, many Barn Swallows, male and female Painted Buntings as well as the usual diverse selection of birds found here. While I chased the oriole on foot, Gini had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perch on a willow just outside the car window giving her the best looks she’s had at this species. As a nice extra, we came across a large Florida Softshell Turtle depositing her eggs along a canal bank.

We hope you enjoy a few images from our lazy birding day.

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Yes, if you order now we will include AT NO EXTRA COST, bonus images of our short trip the following day to southern Polk County where we encountered Osprey with actual babies! Great Crested Flycatchers! The not-so-secret love life of the WILD Turkey!! Visit NOW! Operators are standing by!

 

Singing Blue Grosbeaks greeted us first thing in the morning just inside the entrance gate. Several could be heard out in the marsh as the sun made its appearance.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Insects love this area, especially as our weather has been very dry and there is plenty of water here. This Four-spotted Pennant rested for a brief photo op.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Although common, how can I resist the beauty of a Red-winged Blackbird? (That’s what he’s hoping one of the dozens of nearby females is thinking!)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A female Boat-tailed Grackle gathers a bit of grass to help weave a nest in the marsh.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

There may no longer be any fish camps around the lake, but the Anhinga has discovered there are plenty of fish to be had if you know where to look!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This large Florida Softshell Turtle will lay 10-30 eggs in the soft dirt of a canal bank. What a pretty face!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

I seldom get a chance to photograph swallows perched on something other than a utility line. Barn Swallows were abundant and we found a few sitting in a tree for a couple of nanoseconds. Several were also sitting in the middle of the dirt road. It’s my understanding they do this to heat up their feathers to make it uncomfortable for mites and small things in the hope the little bugs will leave.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Green Herons normally only extend their necks when striking prey, but this one seems to think he might be a bittern.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Immature Little Blue Herons are all white when born and gradually begin getting patches of slate blue during their first year before assuming the full blue color of an adult. There is speculation that the all-white coloration allows them to be tolerated by Snowy Egrets which may help them catch more prey.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Bobolinks are only present in Florida during migration and can sometimes be observed in large flocks. We estimated at least 500 birds in one sod field but they formed into smaller groups as they moved around to feed.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

(As promised, if you stuck around this long, here are a few images from our trip to an area south of Bartow in Polk County, Florida.)

 

Central Florida has an abundant population of Osprey. Numerous lakes and streams provide an ample supply of fish for feeding hungry chicks. Two little heads can be seen in this nest. Mama was screaming at hubby to chase away the paparazzo. His impressive talons convinced me I had enough pictures of his kids.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

As Gini and I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh oranges and granola bars, a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers provided the entertainment. They worked a fence line and retrieved insects from tree branches and weeds.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Gini spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker carrying a bug into a cavity of a utility pole. No doubt there are young ones inside.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Driving through an area of orange groves, we came across a male Wild Turkey in full display with a hen by his side. We had a chance to watch the full mating process, something not normally seen in the wild, not to mention in the middle of the day out in the open. Pretty impressive sight!

Avon Park Cutoff Road

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Recreational Guide

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

Riding In Cars With Birders

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a Bullock’s Oriole landed in a mesquite tree and my lovely, but excitable, bride grabbed me by the arm (which at the time was engaged in steering a fast-moving vehicle) and shouted all in one breath: “STOPDIDYOUSEETHATTURNAROUNDGOBACKITWASALLORANGEANDBLACKITWASGORGEOUS!!!!”.

The coming of age of a birder is a beautiful thing.

In that far away land of west Texas, there were few “birding venues”. It was so long ago, in fact, we didn’t even know we WERE birders, as the quaint reference to those engaged in the hobby was still simply “bird watcher”. (I still cling to that term as “birder” has come to infer a more competition-oriented personality and I’ve never been much of a score-keeper.) Since the nearest state park was a half-day’s drive, we were very content to simply drive the back roads and marvel at how vibrant and diverse the seemingly barren landscape could be. It was our first experience in a near-desert environment and we loved every minute of our several years there. That pattern has persisted over the eons.

“Why are there likenesses of Sandhill Cranes on all the street light poles?”, Gini asked. Being extremely cognizant of such matters concerning engineering and urban planning, I advised her in my usual condescending, scholarly manner: “I dunno”.

We were driving through the town of Wauchula, Florida a couple of months ago doing our “drive around looking for birds” thing. Wauchula is the seat of Hardee County, adjacent to our home in Polk County. Hardee County is smallish in size, consisting of 638 square miles (1650 sq. km). Of this area, only 0.6 sq. mi. is water – a bit unusual for central Florida. The county was named for Cary Hardee who was governor of Florida from 1921 to 1925. Settlement of the area began in 1849 when an Indian Trading Post was opened on a bend in Paynes Creek. Eventually, the city of Wauchula was established and the area became a center for cattle ranching. The name “Wauchula” is from a Mikasuki Indian word meaning “call of the Sandhill Crane”. AHA! Mystery of the light poles solved.

Today, Hardee County is lightly populated (about 27,000 in 2012) and has an agricultural-based economy. Annual citrus production has about a half-billion dollar market value, the county ranks 9th in the United States for beef cattle and phosphate mining plays a major role in employment and fertilizer production. In 2004, Hurricane Charlie swept across the county from the Gulf of Mexico with winds of 149 mph (240 kph) and almost every building in the county suffered some sort of damage with many being completely destroyed. Most renovation has been completed and the resilient population continues to enjoy their rural lifestyle.

Although the scarcity of open shallow water limits the presence of many water birds, the county is full of a wonderful variety of other birds. Most of the cattle ranches have small ponds which the cattle keep churned into mud holes which attracts shore birds. Burrowing Owls nest in the pastures, Crested Caracara roam the open spaces, fall and winter crops attract migrants, timberland is full of vireos, warblers and woodpeckers and, of course, Sandhill Cranes abound all year and large populations of the big birds spend the winter here. We like driving around in Hardee County!

Our most recent visit included over 45 different species (yes, I know, it’s sorta score-keeping) and we were treated to some really nice wildflower displays.

 

The Great Crested Flycatcher is a cavity nester and can be very aggressive about chasing woodpeckers from suitable nesting sites. For some reason, many of their nests have been found lined with shed snake skins.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

Killdeer love the fact that cattle keep the mud stirred up which makes insect and worm hunting a little easier.

Killdeer

Killdeer

 

Florida has an abundant Gray Squirrel population but Fox Squirrels – not so much. We have three species of Fox Squirrel. One is found mostly in the northwestern panhandle, another in the Everglades. Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, although found throughout the state, is a “species of special concern”, primarily due to loss of habitat.

Sherman's Fox Squirrel

Sherman’s Fox Squirrel

 

A Red-bellied Woodpecker is hunting for a house. I think he found one he likes.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Leavenworth’s Tickseed is nearly endemic to Florida (a few grow in southern Georgia) and belongs to the Coreopsis family.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

It looks like grass which has been touched with white paint – Star Rush.

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

Star Rush (Rhynchospora latifolia)

 

This Lesser Yellowlegs looks like the main course in a pot of broccoli soup. The thick Duckweed hides all sorts of food items wading birds love.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Such a beautiful bloom seems like it should have a more attractive name, but no matter what it’s called, Pickerelweed is lovely.

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

Pickerel Weed (Pontedaeria cordata)

 

You just never know what you’ll find riding around the countryside. For instance, a hot-air balloon cruising over an orange grove!

Balloon

Balloon

 

Okay, time out for a test shot. New camera and new lens. The moon, 600mm hand-held. Now, if I could just find a bird —-

Moon

Moon

 

A field of Black-eyed Susan brightened the landscape.

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 

Vivid purple and yellow of the Pale Meadowbeauty are hard to ignore.

Pale Meadowbeauty  (Rhexia mariana)

Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

 

Such an unfriendly plant with its spikes and thorns! Such a striking flower! Nuttall’s Thistle can be purple, pink, white or pale yellow.

Nuttall's Thistle  (Cirsium nuttallii)

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)

 

Although I don’t know how this wonderful bloom got its name, I’m very happy it grows along the roadside in Hardee County! The Carolina Desert-chicory.

Carolina Desert-chicory  (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

Carolina Desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus)

 

A gang of five Swallow-tailed Kites put on an aerial display as they swooped low over a pasture and snatched flying insects which they ate in flight. A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds tried to chase them from “their” territory, but were largely ignored by the sleek kites.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird, Swallow-tailed Kite

 

This Wild Turkey was pretty sure I wouldn’t spot him as he tried to slink through the underbrush. He was wrong.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

 

No specific birding destination can sometimes provide surprisingly good birding! Grab your favorite birder. Get in a car. Drive around. Now.

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

 

See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: