peace in the swamp

(Header image: Peace River swamp.)

“The Butcher Bird’s been busy!” This was the third insect Gini had spotted stuck on a fence barb. The Butcher Bird is a nickname for members of the shrike family, in our case it’s the Loggerhead Shrike. They will capture a bug and impale it on a fence barb or thorn to make it easier for them to eat. It is not unusual to find caches of insect carcasses the birds have stored in the crevice of a tree for later.

We were on our way home after spending the morning wandering around in the dark. Well, okay, not actually dark, but pretty dim. Mosaic Peace River Park is a few miles south of the city of Bartow in west-central Florida and about a 40 minute drive from the house.

The Peace River flows south from Lake Hancock between Bartow and Lakeland for over 100 miles to Port Charlotte where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way are several places for access where one can launch a boat or canoe as well as a few parks for picnicking, hiking and some pretty good birding.

Our current location at the Mosaic Peace River Park offers a small network of boardwalks crisscrossing a swampy area which leads to the banks of the Peace River. The dense canopy of mostly cypress trees blocks much of the sunlight resulting in that “dark swamp” environment. It also means some pretty low light for attempting photography.

This park was closed for almost two years due to damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The boardwalk system had to be completely replaced. They did a good job and it’s nice to be back.

Typical of Florida’s swamps, this one has plenty of what one would expect to find: alligators, snakes, turtles, raccoons, opossums, mosquitoes, owls – did I mention mosquitoes? At this time of year, we are also blessed with a few seasonal visitors. Fall migration brings a host of warblers and other passerines who take advantage of the vast numbers of insects which call the swamp home. Actually spotting these small hunters within the subdued light and in the tops of dense 60-foot tall trees is another matter. Getting an acceptable photograph is – challenging.

Although we didn’t find an unusually large number of migratory travelers, we did observe a few and that made the day better. As often happens, we also enjoyed some of the swamp’s special treats and like to think we may be the only ones to have been fortunate enough to see a mushroom tree, a phantom of the swamp, a leaf suspended in mid-air or a tiny dancing damsel. Our mysterious swamps are amazing!

Watch your footing! The damp leaves on the boardwalk make for slippery walking.

A small bit of autumn color has been captured by a spider’s web and held for us to enjoy.

Sexual dimorphism is common in the natural world. Here, the Black-throated Blue Warbler male and female provide an example.

Black-throated Blue Warbler – Male
Black-throated Blue Warbler – Female

One of the larger members of the dragonfly family, a Phantom Darner (Triacanthagyna trifida), hangs vertically while waiting for his next meal to arrive. (I pointed out plenty of mosquitoes buzzing in front of my face, but he didn’t budge.)

Fairly non-descript except for a striped head, a Worm-eating Warbler specializes in searching dead leaf clusters for the prize inside. They especially like grubs and caterpillars, thus the name.

Who needs splashy color? A Black-and-White Warbler makes just two shades a thing of beauty.

I think this small damselfly is a Blue-ringed Dancer (Argia sedula) and would be appreciative of anyone who could offer an opinion. It appears to be either a female or immature male. We found five of them but couldn’t locate an adult male.

Gini’s superior hearing detected several Northern Parula warblers long before we ever saw one. Heard or seen – they are gorgeous!

During cleanup from Hurricane Irma, many trees were removed and some were trimmed of broken branches. This large section of remaining trunk has developed into an impressive mushroom farm.

A common dragon for our area, a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) looks good in his powdery blue coat against the green of a cypress branch.

Flashing his bright orange wing and tail patches to frighten insects from hiding places, the male American Redstart really brightened up the place!

The Peace River. It is still at near-flood stage after a bit higher than normal rainfall during our wet season.

Soaring above the river, an Anhinga and Black Vulture navigate southward as they each search for somewhat different prey.

Anhinga
Black Vulture

Meanwhile, back at the parking lot. Returning to the car, we were greeted by a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

On the way home, Gini saw what looks like a species of Sphinx moth left on a barbed-wire fence by a Loggerhead Shrike.

Not far from the park, a pair of male Wild Turkey skulked through the grass looking for lunch.

Time for us turkeys to do the same!

It was a great day under the cover of the cypress trees, leisurely peering into the dark waters of the swamp from the boardwalk. Enjoying the sights and sounds of Nature unique to the habitat is the ultimate form of relaxation therapy. Highly recommended.

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

30 Comments on “peace in the swamp

  1. Take care along that boardwalk Wally. I wouldn’t like to think of you in a deep swamp. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you good folk can find a way to still drain the swamp before the mud sticks. As for those turkeys – Sue said it looks like me and Andy heading off for a morning of birds ringing. I’m very disappointed in lots of things this week despite coming here to see those warblers, the future is not bright. Stay out of trouble you both.

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    • Having slipped on that boardwalk in past years, I’ve learned to walk “flat-footed”! If I were a golfer, I’d wear those spiky shoes.

      We may not drain the swamp as quickly as hoped, but it remains our mission to help folks at least be able to identify a swamp and many of its denizens.

      I have been accused of taking “selfies” and posting them as photographs of Wild Turkeys. So, I empathize with you concerning Sue’s opinion.

      Disappointment with current events is a natural emotion. The future is unknown, so take along your sunglasses in the event it turns out to be brighter than you suspect at this moment in time.

      One thing Gini and I can assure you, we shall never purposely stay out of trouble. πŸ™‚

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  2. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first experience of a loggerhead shrike. It had seized a baby bird, and I was astonished and horrified all at once. It never had occurred to me that something other than a hawk or eagle would engage in that kind of predation. Live and learn!

    I’m quite taken with that mushroom log. It’s really quite beautiful. The Redstart’s a new bird for me, too. I’ve never heard of it before. What a glorious place you inhabit!

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    • I used to think of a shrike as a hawk in mockingbird’s body. Really interesting birds to watch!

      The American Redstart is actually a member of the warbler family. The female is a totally different color but with the same bright tail and wing patches. Beautiful!

      Yep, we tend to take our natural bounty for granted, but we know we’re really blessed to have access to so many wonders.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Always enjoy your nature finds and photos. I feel like I’m on the journey with you. The hummer shot near the bottle brush bloom is super! For some reason the Ruby-throats don’t go near ours. Look forward to seeing your next adventure.

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  4. Good afternoon Wally: I am glad that you took time out from scratching those mosquito bites to complete this blog post. You saw a good variety of warblers and obviously dealt with the light conditions well, because the pictures are terrific and one recognizes each species at first glance. Ironically, the drabbest individual for me would have been the prize. I have seen Worm-eating Warbler only once in North America and no more than three other times in Panama/Costa Rica. And I have no plans to travel anywhere that I might encounter it, so that may remain my life total!

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    • That Worm-eating Warbler was definitely the bird of the month for me, too, David! I watched it for 20 minutes before getting a chance to snap a picture. Worth it for me.

      Thank you for sending a bit of your cool Canadian air to us this week. It has been quite pleasant.

      Like

  5. Gorgeous captures, Wally, much enjoyed! Especially loved the mushroom farm, that is pretty cool. I’m a hundred miles from here, wish it wasn’t so far, I love boardwalk walking through marshes and swamps. But I am planning on a trip over to Babcock Webb WMA per your tip before we leave Port Charlotte to head home north. πŸ™‚

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  6. Love the header– you can almost feel the moisture in the air. That redstart photo is to die for. I have plenty of empty shots of twigs and leaves as they never seem to spend more than a second or two in any spot. The mushroom tree is amazing!. Nice peaceful walk.

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    • Plenty of moisture for sure, Ken!

      Thank you for your nice comments. The images you’ve been posting lately have truly been spectacular so for you to like one of mine is the highest form of praise.

      Hope we can all soon go for more peaceful walks.

      Like

  7. It took me a while to get past that fabulous header image, Wally. But I did, and found a whole treasure-chest of treats awaiting! Your artistic talents are fully showcased in those first two images and the ‘mushroom tree’ images too. The birds are amazing, and then there’s those wonderful dragons and a damsel. I’d be extremely excited to see any one of the subjects of your images.

    I have absolutely no knowledge of your local native species, but I am relatively confident that the damselfly is a female of whatever species it is – purely by the shape of the underside of the tail-end of the abdomen which seems to show an ovipositor ‘bulge’.

    I’m delighted to know that you are able to continue to get out into these magical locations. Take great care. Best wishes to you both – – – Richard

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    • Once again, you are too kind, Richard, but, once again, I shall not complain!

      Trying hard to remind myself to take at least “habitat” images during our outings and have been promising to concentrate on actual landscapes. You have been warned!

      We are, indeed, blessed to be able to get out and explore. Does wonders for our fragile sanity.

      Gini and I hope you and Lindsay stay well and are soon able to terrorize owls, dragons and damsels across the English countryside!

      Like

  8. Thank you Wally for sharing your “relaxation therapy”. It’s very welcome, especially today!

    I can’t help you with your ID question. I’m doing well just to know it’s damselfly.

    Once again, I like all of your photos, especially the hummingbird and turkeys. But I have to complement you on your choice of header image – it’s once again my favorite from a post.

    Ed

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  9. Hello,
    This place sounds familiar, maybe I have been there before. Lovely captures of the birds. Florida has some great boardwalk and nature parks. Gorgeous collection of photos. Take care, enjoy your day! Have a great week ahead!

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing the wonders. I note that you use Gini to distract the ‘squitoes. Himself does the same to me. If I am with him he remains unfanged.
    I was particularly impressed with the mushroom tree, but delighted in all you shared.
    Many, many thanks.

    Like

    • We very much appreciate you joining us, EC!

      The swamp always seems to produce a surprise or two. Just being surrounded by peace and quiet isn’t bad either!

      Like

  11. Superb images, I think the low light helped create more atmosphere, really liked the Black & White Warbler and American Redstart. Looked like a great day except for the mozzies!

    Like

    • Thanks, Brian. I do like the atmosphere created by the “swamp light”.

      I take Gini due to the irresistible sweetness of her blood compared to mine. I seldom need bug repellent! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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