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!