Posts Tagged With: thistle

Sabbatical – Part The Second

Conchs – Zippers – Mayhaw.  “Remind me to stop here on the way back.” This was now our third visit to Georgia, the second along this route. The first trip was mostly using high-speed interstate highways. No more of that. Taking the road less traveled is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is – well – it’s less traveled. The bad news is there simply isn’t enough time to do it properly. “Oh! That looks like an interesting road!” becomes a phrase so common that after a hundred miles Gini doesn’t even utter it anymore. Just gives me “the look”. We both sigh, vowing to explore further but knowing the chances are very remote we ever will.

If you are from the American Southeast (or have ever spent time here), you are probably very familiar with the seasonal signs which pop up at markets, produce stands, highway intersections and private yards advertising “conchs, zippers and mayhaw jelly”. Freshly picked peas (conchs and zippers) and the juice extracted from the fruit of the swamp- loving Mayhaw tree are considered delicacies by this household. Conchs, zippers, creamers, purple hull – all local varieties of the generic “southern field pea”. All delicious when Gini works her magic on them. Mayhaw trees (Crataegus sp.) are indigenous to the southeastern United States and each spring produce red berries similar in size to small crabapples. The berries are very tart and are typically made into jellies and preserves or used in desserts. The clear, pale crimson substance placed inside a piping hot buttermilk biscuit – breakfast is transformed into something special.

We pulled onto Gini’s brother’s property in mid-afternoon and what a change had taken place! It had only been two weeks since our last visit, but spring has arrived in full force! Adjacent to the young grove of longleaf pine trees was a vast swath of red clover. Stunning! The previously bare pecan trees all had lush new growth, flowers were blooming just about everywhere, insects were buzzing and birds went about the business of nest building, mating and feeding young. Unpack. Rocking chairs have been added to the newly constructed back porch. Relax. Catch up on family news. Supper. Dark. From the comfort of a rocking chair on the open porch, listen. Crickets, cicadas. No man-made sound at all. Sleep.

A walk around the property at dawn almost feels familiar now. I anticipate where the quail will be chattering, where to look for deer and coyote tracks in the soft red clay and when I will be challenged as I pass near the towhee’s territory. The scent of fresh pine fills my nostrils and I breathe it in deeply. I still haven’t learned to pay attention to the path ahead as I scan all around for birds and walk through a spider web spun during the night by a Golden Silk Spider, of the orb weaver family. Occupational hazard. Male birds are singing everywhere as the mating season begins in earnest. A House Wren burbles from a fence post as I near the house and from a stump near the barn his larger cousin, the Carolina Wren, shows off his rambunctious repertoire.

The aroma of brewing coffee beckons and I am soon hugging my girlfriend (despite her protestations:  “Eww, you’re soaking wet!”). A hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits and yes, hot biscuits which I eagerly stuff with Mayhaw jelly – and a new day begins.

A few images may help to visualize why we return to this slice of heaven. Alas, poor quality photographs are no substitute for the real thing but try to imagine – no car noise, no television, no sirens – just, Nature.

 

A healthy patch of red clover provides forage for deer, rabbits, dove, quail and a whole universe of insects. Not to mention, it’s rather nice to look at.

Early County

Early County

 

Eastern Bluebirds have already mated, built nests and are busy flying non-stop bug deliveries to the nursery.

Early County

 

Longleaf Pines once blanketed the southeastern United States. Lumbering took its toll over the years. Property owners are encouraged to plant these wonderful conifers and Gini’s brother has about 35 acres he planted eight years ago. In the spring, new shoots from the tops create a sea of light yellow which shimmers in the early morning sun.

 

In addition to beautiful sights, Nature produces wonderful aromas. Huge tangles of Honeysuckle vines send forth delicate blossoms which create a perfume that’s almost overwhelmingly sweet.

Early County

 

Sights, smells, sounds – we can even find delicious treats in the wild. The understory provides brambles to shelter small animals and birds and in another few weeks these Blackberry bushes will yield delicious fruit – if you can get to them before those animals and birds!

Early County

 

Eastern Towhee males are showing off their vocal range hoping to attract the right mate. The first image has pale yellow eyes, not uncommon in this area, and the second is the more widespread red-eyed species.

Early County

Early County

 

The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is commonly seen in brown or green and may even change coloration a bit to better blend with its surroundings. This species is being supplanted in some areas (especially Florida) by the invasive Cuban Brown Anole.

Early County

 

Something made a path through the clover last night. Perhaps an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit?

Early County

 

Even a spiny Thistle has a special beauty in the spring.

Early County

 

Bumble Bees (Bomba sp.) love clover and gladly keep the plants pollinated.

Early County

 

So many colors in nature! A bright purple Verbena stands out among all the red clover blossoms.

Early County

 

One of the Skipper species of butterfly flits from bloom to bloom. It’s like it can’t decide which flower to sip from first because they all look so good.

Early County

 

Just two weeks ago, these Pecan trees were bare and looked like tree skeletons. In a few more weeks, within the lush green foliage, fruit will begin to form and produce the sweetest pecans in the world!

Early County

 

These male Brown-headed Cowbirds are having a serious discussion about personal space and females – typical guys.

Early County

 

A Common Buckeye soaks up a little morning sun to dry her wings.

Early County

 

Another Georgia specialty. When ripe, pluck one of these from the tree, take a bite — the juice runs over your lips, onto your hand, down your arm, drips off your elbow — but you don’t care. The sensation of that fresh peach reaching your taste buds is unforgettable. Now you know why they place an image of this fruit on their car license plate!

Early County

 

Similar to the Bumble Bee (genus Bombus) in appearance, the Carpenter Bee (genus Xylocopa) can be a very destructive pest. They bore into wood, make tunnels and lay eggs. Untreated wood can be extensively damaged as the larvae chew their way out.

Early County

Early County

 

A pair of Common Ground Dove serenaded us with their monotonic song as we loaded the car to head home.

Early County

 

Another wonderful trip to paradise as part of our segmented Springtime Sabbatical. If you’re fortunate enough to find a spot devoid of human-made noise, savor it. I know we do.

Yes, we did remember to stop on the way back and loaded up on fresh conchs, zippers and mayhaw jelly! The little market also had fresh cane syrup, smoked country sausage and just-picked garden tomatoes.

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

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Morning Meandering

Seven years.  This period of time seems to have some significance.  Break a mirror – seven years of bad luck will follow.  The first acknowledged “global war” took place primarily in Canada and the northern American (British) colonies and lasted seven years.  The Bible relates the story of seven years of famine in Egypt and predicts that seven years of tribulation will precede the end times.  Marriages are supposed to experience a “seven year itch” and some folks run off to seek scratching which results in lawyers becoming more prosperous.

It is not all bad news.  I can name at least four marriages (including my own) which experienced no itching or subsequent need for scratching.  I personally broke a mirror in high school and was rewarded with moving next door to a girl I eventually married (over 45 years ago).  Periods of global peace have lasted much longer than seven years.  The Bible is full of stories about very long periods of joy and happiness.

More good news!  Seven years ago this month, Florida opened its 160th State Park!

Colt Creek State Park in Polk County has, over the years, been a cattle ranch, commercial pine tree forest, hunting preserve and was briefly used to mine lime rock.  This land was purchased by the state due primarily to its importance within the floodplain of the nearby Green Swamp region.  Water flowing from the park makes its way to four of Florida’s major rivers including the Withlacoochee, Hillsborough, Peace and Ocklawaha.

There are over 12 miles (19.3 km) of trails within the park from which one can enjoy pine flatwoods, cypress domes (see “Additional Resources”), open pastures and bottomland forests.  In a recent year-long survey, 150 species of birds and 79 butterfly species were observed.  Mammals within the park include white-tailed deer, bobcat, river otter and Sherman’s fox squirrel.  Fishing is possible and canoes and kayaks are available.  The park has plenty of picnic tables and grills while a large screened pavilion could host over 100 people.  There is access to primitive campsites for those who want to backpack into the park’s more remote sections.

I visited the park early one morning this week and enjoyed a very quiet walk in the forest, a rest by the lake and an exciting wildlife encounter.  It was very windy throughout the morning and not many butterflies were about.  I think that may have affected the bird activity also as I didn’t see a lot of variety today.  It’s a beautiful park, well maintained and (maybe it’s best feature) very close to the house.  I shall return.

Hope you enjoy a bit of the sights as much as I did.

Entrance

Entrance

The largest of the lakes (which is actually quite small) in the park, Mac Lake, has a pier for easy fishing and small boats are permitted (no gasoline engines).  It’s a scenic lake and was quite tranquil at the start of the day.

Mac Lake

Mac Lake

Pickerelweed is pretty common throughout the state anywhere it can find a wet place to grow.

Pickerelweed

Pickerelweed

I surprised a pair of juvenile White Ibises on the path near the lake.  They will molt into the distinctive all white plumage early in their second year.

White Ibis (immature)

White Ibis (immature)

The sound of the wind blowing through the tops of tall pine trees made for a very pleasant walk through the woods.  Fresh pine scent all around me didn’t hurt, either!

Pine Forest

Pine Forest

A Blackeyed Susan brightened up the hike.

Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

You’re never really alone in a forest.  This Red-shouldered Hawk kept a wary eye on me.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Butterweed was blooming in profusion along the edges of the fields.

Butterweed (Packera glabella)

Butterweed
(Packera glabella)

Two types of thistle are common within our county.  This one is the less prickly, Nuttall’s Thistle.

Nuttall's Thistle (Cirsium nuttalli)

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttalli)

A Sandhill Crane was busy feeding in a small pool and didn’t notice me right away.  A second crane soon appeared but I didn’t see any chicks (most pairs currently have young).

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

The surrounding bottomland is full of beautiful trees which offer shelter for all sorts of life.

Hardwoods

Hardwoods

Mushrooms abound in the area.  I have not attempted to identify any of them.

Fungus

Fungus

This common member of the Gaillardia family is called Firewheel.

Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella)

Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella)

I think this may be a member of the Skullcap (Scutellaria) family but I’m not sure.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Skullcap (sp.?)

Skullcap (sp.?)

The Mexican Pricklypoppy provides a sunshine burst of yellow.  Be careful if you get too close, though!

Mexican Poppy (Argemone mexicana)

Mexican Poppy (Argemone mexicana)

While I was taking a rest and water break, a Bald Eagle appeared overhead.  He was apparently hoping to enjoy a morning of quiet fishing.  It was not to be.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

A Red-shouldered Hawk flew in to voice an objection to a violation of his air space.

Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk

Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk

The eagle ignored him and the hawk retreated.  He was soon replaced with a more aggressive raptor.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

The kite harassed the eagle for several minutes, displaying his versatile aerobatic technique.

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Soon, the eagle performed a barrel-role and flew upside down under the kite, no doubt to emphasize his talons were MUCH larger than the kite’s!  The kite disappeared.

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite

A scream from the eagle advertised for all to hear that he was claiming this piece of air this morning.  He wasn’t bothered again.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

So, Colt Creek State Park has weathered seven years without bad luck, wars, plagues or lawyers.  We hope it survives for a very long time.

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

Additional Resources

Colt Creek State Park

Cypress Domes

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: