Posts Tagged With: sandhill crane

In Our Comfort Zone

“Okay to have lunch at the usual spot?” A bit elevated, we can find a shady place to park near the wetlands boardwalk which offers a nice view of two lakes. As we pulled off the dirt road, my Chief Navigator astutely announced:  “This isn’t gonna work. The windows are already covered with bugs!” We were faced with leaving the windows rolled up, keep the air-conditioner on and eat our lunch in a cocoon – or find a different location. Gini suggested Option Number Two. (Okay, it may not have been an actual suggestion. More like just a “look”. But, it was “THE LOOK”. We found a very nice alternate spot.)

The large number of insects which disrupted our lunch plans were what we native Floridians call “Blind Mosquitoes”, actually the adult stage of freshwater midges in the family Chironomidae. The good news is they don’t bite, sting or suck your blood. The bad news is they occur in such huge numbers that when encountered they plug up your eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth – eating a sandwich is virtually impossible.

Earlier, we had entered Hardee Lakes Park not long after sunrise and had been leisurely exploring the shorelines of the park’s four lakes and adjacent woods and wetlands. We were hoping to catch early migrating passerines. Alas, no luck in that department. The park did, however, offer its usual array of bugs, birds and blooms as well as some surprises.

This 1200 acre county park has been one of our favorite places to visit for several years. About an hour from the house, it has four lakes which were formerly phosphate mining pits but have been reclaimed for over 20 years and provide excellent fishing and wildlife habitat. (I am concerned that recent efforts to manage the park may be bordering on the “too much of a good thing” department. Killing of vegetation around the lakes’ shorelines has resulted in severe reduction of potential cover and nesting sites for water birds.) A diverse environment of water, wetlands, hardwood and conifer forest and open grassy areas make this a great destination for birders at any time of year.

Our familiarity with the park, knowing what birds are resident, anticipation of seasonal migrants and the fact we almost always find something unexpected will keep us coming back for more. We just hope the county’s efforts to lure more campers, hold community events (e.g., “mud runs”) and the aforementioned temptation to over-manage the natural resources won’t result in long-term negative results for folks like us who think selfishly. (We don’t like sharing our outdoors with anybody!).

Not many bird images this trip. Many avian residents are dealing with new family members and molting. As a result, they were pretty shy. No worries! Plenty to see here for those willing to look.

 

This immature Sandhill Crane will soon look like Mom. We heard two families trumpeting back and forth throughout the morning.

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature Sandhill Crane

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult Sandhill Crane

 

One of Florida’s most abundant yellow butterflies is the Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa). The male is sparsely marked below. Typically, views of the bright yellow upper wings are rare except when in flight.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is common in the state and its various stages of growth offer quite different appearances.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As with many dragonflies, male and female Four-spotted Pennants (Brachymesia gravida) may not look at all alike.

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

 

Even authoritative field guides admit it’s often difficult to identify members of the Duskywing butterfly family. I’m going out on a limb and stating this is Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), based on the above wing markings and white behind the eyes.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) had been as busy as – well – a bee, collecting pollen and storing it in a leg pouch. Inquiring minds will want to know that pouch is called a “corbicula” and only occurs on the hind tibiae of the female.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

This is not Hawaii. To my knowledge, there are no beets grown within Hardee Lakes Park. Imagine our astonishment, then, to find a Hawaiian Beet Webworm Moth (Spoladea recurvalis) feeding right at our feet! Turns out the larvae of this moth and two others closely related can cause quite a bit of damage to leafy green crops. In Florida, this species is sometimes called the Spinach Moth and is not usually abundant. It is found worldwide.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers brought a few pigs with them to serve as a food source while they explored Florida’s peninsula. They didn’t take them back when they left. Today the state has a feral pig problem. The animals occur in all 67 of the state’s counties. Rooting with their broad snouts can leave vast tracts looking like a plowed field, destroys vegetation and disturbs topsoil. They can be hunted and trapped (with landowner permission) without a license or permit and there is no limit on how many may be harvested. This group was oblivious to my presence. (There were an additional eight individuals nearby.)

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly is, at first glance, similar to the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and like its cousin can taste bitter to predators. The bad taste is believed to be due to this species’ preference for milkweed plants as hosts for their larva.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Also called Lance-leafed Arrowhead and Duck Potato, Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia) is very common in our area. The corms (underground rhizomes) are about the size of chestnuts and supposedly are edible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Grass-skippers are small, vary in color from brown to dull orange and fly very erratically. Did I mention they can be difficult to identify? I’m pretty sure this one is a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), but if anyone has a correction, I’d welcome another opinion!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we rounded a curve, we spotted a family of White-tailed Deer in a clearing. We were blessed to be able to observe as a gentle rain fell and a mother took care of her new fawns.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

It’s exciting to discover new places to explore, but returning to a familiar location which has become “comfortable” has its own rewards. Find your own comfort zone and visit as often as possible.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park, Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Medicinal Plant Creek

Okay, let’s face it. Translating from one language to another can be a tricky thing. According to my research, the location I tramped around in, Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands, is from the Muscogee (Creek) Native American language and means “Medicinal Plant” Creek Wetlands. I highly prefer the original. It’s rhythmic, takes effort to pronounce and reminds me of a very old children’s song having to do with a soda cracker. And I didn’t find any medicinal plants, either.

What I did find was an abundance of life! Flowers were showing off their spring beauty. Tall pines and stately oaks mixed with bay, laurel, hickory and other tree species. Small mammal footprints in the mud were like a mini-census: raccoon, squirrel, opossum, white-tailed deer and otter. Tall grass pressed flat formed “slides” around the shoreline where alligators entered and left the water. A plethora of insects thrive in the wet environment. An Eastern Black Racer (a magnificent snake species for those unfamiliar) enjoyed one of those insects before “racing” off the path as I approached. Did I mention the birds?

The man-made impoundment includes areas of open water with varying depths to attract a diversity of water birds. Plantings of erosion-protecting and filtering vegetation helps insure the water remains clean and the area stable. With a relatively dense area of tall-growing plants throughout the wetlands, many birds feel comfortable nesting here. I found a family of Sandhill Cranes, new Common Gallinule chicks, Osprey catching fish and returning to a nearby nest to feed two young fish hawks and young Black-crowned Night Herons roosting on an island.

No matter how you pronounce it, Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands is a wonderful place to explore any day! (It doesn’t hurt that it’s only 15 minutes from the house, either.)

Yes, there are a few pictures of the morning slog. 

Fairly new Sandhill Crane chicks are almost independent but still don’t stray too far from Mom and Dad.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands 

 

A pair of American Kestrels have taken up residence in the wetlands. Hope I can get photos of some new chicks soon!

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

An adult Black-crowned Night Heron passed nearby grunting his displeasure at my presence.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

Spring in the wetlands means plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds singing from atop trees. This guy was singing “Moonlight Sonata”. No. Really. He was.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

Thistle flowers are so beautiful to observe yet so painful to touch.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

Not wishing to be outdone by a blackbird, a Limpkin tries serenading his love from atop a skinny tree branch. Two lessons learned: those big claws are more comfortable on solid ground and there is no way a Limpkin’s call could be confused with a serenade.  (Limpkin “Serenade”)

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

An Osprey scans the water below for a fresh fish breakfast which will be shared by two young chicks in a nearby nest.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

The morning sun shows off some of the iridescence in the plumage of a Glossy Ibis.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

Wood Ducks love the many places they can hide within the wetlands’ tall grasses and reeds.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

A Common Grackle harasses a Swallow-tailed Kite. The grackle was no match for the flying skills of the kite, which flew a couple of circles around the attacker and dove toward the ground suddenly leaving the poor grackle alone in the sky.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetlands

 

This is a wonderful spot for a morning walk and always yields a diversity of life at which one can marvel. We hope you have a place near where you live which offers a respite from the ordinary.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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