Black-necked Stilt

Himantopus mexicanus is a small-bodied but somewhat tall shorebird which inhabits shallow wetlands looking for small invertebrates. Found in both fresh and salt water habitats, the average adult is about 14 inches (37 cm) long, mostly black above and white below. It’s long, spindly rosy-pink legs give the bird its name.

 

“But stilts are essentially waders; for wading they are highly specialized, and here they show to best advantage. At times they seem a bit wabbly on their absurdly long and slender legs, notably when trembling with excitement over the invasion of their breeding grounds. But really they are expert in the use of these well-adapted limbs, and one can not help admiring the skillful and graceful way in which they wade about in water breast deep, as well as on dry land, in search of their insect prey. The legs are much bent at each step, the foot is carefully raised and gently but firmly planted again at each long stride. The legs are so long’ that when the bird is feeding on land it is necessary to bend the legs backward to enable the bill to reach the ground.”  – Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life History of the Black-necked Stilt, Smithsonian Institution, monographs published 1920-1950

 

Gini and I have delighted over the years anytime we have encountered this delicate-looking bird. One of our more memorable observations was watching a group of around a dozen stilts on a brisk windy day along the Texas coast at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. Nesting season was approaching and territories were being staked out and defended, noisily. Birds were flapping, flying, feeding, napping – little clouds of black, white and pink all across the salt marsh. Fantastic!

As part of a Florida breeding bird atlas, I was privileged to observe one nesting site containing over 130 nests contained within less than one acre of ground. Another day of discovery by boat located a nesting pair of stilts in a small lake with eggs on a bare patch of mud.

Whether flying, nesting, feeding or sleeping – these frail-looking birds with such long legs continue to be fascinating!

 

Nap time.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1000, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @500mm

 

Stilt eggs.

Lake Lowery

1/400, f/11, ISO 800, Nikon D7000, Nikkor  70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @300mm

Lake Lowery

1/400, f/11, ISO 800, Nikon D7000, Nikkor  70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @300mm

 

Immature stilt.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1250, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @420mm

 

Adult Black-necked Stilt.

Lake Gwyn Park

1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 1800, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

 

Size comparison with Great Egret. About 14 inches (37 cm) for the stilt to about 40 inches (100 cm) for the egret.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1000, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @460mm

 

Lake Lowery

1/800, f/11, ISO 720, Nikon D7000, Nikkor  70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @300mm

Circle B Bar Reserve

1/3200, f/8, ISO 1000, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @550mm

San Bernard NWR

1/1000, f/8, ISO 250, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

1/3200, f/8, ISO 900, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @420mm

Lake Gwyn Park

1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 3600, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

San Bernard NWR

1/1250, f/11, ISO 1400, Nikon D750, Tamron 150-600 @600mm

 

 

If you’re lucky enough to live where Black-necked Stilts can be found, try to spend a little time observing them. Pack a lunch. They can be addictive.

 

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

BBC

No, not the prestigious communications company.

“Birding By Car”.

Three weeks ago, with all of our parks and managed natural resource areas closed to humans, Gini and I scarcely missed a beat. Our routine birding adventures include rambling along country roads enjoying open spaces and fresh air. Occasionally, we even spot a few birds.

On this particular occasion, SWMBO* requested a “ride in the country”. Perfect! The first week of May means many species of birds are fully engaged in mating mode. Singing, dancing, nest building. I had been hoping to check on Burrowing Owls in Hardee County, about an hour-and-a-half to our south. Gini agreed it was a brilliant idea.

One of the advantages of leaving the house at Oh-Dark-Thirty is missing the high volume of traffic which begins about an hour later. Forty-five minutes of driving, the sky is gradually beginning to lighten and we make a brief stop at the coffee emporium of a small town. (Yes, it WAS a McDonald’s.) Fortified with caffeine, I bravely turned eastward 30 minutes later to face the bright rising sun.

Cool morning air flowed through the open windows, patches of ground fog hugged low places in surrounding pastures and along Charlie Creek. White-tailed Deer, Wild Turkey and Fox Squirrels were beginning their day. Our destination was just ahead.

Turning south, we were on a public road which was rough and unpaved until two years ago. The new asphalt certainly was an improvement in the comfortable ride department! We pulled off the road almost immediately as Gini spotted movement in the brambles. With the engine off, we could hear White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Parula and Red-bellied Woodpecker in a wooded area. The movement Gini spotted suddenly flew some distance and buried itself deep into the weeds. A beautiful male Common Yellowthroat!

Most of the habitat is open pasture and a couple of citrus groves. Two large dairies operate here and the pastures are pockmarked with ponds for cattle and canals connecting them. Very attractive for many birds! Since virtually all of the land is private, BBC is the perfect strategy.

We moved along the road another 50 yards and pulled off again. On the east side of the road, a small wet area harbored a few clucking Common Gallinules and a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds, likely with a nest in the dense reeds. Wading in the shallow water, a pair of Sandhill Cranes instinctively moved away from us. We could hear more cranes in the distance but out of sight. On a fence post a Red-shouldered Hawk alternately preened and scanned the damp ground for breakfast.

The remainder of the morning followed the same pattern: drive a few yards, pull over, see birds. It took us about four hours to cover less than ten miles. Another advantage of BBC, the vehicle serves as a blind. Birds are skittish as we approach but are quick to settle down and return when they don’t see any more movement, as they would if we were hiking the area. And there’s a coffee cup holder.

We reached a bridge over a creek (almost dry as we’ve had no rain) which was our turnaround point. About a dozen Sandhill Cranes were feeding in a grove of oak trees, trumpeting loudly as new birds joined the group. These are almost certainly migratory birds (Grus canadensis). During migration, groups of these cranes numbering more than four or five are likely winter visitors. The Florida Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) is a sub-species endemic to Florida and tend to remain in small family groups for at least their first year.

Highlights of our BBC morning included a migrating flock of about three dozen Bobolinks, Red-headed Woodpeckers and a Crested Caracara which Gini spotted while I was trying to get a Bobolink to pose.

We meandered back to the main highway along yet another back road and came across a section of pine trees where we counted at least eight Red-headed Woodpeckers chasing each other, likely a mating/territorial event. Singing in the distance was a Bachman’s Sparrow and perched on a fence near the car was a Great Crested Flycatcher.

We found no Burrowing Owls today but our BBC adventure was extremely satisfying!

 

All fluffed up and ready to face the sunrise. A Red-shouldered Hawk ignored us as he continued to preen and watched for a careless frog.

10 Mile Grade

 

I couldn’t manage to get good images, but any sighting of a Red-headed Woodpecker is welcome! The species continues to decline primarily due to loss of habitat.

10 Mile Grade

Fish Branch Road

 

Eurasian Collared-Dove were quite common five or six years ago but have become harder to locate in more populated areas. Their “invasion” appears to have moved north and west of here in the past few years.

10 Mile Grade

 

A Sandhill Crane forages for brunch. The “rusty” colored plumage is likely due to diet and during late summer molting will renew the overall gray look.

10 Mile Grade

 

Throughout the morning, the wonderful serenade of Eastern Meadowlarks drifted through the windows.

10 Mile Grade

 

With several ponds and canals in the pastures, Bald Eagles are fairly common.

10 Mile Grade

 

Frustrated is how I ended up feeling after attempting photographs of Bobolinks. These poor samples were the best I could manage. Sigh.

10 Mile Grade

10 Mile Grade

 

The state of Florida is re-opening most state parks and many counties and cities are following suit with local parks. It will be wonderful to visit old feathered friends again! However, we will still use our tried and true method of exploration:  BBC!

(The Burrowing Owl appearing in the header is from a few years ago at this same location.)

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

 

*(She Who Must Be Obeyed)

Now that I have your attention, hope you are all well today. We are.

About two weeks ago, we escaped went out for a bit of fresh air and found ourselves on the edge of the Green Swamp.

In a recent post, Brian at  Butterflies To Dragsters described the sensation of our local swamp perfectly:  “The rich, dank smell of bog, ditch, mud and water plants is nicer than the finest perfume.”

Never mind our two “bogs” are over a thousand miles apart, the sensation is identical. (Visit Brian’s blog to see beautiful dragons, butterflies and more.)

Florida’s Green Swamp covers a lot of area, over 560,000 acres (+226,000 Ha) in central Florida. Four major rivers begin life here from underground springs: Hillsborough, Ocklawaha, Peace and Withlacoochee. Much of central Florida’s water supply comes from these rivers.

The relatively small area we explored is about 30 miles north of the house and is accessed from logging roads which can vary in condition from not-so-bad to impassable. As the landscape transforms from upland pine forest to cypress swamp, a small wetland offers ideal habitat for many insect species. Our recent visit was during the last week of April and stepping out of the vehicle was exhilarating! Not only did we experience Brian’s olfactory description but we were also overwhelmed with an extravaganza of color as myriad flowers of all sizes bloomed around us. All of this dampness and blooming attracted a host of potential pollinators.

A lazy drive took us deeper into the swamp where we enjoyed the rhythmic hammering of a Pileated Woodpecker, singing Northern Parula Warblers from every direction, Eastern Bluebirds carrying nesting material, expanses of lush green ferns and a river crossing. The Little Withlacoochee River barely flows along under an old wooden bridge and herons, egrets and hawks perch above the dark tannin-stained water.

Another perfect day.

 

The brightest dragonfly in our area is not a native. The Scarlet Skimmer  (Crocothemis servilia) was introduced near Miami in the mid-1970’s and has now become fairly common in central/south Florida.

Richloam WMA

 

Replete with racing stripes and blue eyes, the male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) is ready to race away in pursuit of a bug breakfast.

Richloam WMA

 

Shimmering gold wings with a distinct pattern help identify the Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina).

Richloam WMA

 

Not a fire-breathing dragon, but we couldn’t ignore the beautiful and plentiful White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) butterfly.

Richloam WMA

Richloam WMA

 

I couldn’t manage a decent photograph but this Gray-green Clubtail (Arigomphus pallidus) is a new species for us. We’ll return soon to see if we can find a more cooperative model.

Richloam WMA

 

One of our more common dragons, often seen patrolling the edges of roads in great numbers, a Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina) posed briefly.

Richloam WMA

 

Golden-edged wings and light dorsal stripe help identify a female Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami). Hard to believe the male is more colorful. Perhaps we’ll find one on the next visit.

Richloam WMA

 

Ladies’ day continued with a cooperative female Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea). Again, maybe next time we’ll spot the purple-hued male.

Richloam WMA

 

A reminder for would-be dragon hunters: remember to look up once in awhile. Something may be hunting YOU! A young Bald Eagle, thankfully, prefers a fish dinner.

Richloam WMA

 

The humble Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) seeking nectar and spreading pollen.

Richloam WMA

 

Thistles in bloom mean bugs galore! The blooms of these prickly plants certainly attract an amazing array of insects. Bumble Bees (Bombus spp.) were the main actors in the group of thistles we found today.

Richloam WMA

 

A shiny metallic blue Mason Bee (Osmia Chalybea) found plenty to like among the purple threads.

Richloam WMA

 

Purple Thistle (Cirsium horridulum).

Richloam WMA

 

We enjoyed our hunt for dragons on the edge of the swamp. As all of us proceed through uncertain times, step outside if you’re able and marvel at what nature offers. Better days are just around the bend.

 

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

 

Additional Information

The Green Swamp

Spring Rewind

Within the gradually dimming recesses of my memory I recall a spring camping trip in Lincoln National Forest, near Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Through an accidental stroke of genius, I had pitched our tent in such a manner that, from the interior, the tent’s entrance framed a field of wildflowers, beyond which lay an impressive stand of aspen trees. Our first night was, shall we say, “memorable”. (Please do not bring up thunderstorms and bears if you speak with Gini about this trip.)

Just before sunrise, peering through the opening in the canvas, one could just make out a mule deer standing inside the tree line at the far edge of the field. Nose high, sampling the air, she took a step toward the field. A thin layer of fog hugged the tops of the wildflowers. Seemingly from nowhere, two more deer appeared by the side of the first. Each glanced left and right and furtively began grazing. I blinked. Now there were six deer munching their way into the field.

Night had turned into day. I saw it take place and yet, don’t know exactly when it occurred.

It was happening again. (Just a few weeks ago seems like another era in some alternate universe.) Near the end of March, we drove through the entrance gate of Tenoroc Public Use Area just before dawn and stopped to sign in at the headquarters. Robin, the very friendly ranger, reminded us to let him know if we saw anything special. We always do.

We parked alongside one of the many lakes to enjoy the “sunrise moment”. Just like our New Mexico experience, the vague forms and shadows in the crepuscular atmosphere gradually became trees, islands, herons and alligators. Not content with providing us with a visual extravaganza, Mother Nature added some audio. Pig frogs, a squawk from an Anhinga, a duet from calling Barred Owls, Common Gallinules mumbling near the shore and from a half-dozen spots the eerie cries of Limpkins.

The day was filled with nearly 50 species of birds, wild hogs, alligators, turtles, three species of snake, butterflies and a multitude of dragonflies. We relaxed during lunch under the shade of cypress trees while watching Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, Glossy Ibises and Limpkins feed and preen nearby.

Yes, we are spoiled beyond reason.

We were quite fortunate to welcome Spring this year. We look forward to observing Her departure – in person.

 

It is difficult to imagine a more perfect way to begin any day than experiencing the sun rise over a tranquil lake with my best friend by my side. It doesn’t hurt that Gini is also the most beautiful woman in my universe.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Typical lake habitat includes diverse vegetation, hardwood trees, mostly deep water (over 20 feet) and adjacent marshes. Upland forests and dry/wet tracts of prairie also dot the management area’s over 7,000 acres.

Tenoroc FMA

 

An American Kestrel burst across the road before I could focus properly. My apologies, but he sure is handsome, even with my unsteady hands attempting an image.

Tenoroc FMA

 

The Limpkin is the only member of the Aramidae family. Scientists link it to rails but it looks similar to herons and ibises. Its specialized bill is designed to extract apple snails from their shells.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Looking all bright and fresh, a curious Prairie Warbler checked us out. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if it’s a native or a tourist on his way north.

Tenoroc FMA

 

The Florida Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus carinatus) employs a defensive device by “freezing” when a threat is detected. Memo to snake: Freezing in place for a bright green snake in a green tree is a good strategy. When stretched out across a white sand road — not so much.Tenoroc FMA

 

Dragon season is back! Although we can find dragonfly activity year around in central Florida, it really gets going as spring begins. A male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) held still for a quick portrait.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Mourning Dove are exceedingly common here and we (and by that, I mean “ME”) often overlook their beauty when rushing to locate more exotic species. Shame on us – uhh – me.Tenoroc FMA

 

Just beyond the Mourning Dove above, a Red-tailed Hawk was perched atop a utility pole. He launched just as I raised the camera. An impressive raptor, indeed!

Tenoroc FMA

 

“Bless you!”  After about her 15th sneeze, Gini buried her head in the tissue box. There’s a chance I found the culprit. New pine tree blooms abounded.

Tenoroc FMA

Tenoroc FMA

 

Packing his suitcase for the flight to familiar and distant breeding grounds, a Savannah Sparrow gave us one last look before his return next fall. Bon Voyage!

Tenoroc FMA

 

On our way home, the late afternoon rays of the sun bathed over a Red-shouldered Hawk as she scoured the road from her wire lookout spot above the exit gate.

Tenoroc FMA

 

 

Our day had been an exuberant celebration of welcoming Spring’s return! Little did we know we were about to be locked out of our favorite haunts during the ensuing weeks. Moral:  Make the most of today!

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

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

A Look Back

As we embrace a few changes in our life, we thought we would share a few highlights from recent travels to begin our new blogging effort. Hopefully, you won’t be too bored as we sort out how things work and how we want them to look.

Your suggestions would be most welcome!

Since we are avid birders, there is a more than probable chance this “new” blogging thing will still include more than its fair share of bird images. (Today’s post will be short on birds as we wanted to highlight locations.) Our hope is to merge more information and photographs about habitat, environment, creatures other than birds and what we’ll call “local flavor” – history, cuisine, life.

Thank you for staying with us or, if you’re new here, welcome aboard!

 

Georgia

Early County

Early County

Chancey Mill Road

Early County

 

 

Texas

Attwater Prarie Chicken NWR

Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR

 

New Mexico

Bosque Del Apache

Bosque Del Apache

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area

Bosque Del Apache

Bosque Del Apache

 

Northwest Florida

Apalachicola

Apalachicola

Apalachicola Bay

Battery Park

 

Florida Gulf Coast

Greer Island

Pine Island Causeway

Fort DeSoto Park

Lower Suwannee River NWP

Aucilla River

 

Florida Atlantic Coast

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Central Florida

Myakka River State Park

Three Lakes WMA

 

 

We hope you are all well and safe. Soon, we will all be back in the great outdoors enjoying what nature has to offer.

 

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