A Favorite Florida State Park

After the previous post about early spring in Ohio we thought we’d travel back in time to late January and explore the natural beauty of Florida’s Lake Kissimmee State Park. After our third visit we now consider it a cornerstone for any winter camping trip to Florida.

Live Oak

.

An advantage to many of the parks we visit in Florida is that they’re not separated by great distances so it’s an easy matter to pull up stakes in one and head down the road to the next. Lake Kissimmee SP is not far from Little Manatee River, is a much larger park so there is plenty of nature to explore without ever leaving the park. The greatest variety of birds can be seen if one quietly paddles the lake shore, Zipper Canal, or Tiger Creek but birding is also very rewarding along the hiking trails. When not observing warblers, gnatcatchers, or kinglets. the trails are a great way to see the park’s many Red Headed Woodpeckers and there are rumors of Scrub Jays although that’s one we have yet to see.

.

Folks sometimes ask if we’re concerned about taking expensive camera equipment in a canoe. The answer is yes, but we’ve been blessed to see many birds that we wouldn’t have otherwise and are sometimes lucky enough to get a picture so we feel it’s worth the risk. Within reason the canoe doesn’t limit the amount of equipment one can take and while you may get lucky from time to time don’t expect tack sharp “tripod” images. Where the canoe fails as a photography platform is when wind and water conditions create excessive motion or make the boat hard to control leaving little opportunity for pictures. Although some might not agree, a bonus when exploring overgrown Florida shorelines in a small boat is wondering if around the next bend one will startle a large gator. It’s an experience of “wildness” not availible in places further north. With that intro, below are some of the “canoe” birds seen during our two weeks at the park.

A favorite Lake Kissimmee perch for a group of Anhingas

A closer look at a male.

Paddling Zipper Canal between Lake Kissimmee and Rosalie Lake.

A Bald Eagle along Tiger Creek which flows from Tiger Lake to Lake Kissimmee.

A Bald Eagle peers down at a prospective meal . .

. . then dives.

Hundreds of Tree Swallows in an early morning feeding frenzy on Lake Kissimmee.

A few take a break from the hunt, (Donna).

Clouds over Lake Kissimmee.

Immature Snail Kite along the Lake Kissimmee shoreline. The kites were a real treat because during last year’s visit, which was right after a hurricane, there were none to be seen.

Mature Snail Kite with snail, (Donna).

Mature Snail Kite.

A Glossy Ibis reveals how it got it’s name, (Donna).

Rosalie Creek between Rosalie and Tiger Lakes.

Young Alligator along Tiger Creek.

Tri-color Heron along Tiger Creek, (Donna).

Black-crowned Night Heron along the Zipper Canal, (Donna).

Great Egret with fish, (Donna).

Little Blue Heron, (Donna).

Lily pads, Lake Kissimmee.

Swallow-tailed Kite over Tiger Creek. Observing them it appears that they often catch their prey in their talons and proceed to devour it on the wing.

Common Moorhen along the grassy Lake Kissimmee shoreline, (Donna).

.

The hiking trails offer a different mix of birds and wildlife. The length of hike often dictates the type of equipment one decides to take along. Lugging ten pounds of camera equipment for seven or eight miles is not fun. One solution I saw this year was to modify a light weight golf cart to haul your equipment if the trail conditions and other restrictions allow.

The type of golf cart that would be easy to modify to carry a tripod and camera with long telephoto lens.

.

When hiking park trails one thing that always amazes me is how different species of birds stay together or flock. One can walk for miles and not see much of anything and then all of a sudden there will be birds everywhere. Chickadees, titmouse, kinglets, gnatcatchers, and warblers are often seen together and often there will even be a blue jay in the mix. With the Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss, the palmettos, and the pines, the landscape is enchanting so if the birds aren’t cooperating there is always something to appreciate.

Tufted Titmouse often alert us to the fact there may be warblers in the area. (Donna).

Sure enough, a Black and White Warbler makes an appearance.

Along the trail.

Another view showing tail and flight feathers.

We weren’t quiet sure what this Red-bellied Woodpecker planned to do with the acorn, (Donna).

White-eyed Vireo.

Eastern Phoebe, (Donna).

Sandhill Cranes. As common as they are we did not have the many opportunities to photograph them.

Pine Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Bald Eagle and nest on Buster Island near the Cow Camp.

The Great Crested Flycatcher showed up near our campsite. It’s the largest of the flycatchers, (Donna).

Sunlight and Spanish Moss.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

A Northern Flicker shared the Red Headed Woodpeckers territory.

Buster Island trail.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are quite common in the park.

Yellow-rumped Warblers competed with Palm and Pine Warblers for most common status.

If Florida had a state hawk, it sound be the always vocal Red-shouldered.

.

The other things:

Curious deer, (Donna).

Bark Anole.

A large Golden Silk Orb-weaver.

A Golden Silk Orb-weaver sun lit with a background of dark shade.

Fascinating fungi along the trail.

Female Band-winged Dragonlet

Yellow Milkwort is native and found throughout most of the Florida peninsula. Interestingly, the only place in the world it grows is Florida.

Grass highlighted by the winter sun.

The long burrows, up to 40 feet wide and 10 feet deep, of the endangered Gopher Tortoise are home to over three dozen other animal species that use them for shelter from harsh weather and predators.

Anole displaying.

The winter light often highlights the Spanish Moss and creates deep shadows.

Yellow Jessamine is a common flowering vine in January and February.

A Spiny-backed Orb-weaver suspends over the trail.

Florida Baskettail.

Oak Toad, (Donna).

Eastern Racer, (Donna).

.

Lake Kissimmee SP is one place we will be returning to next year. With its long hiking trails and extensive areas to explore by canoe there is always a new adventure waiting.

.

Tiger Creek

Under a clear blue sky,

with the winter sun warming skin exposed to cool morning air,

paddles rhythmically break the still surface,

as the canoe glides with anticipation along a winding creek

wrapped in sage, bulrush and lily pads.

A solitary alligator swims slowly ahead

then slides below the surface and disappears

while not far away

herons, hawks, egrets, and eagles announce their presence.

 .

Thanks for stopping by.

.

.

Harbingers Of Spring

After our extended stay in Florida to escape the north’s cold cloudy winter weather I realize we’re not going to get much sympathy when we say that waiting for spring in Ohio can try one’s patience. Walking through the woods we remind ourselves to value each day for the gift that it is, but with autumns now bleached and faded leaves covering a seemingly lifeless forest floor it’s hard not to want for more.

Many of Ohio’s woods lack the conifers that bring color to the early spring woods further north, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

The water was running clear but the landscape was no more colorful along the river, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

.

However, taking a closer look at last years leaf litter one just might find the tiny Harbinger of Spring one of the seasons first wildflowers.

Harbinger of Spring, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

Another look.

Profile, (Donna).

.

The Snow Trillium is an uncommon wildflower that occurs only in very select undisturbed locations.

A nice group of three.

A group of two, (Donna)

Head on.

.

Perhaps one of the prettiest plants to pop up through leaf litter in early spring is Virginia Waterleaf.

Virginia Waterleaf, Griggs Reservoir Park.

.

****

.

As is often the case while making one’s way back to the trailhead, happy with the wildflowers and the day’s hike, other unexpected and wonderful things are seen.

An Eastern Towhee hides in a thicket, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

A number of Golden-crowned Kinglets showed themselves along the Scioto River below the Griggs Reservoir Dam, (Donna).

Walking along Griggs Reservoir we heard a faint tapping and just saw a tail protruding from a newly formed nesting cavity. The tapping stopped and this Downy Woodpecker turned and peered out at us.

We spotted this Blue-winged Teal in a pond adjacent to the parking lot as we were finishing a hike at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park.

Present in smaller numbers all winter in areas where there is open water, the population of Great Blue Herons has increased as the days get longer and the weather warms.

A Great Blue Heron waits for something edible to appear.

We’ve never seen them over-winter so when Great Egrets appear along the Scioto River below the Griggs Reservoir Dam each spring in breeding plumage it’s a real treat.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

The Great Egrets are the grand finale to this post and our recent time outdoors and they left us with a true sense of  spring’s wonder and magic.

Stump in the early spring woods.

.

For those who expectedly seek it along a stream or wooded trail, nature speaks in a language beyond words.

.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

A Wet Stay At Little Manatee River SP

This year we cut our stay short at Myakka River SP so we could check out Little Manatee River SP a new park for us. It looked good on paper with a number of hiking trails, the Little Manatee River, and it was close to points of interest along the gulf coast near Tampa.  

Dude Lake, Little Manatee River SP.

.

The park was a bit of a disappointment for us largely due to the fact that many of the hiking trails were flooded and even our campsite was also flooded for several days the result of heavy rain just after our arrival. The river through the park was pretty but we didn’t bother paddling it as it’s often narrow width and rain induced high flow would have made nature photography difficult if not impossible. Many of the hiking trails are also designated as equestrian with fairly heavy use and as a result were pretty torn up and muddy in spots. Despite the challenges we did find trails to explore and things to see even if we did arrive back at camp with wet hiking boots.

Zebra Heliconian, (Donna).

Moonflower, probably an escapee.

Catbird, (Donna).

Spider Lily

A fascinating fungi find, (Donna).

Beggar’s Needle.

Roseate Skimmer, (Donna).

Pond shore.

Pink Wood Sorrel, (Donna)

The Little Manatee River.

Pileated Woodpecker

Lipstick Lichen, (Donna).

Looking more like a stream than a hiking trail, this was one we decided not to take.

Small thistle like flower, unidentified.

One of the wider stretches on the Little Manatee River.

A fast flying Zebra Swallowtail takes a break, (Donna).

A small quiet pond by day but one wonders what creatures come out after dark.

Mockingbird.

Reindeer Lichen.

Armadillos are common throughout Florida. This one, sensing a potential treat, stands on it’s hind legs, (Donna).

Leavenworth’s Tickseed.

Flowering blackberry.

This fungi looked good enough to eat, (Donna).

The Little Manatee River is narrow in spots.

.

A nice break not far for Little Manatee River SP was Fort Desoto Park. If you enjoy walking the beach, collecting shells, or observing birds it’s a great place to spend a few hours.

During the week in late January the beach was pretty quiet.

. . . with a few exceptions.

Willet

Least Terns and gulls entertained us.

With the exception of one rebel Sanderlings practice balancing on one leg.

Wilson’s Plover

Dunlins

This Dunlin seemed to prefer hopping around on one leg. Others exhibited the same behavior.

Beauty in motion, Dunlins in flight.

.

For us the big attraction were we to return to this park would be it’s close proximity to the ocean. Other parks in this part of Florida offer more hiking and more biodiversity within the park itself. Thanks for stopping by.

Nature In Myakka River State Park

After two months in sunnier climes with limited internet access we are now back home. While still an improvement over Ohio, this winter’s trek south to Florida’s Myakka River State Park in an effort to escape the cold found us greeted by windy cool and sometimes wet weather. The wind precluded using the canoe as a means to gain access to photo opportunities away from the main park roads but we were still able to enjoy hiking even though it was often on partially flooded trails.

My wife walks under a Live Oak covered with Resurrection Ferns on one of the dryer tails.

.

Every year is different. Last year the arrival of a hurricane not long before our arrival resulted in the park being completely flooded. During our stay the water receded leaving pools of stranded fish for wading birds to gorge themselves on. This occurrence offered a unique opportunity to observe and photograph various wading birds and nothing like it was in the offing this year. The consolation was that the Black Necked Stilt, a favorite bird, was more common than last year. In addition to this year’s critter pics more effort was made to capture the landscape so those shots have been made part of the mix.

The Myakka River

.

As in the past Black Necked Stilts continue to charm us.

Black Necked Stilt

What ever they’re doing it’s always fascinating, (Donna).

Stilt with Lesser Yellowlegs

Walking.

Flying, (Donna).

.

Flooded hammock.

.

Other small wading birds were seen but American Avocets eluded us.

Least Sandpipers along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake.

Killdeer along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake.

Lesser Yellowlegs along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake, (Donna).

.

The Myakka River.

.

While certainly not uncommon, we always enjoy seeing the Great and Snowy Egrets. Whiter than white, a slightly overcast day seems to work best for photographing these birds.

Great Egret

Close-up.

Snowy Egret

.

Standing water in low-lying areas gives rise to shadows and reflections.

.

Black Crowned Night and Great Blue Herons are seen in Ohio but not the petite Tri-colored Heron.

Tri-colored Heron.

Great Blue Heron with lunch along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake.

Great Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron hunting, (Donna).

A Black Crowned Heron peeks through the branches, (Donna).

.

Upper Lake Myakka.

Flooded habitat.

.

Roseate Spoonbills are right up there with Black Necked Stilts when it comes to interesting birds to observe.

Roseate Spoonbill preening.

Spoonbills.

My what a big mouth you have, (Donna).

.

Florida hammock landscape.

.

An Alligator Limpkin stare down.

The Alligator and Limpkin were so close together it’s hard to believe they weren’t aware of each other.

.

Myakka River landscape.

.

We were fortunate to see several Wood Storks.

A Wood Stork forages for food along the shore of Upper Myakka Lake.

.

A canopy of branches.

.

Palm Warblers were everywhere as were Black Vultures. The Barred Owl and the small Common Ground Dove were a rarer treat.

Palm Warbler.

Black Vultures were everywhere.

Scarcely a moment went by without hearing the call of a Red Shouldered Hawk.

This Barred Owl seemed so obvious once we spotted it but they’re not so easy to find.

 

Common Ground Dove.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is common in Florida but perhaps not quite as common there as in Ohio.

.

Shadows betray this Live Oaks identity.

.

Flowers, fungi, and air plants:

A lovely small flower is found looking something like a small wild rose

Another small but very noticeable flower.

There were fungi but not in the variety seen in Ohio, (Donna).

Other than as a location to live, air plants ask nothing of the tree they reside in.

.

A fallen tree finds home in the flooded hammock

.

Other creatures:

Our friend Teresa was surprised by the opportunity to get this quick shot of a Bobcat as it crossed the trail.

We are always surprised by the number of turtles given the number of gators.

.

This years visit to the park was only six days but we managed to see quite a bit for such a short time. Because of the colder than normal weather there weren’t as many alligators in evidence and while birds were seen the higher than normal water levels and more places to forage meant they were disbursed. We’re planning a return visit next year so who knows what the future holds as every year offers different mix of weather and resultant water levels.

Myakka River.

.

Thanks for stopping by.

****

A Sense of Expectation and Wonder

As undoubtedly mentioned before, one of the rewarding aspects of visiting a park on a regular basis is that one can observe nature’s subtle changes as well as the coming and going of various critters that visit the park throughout the year. Many these forays are part of longer urban hikes and are accompanied by fairly low expectations so our gear often consists of an easily packable super-zoom and a small pair of binoculars. With such equipment we are limited in the types of photographs we can obtain but we do have a camera with us.

.

Recently we’ve been encouraged with the prospect of seeing the unexpected when Eastern Bluebirds made a Christmas day visit to our front yard suet feeder. We had never seen them in our yard before.

A male Eastern Bluebird gets a drink from a mostly frozen bird bath, (Donna).

One bird with a small piece of suet, “Hey guys go get your own!”, (Donna).

.

Yesterday, there were no Bluebirds at the suet feeder so before our new years day tradition of pork, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut we decided to take a walk in Griggs Reservoir Park.  It was a cloudy gray-brown day and certainly not one that would beckon a landscape photographer so we walked with the hope of observing a bird or some other small manifestation of nature. I mostly occupied myself with the never-ending task of picking up trash. It’s an activity I always find strangely rewarding especially if the ‘birds’ aren’t cooperating.

.

We were almost back to the car after our three-mile saunter when I noticed a small hawk preening itself at the top of a large Sycamore tree. A quick look through the binoculars did not provide an obvious identity so I pulled out my camera and started taking “data acquisition” shots.

Critical tail feather ID shot. The bird was to far away for a good photograph. All shots are heavily cropped, Panasonic FZ300.

Another look for markings.

. . . and on more.

It was a Merlin, and even though there had been reports of them at other central Ohio locations it was a bird we had never seen in the park before. How exciting! A dull gray day made magical. The sighting was all the more special because the last time we had seen one was some years ago while hiking the Centennial Ridges Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park. While looking through the binoculars at a dragonfly flying high over head a black streak went through the field of view and the dragonfly disappeared. Looking up a small bird was seen flying towards a tiny island in the center of the lake where it joined others on a perch high over the water.

.

As a bit of a postscript, Bald Eagles nest about two miles from our house making it not highly unusual to see them along the reservoir, so as if the reinforce the magic of the place that’s exactly what happened a few days back while on an urban fitness walk.

Bald Eagle over Griggs Reservoir, again the bird was too far away for a good photograph. image heavily cropped, Panasonic FZ150.

.

These recent holiday sightings have blessed us with a sense of expectation and wonder for the new year. Our wish is that you to will be blessed in the new year.

.

Thanks for stopping by.

Frost

It was dark, cold, foggy, and not the kind of morning we jump out of bed to go hiking, but our visiting son from San Diego wanted to hike so who were we to argue.

Morning fog, Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

.

Even though conditions were right to produce significant frost our initial goal was to see a few interesting birds. However, upon arrival at out hiking destination, Prairie Oaks Metro Park, the frost quickly became the main source of fascination.

Frosty landscape, Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

.

Taking a closer look at nearby weeds revealed very interesting ice formations, which we originally thought was hoar-frost but after a closer examination we now believe to be rime ice.

Let me see if I was going the create something this enchanting where would I start?

.

It found its way unto leaves,

***, (Donna).

***

***

***

***

.

Frost along the Big Darby.

.

berries,

***, (Donna).

***

***

***

.

Hiking through a frosty fantasy land, Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

.

and other things.

Milkweed, (Donna).

Teasel.

.

***

.

The ice wasn’t just on plants. During the night’s cold a park pond tried it’s best to freeze over.

Patterns

Reflection and ice.

.

***

.

We actually did see a few birds, including Golden-crowned Kinglets that eluded the camera’s lens, but the ice is what really stole the show.

Blue Birds in a frost covered tree.

 .

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Londonsenior

The life of an elderly Londoner and her travels.

Tootlepedal's Blog

A look at life in the borders

Eloquent Images by Gary Hart

Insight, information, and inspiration for the inquisitive nature photographer

gordoneaglesham

The Wildlife in Nature

Through Open Lens

Home of Lukas Kondraciuk Photography

My Best Short Nature Poems

Ellen Grace Olinger

through the luminary lens

The sun is the great luminary of all life - Frank Lloyd Wright

talainsphotographyblog

Nature photography

Mike Powell

My journey through photography

The Prairie Ecologist

Essays, photos, and discussion about prairie ecology, restoration, and management

Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog

Kerry Mark Leibowitz's musings on the wonderful world of nature photography

Montana Outdoors

A weblog dedicated to the world outside the cities.

Cat Tales

Mike and Lori adrift

New Hampshire Garden Solutions

Exploring Nature in New Hampshire

Jessica's Nature Blog

https://natureinfocus.blog

Quiet Solo Pursuits

My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Seasons Flow

Everything flows, nothing stands still. (Heraclitus)

Central Ohio Nature

The greatest WordPress.com site in all the land!