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.
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.
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!