August Ramble

In August insects catch our attention more often than birds. Compared to the frenzied activity of spring it can seem very quiet unless you look closely. In some ways feeling a bit like the “dead of winter” except that it’s summer. During a recent visit to Prairie Oaks Metro Park it was hard not to notice the toll that a few weeks of dry weather had taken on a wetland that relies on regular rainfall to stay healthy.

I would have been standing in water to take this picture a few weeks ago.

But as the water disappears a lone immature wood duck, with a few friends peering above the waters surface, holds out for the promise of rainy days to come.

This pic leaves a little to be desired in terms of sharpness but can you see the wood duck’s friends?

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Not far from the wetland are three ponds (Darby Bend Lakes) formed when old quarries filled with water from underground springs. Surrounded the ponds, and interspersed with plant life, is fine gravel undoubtedly left over form the quarry days. We were looking for dragonflies but were immediately stopped when we noticed a number of very large wasps. They were Cicada Killers, a member of the family of digger wasps that make their home underground. As the name indicates, this one provisions it’s nest with the cicadas.  One one egg gets implanted in each cicada. The female is noticeably larger than the male, up to 2 inches long, and of the two, it is the only one able the catch the rather large cicadas. Click here for more information.

Cicada Killer exits it’s nest, (Donna).

Cicada, (Donna).

Wasp with cicada, (Donna).

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This time of year at waters edge the landscape is graced with the large flowers of the Swamp Rose-mallow.

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We weren’t disappointed in our quest for dragonflies. No new discoveries but the fascination is always there. I was once again reminded that it’s truly a jungle out there when a catbird swopped down to snatch a dragonfly as I moved closer hoping to identify it. No matter what one thinks about the level of consciousness of a dragonfly, this one, now a nutritious snack for the catbird, no longer exists. It’s demise, the flow of life from one from one creature to the next.    

Eastern Pondhawk, (M), (Donna).

Eastern Pondhawk with prey on Blazing Star.

Halloween Pennant, (M), (Donna).

Halloween Pennant, (F) .

Common Whitetail, immature male.

Widow Skimmer (M).

Eastern Pondhawk, (F).

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Black-eyed Susan’s are also part of the Darby Bend Lakes habitat.

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Moths and butterflies were also enjoying the sunny day.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

A Monarch and Hummingbird clearwing moth enjoy the flowers, (Donna).

Hummingbird clearwing moth, (Donna).

A Great Golden Digger Wasp also enjoys the swamp milkweed.

Zabulon Skipper (M) on Chicory.

A female Zabulon spurns the affection of a male.

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Great dragonfly habitat adjacent to one of the Derby Bend Lakes, Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

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Mid-summer flowers and other critters made the day complete.

The unique beauty of False Dragonhead is part of the cicada killer habitat..

It was a real treat to see a Red-headed Woodpecker in the tree right at the edge of one of the Darby Bend Lakes. The first I recall seeing at Prairie Oaks Metro Park.

Purple Prairie Clover is also part of the cicada killer habitat. it’s occurrence in this habitat can be explained by the fact that it “is used for revegetation efforts on reclaimed land, such as land that has been strip mined. It is good for preventing erosion and for fixing nitrogen in soil. Though it is often found in mid- to late-successional stages of ecological succession, it may also be a pioneer species, taking hold in bare and disturbed habitat, such as roadsides”. Ref: Wikipedia

A small Painted Turtle enjoys the morning sun.

This year early August has been a great time for Ironweed.

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It’s been a good year for Red-headed Woodpecker sightings which, due to their rarity, are always very special but seeing the very large cicada killer wasp was what really created a sense of wonder on this day.

Mid-summer and low water along the Big Darby.

Thanks for stopping by.

Measuring Wealth

Certainly not an original thought, but most would say that if you have your health, enough resources to ensure adequate food and shelter, some leisure time when you are not dealing with “resources”, and good friends with whom you enjoy sharing life’s adventure, additional wealth is probably not going to contribute to life’s meaning or happiness. It also doesn’t hurt to have a curiosity about life as It will keep you engaged and seeking until the day your number gets called.

So what does any of this have to do with nature and where is Central Ohio Nature going with this? Well to get to the punch line without further delay, it has to do with an awareness of wealth that was experienced after a recent outing in the canoe. Of course this awareness doesn’t just drop out of the sky, it is facilitated by reading and enough research to appreciate what is being seen and experienced, good health and fitness to undertake the adventure, and last but not least, the company of a willing co-conspirator (in this case my wife) never hurts.

So what exactly contributed to the awareness of wealth on this particular day?

First, there’s the aesthetic of the canoe, it’s graceful purposeful shape, and the way the paddler and the canoe become one as they quietly move through the water with only the sound of the paddle as it brakes the water’s surface, is drawn back, and then, with droplets shed from the blade playing the stroke’s final notes, it leaves the water and returns to the beginning. A meditation; paddler, canoe, and water.

The north end of Griggs Reservoir. It’s hard to believe we are in the middle of a metropolitan area. We had the place to ourselves that day.

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Secondly, along with a good cast of supporting characters, at the north end of the reservoir in a stand of dead trees we had our first ever sighting of red-headed woodpeckers at that location.

Red-headed Woodpecker

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The supporting characters, not all of which are pictured, included osprey, juvenile spotted sandpiper, great blue heron (common), green heron, great egret, black-crowned night heron, belted kingfisher, great-crested flycatcher, wood ducks, double-crested cormorants, mallard duck, map turtle, large eastern spiny soft shell turtle, and a large snapping turtle.

Spotted Sandpiper

Great Blue Heron

Green Heron

Great Egret

Black-crowned Night Heron

Female Belted Kingfisher

Great Crested Flycatcher

Mother Wood Duck with young.

A large Eastern Spiny Softshell.

With the exception of the canoe all other photos are by my wife.

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The well connected lawyer or successful entrepreneur measures their wealth in a different way than most equally successful individuals who love nature but may have a less demanding career. The “buy in” on a wealthy street in our area may require that one to be engaged with a community of like minded individuals who have also attended prestigious institutions of higher learning. This coupled with a family legacy, and the “cross pollination” with other like minded established families may be key stepping stones to shared values and wealth which include the necessary hard to fake accoutrements, such as a large beautiful house and luxury cars, which signal one’s membership in the tribe. 

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But we are all destined to travel a narrow path and are all members of a some tribe. A path taken often excludes others. There is only so much life we can live. While there are undoubtedly exceptions, one would not expect that a successful high net worth entrepreneur would consider it a worthwhile use of their limited free time to walk a wetland path learning about dragonflies. Perhaps a business ski vacation to Colorado would serve their purposes better. However, is the person with more limited resources, for whom Colorado ski vacations are a bit out of reach, but who spends their time in the company of dragonflies and thus the interconnected web of life, any less “wealthy”?

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So the challenge for us all is to increase our wealth in ways that speak to our soul. The sacrifices that an entrepreneur makes to be successful in their realm are significant. From the point of view of a lover of nature they will miss out on at lot. The wealth bestowed from time spent in nature comes from a deep sense of connectedness that transcends our own self, allowing us to no longer think it terms of boundaries but instead to embrace the whole. It is something that money cannot buy and is beyond valuing. Perhaps Thoreau said it better than anyone has since:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
 
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods
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Thanks for stopping by.
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Canoeing And Red-headed Woodpeckers

It’s always fun when one can combine two loves. In this case canoeing and birds. My wife and I are blessed with a fondness for the active engagement of moving under our own power, be it it hiking, cycling, or paddling. It turns out that this type of quiet activity enhances the chance of seeing birds and other wildlife.

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The last week found us at the north end of Alum Creek Reservoir twice. The reservoir comprises a large portion of Alum Creek State Park. The first of two fairly long paddles was to see what birds we might find and the second was to get a better look at the red-headed Woodpeckers seen a few days before. Red-headed Woodpeckers are always a treat to set because their numbers have decreased significantly in recent years.

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According to Cornell’s All About Birds: “Red-headed Woodpeckers declined by over 2% per year from 1966 to 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 70%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1.2 million, with 99% spending part of the year in the U.S., and 1% in Canada. The species is at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. These woodpeckers were common to abundant in the nineteenth century, probably because the continent had more mature forests with nut crops and dead trees. They were so common that orchard owners and farmers used to pay a bounty for them, and in 1840 Audubon reported that 100 were shot from a single cherry tree in one day. In the early 1900s, Red-headed Woodpeckers followed crops of beech nuts in northern beech forests that are much less extensive today. At the same time, the great chestnut blight killed virtually all American chestnut trees and removed another abundant food source. Red-headed Woodpeckers may now be more attuned to acorn abundance than to beech nuts. After the loss of nut-producing trees, perhaps the biggest factor limiting Red-headed Woodpeckers is the availability of dead trees in their open-forest habitats”.

Loading camera equipment into our fast but stable 18 foot Sawyer canoe. Unless you are near shore. it’s hard to appreciate this boat’s speed when you really want to get somewhere, as it leaves virtually no disturbance in the water.

Getting ready to depart on a very quiet morning.

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Not our primary objective but it wasn’t long before Prothonotary Warblers were spotted at waters edge.

Protonotary Warbler

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The next meal, (Donna).

Not a good day for the spider, (Donna).

Shortly after our encounter with the Prothonotary Warblers we spotted an Eastern Kingbird on it’s nest on a branch overhanging the water.

Eastern Kingbirds are common along Ohio reservoirs in the summer.

Along with Wood Ducks, Osprey and one Bald Eagle and an Indigo Bunting, there were many Great Blue Heron sightings. However, in what was somewhat of a surprise, no Green Herons were seen.

A mother Wood Duck heads for cover, (Donna).

Great Blue Heron, (Donna).

Indigo Bunting

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Further up river:

Our first look in the area where we had seen the Red-headed Woodpeckers an few days before didn’t turn up much, so we headed further up Alum Creek to see what else might be found.

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On the return leg we stopped at what appeared to be a Red-headed Woodpecker “hotspot” and were rewarded with a number of sightings.

The habitat at the north end of the reservoir.

A juvenile was the first to permit photographs:

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***, (Donna).

.   .   .  and then after some repositioning and jockeying the canoe looking for better views and better light we were able to get some shots of an adult!

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We’ve paddled to the north end of Alum Creek Reservoir many times over the years and this was the first time we’ve seen Red-headed Woodpeckers in these numbers, perhaps three adult pairs. Was our timing just bad in the past, were we just not looking for them so they remained unseen, or were they not there, at least in the quantities observed? We’re are not sure but hopefully future trips will answer the question. Meanwhile we will rejoice in having seen them and may even pay them another visit before the year is over.

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Thanks for stopping by.

 

Florida Wrap-up

After a week at Mike Roess State Park  we travelled a short distance to what has become one of our favorite parks for wildlife viewing, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. After a week there we would travel to Blackwater River State Park which was a new park for us and recommended because of the beauty of the river. We planned on being there for a week before traveling home to Ohio for what we hoped would be just a brief period of winter before spring arrived.

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Paynes Prairie is not a great paddling destination but does offer good hiking within the park and good bicycling opportunities in the park as well as on nearby roads and bike trails. The park offers great opportunities for viewing nature and is highly recommended if that is your passion. Just a short drive away the Bolen Bluff Trail, Barr Hammock PreserveSweetwater Wetlands Park, and the parks north entrance with a boardwalk along Alachua Sink are an added bonus. We had no problem keeping ourselves busy during our one week stay.

Remember: you can click on the images should you desire a better view.

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The Bolen Bluff Trail turned out to be a great “wildlife” trail but in our case did require use of the car to get to the trailhead.

The area contained excellent habitat for a variety of birds.

Bald Eagle

A young Sharpe-shinned Hawk with a Yellow-rumped Warbler, (Donna).

Meal time!

. . . and feathers fly.

There were also a number of Red-headed Woodpeckers looking for something to eat.

Found a bug! (Donna).

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There is no need to get into the car as we found plenty to see on park trails that can be accessed right from the campground.

On a trail not far from the campground a Barred Owl is spotted.

There is a huge expanse of wetland in the park which among other things is home to bison and wild horses.

Cloudless Sulphur on a large thistle.

Palamedes Swallowtail, (Donna).

Giant Swallowtail.

Zebra Swallowtail.

Eastern Towhee.

Pileated Woodpeckers are often seen on the park trails.

A large katydid visits our campsite.

Northern Parula.

A Northern Parula sings it’s heart out in the woods near our campsite.

Another look.

A paradise for large wading birds.

Always fascinating to watch, a Great Blue Heron stalks its next meal.

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Paynes Prairie Preserve north entrance, Alachua Sink was another excellent natural area just a short drive away.

A Live Oak casts shadows on the waters surface near Alachua sink.

Graceful and beautiful an Anhinga preening, Alachua sink.

Alachua Sink.

A very small (and cute?) Alligator enjoys the sun.

Looking across the wetland, Alachua sink area.

Immature Little Blue Heron.

Mature Little Blue Heron.

It was a real treat to see these immature Great Horned Owls, Alachua sink area.

With mom nearby.

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Finally another excellent area that is even a shorter drive is Barr Hammock Preserve. The preserve trail consists of a large loop circling what used to be farmland but which is now at least partially flooded.

Landscape.

A Tri-color Heron tidies up, (Donna).

Patterns in tree bark.

Immature White Ibis, (Donna).

Reflections

Largeflower Primrose-Willow

Little Yellow, a butterfly we don’t remember seeing before, (Donna).

American Bittern

Alligators large and small.

No hike in Florida would be complete without a turtle, Florida Cooter.

Swamp.

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Compared to other parks visited, wildlife sighting were not nearly as common at Blackwater River SP. However quality made up for quantity with a rare wildflower sighting and the pleasant surprise of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker sighting. Also the river did live up to its reputation for being a beautiful and during our one paddle a bonus was enjoying the many turtles that had taken up residence on shoreline logs. Our stay in the park was a quiet one so walking along a park road or a trail offered an equal opportunity to see wildlife.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker’s habitat is the Southeast’s once-vast longleaf pine stands. They also occur in stands of loblolly, slash, and other pine species. The birds dig cavities in living pines and live in family groups working together to dig cavities and raise young. Due to habitat loss the species has declined drastically and was listed as Endangered in 1970.

Not far from the woodpecker, but in the brush at ground level, a Brown Thrasher made an appearance.

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Patterns in the sand, Blackwater River.

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.   .   .  and at river’s edge:

River Jewelwings, in this case males, were a real treat to see, (Donna).

Female

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Enjoying the river’s beauty.

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In the order of carnivorous insects, Odonata, we were also fortunate to see a beautiful Green Darner one of the larger dragonflies.

Green Darner

Another view.

.   .   .   and also a pair of mating Cypress Clubtail Dragonflies.

Cypress Clubtails

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Some low-lying areas along the trail required boardwalks.

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Dragonflies weren’t the only insects mating, a pair of Carolina Satyrs were also seen, (Donna).

A beautiful Queen butterfly, (Donna).

Dubious Tiger Moth, (Donna).

Where there are butterflies there are often wildflowers.

Yellow Butterwort, a very rare sighting for us, this carnivorous plant is a Florida threatened species.

These purple flowers (False Rosemary?) were relatively common during our hikes.

Sky-blue Lupine

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Due to weather and river flow conditions we only paddled once but it was energy well spent.

Tannins color the otherwise clear water.

A peaceful view.

The low winter sun highlights budding trees.

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The next post we will be back in Ohio in search of Ohio’s spring wildflowers but whether it’s nature in Florida or Ohio we remain amazed and enchanted.

Blackwater River

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Thanks for stopping by.

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Blue-headed Vireo, 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.

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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 long 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).

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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.

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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.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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