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!