Around The Lakes
(Header Image: Lake Kissimmee pre-dawn, light fog.)
“It’s something different.”
A phrase guaranteed to increase a birder’s pulse rate.
“Yellow face, dark eye line, greenish on the back, white wing-bars, white underneath, dark throat – what in the world?”
A couple of pictures. Sigh. Drive on.
“There it is! There are two of them!”, Gini yelled and braced for impact as I slammed on the brakes. The two birds were in plain view on an oak tree branch over the road. As I swung the camera up – gone again.
Reviewing the field guide showed our little friends were NEW BIRDS for us! Black-throated Green Warblers!
We had stopped after spotting quite a bit of activity on the sides of the dirt road ahead and movement in the scrub oak trees on either side of us. On the road, a half-dozen Palm Warblers scooted around, tails a-wagging, snapping up bugs from the dirt and grass. In the trees, we saw more Palm Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, a Yellow-throated Warbler, a White-eyed Vireo and our new warbler. A group such as this is fairly common during migration. Safety in numbers.
It was mid-morning and the day had been another spectacular adventure in central Florida! Just before sunrise, we stopped to admire huge Lake Kissimmee (35,000 acres) from the State Road 60 bridge. A few miles farther east, we turned onto the rut-filled entrance road to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.
Up until around the mid-19th century, it is estimated there were more than one million acres of grass prairie in Florida. Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers left cattle in the state which had been brought from Spain to provide food. These cattle were small, lanky and had wide horns. Not the best beef cattle, but they could survive in Florida’s harsh environment. Improvements to the stock were made after the Civil War and around the turn of the 20th century Florida ranked second only to Texas in United States beef production. Although the state’s vast prairies were being reduced due to population increases and development, better management, newer grass species and more effective pest control for cattle all combined to create a thriving cattle industry which continues today.
The vast (64,000+ acres) Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area on the east side of Lake Kissimmee offers an incredible opportunity to explore remnants of Florida’s dry grass prairie as well as the wet prairies near each of the three lakes (Kissimmee, Marian and Jackson). Also in the area are groves of scrub oak, upland pine woods and wet cypress domes. Each of these different habitats host an amazing diversity of life. Not to mention the three lakes, which not only offer fabulous fishing but provide nesting, hunting and wintering territory for an incredible number of birds.
It’s difficult to top a new life bird, but the entire day was filled with discovery. Migrating birds, beautiful resident birds, white-tailed deer, raccoons, fox squirrels, gorgeous flowers, aroma of fresh pine trees, bright blue water of the lakes – exciting and relaxing all at the same time!
A small sample of what we saw today.
Our new life bird! He promised to pose for a better photograph – next time. Black-throated Green Warbler.
A female Common Yellowthroat doesn’t sport the black mask of her male counterpart, but both prefer to remain low in the brush where they hope to escape a predator’s attention.
Another female, an Indigo Bunting, sports only a hint of color at the shoulder and in the tail.
Wet areas abound around the lakes and in low places which catch runoff from rains falling on the prairie. Many plants take advantage of the dampness and flourish in these spots. One of the more spectacular examples is the Swamp Rosemallow (Hibiscus grandiflorus) which can grow to nearly ten feet (3+ meters) tall. A butterfly visitor, the Twin-spot Skipper (Oligoria maculata), appreciates the nectar and has agreed to transport a bit of pollen to a nearby plant.
Normally skulking on a low limb just above water, this Green Heron takes advantage of a higher altitude branch to scout for breakfast.
A healthy apple snail population attracts a female Snail Kite. She has been banded in an effort to keep tabs on her travels. The Snail Kite is endemic to Florida within the United States and is on both Federal and state endangered lists. In 1972, it was estimated there were less than 70 individuals in Florida. Today there may be more than 1,000 but it’s future is of extreme concern.
Part of the Three Lakes WMA consists of open pine forest. Dead or dying trees are a preferred nesting spot for the Red-headed Woodpecker. From 1966 to 2014, this beautiful woodpecker declined in population nearly 70% in North America. Causes of the decline include landowners clearing away dead trees and the overall decline of nut crops.
There be dragons in the prairie! Who knew? We found several Odonata throughout the day.
Guardians of the lakes. A Great Blue Heron and large Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) share a lily pad patch near the shore of Lake Kissimmee.
Another female Snail Kite, this one without ankle jewelry, perches atop a channel marker which has the remnants of an Osprey nest.
Remember the fabulous fishing I mentioned earlier? A Little Blue Heron demonstrates how easy it is. Simply dip your long beak into the wet grass and, voilà!
Speaking of lunch. We enjoyed cold chicken and fruit on a sun-filled day as we gazed out over blue water and watched a sky filled with birds putting on a show – just for us.
We had a terrific morning of exploring this vast area and were amply rewarded with observations of nature at every turn. A return trip is already planned.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!