Posts Tagged With: white-tailed deer

Mining For Birds

“Beans.”

“You want beans for breakfast?”

“Yes.”

The night before a big adventure requires precision planning for maximum efficiency. Cell phones were charging, optics had been cleaned, fresh battery was inserted into the camera, memory cards formatted, wardrobe laid out and now Gini was confirming the arrangements for provisions.

As any school child can tell you, breakfast is THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY! I wasn’t going to risk running out of energy mid-morning due to an insufficient morning meal.

“Exactly what kind of beans do you want?”

“The usual.”

I could hear her eyes roll heavenward from the living room. “You’re impossible.”

I guess that means I will be brewing my own coffee in the morning.

 

We were headed south to Hardee County, adjacent to our home county of Polk in west central Florida. It was dark but the weatherman promised “chamber of commerce” weather for the day. That worried me.

Our arrival at Hardee Lakes Park coincided nicely with sunrise. No clouds, pleasant temperature and – wind. Very gusty wind from the south. At dawn. Small birds are going to be a challenge to find today.

This park was mined for phosphate beginning in 1980 and reclamation of the land started by the end of the decade. After restoring the land and allowing the area to remain unused, the phosphate company donated 1200 acres to Hardee County in 2001 for a recreation area. The park opened in 2004 and today visitors can enjoy fishing in four lakes, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping and picnicking. Oh, and birding! The park is well maintained and the staff is very friendly and helpful.

Park roads are unimproved but the main roads are in good shape. You can drive around three of the four lakes, but be careful as there can be deep ruts and holes hidden by grass and it can be dicey after periods of rain. There are several trails and a boardwalk through a wetland.

We have always had a terrific experience here and today was no exception.

The day began with dozens of warblers at our first stop. Yellow-rumped, Palm, Pine – scooping up insects in the tree tops and moving en masse from oaks to pines and back again. (They were undeterred by the gusty winds.)

American White Pelicans flew overhead moving from their nightly roosts toward lakes to the north where they would spend the day feeding. Bald eagles crashed through the lake’s surface and emerged with fresh fish in their talons. Noisy Killdeer scooted along a gravel road chasing grasshoppers. Eastern Phoebes and Loggerhead Shrikes sallied forth from elevated perches to hawk flying insects. White-tailed Deer grazed in the park and have become somewhat accustomed to humans. Gray and Southern Fox Squirrels foraged under trees and scampered to a high branch as we approached. The morning was punctuated by the eerie call of the Limpkin and trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes.

All of a sudden, it was lunchtime! How did that happen? We just got here!

Gini’s selection of chicken and fruit was perfect. Just like our day.

 

“Butcher Bird” or Loggerhead Shrike uses that curved beak to grab a dragonfly, moth, grasshopper or even a lizard. Often, the prey is impaled on a thorn or barbed wire fence to make it easier to consume.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A young White-tailed Deer buck knows he is within the park boundary where hunting is not permitted. Otherwise, we likely would never see him in the open.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Pine Warblers can vary from very drab to very bright yellow. Their white wing bars and face patterns help in identification.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Like the Pine, Palm Warblers can also appear quite plain or show a lot of yellow. The constantly pumping tail gives it away even at a distance.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Small, fast and hungry. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers will fly to a low branch to examine you closely then, poof, they’re back in the top of that tree to resume the snack search.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, is not only wonderful to listen to, but is pretty nice looking, too!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Bright yellow with dark streaks on its sides and distinctive face pattern describe a Prairie Warbler. This one was focused on a bug in a bush and let me get fairly close.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Female Black-and-White Warblers are paler than the male with a gray instead of black cheek. Both think they belong to the Nuthatch family as they run headfirst down a tree trunk or explore the underside of a branch.

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

I had a glimpse of a Limpkin here five years ago and never saw another until today. I was beginning to think they were avoiding me.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Typical of former mining pits, all four lakes at Hardee Lakes Park are quite deep for Florida lakes. Double-crested Cormorants don’t mind diving for their dinner and they thrive here.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Although they can dive deep, the small Pied-billed Grebe would just as soon grab her lunch nearer the surface when possible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Long legs, double breast bands, orange eyes – the Killdeer runs, stops, runs, stops – until he nabs a bug. Then he does it all over again. Noisily.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Yellow-rumped Warblers have a split personality. There are two sub-species: “Myrtle” Warbler of the eastern U.S. has a white throat, yellow sides and yellow rump. “Audubon’s” Warbler of the west has a yellow throat, yellow sides and yellow rump. Here in Florida we occasionally see “Audubon’s” during migration.

Hardee Lakes Park

“Myrtle” Warbler

Just looking at her makes my arm hurt. Horse Fly (Tabanus atratus). From 0.75-1.25 inches long (1.9-3.18 cm). Avoid!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Winter means we get to enjoy that dedicated hunter, the Eastern Phoebe. They are plentiful and beautiful and we will be sad when they all head north in the spring.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Bald Eagles are common throughout our area since central Florida has so many lakes. Also, migration adds to the number of these magnificent raptors. Resident birds are busy with courtship and nesting now through January. Today we enjoyed watching adult and immature birds soar and fish.

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature

Also concentrating on courtship, territorial battles and nest building are many water bird species. This Great Blue Heron is circling around to rejoin two other herons. We couldn’t determine if the ongoing kerfuffle was courtship or territory related.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Sandhill Crane siesta includes taking time to preen all those long feathers.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Southern Fox Squirrel nibbles a piece of mushroom in the shade of a pine tree by the lake side.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Around the shoreline of the lakes were vast patches of bright Bur-marigold (Bidens laevis). No, I didn’t pack a wide-angle lens. Sigh. It was still a lovely sight.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we exited the park, I saw some movement in a large oak tree and discovered a Pileated Woodpecker seemingly with his hair on fire.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

We are blessed to have such places to visit within an easy ride from the house. Our thanks to the forward-thinkers a few decades ago who planned for reclaiming this formerly very ugly mining area and transforming it into a haven for those who love nature.

Whew! What a day! I am SO glad I began the morning with a cup of beans for breakfast. Ground up. Hot water poured over them. Sipped slowly. Ahhhh.

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

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park – Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

In Our Comfort Zone

“Okay to have lunch at the usual spot?” A bit elevated, we can find a shady place to park near the wetlands boardwalk which offers a nice view of two lakes. As we pulled off the dirt road, my Chief Navigator astutely announced:  “This isn’t gonna work. The windows are already covered with bugs!” We were faced with leaving the windows rolled up, keep the air-conditioner on and eat our lunch in a cocoon – or find a different location. Gini suggested Option Number Two. (Okay, it may not have been an actual suggestion. More like just a “look”. But, it was “THE LOOK”. We found a very nice alternate spot.)

The large number of insects which disrupted our lunch plans were what we native Floridians call “Blind Mosquitoes”, actually the adult stage of freshwater midges in the family Chironomidae. The good news is they don’t bite, sting or suck your blood. The bad news is they occur in such huge numbers that when encountered they plug up your eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth – eating a sandwich is virtually impossible.

Earlier, we had entered Hardee Lakes Park not long after sunrise and had been leisurely exploring the shorelines of the park’s four lakes and adjacent woods and wetlands. We were hoping to catch early migrating passerines. Alas, no luck in that department. The park did, however, offer its usual array of bugs, birds and blooms as well as some surprises.

This 1200 acre county park has been one of our favorite places to visit for several years. About an hour from the house, it has four lakes which were formerly phosphate mining pits but have been reclaimed for over 20 years and provide excellent fishing and wildlife habitat. (I am concerned that recent efforts to manage the park may be bordering on the “too much of a good thing” department. Killing of vegetation around the lakes’ shorelines has resulted in severe reduction of potential cover and nesting sites for water birds.) A diverse environment of water, wetlands, hardwood and conifer forest and open grassy areas make this a great destination for birders at any time of year.

Our familiarity with the park, knowing what birds are resident, anticipation of seasonal migrants and the fact we almost always find something unexpected will keep us coming back for more. We just hope the county’s efforts to lure more campers, hold community events (e.g., “mud runs”) and the aforementioned temptation to over-manage the natural resources won’t result in long-term negative results for folks like us who think selfishly. (We don’t like sharing our outdoors with anybody!).

Not many bird images this trip. Many avian residents are dealing with new family members and molting. As a result, they were pretty shy. No worries! Plenty to see here for those willing to look.

 

This immature Sandhill Crane will soon look like Mom. We heard two families trumpeting back and forth throughout the morning.

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature Sandhill Crane

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult Sandhill Crane

 

One of Florida’s most abundant yellow butterflies is the Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa). The male is sparsely marked below. Typically, views of the bright yellow upper wings are rare except when in flight.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is common in the state and its various stages of growth offer quite different appearances.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As with many dragonflies, male and female Four-spotted Pennants (Brachymesia gravida) may not look at all alike.

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

 

Even authoritative field guides admit it’s often difficult to identify members of the Duskywing butterfly family. I’m going out on a limb and stating this is Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), based on the above wing markings and white behind the eyes.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) had been as busy as – well – a bee, collecting pollen and storing it in a leg pouch. Inquiring minds will want to know that pouch is called a “corbicula” and only occurs on the hind tibiae of the female.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

This is not Hawaii. To my knowledge, there are no beets grown within Hardee Lakes Park. Imagine our astonishment, then, to find a Hawaiian Beet Webworm Moth (Spoladea recurvalis) feeding right at our feet! Turns out the larvae of this moth and two others closely related can cause quite a bit of damage to leafy green crops. In Florida, this species is sometimes called the Spinach Moth and is not usually abundant. It is found worldwide.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers brought a few pigs with them to serve as a food source while they explored Florida’s peninsula. They didn’t take them back when they left. Today the state has a feral pig problem. The animals occur in all 67 of the state’s counties. Rooting with their broad snouts can leave vast tracts looking like a plowed field, destroys vegetation and disturbs topsoil. They can be hunted and trapped (with landowner permission) without a license or permit and there is no limit on how many may be harvested. This group was oblivious to my presence. (There were an additional eight individuals nearby.)

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly is, at first glance, similar to the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and like its cousin can taste bitter to predators. The bad taste is believed to be due to this species’ preference for milkweed plants as hosts for their larva.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Also called Lance-leafed Arrowhead and Duck Potato, Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia) is very common in our area. The corms (underground rhizomes) are about the size of chestnuts and supposedly are edible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Grass-skippers are small, vary in color from brown to dull orange and fly very erratically. Did I mention they can be difficult to identify? I’m pretty sure this one is a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), but if anyone has a correction, I’d welcome another opinion!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we rounded a curve, we spotted a family of White-tailed Deer in a clearing. We were blessed to be able to observe as a gentle rain fell and a mother took care of her new fawns.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

It’s exciting to discover new places to explore, but returning to a familiar location which has become “comfortable” has its own rewards. Find your own comfort zone and visit as often as possible.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park, Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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