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.
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.
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.
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.
Throughout the morning, the wonderful serenade of Eastern Meadowlarks drifted through the windows.
With several ponds and canals in the pastures, Bald Eagles are fairly common.
Frustrated is how I ended up feeling after attempting photographs of Bobolinks. These poor samples were the best I could manage. Sigh.
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)