Babies, Birds, Bugs

Our central Florida summer has provided flashes of childhood memories. Hot with regularly scheduled thunderstorms every day. As a kid, handling the heat was an easy task. Simply run around in the rain to keep cool. A drainage ditch full of water was even better! If there was a day with no rain, simply turn on the garden hose and make your own rain. Life was so much simpler when we had to manufacture our own entertainment.

Thank goodness I have matured. With daily temperatures reaching the high 90 degree (F) mark and thunder, lightning and heavy rain occurring by noon every day, I do what any sensible nature-loving adult would do. I take a plastic bag to keep my binoculars and camera dry!

I’ve been trying to become more like a “real” birder is supposed to be and have discovered I am apparently obligated to declare a local birding venue as “My Patch”. Research indicates I’m not actually supposed to go out and purchase “My Patch”, which therefore means it isn’t really my “My Patch”. Instead, “My Patch” is a place I go regularly to scratch that interminable itch caused from being infected with the “birding” virus.

The place nearest the front door to which we travel with some sort of regularity is the municipal park at Lake Parker. The city of Lakeland, Florida does a good job of maintaining this area and it provides a decent oasis for resident as well as migratory birds. Visiting on a weekend or holiday can be hazardous to one’s health due to the overwhelming crowds, but an early weekday morning can be very pleasant. As it was recently.

Many birds are very busy raising new families and, just like the rest of us, are discovering the joy of incessantly screaming babies demanding to be fed. As the adult wanders off to find food, junior discovers his feet can be used to go places, which is how the game “Hide-and-Seek” was invented. When Mama returns with food and finds the baby gone much hysteria ensues. There follows long lectures about the many evils lurking in the big bad world. Parenting is fun.

Herewith are a few images from a morning at “My Patch”.

 

Camouflage is not the strong suit of the Roseate Spoonbill. They are sort of pretty, though. The unusual shape of that bill helps filter nutrients as the bird swings it back and forth through the water.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

A Halloween Pennant is hard to miss with its bright orange color and striped wings.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

 

This dragonfly was intent on following me along the lake shore. He would fly a few feet toward the lake, circle back and position himself right in front of my face. The Prince Baskettail is very aggressive about protecting “His Patch”!

Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps)

Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps)

 

One of those babies mentioned earlier has discovered those huge feet will take him all sorts of places! Hopefully, the young Common Gallinule will soon discover how handy those wings can be in the event of alligators, snakes and hawks. Mother will be along soon to explain it all.

Common Gallinule (Juvenile)

Common Gallinule (Juvenile)

 

Speaking of Mother. This Limpkin is hunting for an Apple Snail breakfast. Once secured, she patiently shows her youngster how to remove the operculum with that handy scissor-like bill which will allow the tasty meat to be extracted. As with kids everywhere, most of the instruction is forgotten once the morsel of escargot appears. “Do it again, Mom!”

Limpkin

Limpkin

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

More Mothers. The adult Purple Gallinule strains to see where Junior has gotten to. Ah, there he is, under a lily snatching bugs. Good for him! He’s learning!

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

Purple Gallinule (Juvenile)

 

The female Four-spotted Pennant has very subtle “spots” on her wings as opposed to the male which is a very dark dragonfly with distinct wing markings.

Four-spotted Pennant - Female/Immature (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Female/Immature (Brachymesia gravida)

 

This immature male Eastern Pondhawk started his adult life a bright green just like an adult female. Gradually, the green gives way to the powdery blue signifying a male.

Eastern Pondhawk - Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Characteristic wing bars and shiny dark face identify this large dragonfly as a Bar-winged Skimmer.

Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena)

Bar-winged Skimmer (Libellula axilena)

 

Patience is a virtue. Just ask this Great Egret. After waiting and waiting and waiting…..he suddenly struck the water so fast one couldn’t follow the movement. His reward was a nice juicy tadpole.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egret With Tadpole

Great Egret With Tadpole

 

Many of Florida’s water birds are similar in appearance. This all white bird is actually an immature Little Blue Heron. They remain white until their first spring and then begin to show some of the slate blue colors of an adult. A bill that appears to be two-toned, all yellowish legs and dusky wingtips help to distinguish this species from the Snowy Egret. All of the above plus size separate it from the larger all white Great Egret, also pictured below.

Little Blue Heron (Immature)

Little Blue Heron (Immature)

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

The Tricolored Heron is usually no problem to identify. It has gray-blue plumage overall above, a sort of purplish chest, a white stripe under its long neck and white underparts. It is the only dark heron in North America with light underparts.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

There were very few mammals active during this visit and the reason why was discovered when I spotted this Gray Squirrel on a coffee break.

Gray Squirrel

Gray Squirrel

 

 

It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s rainy. What else could you possibly be doing? Go find “Your Patch” and see how many birds, babies and bugs are waiting for you!

 

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

 

Additional Resources

Lake Parker Park

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Dragons At 12 O’Clock!

(“Mad dogs and Birders go out in the mid-day sun.” – Sincerest apologies to Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and whomever else may have coined the original saying.)

 

We have pretty much ceased to live by the calendar and clock. A life without a schedule has serious drawbacks. For example, I used to arrive home from the office by 5:45 and the family sat down to supper no later than 6:15. Now, however, Gini and I may have supper at 6:30. Or 6:42. See what I mean? Schedules keep us from falling into a state of pure chaos. Another extreme example. In order to conform to business society’s rules for a successful career, I visited my barber every seven days without fail. Last week, I realized in horror that it had been a full eight days since a razor had touched by increasingly sparse and graying strands. With no pre-planned guidelines to follow, we have become like ships adrift in life’s tidal flow with no compass and no anchor. Rudderless and adrift, it is a sheer miracle we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Lounging about the other day, with nothing whatsoever planned, Gini innocently asked: “What shall we do for lunch?”. Panic. My eyes began to dart from side to side. Sweat broke out on my forehead. She wants ME to make a decision! About lunch! This is big. I’m not normally entrusted with the IMPORTANT things. What to do? There’s no SCHEDULE!

“Uhh, how about a picnic?”, I heard my feeble voice say. “That’s a WONDERFUL IDEA!”, Gini said. “I have leftover boiled eggs in the fridge and can whip up some egg salad for sandwiches and we can take some fruit.”

Whew. That was close. Panic subsided but then began to well up again as I realized she would expect me to figure out where to go for this impromptu (UNSCHEDULED stuff again) adventure. Fortunately, I had been wanting to visit a local state park to check out some improvements they had recently made. Most of our picnics are “bird-centric”, and the park should provide some birding opportunities.

Central Florida in the summer at noon. Think “high temperatures with matching humidity”. Even the natives (and that’s us) usually have enough sense to remain indoors. In artificially cooled air. With large glasses of ice containing who-cares-what liquid in them. But we have already established that we are not “normal”.

Colt Creek State Park is only about ten miles from the house. It has a deep (for Florida) lake, pine and hardwood forests, open fields, cypress tree studded wetlands, very nice amenities (fishing pier, canoe rental, picnic areas, modern restrooms) and several miles of trails to explore. The sandwiches were superb, the fresh air (yes, it was hot) was exhilarating and the company was the absolute best.

What I said earlier about native Floridians having better sense than to be out at noon in the summer applies to the bird life, too. We saw one Eastern Bluebird smashing a caterpillar on a tree branch, one Common Gallinule floating listlessly in the cattails, one Anhinga perched on the pier and one sky-borne hunter described below. So I did what any other birder does in this situation. I admired the bugs.

Dragonflies are apparently impervious to heat. There were hundreds of the gossamer-winged creatures flitting about. They’re a bit of a challenge (for me, anyhow) to capture digitally, but it’s fun learning the different species and about their natural history. As I moved amongst the weeds trying to stalk these quick and elusive targets, there was a fellow dragonfly lover looking over my shoulder. The Swallow-tailed Kite just happens to love Odonata hors d’oeuvres.

Join us for our unscheduled lunch, from the comfort of your much cooler environment.

 

Even in the middle of the day, we sometimes find nice surprises when we venture forth. Such as a moon high overhead in a deep blue sky.

Moon

Moon

 

Flowers bloom even when no one is there to see them. Fortunately, we caught a few showing off their true colors. Such as this Leavenworth’s Tickseed, a beautiful member of the Coreopsis genus.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

My boyhood home here in central Florida was adjacent to a pasture where we found an abundance of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). These ancient reptiles have not changed much in over 60 million years. They dig a burrow which averages 30 feet deep and can eventually become home or provide shelter to myriad other life forms, including Burrowing Owls and Rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, they are now listed as an endangered species in Florida primarily due to loss of habitat.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

 

Enter the dragons. This male Blue Dasher is quite colorful with his yellow racing stripe thorax and cool blue abdomen. Perched with abdomens pointed up is called “obelisking” and is thought to reduce the amount of body surface the sun’s rays strike allowing the dragonfly to remain cooler.

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

The Carolina Saddlebags is found near water, usually small lakes or ponds with an abundance of submerged vegetation.

Carolina Saddlebags  -Female - (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags -Female – (Tramea carolina)

 

One of the most striking dragonflies found in North America is the Halloween Pennant. There is some speculation that the coloration along with their “fluttery” flight might mimic the Monarch Butterfly, which is distasteful to predators.

Halloween Pennant - Male(Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant – Male(Celithemis eponina)

 

A large dragonfly, the Great Blue Skimmer, is one of the few species with a white face. The first image is a typical female while the second picture shows an older female which has taken on the bluish body color of the male.

Great Blue Skimmer - Female  (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer – Female (Libellula vibrans )

Great Blue Skimmer - Mature Female  (Libellula vibrans)

Great Blue Skimmer – Mature Female (Libellula vibrans)

 

The reddish-orange body and golden-tinted wings of Needham’s Skimmer really stand out along the lake shore. This medium sized dragon is very similar to the Golden-winged Skimmer. One difference is the rear legs of Needham’s are brownish as opposed to the black of the Golden-winged.

Needham's Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

 

Another colorful flower in our area is Tropical Sage. This native plant can grow to three or four feet tall and is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

 

A Gulf Fritillary gathers nectar from a thistle. Beautifully patterned from below, when seen from above it’s a striking orange that draws immediate attention as it glides from plant to plant.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

 

Nature attempts to maintain a balance in all things. Accordingly, she has given us such predators as this Robber Fly which preys upon butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, other flies and some spiders.

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

Robber Fly (Asilidae, poss. Efferia aestuans ?)

 

A Swallow-tailed Kite seemed quite interested in my presence. She was quite busy hawking dragonflies, one of her favorite food items. The kites will be gathering soon in pre-migration groups for their annual trip to South America for the winter. The actual migration can begin as soon as the beginning of August.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

 

 

I realize you don’t have it marked on your calendar or in your day-planner, but consider an unplanned picnic in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point. You just never know what surprises await your discovery when you show up in Nature’s front yard unannounced!

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

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