Posts Tagged With: tropical sage

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

Dragons At 12 O’Clock!

(“Mad dogs and Birders go out in the mid-day sun.” — Sincerest apologies to Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and whomever else may have coined the original saying.)

 

We have pretty much ceased to live by the calendar and clock. A life without a schedule has serious drawbacks. For example, I used to arrive home from the office by 5:45 and the family sat down to supper no later than 6:15. Now, however, Gini and I may have supper at 6:30. Or 6:42. See what I mean? Schedules keep us from falling into a state of pure chaos. Another extreme example. In order to conform to business society’s rules for a successful career, I visited my barber every seven days without fail. Last week, I realized in horror that it had been a full eight days since a razor had touched by increasingly sparse and graying strands. With no pre-planned guidelines to follow, we have become like ships adrift in life’s tidal flow with no compass and no anchor. Rudderless and adrift, it is a sheer miracle we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Lounging about the other day, with nothing whatsoever planned, Gini innocently asked: “What shall we do for lunch?”. Panic. My eyes began to dart from side to side. Sweat broke out on my forehead. She wants ME to make a decision! About lunch! This is big. I’m not normally entrusted with the IMPORTANT things. What to do? There’s no SCHEDULE!

“Uhh, how about a picnic?”, I heard my feeble voice say. “That’s a WONDERFUL IDEA!”, Gini said. “I have leftover boiled eggs in the fridge and can whip up some egg salad for sandwiches and we can take some fruit.”

Whew. That was close. Panic subsided but then began to well up again as I realized she would expect me to figure out where to go for this impromptu (UNSCHEDULED stuff again) adventure. Fortunately, I had been wanting to visit a local state park to check out some improvements they had recently made. Most of our picnics are “bird-centric”, and the park should provide some birding opportunities.

Central Florida in the summer at noon. Think “high temperatures with matching humidity”. Even the natives (and that’s us) usually have enough sense to remain indoors. In artificially cooled air. With large glasses of ice containing who-cares-what liquid in them. But we have already established that we are not “normal”.

Colt Creek State Park is only about ten miles from the house. It has a deep (for Florida) lake, pine and hardwood forests, open fields, cypress tree studded wetlands, very nice amenities (fishing pier, canoe rental, picnic areas, modern restrooms) and several miles of trails to explore. The sandwiches were superb, the fresh air (yes, it was hot) was exhilarating and the company was the absolute best.

What I said earlier about native Floridians having better sense than to be out at noon in the summer applies to the bird life, too. We saw one Eastern Bluebird smashing a caterpillar on a tree branch, one Common Gallinule floating listlessly in the cattails, one Anhinga perched on the pier and one sky-borne hunter described below. So I did what any other birder does in this situation. I admired the bugs.

Dragonflies are apparently impervious to heat. There were hundreds of the gossamer-winged creatures flitting about. They’re a bit of a challenge (for me, anyhow) to capture digitally, but it’s fun learning the different species and about their natural history. As I moved amongst the weeds trying to stalk these quick and elusive targets, there was a fellow dragonfly lover looking over my shoulder. The Swallow-tailed Kite just happens to love Odonata hors d’oeuvres.

Join us for our unscheduled lunch, from the comfort of your much cooler environment.

 

Even in the middle of the day, we sometimes find nice surprises when we venture forth. Such as a moon high overhead in a deep blue sky.

Moon

Moon

 

Flowers bloom even when no one is there to see them. Fortunately, we caught a few showing off their true colors. Such as this Leavenworth’s Tickseed, a beautiful member of the Coreopsis genus.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

My boyhood home here in central Florida was adjacent to a pasture where we found an abundance of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). These ancient reptiles have not changed much in over 60 million years. They dig a burrow which averages 30 feet deep and can eventually become home or provide shelter to myriad other life forms, including Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, they are now listed as an endangered species in Florida primarily due to loss of habitat.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

 

Enter the dragons. This male Blue Dasher is quite colorful with his yellow racing stripe thorax and cool blue abdomen. Perched with abdomens pointed up is called “obelisking” and is thought to reduce the amount of body surface the sun’s rays strike allowing the dragonfly to remain cooler.

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

The Carolina Saddlebags is found near water, usually small lakes or ponds with an abundance of submerged vegetation.

Carolina Saddlebags  -Female - (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags -Female – (Tramea carolina)

 

One of the most striking dragonflies found in North America is the Halloween Pennant. There is some speculation that the coloration along with their “fluttery” flight might mimic the Monarch Butterfly, which is distasteful to predators.

Halloween Pennant - Male(Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant – Male(Celithemis eponina)

 

A large dragonfly, the Great Blue Skimmer, is one of the few species with a white face. The first image is a typical female while the second picture shows an older female which has taken on the bluish body color of the male.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer - Mature Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Mature Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

The reddish-orange body and golden-tinted wings of Needham’s Skimmer really stand out along the lake shore. This medium sized dragon is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer. One difference is the rear legs of Needham’s are brownish as opposed to the black of the Golden-winged.

Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

Another colorful flower in our area is Tropical Sage. This native plant can grow to three or four feet tall and is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

 

A Gulf Fritillary gathers nectar from a thistle. Beautifully patterned from below, when seen from above it’s a striking orange that draws immediate attention as it glides from plant to plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

Nature attempts to maintain a balance in all things. Accordingly, she has given us such predators as this Robber Fly which preys upon butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, other flies and some spiders.

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

 

A Swallow-tailed Kite seemed quite interested in my presence. She was quite busy hawking dragonflies, one of her favorite food items. The kites will be gathering soon in pre-migration groups for their annual trip to South America for the winter. The actual migration can begin as soon as the beginning of August.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

I realize you don’t have it marked on your calendar or in your day-planner, but consider an unplanned picnic in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. You just never know what surprises await your discovery when you show up in Nature’s front yard unannounced!

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

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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