Posts Tagged With: sora

TEXAS ! – Too.

Driving south from Houston, one encounters extensive agricultural production. Corn, cotton, grain sorghum, rice and local seasonal vegetables. Don’t forget about cattle! Texas leads the nation in production of cattle, sheep and goats. After about half an hour, traffic began to thin (most was heading north to jobs in the city) and the sunrise revealed a landscape familiar to these two Florida natives – really flat.

Our destination was the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1969 specifically to provide shelter for migrating songbirds, it sounded like our kind of place. Bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, the refuge consists of vast salt marshes, two rivers feed freshwater marshes, man-made impoundments provide protected spots for tens of thousands of waterfowl and there is even a section of old-growth hardwood forest to explore.

We typically spend our driving time talking to each other. (I know, right? But it’s only been 51 years so we may run out of things to say some day. Not.) Today’s topic centered on our son and his family. Their daughter is ten and we really enjoyed seeing her perform in a school play. Her brother is eight and full of mischief, exactly as a boy of eight should be. We couldn’t believe how much they had grown physically and socially since our last visit. It was a lot of fun watching the two of them interact with friends after the play had ended. We normally only see them in a home setting and this was different! They were both so full of energy and you could tell they are – happy. So were we.

Alas, we missed songbird migration by a week or so. Fortunately, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day poking around the refuge. We knew it would be a good day when we stopped at the entrance kiosk for a brochure and a Carolina Wren flew out of one of the empty map boxes where we found a perfectly formed nest. We retreated and hoped the wren would return.

A few images below may indicate the diversity to be found at this refuge. They are still in a bit of a re-building mode due to significant damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. We look forward to a return visit and will try to adjust our timing a bit so we can see trees full of colorful warblers and thousands of ducks!

 

Entering the refuge.

San Bernard NWR

 

In Florida, it is uncommon to spot a White-faced Ibis but Glossy Ibis are extremely common. This situation is reversed at San Bernard NWR. In breeding plumage, the White-faced Ibis has a white border around a reddish face, a gray bill, red legs and a red iris. The Glossy has pale lines around a dark face, the bill is more brownish and the eyes dark. (The image of the Glossy Ibis is from Florida.)

San Bernard NWR

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Black-necked Stilts nest in the refuge and we spotted more than a dozen during the day.

San Bernard NWR

 

A lone tree in the salt marsh is the only notable break in the grass between us and the Gulf of Mexico.

San Bernard NWR

 

Stand silently and observe the marsh for a few minutes and an incredible array of life becomes evident. Here, a flock of Snowy Egrets moves from one spot of open water to another.

San Bernard NWR

 

We are always amazed at the size of the Purple Gallinule’s feet! Very helpful when walking atop aquatic plants.

San Bernard NWR

 

This immature White Ibis will gradually molt into the all-white plumage of an adult.

San Bernard NWR

 

Crested Caracara won’t hesitate to prey on waterfowl (or anything else that moves) but is equally happy to feed upon carrion.

San Bernard NWR

 

Darting among reeds along a pond shoreline, the Common Yellowthroat male is not exactly camouflaged. During breeding season the male sings for what seems to be 24 hours a day.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

It’s a bit unusual to catch a Sora fully exposed, as they tend to skulk further back in the weeds. I lay on my stomach and inched close enough for a few shots.

San Bernard NWR

 

While laying in the grass taking photos of the Sora, I counted ten very young (12-18 inches) alligators run into the water ahead of me. Number 11 remained behind and let me know he was unafraid. I began to wonder where Mama was. Seemed like a good time to return to the path. Quickly. Looking over my shoulder.

San Bernard NWR

 

On one of the impoundments constructed for wintering waterfowl, a Pied-billed Grebe paused for a candid portrait before returning to his fishing.

San Bernard NWR

 

During breeding season, the Little Blue Heron’s eyes and legs turn black and the base of the bill becomes bright blue.

San Bernard NWR

 

Flocks of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks could be seen all across the impoundments as they moved from one open water area to another. (Two immature Little Blue Herons are in the foreground.)

San Bernard NWR

 

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks watched their fulvous cousins from atop a nearby berm.

San Bernard NWR

 

We even found a few flowers in bloom. A showy orange Lantana and bright red Tropical Sage.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

In a muddy area, we were tempted to follow this alligator track to see where it went. Okay, Gini wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Okay, we both jumped in the car and locked the doors and sped away. There, satisfied?

San Bernard NWR

 

Birds aren’t the only migrants which take advantage of the refuge. A Monarch butterfly almost blends in with the wildflowers.

San Bernard NWR

 

One Black-bellied Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate feeds. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

One Fulvous Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate bathes. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Along a canal in the marsh, we came upon two very mature American Alligators announcing their territory. They were about 20 yards apart and quite loud. The water droplets “dance” above the alligator’s back due to sub-audible vibrations which precede the audible bellowing. Recent research indicates an alligator’s size can be determined by its bellowing characteristics. This allows a potential adversary to determine if a fight for territory or a mate is feasible.  (Alligator’s Bellow Communicates Size.)

Listen: Alligator Bellowing

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Despite all that bellowing not far away, this Black-necked Stilt just had to get a little power nap.

San Bernard NWR

 

Speaking of naps, it was time for us to head to Houston. After a satisfying bit of Texas Bar-B-Que, we made it back and began packing for our return to Florida. It was a great visit!

If you get a chance to go coastal in Texas, drop by San Bernard NWR. Watch out for the wren’s nest at the entrance and respect the alligator’s territory – or test your own bellowing and see if you measure up.

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

 

Additional Information

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Fun! Excitement! Birds!

Visiting new places can be fun and exciting!  Visiting places you have been to before can be fun and exciting!  Such was the case on Saturday.  We drove about 45 minutes to our south to visit Hardee Lakes Park, which we explored in late January.  It was quite interesting to see the difference a few weeks can make!

The first bit of interest came before we reached our destination.  That’s the thing about traveling, the actual journey can be a “destination”.  We rounded a bend and saw a mass of white in the center of a rather small pond in a cattle field.  On an island in the pond, we counted 35 American White Pelicans, 40 Double-crested Cormorants and 24 Caspian Terns.  We sat in the truck for about 30 minutes and ended up spotting 24 species of birds and counted over 200 individuals.  In addition to the above, we saw a pair of Black-necked Stilts, five Long-billed Dowitchers and three Lesser Yellowlegs.  What a nice way to start our day and all before we even reached our target location!

Just before we entered Hardee Lakes Park, we spotted a pair of American Kestrels, male and female on a utility wire.  The male swooped down, caught a grasshopper and returned to the wire and gave it to the female.  They typically don’t begin breeding for about another month, but these may be getting an early start!  Two adult Bald Eagles guarded the park entrance from atop tall utility poles and we saw probably the same two eagles here on our visit in January.  As soon as we drove into the park we were greeted by three Red-bellied woodpeckers on one side of the road and three Northern Flickers on the other!  An Eastern Meadowlark sang its beautiful song from the field and our day was better for it.

This park has four lakes with primitive roads around all but Lake #4.  There are hiking trails, a boardwalk over a damp area, mixed hardwood and pines, plenty of picnic tables, restrooms, a boat ramp for each lake and a camping area.  The area around the park is a mix of cattle fields, agriculture, citrus groves and phosphate mining.  Several creeks flow through the area and the Peace River is about 10 miles to the east.

Our day was filled with the scent of blooming citrus nearby, wind whispering through tall pine trees, colorful warblers swarming in tree tops, raptors soaring on thermals and unexpected treats throughout the day.  (A Sora in the middle of the afternoon?)  We enjoyed our lunch under a mix of pine and oak trees with the breeze blowing a curtain of Spanish moss to the side so we could watch life unfold on one of the lakes.

We hope you enjoy a small sample of our day presented below.

American White Pelicans, Caspian Terns, Double-crested Cormorants on a small island in a cattle pond.  They probably roosted here the night before, but there were three very large alligators on the other end of this island so I’m not sure how safe they felt!

American White Pelican, Caspian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican, Caspian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant

Part of the pelicans put on a show for us.  It seems they were practicing for the Olympic “synchronized fishing team” competition.  Actually, the American White Pelican uses a method known as “collective foraging” in which the group surrounds a group of likely prey and then all dive at once to maximize their success rate.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Dowitchers near the shore of the pond demonstrated their “sewing machine” technique as they constantly probed the mud for insects.  A Lesser Yellowlegs stretches his wings.  (In the left of the picture is the remains of an alligator, quite a large one judging from the size of the skull.)

Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher

Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher

A female Northern Flicker greeted us from a fence post at the park entrance.  Another female was atop a utility pole in the same area and a male was foraging on the ground nearby.

Northern Flicker (female)

Northern Flicker (female)

The melody of the Eastern Meadowlark is welcome anytime!  This one was within a few feet of the male Northern Flicker as he belted out his morning tune.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

The park was full of warblers, most fueling up on insects in preparation for their northward migration.  This Palm Warbler almost landed on my foot and pecked all around me in his search for bugs.  I don’t usually get to view a warbler from the top, they’re normally high up in the tree branches and I only see the other side!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

On our previous visit in late January, we counted 90 Ring-billed Ducks on the lakes.  Today, we found only four (all females), who apparently read about the snow-storms up north and decided to stay in Florida just a bit longer.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

A group of 80+ Double-crested Cormorants flew in suddenly.  It was interesting to see them form up into a tight-knit raft with birds around the perimeter all facing outwardly, presumably a defensive posture.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

A graceful-looking Great Egret posed among the reeds.  This is one of two we observed in breeding plumage, as seen by the green lores and long tail plumes.

Great Egret

Great Egret

There are 20 species of Armadillo in the world ranging from the Pink Fairy Armadillo, at six inches (15 cm) long to the Dark-brown Giant Armadillo who can grow to over 5 feet (1.5 meters) long.  The Nine-banded Armadillo is the only one found in the United States and averages 25-42 inches (64-107 cm) long (includes their long tail).  These are the only mammals to have an exoskeleton.  They have very poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell.  They use their sharp claws to dig for insects.  This fellow picked up my scent so I retreated and let him go about his hunting.

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

The Gopher Tortoise is a species of special concern in Florida and is vulnerable primarily due to loss of habitat.  This ancient-looking animal digs burrows which average six feet deep and 15 feet long, usually slanted at about a 30 degree angle.  The tortoise will dig from 5 to 35 burrows within its territory and can retreat into one for protection from predators, weather and fire.  Over 350 other creatures have been documented to use these burrows.  They are truly beneficial members of their environment!

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

Spring time tends to make everything look brighter.  Even the noisy, usually bothersome Boat-tailed Grackle appears handsome today!

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Speaking of Spring, many birds are transitioning from their drab winter colors into their bright breeding plumage.  This Palm Warbler looks much different than he did a few weeks ago.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Not to be outdone, a Pine Warbler shows off his yellow feathers.  At one spot, we counted over 30 of these warblers in a group of pine trees.

Hardee County

As I was counting warblers, another female Northern Flicker appeared to check on what I was up to.

Northern Flicker (female)

Northern Flicker (female)

Along the lake shore, a female Northern Harrier hunted for lunch.  (Apologies for the poor quality, she was at some distance.)

Northern Harrier (female)

Northern Harrier (female)

Swallow-tailed Kites are returning to our area after spending the winter in Central and South America.  This one appears to have either prey or nesting material in his talons.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Florida.  Water.  Alligators.  This young one kept an eye on me while I poked around his shoreline.

American Alligator

American Alligator

A trio of American White Pelicans soared over one of the lakes as we ate lunch.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

I stepped onto a boat dock at Lake #4 and startled a Green Heron from the shade underneath.  His raised crest let me know he didn’t appreciate being disturbed!

Green Heron

Green Heron

From that same boat dock, I spotted a bit of movement in the reeds and eventually found a Sora skulking about.  These rails are usually more active around sunrise or sunset.  This one played hide-and-seek for quite awhile and never did give me a chance for a decent photograph.

Sora

Sora

Near the end of our visit, a male Wild Turkey appeared briefly and quickly ran for cover upon spotting us.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

It was a wonderful day to be outside!  Lots of sites, sounds, smells and most of all – fun and excitement!  Thanks for tagging along.  We leave you with a sure sign that Spring is here – a butterfly and a bloom.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

 

 

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

 

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

 

 

 

 

Additional Resources:

Hardee Lakes Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

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