My dad didn’t know I was using his long-handled minnow net to scrape along the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to catch crayfish. That changed when I hit an unforgiving root and bent the frame of the net. Fortunately, he was more forgiving than the root and a quick twist of the pliers and the net was as good as new. But I wouldn’t be using it in the drainage ditch anymore, he said.
That was in Miami, Florida about 60 years ago. At about that same time, a towheaded tomboy was busy trying to catch tadpoles in a drainage ditch near Tampa, Florida. Two kids, two drainage ditches, infinite curiosity about nature, 200 miles apart. Who knew fate would bring us together in a music room where love eventually blossomed and is still in full bloom.
Florida summers bring sudden and ferocious thunderstorms with raindrops the size of quarters, earth shaking rumbles and bright streaks of lightning hurled from inky skies. The only thing more frightening than the storm was what would happen to my rear end if my Mother had to call me indoors more than once! Although the storm would usually pass quickly, it was difficult to be patient. I knew the rain would add more water to the drainage ditches which could hold frogs, their thousands of tadpoles, turtles, crayfish and who knew what other wonders!
We are older now and much wiser, with enough sense to remain indoors when a severe storm is brewing —–
Why, that’s when all the birds are busy hunting for a last minute meal before the rains begin! We simply MUST be out there with them!
Thus, so it was last Wednesday. About a week ago, as I was traveling to an appointment downtown, I thought I glimpsed a Snail Kite along the shore of Lake Parker. There was too much traffic to stop safely and I was running a bit late so confirmation would have to wait. Until Wednesday. Until gathering storm clouds motivated me to pile Gini and bins and camera into the truck and go hunting. Bingo! There she was, atop a small cypress tree. She didn’t like my slinking around trying to hide behind trees to get close enough for a photo, but she remained in the area and I snapped a few shots for the record and left quickly so she could continue hunting for her escargot lunch. Before the storm.
We decided to check out a couple of the public boat ramp areas on the south and east sides of the lake since the rain had not yet begun. At the south ramp, a pair of Royal Terns were busy criss-crossing the lake in front of us while a young Limpkin extracted an apple snail from its shell. Half a dozen Osprey appeared to be suspended in the sky as they faced into the stiffening wind of the coming storm. At the east ramp, there are more trees and we found a group of 14 Yellow Warblers feeding voraciously. Along with these migrants were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a couple of Prairie Warblers and a Yellow-throated Warbler. I even got a rare glimpse of a migratory Northern Waterthrush, a bird usually heard but not often seen very well. A couple of woodpeckers and a vireo were scouring the branches of a large oak tree. Along a canal leading to the lake, the soft “chortle” of a Least Bittern led me to the spot where he slowly emerged for exactly one picture before he melted back into the reeds. A young alligator was totally unconcerned about any storms as he was way too busy demonstrating how to relax. In a protected spot, a dragon posed in the sunlight before the storm clouds rolled in.
Gini and I found a small barbeque place that sold us a couple of sandwiches and we parked on the shore of a small lake and enjoyed Nature’s show while we ate. The lake’s surface was whipped into whitecaps, the sky was black as night, thunder rolled, quarter-sized drops hit the windshield and we reminisced about running barefoot in a drainage ditch full of rain water. I am blessed.
Images from before the storm.
This lady started it all today. A Snail Kite, endangered due to loss of habitat throughout Florida but, happily, holding their own.
A Royal Tern enjoys the breeze before the storm rolls in.
A secretive Least Bittern. In the proper habitat, they are usually heard but prefer to remain deep in the reeds. (It is a smallish heron measuring only 11-14 inches (28-36 cm) in length.) Here is its soft chuckling call: Least Bittern Call.
Yellow-throated Warblers breed in Florida but in fall we begin to see numbers of them as migrants head south for the winter.
A Prairie Warbler can have very subtle or very vivid facial markings. This one is a bit in between the extremes. These birds don’t breed in our area and are only enjoyed during migration.
Another migrant, the Northern Waterthrush resembles a member of the thrush family (even bearing the name!) but is actually a warbler. It spends most of its time on the ground or low perches in boggy areas.
This Red-bellied Woodpecker is likely a first-year bird transitioning into adult plumage. Thus the “dirty” face.
Small Downy Woodpeckers are common in our area. This female is examining a lichen-covered branch hoping to find a snack.
A Yellow-throated Vireo stopped hunting for a moment to gaze down at the old guy gazing up. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if this is a local or a fall visitor.
When we drove up to the east side boat ramp area, before we got out of the truck, a gang of Yellow Warblers was very actively feeding in trees adjacent to the parking lot. It was interesting that within the group we spotted brightly colored males, the more subtly hued females and some almost gray looking immature birds.
Storms hold no fear for a dragon! Well, I imagine once the wind and rain begin, this dragon will seek shelter. This is a Four-spotted Pennant and is a young female. As she matures, the spots on each wing will become darker. The bright white stigmas on each wing leading edge and the slender abdomen are diagnostic for this species.
“Storm? What storm?” Typical alligator attitude.
We love living in the Sunshine State with its clear bright blue skies most of the year. But when the storms arrive, we still don’t mind dodging the raindrops to find a few birds. And if we happen to spot a drainage ditch full of water, well, these shoes and socks can disappear pretty quick!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!