Exploring new places is exhilarating! The thrill of what “might be” and knowing you’re about to generate memories which could last a lifetime. It can also be a bit frightening. We humans tend to fear the unknown but our adventurous spirit usually overcomes that fear as we forge ahead and do what needs to be done.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the familiar. It can be a source of comfort and our mind and spirit are usually calm since we generally know what to expect. Sure, we can have new encounters in old places, but we aren’t nervous and look forward to reinforcing impressions made over time.
I never met Joe Overstreet. He was a prominent rancher in Osceola County, Florida and his grandfather was among the first settlers to begin cattle ranching in that area in the mid-1800′s. Most folks don’t know that Florida was the leading producer of beef cattle from the time of the Civil War well into the 20′th century. Large ranches still dot the state today. We are grateful to the Overstreet family and other land owners who have generously donated land for conservation easements to help preserve Florida’s natural ecology.
Our destination is the east shoreline of Lake Kissimmee. The area is south of the community of Kissimmee and there is a public boat ramp and fish camp at the end of Joe Overstreet Road. This road is a wonderful place to drive as slowly as possible (watch out for fishermen in a hurry to launch their boats, big trucks from a nearby sod farm and folks from the cattle ranch). There is a lot of wildlife to be seen here!
As Gini and I motored along in the darkness, holding hands (yep, we still do that), we discussed our birding goals for the day. The recent buzz in central Florida was about a Long-billed Curlew posing for the paparazzi in the mud flats adjacent to the boat ramp. I opined it would be neat to see one as it would be a new addition to our life list. Also, with Spring almost here, I hoped to see an Eastern Meadowlark singing from a perch. Feeling greedy, I told Gini we really need a picture of a Crested Caracara. She gave my hand a squeeze and simply said: “Think positive.” We turned on to Overstreet Road as the sun arose precisely when it was supposed to.
The familiar. Sandhill Cranes dotted the fields as usual. A large flock of Turkeys were foraging in the grass near a stand of pine trees. American Kestrels performed their routine which consists of perching on utility lines until you stop the car or point something (like a big camera lens) at them. They then drop from their perch and fly about 50 yards further up the road. They repeat this twice and then loop back to their original perch. It’s great fun. Blackbirds, Grackles, Crows, Glossy and White Ibises clamor around the cattle feeding stations for grain and insects. Watering holes attract herons and Belted Kingfishers. Savannah Sparrows flit from roadside weeds to the fence wire and back again. As we approach the boat ramp, Bald Eagles move from the tops of trees to begin their day of fishing.
It’s good to be back.
Of course, there is always the unexpected to deal with. Today, a fishing tournament is under way. In the middle of the week??? The parking area is packed with trucks and boat trailers and more and more fishermen are arriving every few minutes. Additionally, there appears to be a meeting of the Lake Kissimmee Air Boat Club, whose members are jockeying for position on top of the mud flats where birders have reported the Long-billed Curlew. Sigh.
The place began to settle down as fishermen were out on the lake, air boats were headed south at a high rate of speed and noise and we appeared to be the only birding types here at the moment. I snapped a few shots of Wilson’s Snipe which had been napping through all of the noise. What do you know! The curlew apparently had been nestled down with the snipe as he was now standing directly in front of me! After taking a few photos of my newest life bird, Gini and I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of incredibly sweet Florida orange slices, bananas and some of the largest pecans I’ve ever seen.
Here are a few of the sights we were blessed with this morning.
Early morning is a special time in nature and we think it’s really special when we are there for the experience.
A pair of Sandhill Cranes standing at the bottom of — a sandhill!
Wilson’s Snipe were active all along the shoreline adjacent to the boat ramp in front of the picnic area. These birds are winter visitors and will soon migrate north.
No birding trip in Florida can be considered complete without including a Great Blue Heron.
This Palm Warbler posed on a post where his head soaked up the early light of the sun.
It’s not a good trip if you don’t get dirty. So, down on my belly I went, laying flat on the wet mud to get some eye-level shots of a Lesser Yellowlegs. NOW – the day has truly started!
A Ring-billed Gull cruises above the shallow grass beds looking for fish near the surface.
What’s that shadow? A Crested Caracara! He swooped in low and landed on a fence-post. Naturally, the sun is directly behind him and there’s no way to change to a better position. Oh, well. We work with what we have.
During breeding season, the Great Egret’s yellow lores turn bright green and the bill becomes a bit darker. Also, they develop very long plumes on their backs. These are the “aigrettes” for which the bird was hunted almost to extinction. All for ladies’ hats.
A sign to the boat launch makes a handy perch for this Loggerhead Shrike.
Although Black Skimmers are normally encountered around salt water, they are occasionally found on fresh water inland lakes. It was a bit surprising to see these “beach birds” here!
Belted Kingfishers are small, fast and very efficient hunters. This one hovers in preparation for a dive on an unsuspecting fish.
Bald Eagles are abundant in this area as there are plenty of fish and nesting areas. This fellow appears to be performing harbor master duty: “Slow down, you!”.
My new life bird, the Long-billed Curlew. Hard to imagine he’ll likely be on the Great Plains in a couple of months.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad: curlew and caracara. But wait! Perhaps I didn’t mention that all of the above was accomplished before noon! We still have the rest of the day to search for a meadowlark!
Stay tuned for more familiarity in the afternoon!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!