Morning At Saddle Creek
“Sausage, grits and cantaloupe okay with you?”
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful brown-eyed young woman who blinked those sublime eyes in disbelief when I revealed I did not care for grits. After all, my mother was raised in Mississippi, the virtual center of the “grits belt” of the southern United States. My father was from the panhandle of Florida, which is actually part of Alabama and Georgia, where a day without grits is unthinkable.
I don’t really know the origin of my grits-avoidance. Perhaps it stemmed from that childhood syndrome of not liking something you were forced to eat or face the threat of corporal punishment. It only took her 50 years, but my patient Gini coaxed me into trying a spoonful of yellow grits last year. I love grits!
(On the off chance someone is not familiar with the southern American dish of grits, it is basically ground corn. No, it is not polenta. Yes, there are an infinite number of ways it can be prepared. Only one of those is worth eating – Gini’s way.)
With her motivating words planted in my small brain, I headed out for a “short” walk at nearby Saddle Creek Park. This is another former phosphate mining area which was reclaimed three decades ago, covers about 740 acres (300 ha.) and offers fishing, camping, hiking, ball fields and a shooting range. A nature trail offers outstanding birding during spring and fall migration. Today I hoped to see breeding birds and maybe a few interesting insects.
About an hour passed and the alarm clock in my head sounded and I headed for the car. A quick call to see if my Sweetheart needed anything. “Just you.” Sigh. I am way too lucky.
The morning had been pleasant, although humid (it IS Florida!). Highlights included recently fledged Tufted Titmice, a pair of hunting Swallow-tailed Kites, an aggressive Carolina Wren, an uncommon inland Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a skulking Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a new dragonfly species.
Walking into the air-conditioned house felt good. A warm hug, hot coffee, breakfast with the most beautiful woman in the galaxy – Life. Is. Good.
At dawn, an island rookery became a noisy place as over 150 White Ibises began their daily routine of attending to nests, eggs and new chicks begging for food.
A young Tufted Titmouse let everyone know I was invading the swamp!
Swallow-tailed Kites breed in our area and a pair I saw this morning likely has a nest along Saddle Creek. This one looked me over carefully and if you look closely you can see her breakfast, especially in the second image. A nice long-tailed lizard!
A new species is always exciting! Today I finally found a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps). Of course it was perched high in an oak tree and in deep shade, so the photograph isn’t great, but what a wing pattern!
Yellow-crowned Night Herons are more typically found along the coast in salt marsh habitat. This young one was a welcome surprise! It can be told from the similar immature Black-crowned Night Heron by its overall darker bill and head pattern.
A Carolina Wren materialized on an overhead branch, chirped loudly and escorted me out of the area. I spotted a second wren a little deeper in the trees. Likely a breeding pair with a nest nearby.
Almost back at the parking area, a slight movement caught my eye. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo! I stood around for almost 15 minutes and it simply did not move. At least I now know they very likely breed here.
Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers (Romalea microptera) average from 1.7-2.7 inches (43-70 mm) in length with some females as large as 3.5 inches (90 mm). Their colorful appearance serves as a warning to would-be predators that they taste bad. They also hiss, spit and emit a foul-smelling odor when threatened. Other than that, they’re adorable.
One of our more common raptors, the Red-shouldered Hawk is really a beautiful creature. This adult shows the rusty wing patch which is her namesake.
A small butterfly, 3/4 – 1 1/8 inches (2 – 3 cm), the Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) tries your patience as it flies weakly near the ground giving the appearance it will land any second. About a mile later, you’re still following the silly thing and it still hasn’t landed. (It finally did!)
Common and striking to look at, the Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) is very abundant in our region. The female (first image) does not have the distinct wing spots of the male, although may develop them once fully mature.
Ending the morning on a bright note, a male Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami) was nice enough to pose along the pond within sight of the car. Thank you!
Saddle Creek Park is not a large area, it’s usually busy with fishermen, it doesn’t require a passport to visit and is twenty minutes from the coffee pot. Pros, cons and a delightful spot to spend a morning! Hopefully, you have such a place near you.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!