I truly enjoy watching my wife tackle an artistic endeavor. She analyzes what needs to be done, develops a plan of attack, gathers the necessary materials and then performs magic. At least, it’s magic to me. I possess no such talent for producing something beautiful from, literally, nothing but an idea. Whether she’s drawing or making a gift box decorated with paper flowers and doves, observing her while she’s creating is awe-inspiring.
That’s the way it is with someone who has knowledge or skills we may not. We envy that person, we wish we could do what they do, we are amazed at the results they achieve and we want to be around them in the hope some of that talent will transfer to us. Guess what? Sometimes it does. We may not reach their level of expertise, but just by hanging around such folks we almost can’t avoid learning something!
Sunday morning coffee was in a paper cup which imparted a unique flavor to my daily dose of caffeine. The truck zigzagged through the dark along a series of back roads en route to a pre-dawn rendezvous with two of Florida’s top birders. They would be characteristically too modest to agree with that description, but, hey, it’s my blog! One of them can hear a Scrub Jay whisper in a hurricane a half mile away. The other personally knows the address of every bird in the county and requires migrants to file a flight plan with him.
Today we intended to explore likely birding locales in Highlands County (we are all residents of Polk County, to the immediate north). As the sun broke the horizon, we squinted eastward across the surface of Lake Jackson in Sebring. About a dozen migrating Black Terns were actively feeding near the public boat ramp and picnic area. They have lost their black plumage and transitioned to non-breeding colors as they prepare to continue on to the Caribbean. A Belted Kingfisher was there and is also a migrant, but may stay in the area all winter.
Highlands Hammock State Park on the south side of Sebring consists of over 9,000 acres of oak and cypress hammock, swamp, black water creeks, pine forest and scrub. Hikes along a couple of different paths produced 9 warbler species, including a singing Louisiana Waterthrush, 4 woodpecker species, White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos, a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a Summer Tanager. Competing with the bird life were myriad insects, amphibians and reptiles.
After lunch (I can’t believe these guys stopped to eat), we explored a small park on the north side of Lake Istokpoga. We were greeted at the parking area by a half dozen calling Sandhill Cranes and another half dozen Black Vultures (who were just finishing lunch themselves-armadillo, I think). We found a colorful American Redstart, Tufted Titmice, a Great Crested Flycatcher and an adult and juvenile Purple Gallinule.
A short drive to the north and our noses alerted us we were nearing our objective, Bishop’s Dairy. The continually wet mud which cows seem to enjoy is home to millions of insects. Migratory shorebirds love this smorgasbord and we found a few Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers attending the banquet. In an isolated mud puddle, a Solitary Sandpiper bathed and chased his own meal around the water. Three dozen European Starlings, a couple dozen Cattle Egret, four dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mourning and Eurasian Collared Dove, White Ibises and a Loggerhead Shrike rounded out the attendees at the dairy buffet.
Just around the corner from the dairy is an area of extensive pasture land, low lying fields and scattered ponds. The abundant rain this summer has inundated most of this area and has attracted quite a variety of bird life. We counted over 100 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, many of which were juveniles. Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 80 Cattle Egret, two dozen White Ibis, 50 Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Sandhill Cranes, almost two dozen Yellowlegs, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 5 Loggerhead Shrikes and an American Kestrel, among others, were enjoying the abundance of food in these fields. We found a recently plowed field which hosted a couple of dozen Kildeer, Least Sandpipers and a half dozen Semipalmated Plovers. One of the highlights in this area was a “kettle” of vultures spiraling up into the blue sky.
As afternoon thunderstorms built up, we headed home, happy to have tallied over 80 species of birds for the day. My thanks to two companions who were generous with their knowledge and patient with an old dog still trying to learn a new trick or two. These guys aren’t just good birders, they are true gentlemen.
I managed a few snapshots during the day and have included a sampling in the hope you might share a bit of the experience we had.
Lake Jackson Area
Highlands Hammock State Park
The smaller spider is the male. Keeping his distance from his spouse!
This is the smallest toad species in North America with an average length of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).
Lake Istokpoga Park
Note how the parents station themselves at either end of the ducklings to stand watch.
As late afternoon thunderstorms build, Cattle Egret seek shelter, and so did we as we headed home.
I may not be any smarter just for hanging around smart people, but I do enjoy being around anyone who can lead me to over 80 species of birds in one day. And I do have my occasional strokes of genius. After all, I was smart enough to marry Gini over 45 years ago!
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.)