No Work Patch Work

Header Image: Black-necked Stilt

When is a birding patch not a patch? The word “patch” denotes something small. Talk to a birder about their local patch and it will usually turn out to be a city park, part of a forest, coastal area, wetland – but near home and with a chance to see a fair diversity of birds. The patch is a spot where a birder can go often and is easy and quick to access.

What Gini and I call our local “patch” fits the above descriptions except for the size. Tenoroc Public Use Area is nearby (less than four miles from the house) and offers an opportunity to observe a good selection of bird life. That size thing. At over 7,000 acres, it probably is not a “patch”! That much area to explore includes 30 lakes (varying from 5 to 230 acres) and over 40 miles of trails. I suppose to be accurate, we could call it a “collection of birding patches”, but that would be awkward, so we won’t be doing that.

There we were, at our local patch again, just after sunrise and a slight mist hung just above the lake’s surface. Most of the lakes within the Tenoroc complex are reclaimed phosphate mining pits and are deep by Florida lake standards. Many average 20 feet in depth and have very little areas of shallow water, even at the shoreline. This feature means one has to hunt a bit for wading birds.

One of the lakes has a series of reeds and mud bars which is suitable for long-legged waders to search for a meal. On this morning, we were treated to a pair of Black-necked Stilts, Spotted Sandpiper and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs mixing with the “normal” egrets and herons as they chased fish and crustaceans. Terrific entertainment for the first hour of the day!

The remainder of the morning involved several dozen Cedar Waxwings plundering the Brazilian Pepper for the juicy red fruit it produces, observing nest-building by Ospreys and woodpeckers, listening to White-eyed Vireos and Tufted Titmice singing from the tree canopies, chasing dragons and damsels and finding a few Florida Soft-shelled Turtles laying eggs in the soft sand. Most of this adventure was accomplished with an incredible lack of effort. Hiking over hill and dale is great fun, but if one can observe nearly 50 species of birds from the car window or by taking only a few dozen steps, well, who are we to argue with less work?

(Note: This trip report is from 15 April and most migratory birds, such as the Waxwings, are now absent from our area. Fortunately, a whole lotta birds call this place home!)

(Another Note: The first five images below were made while standing in one spot. See what I mean about that less work thing?)

An early morning Great Blue Heron looks pretty stoic from her perch atop a tall cypress tree. We followed her gaze and discovered a young heron poking around the weeds for breakfast.

Handsome and Wood Stork may not seem to fit in the same sentence, but I’ll bet this bird’s mother thought he was adorable when he was young.

The buffet must have been good in this spot. A Tricolored Heron almost blends in with the busy shoreline background. He’s probably hoping that’s true for the frog under that weed.

Long feathers (“aigrettes”) on a Great Egret recall the near-demise of the species when these magnificent birds were harvested solely for ladies’ hats to have a decoration. As a reminder, the National Audubon Society adopted the Great Egret as their emblem.

Black-necked Stilts were a bit of a surprise this morning but a very welcome one! The fact we saw a pair indicates they may well breed at this location. Fingers crossed! The second image shows a comparison in size between the stilt and a Snowy Egret.

The mud bank attracted three Lesser and one Greater Yellowlegs. When both species are not present to compare size, the call of each is different enough to figure out which is which. This photograph is of a Lesser Yellowlegs.

“Golden Slippers” of the Snowy Egret help stir up mud along the lake bottom to reveal potential prey. The feet almost look too big for the relatively small egret. They come in handy for wading across lily pads.

Springtime is alligator mating time! This “teenager” will help raise this year’s hatchlings. It’s not unusual for alligators to remain with their family unit for a few years.

Probably the final curtain call for this spring’s Cedar Waxwings. On our last two visits, Gini and I counted nearly two-hundred of the hungry birds. Today we saw almost fifty. We’ll miss these sleek beauties.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers have adapted very well to human habitation and are Florida’s most abundant woodpecker. Selecting a suitable nesting site may mean excavating a new cavity or choosing a “fixer upper” from last year.

At our breakfast spot, Gini and I found a collection of freshwater mussel shells piled up along the shore. We surmised they were brought here by otters or racoons.

One of North America’s smallest dragonflies, the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera), is pretty common here. This is a female, as noted by the extensive wing markings. Males typically have very little wing decoration.

Florida’s state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, is, appropriately, quite common throughout the state. At this time of year, the males sing 24 hours a day hoping to impress a female. (I do that, too, but the resident female remains unimpressed.)

We came across a Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) flitting through the wet grass.

Another sign of Spring. A Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox) looks for a suitable spot in which to deposit her eggs. The average clutch size for these turtles is 20 eggs and one female may have as many as six clutches per year.

Turquoise antennal clubs help identify a Great Southern White (Ascia monuste). These lovely butterflies will become very abundant as the days become warmer.

With so many lakes in the area, it’s natural to find Ospreys in large numbers. Many nests are constructed atop utility poles, some of which have had platforms constructed by state wildlife workers. As the nest-building is completed, pairs waste no time in laying eggs. Potential intruders are unwelcome, even the two-legged types who just want a photo.

Our local “patch” may not really qualify as a “patch”, but we certainly do enjoy visiting the place! The fact that it requires very little work on our part to see an incredible diversity of birds, other fauna and flora – well, we are not complaining.

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

22 Comments on “No Work Patch Work

  1. This is a terrific collection of photos and experiences. Thanks for sharing – I enjoyed getting “out” without the mosquitoes!

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  2. I love the softshell turtle AND the stork….I think they are both beautiful! And the reflections in the water are very beautiful. I just love looking at photos when we get home to see how they turned out. We point and click and never know what we’ll end up with but it’s great fun, no matter! Stay cool this afternoon!

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    • Celebrate the invention of air conditioning!

      If you consider softshells and storks “beautiful” (which we do), you just might be a nature lover! 🙂

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  3. I’ve heard a few British birder friends use the term “patch” but not locally. Of course, as I am not a birder per se, it isn’t surprising that there are a lot of things I am not aware of in that realm.
    I was happily scrolling along when all of a sudden…”Wait! That’s not a bird” sounded in my head as I saw the teen gator. It’s hard to get my head around the idea of an alligator family unit and the affection involved raising young.

    That is indeed a very large patch and I’d think it supplies endless hikes and experiences with the various wildlife and plants there. How fortunate to have such a location so close to home.

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  4. No Wally, a patch is something a pirate puts over their bad eye. That’s how big some of my patches are too, so you are right to explain the meaning of a Florida patch and to show just how much variety there is for the trained eye.

    You finish on a high with the Osprey and I liked the lesserlegs, but I guess like us you are entering a quiet time as the birds settle down to breed.

    Sue is still washing and ironing the holiday clothes that come out of hiding twice a year, you know, shorts and tee shirts that don’t see the light of day in gloomy Lancashire. Then they are packed away for the next trip to somewhere warm & sunny, our patch in Europe.

    Enjoy your sunny days and look out for those troublesome teenagers, they can run faster than the average oldie.

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    • I tried that eye patch thing but since both eyes are bad it seemed I saw even less birds than normal. Besides, Gini got tired of me bumping into things and mumbling “Arrrrgh, Matey”.

      Now that the birds are being secretive about nests and chicks it is almost like work to locate them. I have not yet received my vaccine to protect me from labor, so expect more blooms and bugs as summer approaches.

      We’re glad you had a good time in Greece. Gini asks why Sue is the one doing the washing and ironing? It may have been rhetorical, but I suspect not.

      Our sunny days are at the moment on hold as we welcome the “rainy season”. Just in time, too. Our swamps needed a good watering.

      A new week is about to begin. Here’s to us and what we shall discover.

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  5. I think a patch is what you choose to make it, Wally. And it may change with time. As I think about it now, I don’t think I have anywhere that I would consider in a proprietary sense, “my patch” but there are many areas close to home where I bird regularly so I suppose any of them would qualify. My backyard, however, is certainly MY patch! I have been away from it for two weeks, so I wonder what has come and gone while I have been away. I’ve probably missed the Indigo Buntings and Baltimore Orioles that seem to visit constantly for about two days, before heading off to stake out a territory. I’ll have to find them there.

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    • Perhaps since it isn’t really “my” patch is why I don’t feel bad at all about not working to enjoy its treasures.

      Although you may have missed the buntings and orioles, I am certain your yard will have other rewards to offer.

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  6. I’ve never heard a ‘bird person’ talk about their ‘patch.’ It makes perfect sense that it could be used that way; it’s just that my only associations with the word are ‘patchwork quilt,’ ‘pea patch,’ and ‘cotton patch.’ Thinking about the smaller areas that surround me, it seems it would be worthwhile to patch them together into a whole that exceeds the sum of the parts!

    It’s just such fun to see the residents of your patch. I still remember with a bit of a quiver the first time I heard the bellow of a male alligator. It certainly was of a different quality than their usual subdued grunts! As for the stilt, there’s just something about those birds that makes me happy. They’re so improbable, and their babies are as cute as kildeer young’uns.

    As for the mockingbird, the last two days I’ve begun hearing one or more very young ones begging for food. I’m not good with bird calls and songs, but that’s one I’ve learned, and it always makes me happy to hear it. Then, I stock up on mealworms.

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    • I’m not sure of the origin of birders’ referring to a “patch” but I’ve heard the term for at least a couple of decades. I really love your patchwork thoughts and the resulting synergy.

      I grew up with that ‘gator spring time “song” and I still get a chill when I hear it. Especially when it’s one that seems to come from almost under my feet and I can feel the vibration! (Walking backwards quickly should be an Olympic event. I could get a medal.)

      Gini says the stilts remind her of ballerinas with those long legs.

      This time of year is really special as all the various songs treat our ears. Is that a Northern Parula in the yard? Nope, Mr. Mockingbird showing off. Again.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice to have that little lot on your doorstep! 7,000 acres 40 miles of trail and 30 lakes would take many years to explore and I bet there is some delights waiting to be found.

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    • There are so many places a mere six hours away, but – why would we do that?

      I know. We are definitely spoiled!

      Off to look for some of those delights …

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I dont have A local patch these days, Wally, but several local patches, all of which are within five miles of home, but require me to take some exercise. Sometimes I wish I had somewhere local where i could just sit in the car and wait for nature to come to me, but then I realise that the exercise is good for me, so I head out again.

    Now you come along with your local patch, with such a richness and diversity of wildlife visible from the comfort of your car, and blow my resolve out of the water. If you were significant geographically closer, I’d be tempted to move to your neck of the woods and become a neighbour (sorry – I’d have to be a ‘neighbor’!)

    Fabulous photography and an entertaining post to brighten my evening – thank you.

    Looks like I might be off-grid for a while, but all good.

    My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

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    • You have the better idea with combining a love of nature with exercising. I’ll try to do better.

      You can move here any time and we won’t even mind if you are a “neighbour”.

      Hope your off-grid time is a good thing.

      We’ll wait patiently for your return.

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  9. Big or small those patches are an essential aren’t they? Solace, heart balm and delight. Thank you so much for sharing some of the magic of yours.

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  10. Wally,
    Your photographs and commentary just make my day! It has been many years since I was in Florida on vacation, and your blogs take me back to the wonderful times my daughter and I had visiting wildlife areas of all sorts. Thanks so much for your inspirations with the wildlife sightings.

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    • Hi, Nancy!

      Your very gracious remarks just made our day better, too!

      We hope you’re able to return to the Sunshine State for another vacation. If not, you’re welcome to visit vicariously through our meager offerings.

      Looking forward to your next visit, of either kind!

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