Posts Tagged With: turtle

“May I Take Your Order?”

When I was a teenager, you knew you had achieved a true milestone in life when you got your first car. It might not have actually been “yours” since your parents likely sent the bank a monthly sum for the privilege of letting you drive the thing. And it probably wasn’t exactly fresh out of the factory either. Which is why there was a class in high school called “auto shop”. Way back then cars were still mechanically simple enough that a few hand tools and enough oil could nurse most vehicles through a couple of years. Prior to this significant event, you were relegated to riding with someone who did have a car (immediately elevating them to the status of “best friend”) or suffering the ultimate ignominy – gulp – riding your bicycle. Once you achieved “car owner” status, one of the requirements was to be seen in the new machine on Friday nights after the football game at the Drive-In. Hamburgers, French fries, a frosted mug of root beer – all brought right to your car and affixed to the window of YOUR CAR on a tray – life was good.

Then came the Drive-Thru. Our planet’s quality of life has declined ever since.

At first, it was a wonderful experience. Drive up, tell the speaker what you want, pick up your food and go – where? Home. Open the bag. Eat your food. Throw away the bag. No one saw you in your cool car. You didn’t visit with your friends. You became surly if the “fast food” wasn’t ready fast enough. As a culture, we became impatient with everything. Quick service replaced quality service in every facet of our lives. The trend continues.

So it was with a huge dose of skepticism and trepidation that I first visited a location touted as a “drive-thru nature experience”. Yikes! Will there be a clown taking my order for which birds I want to see?

I have written a few times here about the truly wonderful Viera Wetlands (officially known as the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands) located near Florida’s east coast in Brevard County. It takes us about an hour-and-a-half to get there but it’s worth it to be able to experience the diversity of life in the area. Part of Brevard County’s water treatment efforts, the wetlands consists of 200 acres and includes four “cells” of about 35 acres each and a central lake. The cells are of differing depths to attract a variety of wildlife including thousands of migrating waterfowl each winter. There are berms around the facility which can be driven, biked or hiked. (See the link below for a number to call and check the condition of the roads as they are often closed during the rainy season. They can be accessed by foot almost any time.) More and more communities are beginning to follow this model for water treatment facilities and we hope it will be as successful as this one. What a wonderful boon to those who are not physically capable of hiking who can now enjoy nature just outside the car window!

Gini and I visited the wetlands this spring and were treated to a very healthy dose of pure Nature. Although our species list of birds (40) was less than prior trips we had some pretty neat highlights: two dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, over a dozen Anhinga and Great Blue Herons (most nesting and/or with juveniles), almost 250 American Coot, several migratory Marsh Wrens, Savannah Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows, a couple of calling King Rails and a half dozen Least Bitterns.

Following our picnic lunch, we paid a visit to Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, near Christmas, Florida. This is a huge area (almost 31,000 acres) bordered by the Indian River and has over 60 miles of trails to explore. It was late in the day and we didn’t get to do a lot of birding but sure found a host of beautiful blooms!

Photographs can’t really do justice to the experience of all we found, so, you’ll just have to go and see for yourself!

 

Old palm tree stumps make good potential nesting sites for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

Many of the palm trees in the wetlands were in use as nesting platforms by Great Blue Herons. This parent was very attentive to its chick and when Junior raised his head for a better look at this grand-paparazzo, Mama placed a foot on his head and gently persuaded him to keep a lower profile.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

Great Blue Heron – Juvenile

 

Great Blue Heron - Juvenile

Great Blue Heron – Juvenile

 

Nest building and decoration were the order of the day. Here, an Anhinga moves a newly harvested green twig for better Feng shui. Below, four young Anhinga juveniles impatiently await someone to bring fish for breakfast. (Did you know young Anhinga were almost all white?)

Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga

Anhinga

 

For me, Least Bitterns are usually heard but seldom seen. I felt fortunate to actually spot three different individuals today.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

 

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

 

A Great Blue Heron is called a wading bird for a reason. This one didn’t get the memo and attempts to swim after a meal. He soon realized those long legs weren’t long enough and when he regained solid footing took off for the shallow end of the pool.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

Pacing like an expectant father in a maternity ward, a Crested Caracara waits for a Softshell Turtle to finish laying eggs. The turtle nest was adjacent to the road and passing traffic flushed the hungry Caracara. We don’t know if he returned. (This bird has appeared in our blog previously. See: East Coast Adventure and Crested Caracara – An Update. We found out this guy was originally banded/ringed here at Viera Wetlands on October 16, 2006 and was estimated to be two years old at that time. He’s still here which underscores one of the traits of this species which is being very site faithful.)

Crested Caracara, Softshell Turtle

Crested Caracara, Softshell Turtle

 

Only seen here during migration, a Savannah Sparrow forages for seeds and insects.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

 

Yes, it’s one more picture of an American Alligator. This one shows off the results of excellent dental hygiene.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

At Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, we found Ying and Yang the twin turtles (Florida Peninsula Cooter).

Florida Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)

Florida Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys floridana peninsularis)

 

As we drove toward the Indian River along a very dusty dirt road, it seemed every few feet displayed a different type flower. In a wet section shaded by oak and bay trees was a large section of Lizard’s Tail.

Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus)

Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus)

 

In a more prairie-like area we found the showy Largeflower Rosegentian.

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

Largeflower Rosegentian (Sabatia grandiflora)

 

Near the ground peeking out from leaves of larger plants was the very small but bright Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass.

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

 

Eastern False Dragonhead is also known as Obedient Flower, due to the fact a flower can be turned to face a different direction and it will stay there instead of returning to its original position.

Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea)

 

Almost anywhere there was standing water we saw the beautiful Prairie Iris, also called Dixie Iris.

Prairie Iris (Iris hexagona)

Prairie Iris (Iris hexagona)

 

In water that was shallow and not moving, a blanket of yellow signified the presence of carnivorous Bladderwort. The damselfly on this bloom is probably too large to worry about being devoured.

Damselfly On Floating Bladderwort

Damselfly On Floating Bladderwort

 

We had a fantastic day with birds, babies and blooms and we didn’t even have to get out of the car. Don’t be afraid to explore your local drive-thru nature center and maybe order up a Crested Cararcara with a side of Least Bittern!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Viera Wetlands

Tosohatchee WMA

 

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

In Anticipation of Tranquility

Thoughts can be quite powerful.  Our minds access a vast database of memories and experiences which can provoke a myriad of emotions.  We tend to force ourselves to think of the more pleasant aspects of our past in order to keep our psyche on an even keel as we plod through the minefield of daily life.  All of this is accomplished by our best friend, our subconscious.  That way, we don’t actually have to expend any effort to have nice thoughts.

So, there I was, thinking about where to go in central Florida in the middle of July when the temperatures have been above 90 F (32 C) and the humidity 100 % at sunrise and thunderstorms roll in on schedule by noon – when my really nice subconscious kicked in and said:  “Hey, you always find something of interest at the Circle B Bar Reserve.”  Okay, maybe it didn’t really speak to me, but I got the idea.  Although it’s not far from the house, the reserve is just far enough away from town that all you can hear out on the marsh is “nature”.  No traffic noise, no emergency sirens, no human-made sounds.  That sort of peace and quiet is hard to resist.  My subconscious was already feeding me memories of quiet sunrises, Limpkins calling, the deep bellowing of bullfrogs, a gentle breeze causing the Spanish Moss draped from old oak trees to sway in a seductive rhythm that beckons one further down a dark path.

I parked just inside the reserve entrance as I knew at this time of year “Marsh Rabbit Run”, near the visitor center, is closed due to alligator nesting.  From here, I could take “Windmill Whisper” around and connect with “Wading Bird Way” which crosses two holding ponds and is usually a good area to spot a variety of birds.  The stillness of the early morning was only broken by the methodical “whack” of a Pileated Woodpecker as it chiseled into a tree limb looking for breakfast.  Camera ready, pack on my back, water bottle handy, rubbed down with bug spray, boot laces tight – off we go.

As I rounded the first curve in the trail, two joggers bolted toward me and yelled out a hearty “Good Morning!”.  I returned the greeting, trying to avoid the feeling that they might have disturbed any bird life along the trail in front of me.  No worries.  It’s a wonderful, quiet day…..what the…..??  Two pickup trucks came up behind me and pulled over to the side of the trail just ahead.  Workmen scrambled into the bush and cranked up a bulldozer and a crane.  Apparently, they’re working to improve water flow in this area.  Sigh.  So much for the quiet morning.

I was fortunate to have a couple of hours of fairly uninterrupted hiking and really enjoyed seeing old friends of the marsh again.  I eventually made it to the main parking lot for a look around on other trails, however, tranquility had left for the day.  Tram tours were in full swing, two busloads of school children were being organized to hit the trails, more workers were trimming trees with chain saws and visitors were staking claims on picnic shelters and grills.

It was tempting to head home, but that subconscious whispered:  “Maybe it’s not so bad out on the trail.”  I succumbed to the temptation, finished a bottle of cool water and marched onward.  Glad I did.  Found a cooperative Barred Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker nest with young, baby turtles, young alligators and a host of other delights I would have missed had I gone home.

Hope you enjoy a few photographs of my morning in the marsh.

Butterflies appeared to be everywhere.  This is Florida’s official state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing.

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

A very common sight is the Gulf Fritillary.  Hard to miss with such a bright color!

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

The results of the breeding season were in ample evidence.  Here, a young Great Blue Heron learns patience is needed to secure breakfast.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Anhingas don’t have the oil gland other water birds have which keeps their feathers buoyant and they must spend a lot of time drying them in the sun.  As the Anhinga swims, its body is submerged and only its thin head and neck are visible.  This has earned him the nickname, “Snake Bird”.

Anhinga

Anhinga

Young Tricolored Herons show quite a bit of rusty coloration in their feathers which will disappear by fall.

Tricolored Heron (juvenile)

Tricolored Heron (juvenile)

A very loud, excited group of egrets and herons got my attention in time to catch a Bobcat slinking back into the marsh.

Bobcat

Bobcat

Little Blue Herons are all white when young and as their adult blue plumage grows they appear quite mottled.

Little Blue Heron (immature)

Little Blue Heron (immature)

The eerie cries of the Limpkin were fairly constant all morning.  This bird found a “two-for-one” sale at the snail store!  It appears the Limpkin took advantage of mating snails for a double treat.  It took him three minutes to open the snails, extract the meat and swallow the morsels.  All without any garlic butter.

Limpkin

Limpkin

Limpkin

Limpkin

A Great Southern White butterfly on a blade of grass dries its wings in the morning sun.

Great Southern White

Great Southern White

This American Bird Grasshopper is about two inches (5.08 cm) long.  I was surprised it held still long enough for a picture.

American Bird Grasshopper

American Bird Grasshopper

Female Boat-tailed Grackles are dull brown as opposed to the iridescent black of the male.

Boat-tailed Grackle (Female)

Boat-tailed Grackle (Female)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are abundant in our area and this one was feeding young ones in the nesting cavity.  I waited, hoping one of the kids would poke his head out but it didn’t happen.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Snowy Egrets hunt in shallow water, moving their large yellow feet through the mud to stir up any prey that might be there.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I had to include an American Alligator – I think it’s a Florida state law.  The population is healthy.

American Alligator

American Alligator

An adult Florida Red-bellied Turtle can reach a length of about 15 inches (38.1 cm).  The red marks on its carapace fade with age.  Compare this with the young one’s bright markings.

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle

Florida Red-bellied Turtle (juvenile)

Florida Red-bellied Turtle (juvenile)

I spotted this Barred Owl swooping down to the bank of a canal, probably for a frog, lizard or snake.  He flew away before I could get a picture.  About half an hour later, I found him perched on a tree branch, resting and preening.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Thanks to the amazing power of the mind, I now have more pleasant memories stored in the database, ready to be recalled when needed.  Tranquility, peace, quiet – they truly are a state of mind.

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

Additional Resources:

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

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

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

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