Posts Tagged With: ruby-throated hummingbird

Circle of Friends

 

Parents are required to tell their newly fledged teenagers: “Always remember, nothing good happens after midnight.” Which, of course, has for centuries motivated teenagers throughout the universe to do everything in their power to try and discover what that magical time has to offer, because they know if it’s not good for them it must be FUN!!

Gini and I still sneak out after midnight for a bit of fun. There’s nothing quite like parking at the end of a secluded country lane, surrounded by complete darkness, the sky packed with so many stars it seems another wouldn’t fit, snuggling close next to the one you love and whispering “Was that a Screech Owl in the distance?”.

(NOTE: For the gullible amongst you who believe the above scenario could ever end that way, I have some Florida swampland to sell you.)

More birding trips than not start out in darkness since it takes time to travel to a destination and the “magical fun” time for many birds is a bit before the sky begins to lighten as it prepares for official sunrise. Here in sub-topical central Florida this is also the “magical fun” time for mosquitoes, so a thorough chemical bath is required before venturing into the marsh. The particular marsh for today’s visit has rapidly become known as a birding “hotspot”. That means on a weekend you likely won’t find a spot to park.

Circle B Bar Reserve (just “Circle B” to those who frequent the reserve) used to be a working cattle ranch and was acquired jointly in late 2000 by Polk County Environmental Lands and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The reserve is operated and maintained by the county. A recently built visitor’s center has conference rooms and very nice displays of flora and fauna one might find within the reserve. The reserve was developed to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock which borders the reserve on the south and to restore the marsh of Banana Creek which flows from the north into Lake Hancock. Over eight miles of trails take the visitor on levees around the marsh, along the shoreline of the lake, through stands of oak hammock and hardwood swamp. It’s fairly routine to spot 50-60 species of birds in an outing with the added bonus of alligators, feral hogs, bobcats, otters, turtles, snakes, insects and a diverse array of flora. All of this within two miles of the city limits of Lakeland which has a population over 100,000.

I had only taken a few steps from the parking lot when I realized the big “moth” that buzzed by my ear was a hummingbird. Furiously dialing in an astronomically high ISO number on the camera, I could barely make out the little bundle of feathers in the darkness. I attempted to focus and fired off a few shots, fully expecting to trash them later. The images are, indeed, horrible, but there may be someone who has never seen a hummingbird in the dark so one is included below. The rest of the morning was a typical Circle B kind of day. So much to see, so little time. It seemed as if every few steps revealed some new wonder. A Purple Gallinule perched precariously on a slim limb searching for seeds, an American White Pelican flew over the marsh on the way to join a few thousand of his closest friends floating on the lake, young Whistling Ducks, dragonflies – in the winter, a multi-colored avian delight that looked like a refugee from a paint store war. As I encountered another crossroads in the path, my senses pulled me toward the unexplored while my internal alarm reminded me I told Gini I’d only be “a couple of hours”. That was four hours ago. Sigh. Another day can’t get here soon enough.

A few photographs cannot adequately provide the sense of being overwhelmed by Nature one has when visiting the Circle B. Which, of course, hasn’t stopped me from trying.

 

There’s nothing like an early morning fly-by of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird to get your adrenalin flowing! The mosquitoes here are as big but not nearly as colorful. And they require a blood donation before letting you pass.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Purple Gallinules thrive in this lush marsh and will even go out on a limb to show off for visitors.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

This Tricolored Heron became annoyed with me trying to take a picture while he was trying to catch breakfast. I moved on quickly, but he still grumbled.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

Lake Hancock plays host each winter to several thousand American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are residents here and love the vast marsh with all its hiding places to raise a family. A morning walk at the Circle B wouldn’t be complete without hearing the characteristic “whistle” in the sky as these large ducks commute back and forth.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

I surprised this Eastern Phoebe near the path and instead of taking flight he just gave me “the look”. I hurried along as requested.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

 

Even in the winter, House Wrens let the world know they’re just happy to be here. Me too.

Carolina Wren

House Wren

 

Common Yellowthroats chatter on every side of the footpath and dart in and out so fast you’re not sure if you saw a pretty yellow flower or a bird. I think this one is a bird……

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

Great Blue Herons are patient hunters and are usually rewarded for their efforts. This meal of Armored Catfish will take a bit of maneuvering to position it just right for swallowing whole without getting punctured by a stiff fin. The green specks on the fish are common duckweed.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Dragonflies and damselflies were enjoying a typical Florida winter day. Warm and sunny!

Carolina Saddlebags  (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea Carolina)

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

Atlantic Bluet - Male  (Enallagma doubledayi)

Atlantic Bluet – Male (Enallagma doubledayi)

 

One of our most numerous winter visitors, the Palm Warbler, obviously admired my cap. Or, more likely, spotted a bug on it.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

Another permanent resident, the Limpkin, is represented in the marsh by one of the state’s largest populations. At dawn, the eerie calls of dozens of these distant rail relatives make it difficult to carry on a conversation. This one signaled that I should pass him on the right.

“Quite courteous is the Limpkin.

Provides instructions easy enough to follow that any chimp-kin.”

(Serious apologies to Ogden Nash.)

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

Walking along the lakeshore path provided occasional glimpses of Painted Buntings as they hopped into the grass and immediately flitted into the brambles and out of sight. While the females are a pleasing greenish, the gaudy males are dressed in every hue of the Artist’s palette.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

 

It’s always enjoyable to visit my “Circle B” of friends. The only downside is that with each visit my addiction grows stronger. But I’m certain I’m the only one thus affected …..

 

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

 

 

Additional Information

Circle B Bar Reserve

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

A Charming Season

“One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.”

Daniel Boone (American Woodsman, 1734-1820)

 

“Let’s visit Punta Gorda”, said I. My wonderfully astute spouse agreed immediately. A part of her exists within my soul and she knows my thoughts before I even create them. In this case, she fully realized that what I actually said was “Let’s go get some fresh seafood and sit by that little lake with the scent of pine trees around us while we enjoy life.”

Founded in 1884, Punta Gorda (Spanish for “Fat Point”) juts into Charlotte Harbor where the Peace River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Like many port cities it has had a colorful history. The downtown area was severely damaged by fire in 1905. This resulted in a decree that all future buildings must be of brick or concrete. In 2004, the city was ravaged by Hurricane Charley and many historic landmarks, homes and structures were destroyed. The city has been revitalized and strolling around the cobblestone center of this sparsely populated port town is a relaxing endeavor. Shipping was a major factor in early settlement and in 1886 the Florida Southern Railroad began regular passenger service. My personal favorite, however, is the success of the local fishermen who netted mullet, Spanish mackerel and channel bass (redfish) once a local business developed a method (in 1891) to preserve and process the abundant harvest. How can I NOT like a company called “The Consolidated Ice Manufacturing, Refrigeration and Fish Company”?

Just outside the city limits is the Peace River Seafood and Crab Shack. It’s a small former “Cracker” cabin run by a fellow who has been a Florida crabber most of his life. The seafood is fresh, the menu interesting, the service friendly and they also have a market on site if you want to take home fresh seafood and fix it yourself.

No, we didn’t make the trip just for the food, although it would be worth the two hour drive to do so. Our birding destination (you were wondering if we had abandoned our purpose in life, weren’t you?) was the vast Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. Consisting of almost 66,000 acres, this is one of the last undeveloped expanses of hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. There is a small lake and ponds which have been stocked for fishermen. Seasonal hunting is allowed so check schedules and accessibility before you visit (see the link in Additional Information below). The pine woods here are interspersed with large areas of wet prairie and the wildflower display in spring and summer is stunning.

Following a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and huge, succulent shrimp, we explored the “unimproved” roads and managed to list 45 species of birds. In the right season and with a bit of luck, it’s very possible to see seven species of woodpecker, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which nests here. We observed four species on today’s trip. Other highlights for us were hearing Northern Bobwhite calling wherever we went, migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Bluebirds, a wetland containing 15 Little Blue Heron, 8 Great Egret, 6 Snowy Egret, 5 Anhinga, 5 Great Blue Heron, 7 Tricolored Heron, 2 Belted Kingfisher and a 10-foot alligator who swam over to say hello. An afternoon thunderstorm provided some interesting clouds over Lake Webb at sunset as we headed home. It was a good day.

BUT WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!!

Sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Some readers may have noticed our birding adventure above began after lunch. Oho, you’re thinking, they slept in today those lazy birders! Au Contraire, mes amis!

We seldom use the “main road” to go anywhere. Today was no different. Along a wonderfully vacant backroad we enjoyed field after field of serenading Eastern Meadowlarks. They just didn’t care that it was Autumn and we were the better for it. In a pasture, it appeared that a pair of Crested Caracara parents were instructing their youngster on proper hunting technique. The adults would perch next to Junior in the field where there appeared to be a recent kill (although they readily eat carrion, also). One of the adults would hop toward the prey, Junior would follow, the parents would fly to a nearby perch, Junior would cry. And cry. And cry. An adult would fly back, hop toward the prey and return to their perch. Junior would cry, and … you get the idea (especially if you’ve been a parent). Junior eventually seemed to eat a bit and then flew to a perch of his own, where I snapped his portrait. It’ll be about two years before he fully develops the handsome appearance of an adult. By the side of this same road we found our “first of the fall season” migratory Eastern Wood-Pewee.

A short detour led us to a local community park (Brownville Park) along the Peace River near Arcadia in DeSoto County. It’s a small park with a couple of nature trails and we had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long but still managed to tally two dozen species which included a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an Ovenbird, three Vireo species and a marauding gang of Wrens, two of which visited Gini while she was in the car – one perched on the rear view mirror and the other hopped onto my pack in the back seat.

Lunch time. (See all the stuff above.)

Yep, I took a few photographs.

 

“Junior”. Typical youngster – feathers out of place, dirty face, constantly whining. It won’t be long before he’ll be a fine example of a grown-up Crested Caracara.

Crested Caracara - Immature

Crested Caracara – Immature

 

Our first Eastern Wood-Pewee of the fall season. The light underside, olive upper side, wing bars and orangish lower mandible help identify the species.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

 

A view of the Peace River from Brownville Park. This has been a wet year and the water level is higher than normal.

Peace River

Peace River

 

At Brownville Park, a Walnut Sphinx moth posed on the screen of the restroom door. Happily, I was not arrested while obtaining a photo.

Walnut Sphinx  (Amorpha juglandis)

Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis)

 

The ubiquitous Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

A Red-eyed Vireo paused to look at me then continued snatching bugs from branches.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

 

I was surprised to be buzzed by a pugnacious Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She perched on a limb and preened for a minute. I didn’t think they ever landed!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Female

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Female

 

One of a half-dozen Northern Parula warblers we found in Brownville Park. I love their subtle color combinations.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area offers a vast area of pine flatwoods and grass prairie which hosts abundant and diverse wildlife.

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tuckers Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Tucker's Grade

Tucker’s Grade

Webb Lake

Webb Lake

 

While we ate lunch alongside Webb Lake, this Green Anole scurried around catching insects. Here he’s resting on the trunk of a Scrub Palmetto which has recently been burned and is just beginning to show new growth.  (Green Anoles can change their appearance somewhat to match their surroundings, thus, the brown color of this one.)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

 

Molting is revolting. Just ask this Eastern Towhee, who can’t wait to get his new feathers.

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

Eastern Towhee (Molting)

 

Looking like a disgruntled old man (hey, I resemble that remark!), a Green Heron uses his lookout perch to search for a careless frog.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

This fine reptile specimen was totally hidden in the grass. Well, as much as a ten-foot scaly remnant of the dinosaur age can hide. When I exited the truck to get some tourist photos, he slid into the water and swam in a very straight line toward the photographer, who wasted no time in re-entering the truck and starting the engine.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

A Snowy Egret all decked out in his finest bright yellow footwear.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

The Sandhill Crane is elegant and this one has the rusty plumage indicative of a mineral rich diet.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

 

Belted Kingfishers don’t hesitate to voice their displeasure when a stumbling human encroaches on their hunting territory.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

 

 

All in all, a long, wonderful day. Returning home, I discovered that, “every gloomy and vexatious thought” had, indeed, been expelled. This is, truly, a charming season.

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

Additional Information

Babcock-Webb WMA

Brownville Park

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

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