Posts Tagged With: tricolored heron

Can’t See The Forest For The Birds

“This fog sure is dense.” Gini was helping to scan the road ahead for vehicles or animals which might suddenly appear from the mist. I announced that when I saw the weather forecast last night I wasn’t worried about leaving too early as the fog would keep the bird activity down until the sun began to cause the gray blanket to dissipate. Two-and-a-half falsehoods in one sentence. I couldn’t take my eyes from the road, but I’m pretty sure those beautiful brown eyes next to me rolled heavenward.

Our target for today was the Arbuckle Tract of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest near Frostproof in Polk County. (See Additional Information below.) This section of the state forest consists of a single dead-end dirt road which roughly parallels the western shore of Lake Arbuckle (but you cannot see the lake from this road at any point). Several trails and side roads offer a lot of opportunity for exploring by vehicle, horse or hiking. Portable restrooms are located at the Check Station, where there are also picnic tables under huge shady oak trees. A short drive to Lake Godwin takes you past a wetland area where we found quite a few wading and water birds. The small lake has more picnic tables, a nice pier for fishing from and a loop trail through open pine and palmetto scrub.

Along the forest road, tracks in the damp red dirt told a story of the previous night. White-tailed Deer commuted along the road and then veered into the underbrush to feed. Raccoons are plentiful as every few yards displayed their claw marks crossing the road.  The soft earth revealed the unique three-toed print of a Nine-banded Armadillo. Very small tracks were likely from rodents and abstract curves made by serpents of the night were numerous. Indeed, we saw an Eastern Black Racer cross ahead of us, pausing briefly to raise his head to see us better.

Birds. We seldom traveled more than two minutes without seeing or hearing birds. Harsh rasps of Florida’s endemic Scrub Jays; woodpeckers calling and drumming; chips of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers; trills of a multitude of Pine Warblers; clear whistles of “drink-your-teeeeeea” as Eastern Towhees called from shrubs throughout the forest; exuberant White-eyed Vireos seemed intent on letting us know spring was on the way; soft burbling voices as a covey of Northern Bobwhite scurried alongside the road; a scream from a Red-shouldered Hawk.

It was a wonderful morning to be in the forest with its fresh pine scent and so much wildlife all around us!

As we left the forest road, instead of heading directly home, we took a short tour down another dead-end road (sensing a pattern?) to find Arbuckle Campground and Park, a county facility. It was badly damaged last year by Hurricane Irma and re-opened a couple of months ago. In addition to camping spots, the park has plenty of picnic tables, restrooms, showers (for campers) and a nice boat ramp. A fishing pier is still under repair. Huge cypress trees, oaks, bay and other “wet feet” species offer terrific cover for birds. We found warblers (including our first Northern Parula of the year), woodpeckers, migrating American Robins and plenty of water birds. We’ll return here soon!

A few images of birds seems appropriate about now.

A group of at least five Northern Bobwhite were along the edge of the road. We could hear them murmuring to each other, soft whistles and gurgles, but couldn’t spot them. This is why Gini gets the big bucks. “They’re right beside the car”, she whispered. I had been searching the underbrush beyond.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Little Downy Woodpeckers are always on the move, probing every part of a tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Winter visitors here, Chipping Sparrows like to hang out in groups and love the open pine forest. Their chestnut crown and un-streaked breast help them stand out a bit from all the brown and gray tree branches.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in our area and usually appear for a moment to see who is under their tree.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Bright, clear whistles rang out on all sides during the morning as Eastern Towhees vied for attention of females. The ladies aren’t as “contrasty” as the male but I think they’re every bit as good-looking.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Rubber duckies. Squeeze them and they squeak. Thirty feet up in a pine tree, rubber duckies were squeaking at us. The little Brown-headed Nuthatch may not have much of a voice, but they make up for it with a pugnacious attitude! They are quick to challenge anything in their territory, including a clunky-looking two-legged creature stomping around the underbrush.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The warbler which thinks it’s a nuthatch. Black-and-White Warblers probe tree bark while upside down on the trunk, just like a nuthatch.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

The forest was full of Pine Warblers. Perhaps they’re gathering in groups preparing to migrate north for the spring. Perhaps there was a sale on bugs. Pine Warblers can range from drab gray to canary yellow. We saw those and every shade in between.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Prairie Warblers also can vary in plumage just about as much as the Pine. Their facial pattern seems to give them a somewhat sad look. Their brightness and pretty song brings a smile.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

During our break for breakfast, we were serenaded by a persistent White-eyed Vireo. He would go from tree branch to bush and back to the tree and just sang his heart out. Simply beautiful!

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

Our short visit to the nearby campground and boat ramp area provided our first sightings of Northern Parula since the fall. They breed in our area but most of them spend the winter in South and Central America.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest-Arbuckle Tract

 

A Tricolored Heron flew along the shoreline as we reluctantly headed for home.

Arbuckle Campground and Park

 

Many people are unaware that Florida has a state forest system which provides many opportunities for nature and wildlife observation. Check out the link below for a spot near you.

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Comfortable Contrarian

It was good to be back. I couldn’t believe it had been eight months since my last visit. Some things in life maintain a “comfort level” which never fades. When living in Germany, I purchased a light jacket with leather panels on the front and loosely knit wool in the back. It was perfect for hiking the steep trails through dark forests of fir where the leather buffered the chilly wind and wool at the back allowed fresh air to circulate. Comfortable. Two pairs of walking shoes in the closet are almost identical in design and appearance yet one is used much more often. They’re just more – comfortable. Most mornings I reach in the cabinet and pull down the same cup which for years has held the juice from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. It holds the same amount as other cups and even looks similar to many. But there is something about its weight, the way my hand fits through the handle, the Meerschaum quality of the coffee-stained china. Comfortable.

I drove through the entrance gates of the Circle B Bar Reserve on the north shore of Lake Hancock, parked at the first picnic table, slung the camera over my shoulder and hung binoculars around my neck. After walking 50 yards, I stopped and turned 360 degrees. There! That’s the feeling! Spanish moss hanging almost to the ground was parted slightly by the wind’s unseen hand revealing huge hundred-year old oak trees, Northern Cardinals leaped through the underbrush, dragonflies shimmered in the sunlight on tall weeds along the path and ahead the walkway met the bright blue sky which beckoned one to discover something wondrous. An involuntary deep sigh caught me by surprise. I was – comfortable. It was good to be back.

Years ago, upon first discovering the Circle B, I tried to visit often. It’s a former cattle ranch which has been developed into a marsh and has restored the flow of Saddle Creek into Lake Hancock. The result is one of the most spectacular birding venues in Florida. A diverse habitat attracts a huge number of birds throughout the year. The day before my visit, a friend (and one of the state’s best birders) sent an email that he spotted a Ruff on the mud flats which have been exposed due to our recent very dry weather. I don’t usually “chase” rarities, but I’ve never seen a Ruff and Circle B is only 30 minutes away…..

Being the experienced and veteran birder and photographer which I so clearly am, I know that one must arrive to a potential birding spot early in the day in order to take advantage of the “golden hours” for best photographic light and maximum bird activity. Not to mention it is much cooler early in the morning.  Armed with this knowledge, I arrived on site promptly at – 3:00 in the afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky so the light was wonderfully harsh. Not a sound to be heard except cicadas buzzing so all the birds were likely sleeping. And the temperature was a balmy 95 F, perfect for hiking out to the marsh without a bit of shade along the way. (There were appointments in the morning, you see, and I was afraid to wait until the next morning as the Ruff would surely leave on its northward journey, and besides I may not be as much of an expert as has been advertised.)

Gini says I am a natural contrarian but adds sweetly:  “But you’re MY contrarian!”. She’s so diplomatic.

The good news is, even under less than ideal circumstances, the Circle B is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. I found a couple hundred shorebirds on the mud flats, and there may well have been a Ruff (or a dozen) amongst the crowd of sandpipers, plovers, skimmers and others. Unfortunately, they were about 500 miles away and even when I enlarged the many photographs I attempted, it just appeared to be a mass of mottled brown with nothing in focus at all. Sigh.

So, I wandered around and discovered not ALL of the wildlife was taking a nap. Overhead were Bald Eagles, a Red-shouldered Hawk, vultures, Wood Storks and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites. Not to mention water birds of all types flying from one spot of water to another. I even found a flock of Bobolinks filling up on grass seed before resuming their migration. It was even comforting to see so many alligators still here, right where I left them so many months ago.

Despite the lousy light, heat, limited activity and no rare bird, I still (although reluctantly) took a few pictures. Just for you.

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron runs toward a potential meal.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Snowy Egret already has his meal, well, maybe more like a snack. Another Snowy glides overhead, looking almost like an x-ray against the bright sky.

 

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

The Great Blue Heron is a large bird, standing almost four feet tall. This young alligator was not impressed. He swam back and forth in front of the heron and twice made a sudden lunge in its direction. The heron was likewise not impressed and never flinched.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A female Bobolink loads up on seeds. She was part of a flock of about two dozen. They are not residents here and we only see them during migration.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This male Black-necked Stilt was busy feeding and there were reports of an occupied nest in this area. I’ll have to return soon to try and find it. Maybe I can get lucky and discover young ones.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are normally seen in groups. This one evidently found a spot in the mud he liked as I couldn’t see others anywhere.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A resting Roseate Spoonbill keeps one eye on its surroundings. Good idea. Lots of ‘gators wandering by. Not to mention two-legged critters making clicking noises. A little further down the path and I found another spoonbill soaring overhead.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle leaves a wide path as it scoots along in the soft mud of the marsh. Another one suns itself on a log. The weeds and algae on their shells hide a really pretty reddish-orange pattern.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

I startled an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and he hurried out of sight.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A bit later, an immature night heron hid behind some moss. This is likely a second-year bird as first-year night herons are mottled brown but this one doesn’t have the contrasting black and gray of a full adult (see the one above). Plus its eyes are not quite as red as an adult’s.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A large female Florida Softshell Turtle throws sand and gravel in the air as she tries to dig a nest along the hard-packed side of the trail. She’ll need to find some softer sand or mud before she can deposit her 10-30 eggs.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This is a common pose for the Great Blue Heron and may be used to warm the inside of the wings enough to drive out small biting bugs such as mites.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

As the sun began to set, a Nine-banded Armadillo foraged in the dry leaves of the oak woods looking for insects. These fascinating animals remind me of Winnie The Pooh’s friend, Piglet.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

 

No Ruff today. Despite my contrariness, I found some wonderful birds, several interesting animals and had an exhilarating outdoor experience. Back at the car, I turned back for one more look at where I had been. There was that sigh again. I felt – comfortable.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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