Header Image: Northern Waterthrush
It was a day similar to other days.
The sun rose. So did we. Ate breakfast. Read mail. Ate lunch. Accomplished chores. Ate supper. The sun set. We went to bed.
Ahhh. But during the hum-drum ordinary routine of the day, we discovered a few “extras“.
Shortly after the sun rose, we did, too, and drove a short way to have breakfast in the park. Tangerines and boiled eggs were perfect by the lake as we watched the morning flocks of White Ibises leave their nightly roost to locate suitable spots for foraging.
A couple of hours wandering around the pine woods, palmetto understory, lake shore, marsh and creek banks provided an incredibly diverse experience of the natural world. Winter bird migrants, resident birds and wildlife, fall flowers in bloom, insects enjoying the extended warm season of our sub-tropical climate in autumn – so much to take in. I know you’re tired of hearing it, but we truly are spoiled by the richness of our environment!
I would never say (aloud) that Gini whined, but when I mentioned we should be getting home, there was a sharp intake of breath followed by “the look” from those huge brown eyes and no actual vocalization was needed. Just awhile longer. If she had not convinced me to continue the adventure, we would never have seen the Red-shouldered Hawk chase the American Kestrel from his perch and the ensuing kerfuffle. Ordinary bird-watching turned into something “extra“.
A sampling of the “extras” in our otherwise ordinary day.
“Chickadee-dee-dee.” The sleek little Carolina Chickadee advised the rest of the flock that we were in the neighborhood. This species breeds in the park but its numbers increase with visitors from the north during migration.
A diminutive Blue-gray Gnatcatcher peers up at a branch hoping to spot a breakfast bug.
In the winter, we are able to enjoy the antics, calls and songs of House Wrens. Small but aggressive, they are fun to watch.
Florida has an amazing display of fall flowers each year. It helps make up for not much tree leaf color, I suppose. This is one of the over 20 species of Goldenrod (Solidago) which can be found in the state.
One of our favorite winter visitors is the American Bittern, a medium-sized heron. When alarmed, they often point their heads skyward and remain motionless. Their streaked neck and wonderfully patterned body blend in very well with the reeds of the marsh.
Those sharp brown eyes Gini has spotted “something different” near the lake. We have just started to see fair numbers of migrating sparrows, typically Savannah and Swamp Sparrows. She found two Grasshopper Sparrows hunting in the brush and grass. An unstreaked breast and belly, white eye-ring, an orange/yellow spot above the eye and a “flat-headed” appearance help identify this somewhat uncommon visitor.
Vertical streaks of purple dotted the pine woods understory as Blazing Star (Liatris spp.) bloomed gloriously throughout the area.
This Red-shouldered Hawk locked his gaze upon a brunch item in the grass and a split-second later launched from his pine tree perch to claim his prize. He did not share with us.
There were plenty of insects out and about but most of them were not interested in posing for a camera. This Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta) was kind enough to hold still for a moment. Mites seem to be somewhat common on dragonflies. Still, we wished we could offer a remedy.
Yellow is the color of the season for Florida wildflowers. Growing to over six feet tall and in masses, we really love the Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), also called the Swamp Sunflower.
A Pine Warbler used the iron fence as a tenderizer as he continually beat that bug until it was just right.
Flying fast above the forest, a long tail and “checkerboard” under wing pattern identified a Cooper’s Hawk.
The streaking of a Northern Waterthrush is how it came to have “thrush” in its name, despite the fact this water-loving bird is actually a warbler.
Primrosewillow is a very common plant throughout the southeast although identifying one of the more than 30 varieties can sometimes be a challenge. This is likely the non-native and invasive Peruvian Primrosewillow (Ludwigia peruviana). Those fabulous bright flowers almost make me forgive the plant for being an uninvited guest.
We always know migration is in full swing when we hear the little flycatcher incessantly repeating her name: “Phoe-be“!! Gini says the Eastern Phoebe sounds like she’s yelling: “Feed Me”!
A Red-shouldered Hawk decided he wanted to perch atop a small pine tree where an American Kestrel had set up an observation post. The bigger bird won the spot but the much smaller Kestrel expressed his extreme displeasure, several times.
Our ordinary day was transformed into “extraordinary“! A few birds, bugs and blooms and a bit of time spent observing our surroundings was all it took. See if you might have some “extras” hiding within your “ordinary” day.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Header Image: Snail Kite
Most living things are creatures of habit. For good reasons. Over time, we find what works best to ensure our survival. If we happen to be a black bear, we develop a habit of examining certain trees which in the past were used by bees. Yellow-legged Mud-dauber Wasps habitually sting and paralyze spiders, but don’t consume most of them. Instead, they seal a couple dozen in a nest cell containing a single wasp egg. A newly-hatched wasplet can happily munch her way to the great outdoors and is thankful Mom has such a thoughtful habit.
Humans, the most intelligent creatures on the planet, take the habit thing to a whole new level. Sure, we learn what we need to do to survive. Some of us stop right there. Minimalist thinking. Why would I exert more effort than is absolutely necessary for me to keep breathing? At the other end of the scale is the over-achiever. If I need to do ‘x‘ amount of work to survive, then if I do ‘x‘ times ‘infinity‘, why, I could control the whole world!
So, basic creatures do basic things pretty much the same way every day to help the survival of their species. The apex smarty pants of the universe, us, we figure out what we need to do each day to get by and then, depending on our hereditary/educational/social/mental proclivities, we figure out what habits contribute to “success”, which is defined a gabillion different ways depending on who you are and what you want out of life.
Birders develop habits. There are certain venues which become well-known for a diverse bird population or a specific bird or a collection of birds during a particular season. The birder makes it a “habit” to visit this location whenever possible. Some birders have a set routine for an outing and head to several different places throughout the day to check on activity. Many have one “special” spot, perhaps close to home, where they can easily spend an hour or so and have become so familiar with the avian residents that any anomalies are readily noticed. Some birders refer to such a spot as their “patch”.
A very few (hardly worth noting actually, the number is so miniscule) take the birding habit just one step too far. They will visit their “patch” or similar spot to the exclusion of other locales. Instead of seeking a new and unknown area to explore, they return to their “comfort zone” and happily observe the same birds in the same trees which were observed yesterday. This situation, if left unchecked, could potentially cause the unsuspecting birder to trip over a finely honed habit and fall into a rut.
So there we were, enjoying a quiet dinner and I innocently asked my Darling Gini if she minded a trip to Lake Parker Park in the morning. A slight pause was all that was needed for my little gray cells to leap to the possibility that I, yes me, myself, may have inched ever so slightly toward the ledge beyond which lay the abyss of – a “rut“.
“On the other hand”, perspiration formed on my brow as I desperately tried backpedaling to safety, “Why don’t we head over to the east side of the lake and check out the fishing pier area?” She sensed my discomfort, smiled sweetly and simply said: “Sounds good. More coffee?”
That was close.
The aforementioned fishing pier is accessed by a long sidewalk running parallel with a canal on one side and a row of oak, hickory and willow trees on the other. Beyond the canal and the trees is a substantial area of reeds and lily pads along the shore of Lake Parker. The fishing pier juts into the main lake and is a great spot to scan for wintering ducks (in a few more weeks), watch Osprey and Bald Eagles soar and myriad other water birds going about their daily habits. The taller trees can be a great place to find smaller woodland birds.
We saw a surprising assortment of birds, did not spend much time there and arrived back at the house well before lunch time. Most importantly, yours truly appears to have side-stepped a rut in the road of birding habits.
So herewith, a selection of subjects seen singing, sitting and soaring.
As late fall approaches, migrating Bald Eagles filter into the area and, like most tourists, are happily surprised at all the lakes filled with fish! We have a robust resident population of Bald Eagles. The locals do not react well to strangers fishing in their front yard. Fights are common and occasionally fatal. From the pier today, we counted six of the magnificent raptors soaring, screaming and fishing. No fighting – yet.
A sky filled with really large birds of prey can make other birds a bit nervous. An Osprey tries to hunt for fish but keeps glancing at the circling eagles overhead.
An Anhinga may not be accused of being the most attractive of birds, but who can resist such beautiful brown eyes?
Caspian Terns are the largest terns in the world. We have a few who, along with several Royal Terns, have made Lake Parker their year-round home.
Although still on state and federal endangered lists, Snail Kite populations in Florida have been rebounding over the past few years. None were present here just five years ago and now they are nesting along the northeastern part of Lake Parker.
Some of the earliest warblers to appear in our area for fall migration are Yellow Warblers. They don’t stay too long as they have reservations in Caracas.
Yellow-throated Warblers are Florida residents but they have a bunch of northern relatives which show up for the annual fall bug harvest.
We watched an Osprey methodically clean the head and skin from a freshly-caught fish when she was suddenly swooped upon by a lazy interloper looking for an easy meal. The ensuing air-to-air combat operation would have made most Air Force jet jockeys envious. The would-be thief gave up and the victor enjoyed her spoils from a nearby pine tree.
Developing habits is a matter of survival. Nurturing good habits can help us be more successful in our lives. Repeating some habits too often can lead us into a rut. Diversify. Stay out of ruts!
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Header Image: Carolina Wren
Once again, that mee-tee-oh-rah-low-gist was absolutely correct. Partly cloudy with temperatures about the same as yesterday. I missed my calling.
We pulled into the management area just before the sun was scheduled to make an appearance. Thin fog suggested the actual appearance would be somewhat later than Sol had in the day-planner. Atop the welcome sign, a Red-shouldered Hawk scanned the dew-soaked grass for any sign of movement, AKA: breakfast.
The fog was of such consistency that we could not see too far in any direction but Gini’s well-developed sense of hearing reported chips and tweets in abundance. Sandhill Cranes trumpeted overhead as they moved from their nightly roost to a nearby field where they would forage all day. The “churrrrr” of a Red-bellied Woodpecker advertised his location. Lakes were beginning to become noisy with the gabble of Common Gallinules and the eerie cry of a Limpkin split the early morning calm like that alarm clock did a short while ago.
There are locations throughout Tenoroc Fish Management Area that, over time, have proven to be consistently productive for observing bird life. Like a pair of surgeons in a convalescent ward, Gini and I make our rounds, checking the health of our patients and listening calmly as the wrens complain incessantly about their neighbors and the food. Doctor Gini announced it was already time for breakfast.
The fog didn’t last long and the clear blue sky and relatively mild temperature induced heavy sighs from us both. This. This is what life is about. Sharing nature’s beauty with someone you love. We had innumerable tasks which needed attention at the house. Some, admittedly, have needed attention for, well, a very long time. Our priorities are skewed. We know it. We accept it. Cleaning closets or holding hands while watching a Belted Kingfisher yell at the water? No contest.
I frequently feel I should apologize for subjecting you to too many images. Let us know if this is a recurring problem. There is no guarantee the issue will change, but at least I will be aware of your discomfort.
A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks begin the daily routine of hunting for food. One of our most common raptors, I feel it is one of the most handsome.
The beginning of fall migration season is often signaled by small songbirds gathering in large groups which can offer protection from predators as they journey southward. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are one such species. We saw nearly three dozen during our morning outing.
Wrens seem to be among the more aggressive members of the bird world. If they were as large as an eagle, they would be fearsome, indeed! A Carolina Wren confronted us as soon as we approached a hedgerow, demanding to know our intention. “Click.” Intention fulfilled. Thank you.
Curious as to why the Carolina Wren was yelling so loudly, a migratory Ovenbird skulked in the low branches, orange crest flared as she knew something had upset the wren so perhaps she should be upset, too. Some are not aware the Ovenbird is a warbler as it has thrush-like streaking on its undersides.
Insects abound in the area since we are seldom very far from water. This lovely specimen is the Flesh Fly (Sarcophagidae spp.). As one might expect from the Latin as well as its common name, its specialty is consuming decaying flesh.
We’re lucky to have the Northern Parula here during breeding season and enjoy its ascending buzzy trill. In the fall, numbers of this warbler join with Titmice and Gnatcatchers in their trek southward.
A demure female Common Yellowthroat looks like royalty surrounded by a field of dewy jewels. The male is more boldly colored and sports a black mask once mature.
Cocking his head to get a better look at a branch, a male Downy Woodpecker has a red spot on his nape which the female lacks.
Carpenter-mimic Leafcutter Bee (Megachile xylocopoides). That’s a mouthful. Similar in appearance to Carpenter Bees, the Leafcutter Bees carry pollen on their abdomen instead of leg pouches.
A trio of Red-eyed Vireos were busily feeding along the path. One glanced our way for a moment, decided we were no threat and continued the hunt for juicy caterpillars.
Late molting is likely responsible for the disheveled appearance of this male Northern Cardinal. It is not unusual for cardinals to have two or even three broods in our sub-tropical climate.
The edge of a large open field normally has a few spots where water collects. Dragonflies love the habitat, and, therefore, so do we! We found over a dozen Band-winged Dragonlets (Erythrodiplax umbrata) in the area.
Flashes of red directed our attention to the Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia). Not native to North America, this species likely arrived via landscaping plants.
One of the smallest doves in the United States, the Common Ground Dove is about the size of a Song Sparrow.
Gangster. The Tufted Titmouse is the first to yell in the forest when a human shows up. He then leads is pack of bird-thugs to challenge our incursion of their territory. Okay, it’s pretty hard to call anything this cute a “gangster”.
Roseate Skimmers (Orthemis ferruginea) are some of the largest of the skimmers. This female posed for a few seconds and I appreciate it.
For me, one of the most attractive butterflies we have in the area is the Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus). As frequently happens, this one lost a bit of its tail, probably due to a close call with a predator.
We know fall migration is definitely underway when we hear the rattles of active Belted Kingfishers around our lakes. This guy wouldn’t quit yelling at the water below. We couldn’t see the object of his ire, perhaps Al The Gator?
Two dragons we don’t often catch sitting still!
Always curious, constantly singing, beautiful to look upon. Yep, we like White-eyed Vireos!
We were a bit surprised to find a few early Palm Warblers. Like, nearly 50 of them! They were staging from a row of large oak trees as they foraged in an open field. It was like welcoming old friends back for an annual reunion. And all of them with tails pumping.
Rounding out our morning outing, that darned car once again proved to be a critter magnet. This time, a Regal Jumping Spider (Phidippus regius) had taken possession of the vehicle. Any move in its direction was immediately challenged, front legs waving. Good thing they are less than an inch long, else we might have felt threatened.
A happy combination of loving each other and enjoying the natural world has resulted in a long-lasting relationship which endures and continues to flourish. Luckiest – man – in – the -world.
We leave you with a definition (and a poem) from “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce, one of my all-time favorite writers.
OUT-OF-DOORS, n. That part of one’s environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes.* Chiefly useful to inspire poets.
I climbed to the top of a mountain one day
To see the sun setting in glory,
And I thought, as I looked at his vanishing ray,
Of a perfectly splendid story.
‘Twas about an old man and the ass he bestrode
Till the strength of the beast was o’ertested;
Then the man would carry him miles on the road
Till Neddy was pretty well rested.
The moon rising solemnly over the crest
Of the hills to the east of my station
Displayed her broad disk to the darkening west
Like a visible new creation.
And I thought of a joke (and I laughed till I cried)
Of an idle young woman who tarried
About a church-door for a look at the bride,
Although ’twas herself that was married.
To poets all Nature is pregnant with grand
Ideas—with thought and emotion.
I pity the dunces who don’t understand
The speech of earth, heaven and ocean.
—Stromboli Smith **
*(This was written in the late 19th century, prior to governments coming up with the revenue-generating idea of “parks”.)
** (Stromboli Smith is one of several dozen aliases used by Bierce throughout his career.)
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Header Image: Great Blue Heron
We married young. Too young, “they” said. With our 20-20 hindsight, Gini and I have determined we married at the exact time the universe had scheduled the event. Our life continues to be infinitely rewarding.
In those early days, we had little “spare” money. (Times haven’t changed much!) What we had an abundance of was curiosity – about everything. The military life had its challenges, but a nice side benefit was the new places it flung us every few years. Different cultures, languages, foods, environments – we were like sponges and soaked up all we could absorb.
Time marched on and we were blessed with the two best children which have ever been born. The money poured in. And leaked right back out again. Thanks to Gini’s frugality and detailed planning, we socked away a few coins. Eventually, we reached a point where we thought we could afford a “luxury” now and then. A better Tee-Vee set, a stereophonic system, nicer toys (for those children, you know).
Camping equipment was a “necessity”, we convinced ourselves. Exploring nature required binoculars (for those children, you know). The military camera club had a sale too good to pass up and, after all, seeing all that stuff is one thing, but to have it recorded for posterity (for those children, you know), well, another “necessity” was checked off the list.
Sigh. Those children. Long ago, it seems, they fledged, as they were bound to, and forlorn parents simply had to do something to maintain our balance in life. Upgrades! That’s the ticket! The digital world beckoned and the siren song of sending those children‘s children instant gratification of their grandparents’ exploits could not be denied.
Meanwhile, in the real world of our present reality, we have a lot of stuff which has not only accumulated over many years, but, I swear this is true, it has found a way to multiply when we aren’t looking. How else can one explain all the camera bodies, lenses, tripods, packs, batteries, memory cards, ad infinitum, spread out over the living room floor??
Our typical birding day-trip includes renting a small moving van to haul the requisite equipment one must have available to adequately capture the essence of an avian subject resting upon a twig. After all, THIS might be the one which will motivate National Geographic or Sir David Attenborough his own self to contact us concerning our upcoming fame and fortune!
Last Tuesday, in an outright display of unacceptably irresponsible and reckless behavior, I left the house with only one camera, one lens and one pair of binoculars. I know. I should have been reported.
A strange thing occurred. During the next hour-and-a-half at the local park, I observed nature. Right here within the city limits. Standing on the shore of the lake, I actually saw the sunrise. I don’t mean I looked eastward and there was the sun at 0710 as scheduled. I mean – I watched as the horizon turned pink, then orange and the bright arc of our sun moved slowly upward and became the fiery ball which keeps us all alive. Water droplets gathered on the flat lily pads. Fish broke the water’s surface as they fed on floating insects. Calls of birds filled the air.
It was – exhilarating.
There was no urgency to record anything. Being there was enough.
(Habits are difficult things to ignore. Images were made.)
Water on the lilies resembled shards of broken glass.
The white face and bright eyes of a Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) greeted the rising sun of a new day.
This is a city park where well-meaning people indulge in feeding the birds. The resident population of Purple Gallinules has learned to head straight for humans when spotted knowing they will likely be rewarded with a soggy bit of hot dog bun or handful of potato chips. Yum.
The tops of trees throughout the park are now filled with resident and migratory birds in their non-stop quest to consume fuel for their journey further south. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher seemed to inspect every single branch.
Park personnel thoughtfully placed a bench at the lake’s edge for weary White Ibises to rest.
Northern Flickers tend to feed in an “un-woodpecker-like” manner by hopping along the ground, where they often target ants. In the eastern United States, the Yellow-shafted form of this handsome woodpecker is prevalent while in the west there is a Red-shafted form. Once upon a time, they were considered separate species. But then – science happened.
Bright early morning sunshine highlights the latest trend in hair style for modern Red-bellied Woodpeckers. This may be a result of late molting, “bed-head”, no coffee yet or simply a reaction to seeing me standing under its perch.
Thick, hooked bill and yellow “spectacles” help identify the Yellow-throated Vireo. This beauty breeds in our area but its numbers increase as fall migration progresses.
The large Brown Thrasher with its golden eyes is an accomplished singer with a vast repertoire exceeded only by his cousin the Northern Mockingbird.
More often lately, we tend to eschew the moving van of paraphernalia and instead grab the bins and camera and head for somewhere local. We are exceedingly fortunate to have superb birding venues mere minutes away. The storehouse of equipment will still come in handy. Just not on every trip.
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
Header Image: White-tailed Deer
No. The title does not refer to Gini. No matter whether such a description might be true, she may take exception to that “short” thing. And you wouldn’t want me to end up bruised (again), would you?
Our days have been interrupted lately with catch-up visits to assorted physicians and lab specialists which were postponed due to the interplanetary plague of recent years. It was becoming serious as our birding and nature exploration was in danger. Thankfully, we are almost current in such appointments. Except for this afternoon.
Thus, a quick morning trip before the afternoon is consumed by medical locusts.
The short trip began in fog. Unlike my occasional brain fog, no caffeine needed to clear the skies. Simply wait long enough and the gray mist dissipates to reveal the green world around us still exists.
A dawn flock of Cattle Egrets descended in front of us as they hungrily devoured insects stuck to wet grass stems and weed leaves. White-tailed Deer were too busy munching their own breakfast to pay us much attention. Until we got too close. Then, their namesake white flag tails were all we saw as they disappeared into the woods. Fall is here. Groups of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tufted Titmice and Carolina Chickadees seemed to be all around us. Vireos sang from hidden perches. A Great Horned Owl surprised us with its soft “who-who-who-who-who-who” from a nearby snag. (Of course, reaching for the camera caused her to immediately abandon the area.) A new Eastern Bluebird family was a joy to watch as they hunted bugs and decorated a utility pole. A line from that same pole supported an Eastern Kingbird, passing through on his way even further south.
Short and sweet. Even a quick trip beginning in a fog and ending with bluebird skies makes it all worthwhile.
If you have a chance, get outside, even if it’s for a short time. Marvel at how Nature goes about the business of survival. Sometimes, She doesn’t even mind if we watch.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!