Posts Tagged With: wood duck

Open To The Public

Not too long ago, a friend asked about a visit to a local area where I reported observing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and over 3,000 American White Pelicans. I confirmed those species and proudly talked about other unique birds I had seen during the same outing. He was quite excited as there were three species he had been striving to find in Florida and had been unsuccessful. I felt like a cad. Now I had to break it to him that this was a trip on land not open to the public. At the time, I felt  privileged to be asked to assist in a survey of bird life within this newly developed wetland. Little did I realize how bad I would later feel telling people they couldn’t visit the area.

Karma.

About a month after the above trip, I noted a report of several Burrowing Owls not too far away. My inquiry was met with, “Sorry, they were all on private land.”

Gini and I have been very fortunate to have traveled a modest amount during our time together. The nice thing about having a partner who is happy and positive all the time (yes, she wakes up smiling), is you just know something good is close by almost all the time. When we moved to a new area, we learned to explore close to home first and gradually expand our adventures. What a happy surprise to discover there are usually wonderful things within a stone’s throw of your front door.

Birding has been like that. It’s really exciting to visit a well-known “hotspot” and it’s not hard to figure out why these places are so popular. Plenty of birds! Also, plenty of birders! So we have tried to remember our early experiences and we seek out local parks to see what they have to offer. What we have found is that there are many birding “warmspots” that are all too easy to drive by as one speeds to the well-advertised “hotspots”! These local parks have something else that is missing from the more popular venues. A slower pace. I’m not worried about rushing to the “third tree on the left under the boat dock crouched under a lily pad” bird and getting in a line of sort-of birders who are more akin to contact sport athletes. Instead, I can leisurely walk around on a nicely constructed pathway, say “Good Morning” to a Mom pushing a stroller, admire the fortitude of runners perspiring profusely, take in the aroma of a grilled picnic lunch and still compile a respectable list of birds and perhaps even take a photograph or two.

Two days last month were spent visiting three such public parks. Relaxing, exciting and fun. What more could a very casual bird-watcher want?

 

Athletic fields have very tall poles atop which are mounted lights atop which are often found raptors searching for a meal. This American Kestrel has a great view from up there!

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

A large oak tree branch displayed the remains of what I think was a White Ibis. The lunch buffet was very fresh and a look around revealed a Bald Eagle skulking within the framework of tall utility line support structure. I’m not saying he was guilty, but he WAS near the scene of the dine……..

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Anhingas are common in our area and they use any available perch that’s open to the sun and wind to dry their feathers. Unlike other waterfowl, they secrete no oils to help them remain water-proof and could drown if unable to keep their feathers dry.

Patterson Park

 

A Double-crested Cormorant and Peninsula Cooter appear to be exchanging opinions as they share a convenient log.

Patterson Park

 

An important pollinator in our ecosystem, the Sweat Bee is so named for its attraction to the salt in human perspiration. Only the females sting and it hurts less than a Honeybee. There are over 49 species of Sweat Bee, including the one below, a Green Sweat Bee.

Patterson Park

 

For some reason, city planners feel the need to “enhance” local park lakes with exotic waterfowl, often with unfortunate results for native species. Some common city critters encountered are swans of all types. I guess, to a bureaucrat, bigger is better. This is a Black Swan, a native of Australia. The male Black Swan’s red eyes turn white during breeding season.

Lake Morton

 

Mute Swans originated in Europe and Asia and are the most common captive swans in North America.

Lake Morton

 

The Black-necked Swan is from South America and cannot survive very cold weather. They are more likely than other swan species to carry young on their backs.

Lake Morton

 

Widely held to be the ancestor of all domestic geese in North America, the Graylag Goose (Anser anser) is a large bulky bird and it is common to encounter a variety of plumages from all white to mostly gray. Hybrids are frequent. In many areas of the United States it is simply referred to as a “Barnyard Goose”.

Lake Morton

 

Ruddy Ducks visit our area only during migration but can sometimes be seen in fair numbers on larger bodies of water. Occasionally, we’ll see the male still in his breeding plumage of chestnut, white face and blue bill. (Below is a female.)

Lake Morton

 

Larger than the small Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Ducks also appear in the fall and many remain through the winter. In good light, the male’s head and neck appear iridescent.

Lake Morton

 

For sheer gaudiness, nothing compares to our native Wood Duck! Looks like an artist’s palette gone wild. Okay, gaudy but beautiful.

Lake Morton

 

At the other extreme of the color spectrum is the plain brown Limpkin. Plenty of apple snails in most public lakes attract these ancient-looking waders into the city.

Lake Morton

 

Good looking in its own right, the Common Gallinule is still confused as to why the “experts” changed his name (again) from Moorhen. Me, too.

Lake Morton

 

If you get a chance to look for rare birds on private land, go for it! Visit a popular birding “hotspot” whenever you can. For a relaxing day walking among familiar birds in a comfortable setting, check out the city park. You might be surprised at what you can find.

 

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

 

(Hah! You thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? Not yet.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Springing Into Action !

Each season of the year offers something wonderful for us all to enjoy. Summer conjures up images of a trip to the beach or the cool mountains and backyard barbeques. Autumn means a riot of color in the woods and migrating birds to observe. As winter approaches, those blessed with mounds of snow to play in look forward to the cleansing effect the white stuff seems to have and marvel at all the tracks left by unseen creatures in a favorite tract. Springtime. Ahh, that most special time of the year we each await with utmost anticipation. Dew time. Specifically, Honeydew time. “Honey, dew the yard!” “Honey, dew the windows!” “Honey, dew the gutter cleaning!” “Honey, dew the taxes!”

Huh? Wait a minute. That’s not where I meant to go with this……..

Springtime. Ahh, there are birds out there flying north and others are building nests and some are already having babies for goodness’ sake! We must act now! Lists must be made! Pictures must be taken! Data must be compiled! Reports must be sent! More importantly, we need more time together.

(Pretty hard to argue with that last one, right?)

As our Spring has sprung in earnest around here, we’ve really been getting out a lot. The last blog was a compilation of several spots visited and this one will be the same. The time period covered is about ten days. Places visited are all in central west Florida and include: Lake Bonny Park (Lakeland), Paynes Creek Historic State Park (Bowling Green), Peace River Hammock (Fort Meade), Sumter County (several back roads, no specific place), West Lake Wales Road (near Lake Wales airport) and Hardee Lakes Park (Bowling Green). Some of the above were new to us and others were return visits to old friends.

Come on! Put a Spring in your step! Let’s go!

 

A pair of Turkey Vultures found a bench they like. Sort of reminds me of a couple of birders I know……

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

 

Loggerhead Shrikes may already have a nest nearby, but they weren’t telling.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

It’s easy to overlook the beauty of a Boat-tailed Grackle as they are usually numerous, loud and behave like bullies.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

 

Our Florida state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, is very adaptable and will make a home near human habitation or in the remotest part of the state. And sing happily about it non-stop!

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

 

Gini insisted we take what looked like a maintenance road around a cypress hammock and (as usual) she was absolutely right. A Barred Owl looked up at our approach, decided we weren’t a threat and continued his deep sleep with a big sigh.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

 

Not far from the above owl was a Great Horned Owl on a nest. We didn’t want to get too close and disturb the egg sitting duties so we snapped a few distant photos and quietly retreated.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 

Yellow Jessamine blooms were in profusion. Taking pictures is preferred but if you decide to pick a flower or grab a branch be certain to wash your hands well as the sap is poisonous.

Yellow Jessamine

Yellow Jessamine

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron expressed his displeasure at my presence on his stretch of shoreline.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

This Little Blue Heron didn’t care who was nearby as he was too busy concentrating on a potential meal to be disturbed.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

Florida Tickseed is a variety of Coreopsis, which includes the Florida state wildflower.

Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana)

Florida Tickseed (Coreopsis floridana)

 

The Common Mullein is an introduced species and can grow over six feet tall. Parts of the plant have been used as herbal remedies (but don’t take my word for it – research first!). I thought the colors and patterns of the small flowers were special.

Common Mullein (Verbascum rhapsus)

Common Mullein (Verbascum rhapsus)

 

Northern Shovelers will soon be “shoveling” off for their breeding homes further north. The male is striking in coloration and the oversized bill is unique.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

 

Although many Northern Parulas migrate through our area, we also have a resident population which remains year-around and breeds. This one thought he was hidden in the shade.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

Another winter visitor is the Vesper Sparrow. He will often fly up to an exposed perch, unlike most of his little brown brethren who dive into the grass and run away.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

 

Pretty soon, our area will be devoid of tail-wagging Palm Warblers, which is hard to believe, since they just about form a carpet around here during the winter. They will exchange their relatively drab plumage for much brighter yellow underparts and vibrant chestnut streaks and caps.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

 

This Downy Woodpecker probed around and around this small pine tree so fast I got dizzy just watching it.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

 

Such a flimsy-looking nest for the large White-winged Dove! I couldn’t believe she intended to actually lay eggs in it!

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove

 

Even in the dense fog, there is no mistaking the profile and colors of a Wood Duck.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 

A tremendous splashing near the shore of a lake followed by several alarm calls of herons and egrets led me to investigate. I was surprised to encounter a Coyote! They usually skulk about at night and keep their distance from us two-legged critters. Fortunately, he took one look at me and almost turned himself inside out running away. (I have that effect on a lot of people, too.)

Coyote

Coyote

 

Ospreys are large birds and require large nests in which to raise their families. This fellow seems intent on having the biggest and strongest place in the neighborhood!

Osprey

Osprey

 

Any dental hygienist would praise the fine condition of these teeth. This proud Mama ‘gator was surrounded by her family (I counted a total of 14 “children”). For a little perspective, the “baby” alligators in the second image ranged from about 12 inches to about 3 feet long. I estimate Mama at over ten feet (>3 meters). (Did I mention being grateful for telephoto lenses?)

Since alligator eggs typically hatch in late summer and fall, the smallest of this group is probably about 5-6 months old and the largest (about a 3-footer in the right of the photo) is likely around three years old.

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Green Herons are expert hunters and exhibit incredible patience. It seems their beak moves towards its target so slowly at first and then the strike happens so fast we can’t see it.

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

These Florida Peninsula Cooters have found a nice dry log on which to catch a little sunshine. Their maximum length is about 15 inches and I think these were close to that.

Florida Peninsula Cooter

Florida Peninsula Cooter

 

From my resting place along the grassy bank, it was easy to see how the Peace River got its name.

Peace River

Peace River

 

I’m afraid Gini almost went through the windshield when I “vigorously” applied the brakes after spotting this year’s first Burrowing Owl. The image is poor due to the distance involved and because it was my first attempt at taking a photograph through my new spotting scope. We didn’t see a mate and couldn’t quite tell if it was adjacent to a burrow. We’ll keep checking on it as the season progresses.

Burrowing Owl (Digiscoped)

Burrowing Owl (Digiscoped)

 

As I was scanning the pasture where we found the owl above, I found a new “life bird”! Two Whooping Cranes were feeding among the cattle. These are an endangered species and these two individuals are part of an experimental group breeding in central Florida. All of these birds have large yellow leg markers and each is equipped with a radio transmitter so biologists can track their movements.

West Lake Wales Road

Whooping Crane

 

 

There was no doubt this Paper Wasp was watching my every move as it attended a new larva. I respected its desire for privacy and backed away – quickly.

Paper Wasp

Paper Wasp

 

Red-winged Blackbirds are pairing up, males are singing, nest sites are being scouted and the marsh is a noisy place!

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Female)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

Red-winged Blackbird (Male)

 

Butcher Bird! That’s the alias of the Loggerhead Shrike (as well as other shrikes around the world). These birds will often impale their prey (insects/lizards) on a small branch, thorn or barb of a fence and eat it piecemeal. Sometimes, you’re just hungry and don’t feel like a formal dining experience. That was the case with this guy as he swallowed the Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus sp.) so fast I missed the picture!

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

It’s an exciting time outdoors! So, “dew” yourself a favor and “Spring” into action! Don’t forget to have fun!

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

 

 

Additional Resources

Lake Bonny Park

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Peace River Hammock

Hardee Lakes Park

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: