Posts Tagged With: robber fly

Long Water

Droplets of moisture decorated the edges of everything in sight like so many small jewels displayed for all to admire. Stepping from the solid platform of wood firmly attached to dry land into a small boat which felt like it was ready to slip out from underneath your feet always seems like the proverbial “leap of faith” that it won’t. In the early morning fog, we moved slowly across the mirror-smooth surface of the lake straining to see ahead and listening for other boats. Common sense prevailed and we slipped into a cove covered in lily pads and pretended to fish until it was safe to travel. Finally, the sun forced the thick mist to begin its retreat and we sped to our favorite spot and began the ritual of gathering what would be several meals of fresh fish.

Raised in a land surrounded by water, it would be easy to take for granted the luxurious environment we enjoy. We know, however, there are many in the world without sufficient water resources and we pray for solutions.

One of the lakes we really love to visit is within an hour’s drive and not only provides outstanding fishing but is in the middle of a diverse ecological system which produces superb birding opportunities. Lake Kissimmee is in central Florida and covers about 35,000 acres (over 14,000 hectares). It forms part of the northern Everglades watershed and the Kissimmee River flows south from the lake for about 100 miles to Florida’s largest natural lake, Lake Okeechobee. “Kissimmee” is derived from a Native American word meaning “long water” and the name is descriptive as you view the lake on a map.

Along its 100 mile journey south, the floodplain of the river, historically, was about three miles wide and was inundated by annual rains. The runoff from this periodic flooding trickled southward through small tributaries, was filtered by vegetation and eventually replenished the vast Everglades with fresh, clean water. As human settlement spread into the area, this flooding began to devastate farms and ranches and strong hurricanes took many lives, over 2,000 in the early 1900’s in one storm. In 1947, the government authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to “do something” to control the flooding. They began a program of building levees around huge Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River was “channelized”. This once meandering, beautifully wild stream was turned into a dredged 30 foot deep straight-line canal which became deprived of oxygen and life over time. Additionally, the floodplain-dependent ecosystem was destroyed resulting in over 90% of the waterfowl disappearing and a 70% reduction in the nesting of Bald Eagles.

With significant help of concerned scientists and residents, the government realized (too late?) the error of their ways. In 1999 a project began to restore the Kissimmee River to its original flow and completion is targeted for 2019. There is some good news to report. For the portion of the project completed to date, there has been a significant return of waterfowl and the ecosystem does seem to be recovering, albeit slowly. We continue to hope future generations will be able to enjoy the land as it once was.

In addition to all the water, the area south and east of Lake Kissimmee contains one of the largest tracts of grass prairie in the United States. One of our favorite destinations is the vast Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area (which includes the Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Area). Over 8,000 acres (3200 hectares) of dry prairie, wet prairie, marsh and pine-flatwoods. This area boasts the largest concentration of nesting Bald Eagles in the contiguous United States and is home to several endangered bird species including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow and Snail Kite.

Recent trips on Lake Kissimmee and to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area produced a diverse list of birds, interesting wildlife encounters, tremendous open vistas of grassland, beautiful wildflowers and a couple of days filled with deep breathing of fresh air. We are truly blessed.

 

Here are a few images of why we like it here.

 

Sunrise on Lake Kissimmee.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

This is the first lock on the Kissimmee River as it exits Lake Kissimmee. If you look on the right side of the photo, you can see the channelized river heading straight south in the distance.

Kissimmee River - Lock

Kissimmee River – Lock

 

The Kissimmee River flows into Lake Kissimmee from Lake Hatchineha to the north. This is looking northward into Lake Hatchineha from the river.

Kissimmee River

Kissimmee River

 

Cypress trees abound in wet conditions throughout Florida. The complex root system of the trees can be seen here as they’re exposed by low water.

Cypress Trees

Cypress Trees

 

An immature Bald Eagle checks us out from a fence post and an adult cruises for a fresh fish breakfast.

Bald Eagle - Immature

Bald Eagle – Immature

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

This is one of the many reasons we love this lake.

Grassy Island - Lake Kissimmee

Grassy Island – Lake Kissimmee

 

An endangered Snail Kite hovers over a spot where he hopes to find an Apple Snail.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite

 

Food for wading birds such as this Great Egret is plentiful around the lake.

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

Back on dry land, a road through part of the prairie within the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area indicates the openness of this environment.

Prairie - Three Lakes WMA

Prairie – Three Lakes WMA

 

We think about a time when people traversed this area on foot or horseback. Hard to imagine.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

A few scattered palm trees don’t offer much shade and those trees in the distance are a very long walk!

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

Grassy plains such as this used to cover a huge area of central and south Florida.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

False Dragonhead provides a little color along the way.

False Dragonhead  (Physostegia purpurea)

False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

 

Splashes of yellow Black-eyed Susan dot the prairie.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

This is a spot which is normally filled with water. You can see the white sand “slide” that this alligator has used often to lay in wait for food. He apparently didn’t get the memo about the low water.

Dry Watering Hole

Dry Watering Hole

 

Pitted Stripeseed usually spreads along the ground but occasionally stands tall to display its beautiful blooms.

Pitted Stripeseed  (Piriqueta cistoides subsp. caroliniana)

Pitted Stripeseed (Piriqueta cistoides subsp. caroliniana)

 

We were privileged to watch the courtship flight of the Common Nighthawk. The male will fly high, hover for a moment, then fold his wings for a steep dive. Just before he crashes, he opens his wings and flies back up to do it again. The wind rushing through the suddenly open wings makes a distinct “hum”. Hopefully, this will impress the female and they will soon produce little Nighthawks.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

 

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

 

This open land is inviting for Swallow-tailed Kites as they soar above the grasses hunting for insects.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

A female Needham’s Skimmer is quite lovely, but the mature males are a bright reddish-orange and usually grab the limelight.

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami)

 

No, this is not ZZ Top preparing for a performance. It’s a species of Robber Fly with a wasp/bee thing he snagged for lunch.

Robber Fly  (Asilidae)

Robber Fly (Asilidae)

 

An Eastern Black Racer grudgingly moves off the path for us. Gini wanted to play with it but I persuaded her to not molest the wildlife. (She’s bad about that.)

Eastern Black Racer

Eastern Black Racer

 

As the prairie merged into pine-flatwoods, we heard the sweet song of Bachman’s Sparrow and very soon an accommodating male serenaded us and posed for a few candid pics. It was by far the best look we’ve had of one of these beauties. Not too long ago, they were known as Pine Tree Sparrows, which is quite descriptive of their habitat.

Bachman's Sparrow

Bachman’s Sparrow

 

Another tree-dweller, the Red-headed Woodpecker, probed for bugs on a utility pole. Too bad they’re not more brightly colored …..

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

The Long Water refreshes – and we take advantage and are thankful. If you have a chance, go and marvel at what Nature has to offer.

 

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

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

Dragons At 12 O’Clock!

(“Mad dogs and Birders go out in the mid-day sun.” — Sincerest apologies to Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and whomever else may have coined the original saying.)

 

We have pretty much ceased to live by the calendar and clock. A life without a schedule has serious drawbacks. For example, I used to arrive home from the office by 5:45 and the family sat down to supper no later than 6:15. Now, however, Gini and I may have supper at 6:30. Or 6:42. See what I mean? Schedules keep us from falling into a state of pure chaos. Another extreme example. In order to conform to business society’s rules for a successful career, I visited my barber every seven days without fail. Last week, I realized in horror that it had been a full eight days since a razor had touched by increasingly sparse and graying strands. With no pre-planned guidelines to follow, we have become like ships adrift in life’s tidal flow with no compass and no anchor. Rudderless and adrift, it is a sheer miracle we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Lounging about the other day, with nothing whatsoever planned, Gini innocently asked: “What shall we do for lunch?”. Panic. My eyes began to dart from side to side. Sweat broke out on my forehead. She wants ME to make a decision! About lunch! This is big. I’m not normally entrusted with the IMPORTANT things. What to do? There’s no SCHEDULE!

“Uhh, how about a picnic?”, I heard my feeble voice say. “That’s a WONDERFUL IDEA!”, Gini said. “I have leftover boiled eggs in the fridge and can whip up some egg salad for sandwiches and we can take some fruit.”

Whew. That was close. Panic subsided but then began to well up again as I realized she would expect me to figure out where to go for this impromptu (UNSCHEDULED stuff again) adventure. Fortunately, I had been wanting to visit a local state park to check out some improvements they had recently made. Most of our picnics are “bird-centric”, and the park should provide some birding opportunities.

Central Florida in the summer at noon. Think “high temperatures with matching humidity”. Even the natives (and that’s us) usually have enough sense to remain indoors. In artificially cooled air. With large glasses of ice containing who-cares-what liquid in them. But we have already established that we are not “normal”.

Colt Creek State Park is only about ten miles from the house. It has a deep (for Florida) lake, pine and hardwood forests, open fields, cypress tree studded wetlands, very nice amenities (fishing pier, canoe rental, picnic areas, modern restrooms) and several miles of trails to explore. The sandwiches were superb, the fresh air (yes, it was hot) was exhilarating and the company was the absolute best.

What I said earlier about native Floridians having better sense than to be out at noon in the summer applies to the bird life, too. We saw one Eastern Bluebird smashing a caterpillar on a tree branch, one Common Gallinule floating listlessly in the cattails, one Anhinga perched on the pier and one sky-borne hunter described below. So I did what any other birder does in this situation. I admired the bugs.

Dragonflies are apparently impervious to heat. There were hundreds of the gossamer-winged creatures flitting about. They’re a bit of a challenge (for me, anyhow) to capture digitally, but it’s fun learning the different species and about their natural history. As I moved amongst the weeds trying to stalk these quick and elusive targets, there was a fellow dragonfly lover looking over my shoulder. The Swallow-tailed Kite just happens to love Odonata hors d’oeuvres.

Join us for our unscheduled lunch, from the comfort of your much cooler environment.

 

Even in the middle of the day, we sometimes find nice surprises when we venture forth. Such as a moon high overhead in a deep blue sky.

Moon

Moon

 

Flowers bloom even when no one is there to see them. Fortunately, we caught a few showing off their true colors. Such as this Leavenworth’s Tickseed, a beautiful member of the Coreopsis genus.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

My boyhood home here in central Florida was adjacent to a pasture where we found an abundance of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). These ancient reptiles have not changed much in over 60 million years. They dig a burrow which averages 30 feet deep and can eventually become home or provide shelter to myriad other life forms, including Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, they are now listed as an endangered species in Florida primarily due to loss of habitat.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

 

Enter the dragons. This male Blue Dasher is quite colorful with his yellow racing stripe thorax and cool blue abdomen. Perched with abdomens pointed up is called “obelisking” and is thought to reduce the amount of body surface the sun’s rays strike allowing the dragonfly to remain cooler.

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

The Carolina Saddlebags is found near water, usually small lakes or ponds with an abundance of submerged vegetation.

Carolina Saddlebags  -Female - (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags -Female – (Tramea carolina)

 

One of the most striking dragonflies found in North America is the Halloween Pennant. There is some speculation that the coloration along with their “fluttery” flight might mimic the Monarch Butterfly, which is distasteful to predators.

Halloween Pennant - Male(Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant – Male(Celithemis eponina)

 

A large dragonfly, the Great Blue Skimmer, is one of the few species with a white face. The first image is a typical female while the second picture shows an older female which has taken on the bluish body color of the male.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer - Mature Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Mature Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

The reddish-orange body and golden-tinted wings of Needham’s Skimmer really stand out along the lake shore. This medium sized dragon is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer. One difference is the rear legs of Needham’s are brownish as opposed to the black of the Golden-winged.

Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

Another colorful flower in our area is Tropical Sage. This native plant can grow to three or four feet tall and is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

 

A Gulf Fritillary gathers nectar from a thistle. Beautifully patterned from below, when seen from above it’s a striking orange that draws immediate attention as it glides from plant to plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

Nature attempts to maintain a balance in all things. Accordingly, she has given us such predators as this Robber Fly which preys upon butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, other flies and some spiders.

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

 

A Swallow-tailed Kite seemed quite interested in my presence. She was quite busy hawking dragonflies, one of her favorite food items. The kites will be gathering soon in pre-migration groups for their annual trip to South America for the winter. The actual migration can begin as soon as the beginning of August.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

I realize you don’t have it marked on your calendar or in your day-planner, but consider an unplanned picnic in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. You just never know what surprises await your discovery when you show up in Nature’s front yard unannounced!

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

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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