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.

Saddle Creek Park

 

A young Tufted Titmouse let everyone know I was invading the swamp!

Saddle Creek Park

 

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!

Saddle Creek Park

Saddle Creek Park

 

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!

Saddle Creek Park

 

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.

Saddle Creek Park

 

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.

Saddle Creek Park

 

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.

Saddle Creek Park

 

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.

Saddle Creek Park

 

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.

Saddle Creek Park

 

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!)

Saddle Creek Park

Saddle Creek Park

 

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.

Saddle Creek Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

Saddle Creek Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Male

 

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

 

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!

 

Additional Information

Saddle Creek Park

Florida Hikes! (Trail descriptions.)

Saddle Creek Park – Satellite View

20 Comments on “Morning At Saddle Creek

  1. Grits I have heard of (of course) but never tried.
    Humidity is NOT my friend so I am endlessly grateful that you show me these wonders without me having to dissolve into a sad soggy and grumpy mess. More grateful that I suspect you realise.

    Like

    • Happy to slog into the humidity any time for you, EC!
      If you try grits, avoid the instant stuff with no taste!
      Hope your weekend is going well.

      Like

  2. A lovely insight into your local patch.
    That grasshopper is amazing, reminds me of a paint job you would see on a ’70’s hot rod!

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    • Unfortunately, Brian, those Lubbers can become significant crop pests. When young, they are mostly black with a bit of red and can roost in groups of several hundred. Cool bugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello, another great Florida park. Lovely views of nature. I love the Swallow-tailed Kite and the YC Night Heron. Another favorite is the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, I usually hear them here. . Beautiful captures of the dragonflies and the butterfly. Enjoy your day, have a happy new week ahead!

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  4. Grits I am not wild about, but perhaps I never had good ones. Swallow-tailed Kite is an incredibly elegant bird, and one that I could watch forever. Ironically, I have never seen one in North America. In April last year in Panama we watched them many times drifting north in migration, sometime a line of twenty or thirty of them. Never got tired of seeing them. Wonderful mastery of the air.

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    • We are fortunate the Swallow-tailed Kite breeds here. Watching them snatch a dragonfly out of the air and then munch on it while flying is pretty special.

      Hope your day is a good one, David!

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  5. Lucky to have that great park close to home! You know so much about dragonflies (but I knew that already, thank you again )). The cuckoo is wonderful. The annual invasion of lubbers in our Florida resort is definitely *not* one of the Spring things I feel sad about missing this year. Family up here can hardly believe I’m not exaggerating when I describe them. Sallie (FullTime-Life)

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  6. Great set of pictures – all of which would be new for I think! I tried Grits once – and that was enough!!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

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  7. Hi, Wally and Gini. I don’t think I’ve ever tried grits, and suspect I would know if I had as I’m none too fond of corn (I’m assuming that your ‘corn’ is what we refer to as ‘sweet corn’). Strangely, however, I’m OK with cornflakes, which is my breakfast every day together with dried fruit.

    Your current banner header is fabulous! Such a glorious selection of wildlife on show in this post – a real feast for the eyes. I think that if we had grasshoppers like that one, I’d spend all my time photographing them. I notice, however, that you have said that they can present a real problem.

    All is good here, but circumventing this virus thing is so time-consuming.

    Take great care, and stay safe – – – Richard

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    • Good Morning, Richard!
      Those big ‘hoppers are so abundant here I step over them to photograph other subjects. I’ll try to change that as they are quite interesting. The swarming at roost of immature shiny black ones is a sight to behold!

      All our best to you both.

      Like

  8. Hi Wally. As far as I know, grit is something at the bottom of a budgerigar cage or the stuff we spread on the highway in Britain to stop our cars sliding around on icy winter roads. If I thought SWMBO was feeding it to me in my breakfast I would be a little worried. It’s OK if you trust Gini, but please examine your food carefully before you eat. Just like DT I hear.

    You’re a lucky chap indeed – wonderful weather, Swallow-tailed Kites and great creepy crawlies. And the second most beautiful girl in the galaxy . Wow.

    Now if you’d shown me a picture of that Eastern Lubber Grasshopper without the accompanying leaves I might have been real scared. What a wee beastie!

    Take care. By the way, what is “air conditioned”?

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    • “Air conditioned” is any air cooler than that which I’ve been walking around in.

      Yep, you are correct. I am, indeed, a lucky chap.

      Not too worried about the food. She’s had 53 years to mess with it and all she does it keep making it better!

      All the best.

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  9. As a New Jersey guy who got drafted and moved around a bit, first to El Paso and then to New Orleans, I encountered all manner of strange cuisine. In New Orleans I had to ask what was that gooey white stuff they added to my breakfast order, as I hadn’t asked for anything different. The answer: “Them’s grits!” That was my intro.

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    • Ha! Welcome to the South!
      What turned me around is Gini makes yellow corn grits which, to me, are more flavorful.

      Our first Air Force assignment was upstate New York. No grits to be found there!

      Like

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