Posts Tagged With: white-crowned sparrow

Bosque del Apache – 2

“Look, I understand it isn’t your fault. The company should just make “options” which are truly “optional”. This providing “option packages” makes me pay for things I’ll never, ever use. That just isn’t fair. I mean, come on, I live in Florida!” –  Me, talking to automobile salesperson one year ago.

Fast forward. January 2018.

“I don’t know how much you paid extra, but these heated seats are worth every penny!” My son, after standing on the shore of a pond for a couple of hours with temperatures ranging from 14 to 20 F (-10 to -7 C), was enjoying the option I complained so bitterly about. Truth be told, I was enjoying it, too. My humble apologies to the salesperson to whom I so unfairly grumbled.

The Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes had disappeared from the South Crane Pool where they had staged for over an hour after sunrise. (See our previous post for details.) As feeling returned to our frozen limbs, we entered the “North Loop” of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (See Additional Information.) The drive winds through the refuge passing ponds, canals, woods, fields and a myriad of other habitats. A glance in any direction provides spectacular views of open expanses, mountains and wildlife. I saw birds which were new for me, familiar birds in unfamiliar settings, new mammals, different flora and shared it all with my son. Turns out, he’s a veritable “nature whisperer”, finding animals long before I spotted them.

Shortly after noon, we motored north of the refuge a couple of miles to the bustling metropolis of San Antonio, New Mexico. Chile peppers are an institution in New Mexico. Individual growers compete annually for bragging rights as to who has the best peppers in a given year. In most restaurants throughout the state, the only question your server has is: “Red or Green Sauce?”. We dined at The Owl Bar and Cafe. Great burger (yes, with chiles), great service. (See Additional Information.)

Fortified, we returned to the refuge and began a tour of the south loop. Lots to see but it was getting late and we wanted to try to catch geese and cranes settling in for the night. We found one pond already filled with Snow Geese and back at the South Crane Pool at sunset, a few Sandhill Cranes and ducks had plenty of space to stretch. Where the majority of cranes spent each night is a mystery.

The sun dropped behind the Chupadera Mountains and the temperature plunged rapidly. We headed for the hotel and located a very nice place to eat. After a review of the days images, a hot shower, a call to my sweetheart – I don’t remember actually laying down.

“Ready?”

My son heard his alarm before I heard mine. The “clock” whisperer. A new day awaits.

The fact that most of my images are of birds should not be surprising. The real surprise is that I have photographs of things OTHER than birds! (Okay, not very many. But I tried.)

 

In the world beyond the refuge, I could only dream of getting this close to so much wildlife. Case in point, a cooperative American Wigeon. Who knew they were so colorful?

Bosque Del Apache

 

A diminutive Ruby-crowned Kinglet displays his namesake. This is only the second time I’ve seen the red crown atop this quick little bird. Yes, the white stuff on the reeds is frost.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Well over 100 White-crowned Sparrows spread out across the refuge and flashed their bright heads from every bush in some areas.

Bosque Del Apache

 

A familiar bird, this Eastern Phoebe was “fluffed up” due to the cold. Strong early morning light on only one side of the bird gave it an ethereal look.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The Song Sparrow is not a common visitor in Florida, and only in the winter. It’s not very common here, either. This one had buried itself in a bush full of high-protein seeds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

See, no birds! I need more practice with this landscape stuff. Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of actually being there.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Okay, I TRIED not to include a bird in this one. To be fair, I didn’t know that Mallard was even in the picture until I returned home and processed it. Photobombed by a duck.

Bosque Del Apache

 

There are several sub-species of the Dark-eyed Junco, varying in appearance by region. I think this one is in the “Oregon” group.

Bosque Del Apache

 

My son was alerted by a junco who made a strange leap backward. He soon saw the reason. A Long-tailed Weasel  (Mustela frenata) had popped his head from his den. These small mammals don’t normally eat birds (tell that to the Junco) but are known for their ferocity. Hmmm, the guide says nothing about them not considering a snack of two-legged mammals …..

Bosque Del Apache

Bosque Del Apache

 

We see Northern Harriers in Florida during migration. Watching their owl-like head turn from side to side while flying over a marsh is special, no matter where one sees them.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Even in the middle of the day, large groups of Snow Geese filled the skies as they moved from one field to another.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Duck on ice. Sounds more like a menu selection than a caption for a photograph. A Northern Pintail seemed to have no problem getting around on the frozen surface.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The zoom lenses of an American Kestrel are superior to what I was using. A handsome male soon found another perch, away from nosy tourists.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Where we live in central Florida, one of the most numerous raptors is the Red-shouldered Hawk. Here in this southwestern locale, the larger Red-tailed Hawk seemed ubiquitous. Magnificent birds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Much smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, the slim Sharp-shinned Hawk speeds through the woods with abandon as he chases small songbirds. I rarely get to see one perched for very long.

Bosque Del Apache

 

One of North America’s smallest ducks, the male Bufflehead makes up in beauty what he lacks in size.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Snow Geese found their way to a pond we drove by and the setting was pretty spectacular to this flatlander.Bosque Del Apache

 

Darkness happens quickly in the mountains. The South Crane Pool only had a few cranes and ducks as the clouds reflected the last light of the sun for this day. This very special day.

Bosque del Apache

 

Desert, mountain, extreme cold, new birds, a surprise weasel, massive views, spicy food, someone to share it with – exhaustion. What will tomorrow offer?

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

 

Additional Information

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Owl Bar and Cafe

 

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Potato Eating Place

Windows. Holes in a building which invite air and light to come inside. Functional. They have the additional benefit of allowing us to gaze outside our buildings once in awhile. Some progressive architects and engineers realized that with conditioned air and artificial light, windows were obsolete as practical devices. So we have office buildings, factories, schools and dwellings with no hint of natural light intruding within or any chance of breathing fresh air and certainly no worry of an accidental breeze falling on one’s cheek. Peering out at the blue sky or catching sight of a tree – now, you wouldn’t want to be distracted would you?

Gini and I have been quite fortunate to have lived in several different locales over the past few decades. In each area we discovered unbelievable beauty and found some truly ugly sights as well. One of our most delightful discoveries was in a small village in Germany. Our search for a place to live took us to a cobblestone street lined with a hodgepodge of quaint cottages, whitewash-covered block buildings and combination storefront/dwellings. Each shared a common feature. Window boxes overflowing with a profusion of flowers. On the other side of the double-paned glass, sills were packed with all manner of containers stuffed with greenery. Ferns, ivies, begonias, orchids, cacti. All of this flora was typically framed in lacy looking curtains neatly pulled back as if each window was vying for some sort of prize. This street was not unique. More than once, we were gently informed the windows of a home reflected the character, or even the soul, of the inhabitants. Needless to say, we spent a fortune on pots and fertilizer during our stay!

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit a birding spot near the town of Apopka, Florida. In the center of the state, agriculture has long been a major source of economic activity here. It has alternately been dubbed the “Fern City” and “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World”. Growing conditions here in the sub-tropical climate are quite conducive to producing plants which thrive within buildings.

The town is adjacent to Lake Apopka, Florida’s third largest lake. Evidence indicates humans existed along the lake’s shore as long ago as 15 B.C. Since then, various Indian tribes have lived in the area, including the Seminole in the 1700-1800’s. The name “Apopka” likely comes from the Creek/Seminole words “Aha” (potato) and “Papka” (eating place). In the mid-1800’s, European settlers moved into the area with land grants from the government in exchange for developing the land. Many crops thrived and the area did well economically. Too well. Agricultural business developers saw the potential and over the next 100 years abused the land and in the 1970’s once-vibrant Lake Apopka was declared the country’s most polluted lake. Efforts to reclaim the lake have been successful. Today it is well on the way toward returning to one of the most beautiful and wildlife rich environments in the state.

The entire northwest shore of Lake Apopka has been turned into a system of hiking trails and years of sound management practices have resulted in this being a premier birding spot. Our trip today was motivated by recent sightings of two Groove-billed Ani, a little unusual for this location and it would be a life bird for me. Well, the Ani apparently had an appointment elsewhere, but as often happens, Nature offers outstanding consolation prizes for those who participate. We saw 55 species during a two mile walk and the special highlights include:  Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, White-crowned Sparrows, four Painted Buntings, what may be a migrant Western Red-tailed Hawk (immature) and a very uncommon (for this time and place) Nashville Warbler. On the way home, we stopped in at Lake Minneola in nearby Clermont and found several dozen Lesser Scaup, about a dozen Bufflehead and an assortment of terns and gulls to round out a spectacular day.

From lush agricultural paradise to pollution nightmare to reclamation success story – The Potato Eating Place is worth a visit any time!

The star of the show today was the diminutive but beautiful Nashville Warbler. (He’s supposed to be in Central America right now.)

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

 

A couple of migratory White-crowned Sparrows played hide-and-seek before finally consenting to give us a decent view.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

We heard the clear whistle of Eastern Towhees all day but only got a clear shot of this pretty female.

Eastern Towhee - Female

Eastern Towhee – Female

 

Eastern Towhee - Female

Eastern Towhee – Female

 

Male Painted Buntings are hard to miss. They look like they fell onto an artist’s palette and rolled around. The females are overall greenish in color and blend in with just about everything.

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male

 

This Red-tailed Hawk was quite different than what we normally encounter in central Florida and resembles images of young western species. No reddish color to the tail (typical of immature birds), heavily marked underparts, dark throat. A gorgeous raptor no matter where it came from!

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

A female Bufflehead was busily diving and I could only get one shot of her briefly resting on the surface. I’ve been trying for some time to get a decent shot of the handsome male. I’m still waiting – the males remained in the middle of the lake.

Bufflehead - Female

Bufflehead – Female

 

Lesser Scaup are Florida’s most numerous winter ducks. When the sun strikes their head the colors range from brown to green to purple.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

 

Forster’s Tern is sleek and fast. During breeding season their heads will be completely black.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

A Ring-billed Gull rests before continuing the hunt for lunch. These are second in numbers only to the Laughing Gull in our area.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

Our natural world is filled with wonderful things to experience. As a species, we continue to abuse our environment and once in awhile we succeed in reversing the process. Whether it’s a window box of flowers, a reclaimed wetland, a national park or just a “potato eating place” – find something beautiful in your life for which to be thankful.

 

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

 

Additional Information:

Northwest Lake Apopka Restoration Area

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – Lake Apopka, Clay Island

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – Lake Apopka, North Shore

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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