Posts Tagged With: solitary sandpiper

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

High Times In Highlands County

A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people– Will Rogers

I truly enjoy watching my wife tackle an artistic endeavor.  She analyzes what needs to be done, develops a plan of attack, gathers the necessary materials and then performs magic.  At least, it’s magic to me.  I possess no such talent for producing something beautiful from, literally, nothing but an idea.  Whether she’s drawing or making a gift box decorated with paper flowers and doves, observing her while she’s creating is awe-inspiring.

That’s the way it is with someone who has knowledge or skills we may not.  We envy that person, we wish we could do what they do, we are amazed at the results they achieve and we want to be around them in the hope some of that talent will transfer to us.  Guess what?  Sometimes it does.  We may not reach their level of expertise, but just by hanging around such folks we almost can’t avoid learning something!

Sunday morning coffee was in a paper cup which imparted a unique flavor to my daily dose of caffeine.  The truck zigzagged through the dark along a series of back roads en route to a pre-dawn rendezvous with two of Florida’s top birders.  They would be characteristically too modest to agree with that description, but, hey, it’s my blog!  One of them can hear a Scrub Jay whisper in a hurricane a half mile away.  The other personally knows the address of every bird in the county and requires migrants to file a flight plan with him.

Today we intended to explore likely birding locales in Highlands County (we are all residents of Polk County, to the immediate north).  As the sun broke the horizon, we squinted eastward across the surface of Lake Jackson in Sebring.  About a dozen migrating Black Terns were actively feeding near the public boat ramp and picnic area.  They have lost their black plumage and transitioned to non-breeding colors as they prepare to continue on to the Caribbean.  A Belted Kingfisher was there and is also a migrant, but may stay in the area all winter.

Highlands Hammock State Park on the south side of Sebring consists of over 9,000 acres of oak and cypress hammock, swamp, black water creeks, pine forest and scrub.  Hikes along a couple of different paths produced 9 warbler species, including a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, 4 woodpecker species, White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos, a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Summer Tanager.  Competing with the bird life were myriad insects, amphibians and reptiles.

After lunch (I can’t believe these guys stopped to eat), we explored a small park on the north side of Lake Istokpoga.  We were greeted at the parking area by a half dozen calling Sandhill Cranes and another half dozen Black Vultures (who were just finishing lunch themselves-armadillo, I think).  We found a colorful American Redstart, Tufted Titmice, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an adult and juvenile Purple Gallinule.

A short drive to the north and our noses alerted us we were nearing our objective, Bishop’s Dairy.  The continually wet mud which cows seem to enjoy is home to millions of insects.  Migratory shorebirds love this smorgasbord and we found a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers attending the banquet.  In an isolated mud puddle, a Solitary Sandpiper bathed and chased his own meal around the water.  Three dozen European Starlings, a couple dozen Cattle Egret, four dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Dove, White Ibises and a Loggerhead Shrike rounded out the attendees at the dairy buffet.

Just around the corner from the dairy is an area of extensive pasture land, low lying fields and scattered ponds.  The abundant rain this summer has inundated most of this area and has attracted quite a variety of bird life.  We counted over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were juveniles.  Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 80 Cattle Egret, two dozen White Ibis, 50 Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Sandhill Cranes, almost two dozen Yellowlegs, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 5 Loggerhead Shrikes and an American Kestrel, among others, were enjoying the abundance of food in these fields.  We found a recently plowed field which hosted a couple of dozen Kildeer, Least Sandpipers and a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers.  One of the highlights in this area was a “kettle” of vultures spiraling up into the blue sky.

As afternoon thunderstorms built up, we headed home, happy to have tallied over 80 species of birds for the day.  My thanks to two companions who were generous with their knowledge and patient with an old dog still trying to learn a new trick or two.  These guys aren’t just good birders, they are true gentlemen.

 

I managed a few snapshots during the day and have included a sampling in the hope you might share a bit of the experience we had.

Lake Jackson Area

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Black Tern

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)

Highlands Hammock State Park

Path

Path

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

The smaller spider is the male.  Keeping his distance from his spouse!

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Golden Silk Orbweaver (Nephila clavipes)

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rat Snake

Yellow Rat Snake

Carolina Satyr

Carolina Satyr

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) - Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Florida Leaf-footed Bug (?) (Family Coreidae??) – Possibly Acanthocephala terminalis females.

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius )

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) - (?)

Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) – (?)

 

This is the smallest toad species in North America with an average length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Oak Toad (Anaxyrus quercicus)

Lake Istokpoga Park

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) - Male

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) – Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) - Male

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) – Male

Bishop’s Dairy

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Scrubpens Road

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Note how the parents station themselves at either end of the ducklings to stand watch.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

Kettle of Vultures

Kettle of Vultures

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

As late afternoon thunderstorms build, Cattle Egret seek shelter, and so did we as we headed home.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

I may not be any smarter just for hanging around smart people, but I do enjoy being around anyone who can lead me to over 80 species of birds in one day.  And I do have my occasional strokes of genius.  After all, I was smart enough to marry Gini over 45 years ago!

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

 

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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