A Little Seasoning Whets The Appetite

My eyes strained to make out shapes which should be familiar but no images were forming. I knew there was a line of trees to my right along a fence and there was water to the left. A splash, perhaps a frog moving from his hiding spot on the bank, confirmed I was correct about the water. I could barely discern the spot onto which I stepped. Lightning punctuated the inky blackness far to the south. We might have rain today but it likely wouldn’t form until the afternoon. The other-worldly calls of Limpkins began sounding from around the marsh. (Limpkin Call) Almost imperceptibly the sky shifted from nothingness to dark blue and blobs which I knew to be trees gradually materialized in the distance. As the curtain of the morning was slowly drawn back, large formations of Ibises and Egrets moved across the edge of the horizon from their roosts as they dispersed to feeding areas. Water birds were becoming active nearby and myriad Herons, Egrets and Ibises flapped just above the tops of the vegetation and settled into spots likely to hold abundant prey. Mosquitoes buzzed incessantly around my eyes, ears and mouth. A sliver of orange fire in the east punctured what remained of the night and our day was truly in progress.

It’s September in central Florida. Still very hot. Still very humid. Thunderstorms are scheduled every day by mid-afternoon and seldom disappoint. It has been a wetter than normal summer. We hope for cold fronts to form in Canada to energize migration. Soon. In the meantime, Nature teases us with a Yellow Warbler overhead, a chip from a Northern Waterthrush in the understory, a fleeting glimpse of a Blue-winged Teal quartet zipping across the sky. The season is changing. Even in our sub-tropical environment we can feel a difference in the air. We look forward to the surprise of discovery experienced twice each year which serves as a booster shot of excitement and insures we remain forever hooked to our sweet addiction.

As we progress through this life, we encounter “key” people. Those individuals who by position or force of personality cause things to happen and can be relied upon to “get things done”. When I was a manager, I was constantly on the lookout for this type of person because I knew they would be instrumental in the success of any venture. In birding, I have discovered it’s still important to identify and have access to “key” people. In this case, that would be the person with the key to the gate you’re trying to get beyond! I have found such a person. Shh! Don’t tell him the real reason I like his company.

Once the “key” person accomplished his vital role, we once again entered the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands on the southeast side of Lakeland in Polk County, Florida. It may be another year before this area is open to the public. In the meantime, that feller with the key in his pocket has been gracious enough to schedule several tours for anyone interested in experiencing some the best birding in central Florida. Drop me an email if you’re interested and I’ll get some information to you.

Our day ended before noon and we had tallied just under 70 species. Highlights for me included a Short-tailed Hawk, a Willet (common along our beaches but rare at this inland area), Gull-billed Terns and over 30 Black-necked Stilts. Add to all of that patches of blooming flowers, colorful butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, Bobcat tracks, alligators and two of the state’s most accomplished birders who see and hear subjects long before I’m aware of them – and it was a very good day indeed.

 

Sunrise. Now I could actually see how many mosquitoes were in the cloud surrounding me.

Sunrise

Sunrise

 

Here’s a view of a small portion of the wetlands area. There are three “cells” of water which have been constructed in the wetlands which covers about 1,000 acres. A pump station on the south shore of Lake Hancock will pump lake water into one of these cells where specially planted vegetation will act as natural filters to clean the water. The clean water will be pumped into another of the cells for further filtration before being released into nearby Saddle Creek which feeds the Peace River and eventually the improved water will flow into the Gulf of Mexico at Charlotte Harbor. A small effort in the grand scheme of water management, but multiplied many times around our state it can make a difference.

Northeast Cell

Northeast Cell

 

A Dorantes Longtail dries out its wings after a heavy dew.

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

Dorantes Longtail (Urbanus dorantes)

 

From the top of a small tree a Northern Parula sings as if Spring was here instead of Fall.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

 

A curious Tufted Titmouse didn’t take long to start his alarm call to let the world know where we were. “Intruder Alert!”

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

 

It’s hard to miss the Scarlet Skimmer. There were dozens of these gaudy dragons around the marsh.

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia)

Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia)

 

The Gull-billed Tern makes you do a double-take. Nice slim body and wings of a tern, then you see that thick bill and it just looks odd.  The first image is a bird already in winter plumage and the second individual still retains the black cap from the breeding season.

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

 

American White Pelicans enjoy the fishing at Lake Hancock year ’round and their numbers can swell during migration to several thousand.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

A group of Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs enjoy foraging and preening in a shallow section of water.

Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs

Black-necked Stilts, Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Male and female Needham’s Skimmers are quite different in appearance. The male’s coloration can range from orange to almost red. Immature males are similar to the female until they become adults.

Needham's Skimmer - Male  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Male (Libellula needhami)

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami)

 

A Cattle Egret may not be the most beautiful of birds but doesn’t look half bad with his hair combed.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

 

Great Blue Herons are masterful fishermen and all the other birds are keenly aware of his prowess. A White Ibis hopes for a morsel.

Great Blue Heron, White Ibis

Great Blue Heron, White Ibis

 

The smallest butterfly in North America is the Southern Skipperling, one of the grass skippers. We’re fortunate that with Florida’s climate they remain here all year long.

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

Southern Skipperling (Copaeodes minima)

 

 

If you hunger for a birding trip, check your seasoning and enjoy cooking up a great day outside! Don’t forget to locate a “key” person to assist you in overcoming the occasional locked gate life may place in your path.

 

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

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Posted in Birds, Florida, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Nothing Fishy Going On Here

I have laid aside business, and gone a’fishing.Izaak Walton

 

I enjoy fishing. The preparation of tackle, the anticipation of the day, the skill involved, a tug on the end of the line, the beauty of the creature in my hands, the total relaxation which comes with being outside, near the water, “in” the elements. Dad passed along this trait, whether by teaching or example or actual genetic composition. I am forever grateful to him for this precious gift. He would have enjoyed our destination on a recent trip. A fish hatchery dedicated to improving the Florida Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides).  His favorite quarry.

The hatchery is located not far from home and is surrounded by pine woods and swamp. Rectangular ponds are laid out in neat rows over almost 200 acres of cleared land and a large covered building houses carefully controlled pools where fish eggs develop before being transferred to fishing locations throughout the state. Other fish raised and studied here include catfish, bream, crappie and grass carp. A new visitors center includes an interesting aquarium and an overlook of the indoor pool area.

Naturally, with all of the emphasis on fish here, we came to watch birds. It was our first visit and we weren’t sure what to expect. (Note to self: birds are sometimes not all that active in the middle of the hottest days of summer. Go earlier next time.) Almost noon, almost 100 degrees (F), almost no birds in sight. I had the camera. There were bugs. The rest is history.

With all of the ponds in the area I was mindful of Florida’s main tourist attractions: alligators and snakes. Walking around the edges of the impoundments stirred up all sorts of insect life. As the colorful bugs settled down on the end of grass stalks, I settled down for some portraiture. It occurred to me that laying down in weeds which concealed my presence also concealed the presence of potentially curious reptiles. What was that rustling sound behind me?

A few images may serve to illustrate how magnificent Nature can be, even on a day so hot no self-respecting birds made an appearance.

 

Okay, I had to include a few birds, but these were observed on the way to the hatchery.

This Limpkin appeared in a small wet area near the road where he found an Apple Snail.

Limpkin

Limpkin

 

Roseate Spoonbills follow cattle because they know the large beasts will stir up the muddy pasture to reveal all sorts of tasty treats. The Spoonie in the second image appears to have found a tadpole or small fishy thing.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

 

Golden-winged and Needham’s Skimmers are quite similar in appearance. Here are females of both species. The Golden-winged typically has blackish legs whereas those of Needham’s are more brown. There is also a subtle difference to the thorax pattern (where the brown meets the lighter color).

Golden-winged Skimmer - Female (Libellula auripennis)

Golden-winged Skimmer – Female (Libellula auripennis)

 

Needham's Skimmer - Female (Libellula needhami)

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami)

 

This male Eastern Pondhawk captured a white moth and made quick work of devouring it. The time elapsed from when I first observed him with a nearly whole moth until it was completely gone is 40 seconds.

Eastern Pondhawk - Male -  (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male – (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Male -  (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male – (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk - Male -  (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male – (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Male -  (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk – Male – (Erythemis simplicicollis)

 

You may tire of my frequent posting of pictures of the Halloween Pennant but I never get enough of seeing this beautiful dragon.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

 

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

 

Another Eastern Pondhawk , this time a female, has secured a meal, possibly a Needham’s Skimmer. It was interesting watching other dragons trying to steal the prize, unsuccessfully.

Eastern Pondhawk - Female -  With Poss. Needham's Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk – Female – With Poss. Needham’s Skimmer

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Female -  With Poss. Needham's Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk – Female – With Poss. Needham’s Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk - Female -  With Poss. Needham's Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk – Female – With Poss. Needham’s Skimmer

 

Eastern Pondhawk - Female -  With Poss. Needham's Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk – Female – With Poss. Needham’s Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk - Female -  With Poss. Needham's Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk – Female – With Poss. Needham’s Skimmer

 

Scarlet Skimmers are so brightly colored they seem almost artificial.

 

Scarlet Skimmer - Male  (Crocothemis servilia)

Scarlet Skimmer – Male (Crocothemis servilia)

 

Many butterflies, such as the Black Swallowtail, are sexually dimorphic. It would be easy to think these are two different species instead of a male and female.

Black Swallowtail - Male(Papilio polyxenes)

Black Swallowtail – Male(Papilio polyxenes)

 

Black Swallowtail - Female (Papilio polyxenes)

Black Swallowtail – Female (Papilio polyxenes)

 

I’m learning that locating specific butterfly species involves learning what plants they most favor. The Pearl Crescent is a member of the Brushfoot family (Nymphalidae) and prefers the small plant in these images, called Fogfruit (sometimes Frogfruit), Lippia nodiflora.

*Thank you to sharp-eyed Cole Fredricks who correctly identified this as a Pearl Crescent, not a Phaon Crescent as I originally reported.

 

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

 

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

 

The handsome Blue Dasher in the first photo is “obelisking”, pointing his abdomen skyward, believed to help cool its body. The pink in the background of the second image of a Blue Dasher is a blooming Morning Glory (Ippomea sp.).

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

Blue Dasher - Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Blue Dasher – Male (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

 

If you haven’t tried fishing, please consider it as a wonderful way to relax. If you find yourself doing something fishy and you are not fishing – well, quit it! If the fish aren’t biting and there are no birds around to watch, I strongly suspect Nature will provide you an alternative!

 

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

Posted in Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments