During our first 20 years of married life, we had the good fortune of moving to a new location about every three years. We had a chance to see several parts of the United States and Europe. Each move brought with it wonderful experiences, different environments, diverse cultures and spectacular adventures! When we settled in at a new spot, we ventured forth to explore. Sure, we sometimes sampled the tourist “hot spots”, but more often we just started driving or walking or taking the local bus or train. Wandering around aimlessly brought us into contact with a lot of wonderful people and we found some fantastic places not highlighted on any tourist map. Our relatives always asked whether we ever got lost? As one of America’s early explorers, Daniel Boone, responded to a similar question: “I have never been lost, but I will admit to be confused for several weeks.”
That’s pretty much our approach to traveling in general and to birding, specifically. Sure, we love to visit the birding “hot spots”, but we really like taking roads less traveled and if there’s no road, so much the better. A recent trip to our south did include one small park at a large lake, but otherwise consisted of driving back roads and stopping at areas of interesting habitat. We were in Highlands County which consists of large areas of agriculture and pasture land. The Kissimmee River flows south along the county’s eastern boundary which provides another interesting element of diverse ecology. We discovered that a lot of birds like it out here even though it’s not a designated “reserve” or “management area”. It seems birds are bright enough to locate their own food and places to roost! Who knew?
The highlight of our morning was seeing baby Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with their yellow-striped heads and staying close to Mom. The pastures held hundreds of Cattle Egrets and White Ibises along with a smattering of Little Blue Herons and Wood Storks. Raptors seemed to be everywhere – Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, American Kestrels and Crested Caracara. Each field seemed to be alive with low-flying Barn Swallows along with a few smaller Bank Swallows assaulting the insect populations. Eastern Meadowlarks were in large groups and many were singing their beautiful, clear song. Perhaps they were happy to be finished molting. On the way home, we stopped alongside a commercial sod field and spotted several hundred shorebirds busily probing the soft mud. Most were Least Sandpipers with a few Pectoral Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers and Killdeer at the buffet. At the edge of a canal, a Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill prepared to roost for the evening. A thunderstorm was building and moved with us northward as we scurried to the house.
We enjoyed the day wandering around with no map, no agenda and no worries.
Some images follow.
A few decades ago, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was a rarity in Florida. Not anymore!
An interloper. This stranger tried to join a Whistling-Duck family but the adults repeatedly attacked it. After about 15 minutes from when we first spotted them, the odd duck was able to tag along without suffering any more beatings. I don’t know domestic breeds very well, but this looks to be a hybrid Pekin/Black (or Blue?) Swedish.
At Lake Istokpoga, a nice boardwalk takes one through a wetland area which can provide a great variety of fall and spring migrants.
A curious Blue-gray Gnatcatcher wondered what I was up to.
After a bit of preening, a Roseate Spoonbill settles down for the night.
This Wood Stork searches for a last-minute snack before bedtime.
Gini suggested that standing in an open field with my face pressed against a metal pole (scope tripod) during an approaching thunderstorm might not be my best idea of the day. She is real smart like that.
Great scenery, great birding, great company – and we didn’t see a single birder or tourist the whole day. If you find yourself riding around with your binoculars some day with no particular place to go, you’re on the right road.
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.)