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?”

Gone.

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.

Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata) – Female
Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Male

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!

Additional Information

Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

22 Comments on “Around The Lakes

  1. Great find and very nice photo. You can always get one of its beak the next time. I saw one BTGW locally in south Florida this year on November 11, thinking it was a new bird for my patch. This prompted me to look it up on eBird and showed that i had seen and photographed one here back in 2015, but many during spring migration in Illinois. If my Florida bird had been a lifer it would have left an indelible mark somewhere in my brain, as it is such a beautiful and memorable bird. ( I had a setback on my road to “normal” when my Prednisone had to be set back up from 7.5 to 10 mg. Now on a course to decrease it by 1 mg every 3 weeks and hope for a soft landing in 30 weeks– mid 2021!)

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    • Thank you, Ken. Always a treat to see a first!

      Here’s hoping we both have positive results as time goes by. I’m holding at 7 mg for another week then a blood test and doctor visit……yay…..

      Like

  2. Congrats on the BTGW!! Winter migration has been filled with surprises this year. Having so much fun discovering new birds around here, as I know you and Gini are. Nice “catch” of the Little Blue Heron and so many other beauties. Hope you discover many more species, as I have a feeling the hurricanes have turned migration on its head. We’ve got birds here that shouldn’t even be here. Happy birding!

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    • It’s always fun to see something different!

      We can be very happy, though, just keeping up with the regulars. They’re all so beautiful.

      Thanks for stopping by. Sorry I drank all the coffee before you got here.

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  3. Congratulations on your lifer, Wally. It is always a thrill isn’t it? It is made especially so when the bird is as attractive as a Black-throated Green Warbler, ironically a fairly common species here once they arrive in the spring. It is a very handsome species by any measure. Perhaps now the jinx has been broken you will see more of them. Red-headed Woodpecker can be found in Ontario. especially in the Carolinian hot spots along the north shore of Lake Erie, but according to the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas has experienced an annual decline of 4.9%. Like so many other species, this trend is worrying. I have not seen one at all this year, but my travels have been seriously curtailed during COVID and I have not been in a likely location. Keep enjoying your local birding. It brings great pleasure every time – both to you and to your readers. With my best wishes, David

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    • Thank you very much, David.

      Hopefully, we’ll get another look at our “new” warbler and be able to obtain better photographs.

      The Red-headed Woodpecker’s failure to adapt to human development, such as his cousin the Red-bellied Woodpecker has done, has played a large part in the reduction of its population. It’s a special day when we see what used to be a very common bird when we were kids.

      Another weekend right around the corner! We hope you are able to get out safely and enjoy all that Canadian Nature has to offer!

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  4. Your new ‘lifer’ is rather fine, Wally. Not sure that you’ll get a better image than that, however, if it’s taken you this long to get that one! Wonderful atmosphere in your current header image.

    The plumage of that Red-headed Woodpecker is absolutely amazing. I guess you can find dragons and damsels all-year-round there. Ours have all gone, apart from a few odd sightings in parts of UK that are warmer than we are.

    We’ve had the news today that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in UK and they will start the roll-out on Monday. Fingers are well and truly crossed!

    Take great care and stay safe – looking forward to your next heart-warming blog post – – – Richard

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    • Thank you so much, Richard!

      We can usually find Odonata throughout the year, although numbers are greatly reduced once a cold front arrives. Such as today! This morning it was 36F/2 C, pretty chilly for us, and insects.

      As soon as it warms a bit, we’ll make more heart-warming posts!

      Take good care.

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  5. Congrats on your new bird Wally – always a good feeling! And that Red-headed Woodpecker is gorgeous.

    I’ve been down there several times. I didn’t realize there were fox squirrels around. I’d like to see one of those.

    Ed

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  6. Bad luck Wally. I beat you to it. I saw those Black-throated Green Warblers many years ago but not in the warmth of Florida. If my memory serves me right it was very frosty morning in early May.
    Just now must be a fabulous time for you both with exotic birds that appear just twice a year.

    I hope that your sign is correct and that everything returns to the accustomed safety and sanity of recent years.

    We had frost this morning. Frost – remember? That strange white coating on the ground, the plants and the car windscreen, and for a minute or two stops you from going birding.

    By the way, is there something going on in the USA I should know about? The much respected, impartial, world renowned BBC (use your own words here) is not reporting anything significant. Equally quiet is “Independent” TV news ITV, Channel 4 News, and Sky (Sly) News. If I was a cynic I might suspect a global conspiracy to hide the truth from me. Luckily I have the Internet – for now.

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    • You are correct. Gini and I ARE having a fabulous time birding, exploring, preparing for a family Christmas and just generally enjoying LIFE!

      I remember frost. And don’t care to meet it again.

      Now. listen, Citizen. If those nice news outlets are withholding information from you, rest assured it is for your own good.
      Within the USA, at this point in time, there is nothing to report, so move along.

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  7. Hello,
    Congrats on your new bird. Your photos are awesome, love the Warbler, Green heron and the Red-headed Woodie. A fantastic outing! Take care, enjoy your day!

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  8. Congrats on the ‘lifer’. A thrill to find your own.
    Never realised Florida had prairie and was a major cattle area! Stupidly I just imagined swamp and mangrove. Thanks for the geography and history lesson.

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    • Thank you, Brian. On our next outing that direction, I’ll try to include some cattle and cowboy images. The ranch owners are major players in conservation for Florida.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Always great to find a new bird – and even better to get pictures.

    Cheers – and stay safe – Stewart M – Melbourne

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  10. How I love wandering with you both. Huge thanks.
    Resume normal? Queue hysterical laughter here. I don’t even remember what normal looks like (and was only ever on nodding acquaintance with it).

    Like

    • And how we love having you wander along with us, EC!

      That “Resume Normal Operation” may truly be sign of our times! Wishful thinking?

      Like

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