Posts Tagged With: yellow jessamine

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

Gray Day Full of Color

The wild and scenic Myakka River has its origins in northeast Manatee County and flows 66 miles to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico.  Fourteen miles of this river flow through Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks.  The park includes 37,000 acres of dry prairie, pine flatwoods, marshes, hammock, scrubby flatwoods, swamp, two lakes and the river itself.  There are over 39 miles of hiking trails and you can even walk in the tree tops!  The park is easily accessible from I-75 about 9 miles east of Sarasota.

I camped here as a kid along with a group of scouts a v-e-r-y long time ago.  It was here I began learning important life lessons in the sciences.  Such as physics.  When it’s raining outside and you touch the wet ceiling of a canvas tent, it will soon be raining inside.  I learned culinary arts information related to Florida cuisine and food preparation:  “sand is a condiment”.  My fascination with bird life had its roots during this trip when I discovered the Barn Owl does not produce a proper owl-like “hoot”, rather, it utters a noise more akin to deceased spirits who have returned to wreak vengeance upon young boys along a wilderness river bank in the middle of the night.

The park today bears little resemblance to the primitive sand banks I recall as a youth.  It’s a large, modern park with full facilities.  Getting off the beaten path is easy and there are plenty of experts available to help guide you to the type experience you want.

Gini and I spent several hours here yesterday and had a wonderful time.  It was a gray day, no rain and quite blustery.  I think the strong winds resulted in low numbers of waterfowl as Upper Myakka Lake was white-capped all day.  Despite the gray skies, our day was filled with color.  Yellows of wild flowers, warblers, turtle cheeks and legs of waders .  Pinks of Roseate Spoonbills.  Red shoulders of hawks and heads of vultures.  Bright black and white of warblers and butterflies.  Blues and  bright white of herons.

We encountered the official park greeters immediately after entering the park.  Turkey Vultures lingered around their roost, a few lifting off to test the strong wind currents.  We counted a little over 200 vultures by the end of our visit.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Roseate Spoonbills occupied a small watering hole where they were busy preening at the beginning of the day.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

The park is home to many types of wildlife, such as the White-tailed Deer.  This young doe didn’t let us interrupt her breakfast and only looked up briefly as the camera shutter clicked.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

One of our most abundant and visible winter visitors is the Palm Warbler.  They seem to be everywhere.  I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen one in — a palm tree!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

This Red-shouldered Hawk appeared to be actively hunting.  He dove into the grass just as I snapped this picture and then flew out of sight with no visible prey.  Hopefully, he had better luck as the morning progressed.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

An Osprey was more successful and takes home a catfish lunch for the family.

Osprey

Osprey

We ventured off the main road and were rewarded with a yellow wall of flowers.  The Yellow Jessamine is beautiful, but handle with care as the nectar is poisonous.

Yellow Jessamine

Yellow Jessamine

We found a small stream with turtles sunning on dead logs.  This big fellow was at least 15 inches (38.1 cm) long and 12 inches (30.5 cm) wide.  I’m by no means a turtle expert but I think this is a Florida Cooter.  Any positive identification would be welcome!

Turtle

Turtle

Since the day was cool and very windy, I was a bit surprised at the number of butterflies flitting about.  This handsome specimen is Florida’s state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing.

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

Warblers were busy in the treetops gathering insects.  We saw Palm, Yellow-rumped, Common Yellowthroat and Black and White warblers during the morning.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

We parked along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake to enjoy our sandwiches for lunch and were provided a floor show at no additional charge!  (That’s the cool thing about Nature, she usually has cheap entertainment!)  A flock of Double-crested Cormorants cruised back and forth along the shoreline following schools of fish.  They appeared to be in training for some sort of synchronized swimming competition.  The leader would dive under the water and was immediately followed by the rest of the flock in unison.  They would then all surface, most with a fish they tossed in the air and swallowed, and the whole thing would repeat.  It was great fun.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Another excursion through the woods opened into a large grassy plain bordered by a creek.  A Great Egret and Little Blue Heron added a nice touch of color to the bright green of the grass.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

We observed several Lesser Yellowlegs throughout the day along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake.  This fellow was very active at an  oxbow near the park entrance.  He was too busy to notice me sitting in the mud clicking away.

 

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

It was a good day made better by good company.  She sure puts up with a lot, all the time assuring me she likes it as much as I do.  I may keep her.

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

 

Additional Resources:

Myakka River State Park (Official State Site)

Friends of Myakka River State Park

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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