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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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!
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.
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!
Sadly, Wally, It’s extremely rare for me to get up early at this time of year in order to witness the dawn. I seem to have even more difficulty in getting started since this Covid thing arrived. I would say that such things as this wonderful blog post from yourself inspire me to mend my ways but Lindsay is even more of a later riser than I am, and I’m reluctant to disturb her. When we get out of this lockdown situation, however, I’ll have to look into the possibility of getting my pass signed to set the alarm early!
My best wishes to you both. Take great care and stay safe – – – Richard
Think of the sunrise as the light at the end of our current tunnel, Richard. It will always be there when we are ready to embrace it.
Gini and I truly hope you and Lindsay are faring well today. Our new week here is filled with good news as all our extended family members are healthy.
Despite it all, life is good!
Awesome variety of bird and landscape photos! Beautiful!
Thank you, Donna! We enjoyed seeing it all in person!
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You have a way with words, Wally. You painted a scene right inside my skull with your first few paragraphs. Almost like I was there too. Oh, your photos are wonderful too.
You’re way too kind, Ed, but I appreciate it!
Those who venture forth at dawn reap the rewards, Wally. It’s been a couple of years since I saw a Prairie Warbler. It is a difficult bird to find here. As for the Savannah Sparrow it is quite common, but so far this spring has eluded me. I know of a couple of very reliable spots but restrictions on access due to Covid-19 prevent me from going there. It will be all the sweeter when the first one trills to me. Looks like you have gotten your new blog launched in fine style. I am looking forward to many more interesting reports. I know you are always showering your praises on Gini, and well-deserved obviously, but I suspect there is more than a little cause for mutual adoration. Stay well, both of you. From where I sit Florida does not seem to handling the situation in an entirely rational fashion.
Thank you so much, David.
We’re looking forward to many more dawn reveries.
From where I sit, actually in Florida, the state seems to be handling the situation as well as can be expected. Sensible governor, measured response, no panic, common sense approach for the most part. But that’s just me.
Take good care as Spring races forward!
Our problem is flour. There is none anywhere, so if you could send me a bag or two I would be most grateful. In return I will send you two rolls of the finest British loo paper so that you think of me whenever.
Thank you for your concerns about our native Grey Partridge but this a bird of lowland farms rather than upland heather and our farmland is subject to the same pressures as farmland everywhere with declines of 99% of birds that once thrived there.
I enjoyed your words as always and the fine mix of photos. I think that the Red-shouldered Hawk has much longer legs than I imagined. Perfect for picking up snakes and the other strange creatures of Florida but perhaps not for tackling the alligators that you scare us with? You are right to remind us about the commonality of the Mourning Dove. Wasn’t there another well- known dove that was very numerous and suffered as a result?
Stay well you both. Keep taking the tablets.
You fixed the link.
We may have to set up our Rebel Alliance Secret Contraband Atlantic Lending Service (RASCALS). Our people will contact your people. Mum’s the word.
How do we wrest control from agribusiness and return it to the small farmer? Asking for a few billion bird friends…..
Thank you for your very nice remarks. It’s appreciated.
(Shhh! Dawn birding trip planned.)
Hello, what a great report and post on your outing. The bird photos are gorgeous. I heard the Florida parks are open now, so you can make new memories. Happy birding, enjoy! Have a great day and a happy new week!
Hi, Eileen! Thank you very much for you nice comments. More memories – coming right up!
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Keep ’em coming! Thanks–
Lovely story Wally and fantastic images. When I was an angler (many moons ago) the summer sunrise over my favourite lake was a sweet moment as the wildlife (and hopefully fish) stirred into life, so many people have never experienced those moments.
I was very lucky that my Dad loved fishing. Even luckier that he took me along! And the ultimate in luck – married a girl who had grown up with the same experience! We’ve been enjoying sunrises together a long time now.
Thank you, Brian!
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I have enjoyed seeing your photographs, thank you.
All the best Jan
How very kind, Jan! We hope to see you again.
How very, very beautiful.
Dawn is my favourite part of the day despite rarely seeing it from the superlative viewpoint you and Gini found.
Stay well, stay safe – and rummage in your well stocked memory banks until the current restrictions are gone.
Thank you, EC!
Our local restraints are loosening this week and we’ve been able to get out and about throughout this mess.
Hope you’re feeling good as the new week begins!