Forest Foray

Header Image: Lake Godwin Moonset

“Every day should start this way.”

Gini’s simple statement was not only profound but a goal worth striving toward.

About an hour earlier, we were on the shore of Lake Godwin, a small freshwater impoundment within the Arbuckle Tract of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. The moon was descending beyond a line of pine trees. As the sun rose behind us, our surroundings took on a golden glow. The surface of the lake was completely undisturbed and we were enveloped in silence. No car noise, no sirens rushing to aid someone in trouble, no radio or television insisting we must have something we don’t need – a blessed audio void.

One of Nature’s snooze alarm’s jarred us from our reverie. A pair of Sandhill Cranes trumpeted their way across the forest heading from their nightly roost to some field where they will spend the day foraging. That did it. A distant woodpecker hammered on a limb. Screaming somewhere in the distance, a Red-shouldered Hawk announced this was HER forest! The Common Gallinules woke up and began clucking among the lily pads. The moon faded. The sun blazed. The day began.

“Every day should start this way.” She is so smart.

A short distance from the lake, we encountered a tree-top gang marauding the local insect community. The ring-leaders, as usual, were the Tufted Titmice. Palm Warblers, tails bobbing, covered the ground territory while Pine Warblers scoured the middle portions of the tree canopy. Red-bellied Woodpeckers checked all the pine cones while their cousins visiting from the north, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, scampered up and down pine tree trunks prying under slabs of bark. From high in the treetops came the unmistakable high-pitched squeaks of the Brown-headed Nuthatch clan. They descended toward us like tiny brown and gray missiles emitting the sound a child’s rubber ducky makes when squeezed incessantly.

Then, they were all gone. The forest was quiet once again.

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest is so-named due to an ancient ridge of dunes that remained above waters which inundated the peninsula over a million years ago. Three separate tracts make up this state forest and we were exploring our favorite, the Arbuckle Tract, named for nearby Lake Arbuckle. The tract consists of over 13,000 acres of pine and oak scrub, flatwoods, sandhill and bottomland hardwoods. Within the state forest are 33 plants and 36 animals which are on state or federal endangered or threatened lists.

Our morning continued with bright blue skies and birds galore. As spring advances, this is one spot we visit often for the wildflowers and insects, especially dragonflies. One main road splits the area and several side roads and trails offer plenty of opportunities for adventure. Check out the link below for more descriptions and maps.

The main road through the Arbuckle Tract is usually in good condition but can be challenging after heavy rains. Be careful. It’s always fun to see the variety of tracks on the road. Deer, raccoon, opossum, coyote, bobcat, mice, quail, snakes – a great place to take youngsters (and even some oldsters!) for a wildlife quiz.

Lake Godwin has a dock and a nice view of the surrounding pine forest. A source of water such as this always attracts wildlife and exploring the shore can be exciting.

From the understory came a loud “Tow-eee”! The Eastern Towhee also reminded us it was time for breakfast with its distinct call: “Drink-your-teeeeaaa.”

The Red-bellied Woodpecker will not only crack open and eat the seeds of a pine cone but knows the cones are great places for bugs to hide.

Brown-headed Nuthatches are among our very favorite birds. Pugnacious and gregarious. They are one of the earliest breeding songbirds in Florida, typically on the nest by the second week in February.

Forest management has helped reconstitute many species of trees decimated during the late 19th and early 20th century by logging. This section of mature planted pines is supported by native understory such as large swaths of Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens).

Migration brings Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to our many woodland areas and more than a few remain throughout the winter.

Pine Warblers are residents of Florida but their population swells considerably as migrants join the party during migration.

Open spaces with plenty of pine trees in this area usually means a healthy population of Eastern Bluebirds. Right on cue.

This female Downy Woodpecker has spotted something moving atop a snag. Branch brunch.

Wet flatwoods surrounds an open area of Cutthroat Grass (Panicum abscissum). This species of grass is endemic to Florida and only found in areas with sufficient groundwater seepage to support its growth. The Lake Wales Ridge is one of only a few remaining such areas in the state.

Our foray into the forest was enjoyable, exciting, relaxing, memorable – you know, just another ordinary day for your intrepid birders! We hope you have a forest or similar locale nearby where you can go to explore and contemplate the good things in life.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

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20 Comments on “Forest Foray

  1. Wally,

    Another tremendous blog post – such a variety of habitats and birds. Your words and photos make me feel like I was right there with you.

    The Lake Godwin Moonset header image is wonderful – a real “wall hanger”!



  2. You’ve convinced me, I need to start including some sunrise bird watching in my schedule. Great shots, great birds, great perspective!


  3. Looking at those yellow specks on the lake, I thought you had lotuses or water lilies already. It may simply be the sunlight hitting upraised leaves, but it’s a beautiful image in either case. I was intrigued by your photo of the road. That looks like laterite soil. I’d never associated laterite with Florida, but of course there’s plenty of red dirt in Georgia, and I’ve seen it in east Texas. Now I’m wondering if laterite and pine trees ‘go together’.

    Your mention of ‘cutthroat grass’ stopped me for a minute. I’d never heard the term, so thanks for explaining why in the very next phrase. It’s one of your endemics: how cool! And I enjoyed the photo of the Downy Woodpecker contemplating its snack. Is that a bit of Spanish moss on the limb below it?


    • Your second thought is correct. The upturned leaves of lily pads were painted with golden sunlight making them look like blooms. I like the effect either way.

      There is plenty of red dirt in various areas in Florida but the forest service hauls this batch in for maintenance. Not sure of its origin. I may ask one day.

      I think the bits of moss on that snag are remnants of Ball Moss. There is plenty of Spanish Moss within a few feet of that shot, however.

      Another wonderful place to roam and we’ll be back soon. Sure appreciate you dropping by today!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nuthatches have a special appeal it seems to me, and your pictures of Brown-headed Nuthatch bring back memories of a visit to the Everglades, entering from the Homestead side, the year before Hurricane Andrew pretty much destroyed everything there. Right at the beginning of the Anhinga Trail one individual was as busy as the proverbial beaver, and kept me exquisitely entertained for five or ten minutes. I remember with some amusement, a kind lady, well-intentioned to be sure, who insisted on telling me that there was a “big white bird” ahead, clearly better than the little brown job I was looking at! Not a birder one may be sure.


    • That is a great memory, David! And I may have encountered that lady on the trail – well, at least her clone.

      Why would anyone want to stop watching a Nuthatch as long as one is able?

      Hope your new week is underway with Peace and Joy scheduled for each day.


  5. Your banner image is magnificent Wally! You’ve given me the inspiration for a difficult task. The first hurdle is to find where the setting moon will be on any given day. The second is to find a large lake which has a bank on which I can stand and is on the opposite side of the water to the setting moon. If I get that far, it will be an absolute miracle if there is the added benefit of a whole host of fabulous birds to see, such as you have shown in your gorgeous photos. At least I won’t have to keep an eye open for ‘gators!

    Best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard


    • Thank you, Richard.

      We are looking forward to your landscapes and if needed we can send a couple of our reptilian consultants to add that “authentic swamp” look for you.

      All here is fabulous and we both hope you and Lindsay are, too!


  6. Hi Gini & Wally. I like the description of your Florida dawn chorus and the news of early breeding species. Some of our resident players have just begun piping up and picking their spots however it’s still a little cold to begin construction.

    Our full orchestra doesn’t arrive from Africa for another six or eight weeks and then it’s all systems go. Until then we are hoping that world events take a turn for the better too. Have a good week there in sunny times and mind how you go on that “muddy track” LOL.


    • Phil, the symphony of Nature can’t be beat. It’s been great the past few days as each day seems to be greener than the last, small flowers are dressing up our brown landscape and we are at that best of birding times when spring migrants are visiting on their way home and our resident birds are courting and building nests.

      As for “world events”, we are at an age and frame of mind that allows us to make our own events and rock our own world!

      We both hope your weather and birds cooperate to make this a stupendous ringing week!


  7. Every day should, indeed, start and end this way–with beautiful moments spent in nature. I counted what would have been at least 4 life birds for me during your foray, and continue to be amazed at the wonderful avian variety near you.


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