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.

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.

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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 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).

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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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A Special Bird a Special Day

Today, the anniversary of my birth, we headed to Griggs Reservoir near our home in the hopes of seeing the Red-throated Loon that had been reported at the reservoir’s south end. It’s a bird that’s not normally seen in central Ohio so it would be a especially nice way to mark the passing of another year. After all, what else do you get someone who has pretty much everything they need or want. Also, if seen, it would be a life bird for me as well as my wife and that is always exciting.

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Long story short, we did see the loon, and I received my very special birthday present. However, even more amazing was that just as we arrived and were exiting the car, equipment still in slight disarray, +30 Sandhill Cranes and then a Bald Eagle flew right over our heads. We were so excited about the cranes that when the eagle flew over we were completely taken aback and just watched it fly away cameras in hand, so no flying eagle pictures.

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Probably about half the total number of cranes in the group.

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A slightly closer look.

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Before spotting  the loon, we walked south, first along the reservoir and then the river. A Cooper’s Hawk flew overhead with what appeared to be a starling in it’s talons, accompanied by a group of the unfortunate victims closest friends. Then, heading across the reservoir, still with it’s prey, it was briefly harassed by a gull before safely reaching the other shore.
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Further south along the river we did manage to see some of our other friends.
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A male Kingfisher watches from across the river.

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A female was much closer on our side of the river. This picture, probably of the same bird, was taken a few days ago, (Donna).

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One of two male Wood Ducks seen.

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Finally, heading back to the car along the reservoir’s east shore, there it was   .   .   .
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At first it seemed that we were only going to see a loon sleeping.

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But then it woke up .  .  .

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and treated us to a better view.

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For comparison purposes, below are a couple of shots my wife took with her FZ200 superzoom.

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Red-throated Loon, (Donna).

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Take 2, (Donna).

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A hard to beat birthday present.
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Thanks for stopping by.

A Little Southwest of Ohio, part 1 of 3

Recently we took a road trip to the American southwest, visiting places such as Tucson, Arizona, Big Bend National Park in Texas, and Goose Island State Park near Corpus Christi, also in Texas. This post is about things seen at Goose Island State Park and the adjacent Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

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Given the amount of hiking we thought we’d be doing all pictures were shot with either a Panasonic FZ200 or a Canon SX40. While the additional reach of the Canon would seem to be an advantage, in real life shooting the FZ200 more consistently produced sharper more usable images even when digitally enlarged to compensate for the shorter zoom.

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We highly recommend the Goose Island State Park area if you enjoy birding and nature. The diversity of birds, even during non-migration periods, is wonderful. Also, we had the opportunity to run into old acquaintances as will as to make a number of new friends as we pursued our passion for nature. Good stuff!

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Below are pics of just some of the things seen. Hope you enjoy glancing through them.

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Crested Caracara, many were seen along the road between Big Bend and Goose Island.

Common Loon IMG_5265

Common Loon in the gulf in winter plumage. Flightless till “spring” when new flight feathers come in for the migration north.

Common Loon IMG_5259

Common Loon

Chipping Sparrows P1010271

Chipping Sparrows playing hide and seek, Goose Island State Park

Carolina Wren IMG_5175

Carolina Wren, Goose Island State Park

Brown Pelican P1010236

Brown Pelican’s, Goose Island State Park.

Black-crested Titmouse P1010396

Black-crested Titmouse, Goose Island State Park

Black-bellied Plover IMG_5289

Black-bellied Plover, Goose Island State Park

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Below are some shots of the Wooping Cranes which have been brought back from the point of extinction. However, challenges remain. The recent dry years in Texas have caused increased salinity levels in the bays along the Gulf Coast which has resulted in a decrease in the Blue Crab one of their main food sources.

Wooping Crane IMG_5248-2

Wooping Crane near Goose Island state Park.

Wooping Crane IMG_5155

Wooping Cranes near Goose Island State Park

Willet IMG_5283

Willet, Goose Island State Park

White Pelican P1010217cfix

White Pelican, Goose Island State Park.

White Ibis IMG_5309

White Ibis, Goose Island state Park

Tricolor Heron P1010231

Tricolor Heron, Goose Island State Park.

Snowy Egret P1010225

Snowy Egret, Goose island State park.

Semipalmated Sandpiper IMG_5088

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Goose island State Park.

Savannah Sparrow IMG_5183

Savannah Sparrow, Goose Island State Park.

Sandhill Cranes IMG_5218

Sandhill Cranes near Goose Island State Park.

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At low tide, extensive mud flats are a great place to see shorebirds.

Sanderlings IMG_5078

Sanderlings, Aransas Natl Wildlife Refuge

Ruddy Turnstone P1010440

Ruddy Turnstone, Goose Island State Park.

Roseate Spoonbill IMG_5313

Roseate Spoonbill making good it’s escape, Goose Island State Park

Pied-billed Grebe IMG_5123

Pied-billed Grebe, Aransas Natl Wildlife Refuge.

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1000 year old Live Oak near goose Island State Park

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The Big Tree.

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Path through Live Oaks, Goose Island State Park.

Northern Pintail P1010477

Northern Pintails, Goose Island State Park.

Lincoln's Sparrow P1010284

Lincoln’s Sparrow, Goose Island State Park.

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers P1010298

Ladder-backed Woodpecker’s, Goose Island State Park.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (female) P1010301

Female Ladder-backed, Goose island state Park.

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We saw a number of Killdeer, a common bird adjacent to the farm fields of Ohio.

Killdeer IMG_5281

Killdeer, Goose Island State Park

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Kestrals were very numerous along the roads in the area. Looking for insects and small rodents.

Kestral (male) P1010316

Kestral (male), near Goose Island state Park

Kestral (female) IMG_5090

Kestral (female), Aransas Natl Wildlife Refuge.

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A very small beautiful dove common to southern Texas.

Inca Dove P1010483

Inca Dove, Goose Island State park.

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Pier, Goose Island State Park, great spot for birding.

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A typical area to look for shore birds.

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Aransas Natl Wildlife Refuge.

Harris's Sparrow P1010498

Harris’s Sparrow (center), Goose Island State Park

Great Egret IMG_5042

Great Egret, Aransas Natl Wildlife Refuge.

Eurasian Collared Dove P1010490

Eurasian Collared Dove, Goose Island State Park.

Dunlin P1010421

Dunlin, Goose Island State Park.

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Thanks for looking in.

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