With A Little Help From . . .

We are blessed to enjoy nature and this usually results in not being around a lot of people. A perfect combination for these times. Spring is the season of new life whether it be the young leaves and flowers of a buckeye tree, or the sometimes almost frantic activity of nesting and migrating birds. One day last week, along a wooded park road at waters edge, there seemed to be colorful “missiles” flying everywhere. In that moment, with the smell of spring flowers and a backdrop of surrounding tree green luminescence, it was hard not to feel the warm embrace and the affirmation of being part of something that is much more.

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So with a little help from our friends, be they butterflies, birds, wildflowers or trees, we are invited into a world that to our peril is too often ignored. But to work it’s magic, it demands that we be in the moment, pay attention with intention, and extend our curiosity beyond it’s usual realm. At first, we may find our curiosity stunted because, equipped with little knowledge, our imagination of what lies beyond the next “mountain” is limited. Finding the answer to that first small question may start a journey that informs and empowers in ways never imagined and that far outreach the original field of inquiry.

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In the spring birds are endlessly foraging for food in trees and in low lying brush. What in the world are they all eating? Observing bird behavior, particularly Baltimore orioles as they work over buckeye flowers, coupled with additional research reveals the answer. In the spring birds, including warblers, obtain nutrition from tree buds and the edible parts of flowers including their nectar in addition to insects. Could this be one of the reasons that the orioles like the park near our home with it’s numerous buckeye trees? Within limits, don’t look for a common yellow-throat in the top of a tall tree, most migrating birds find suitable food in a variety locations.

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So below are some birds that have brought a dimension to life in our humble city park that will not be there in a few weeks. In doing so they have expanded our awareness of life that goes far beyond our current cares.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler, Griggs Reservoir Park (GRP)

Take 2, GRP.

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Male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Duranceau Park (DP)

Male courting display, DP.

The female looks curious, DP.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler, GRP.

Another view, GRP.

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Male Indigo Bunting, GRP. Could we be so fortunate that it would nest in the park?

Take 2, GRP.

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Male Baltimore Oriole, GRP. Baltimore Orioles build many nests in the park.

Another angle, GRP.

Immature male, GRP.

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Palm Warbler, GRP.

Singing, GRP.

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Pine Warbler, DP.

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Male American Redstart, GRP.

Another view, GRP, (Donna).

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Tree Swallows are hear for the season, GRP.

Male and female, GRP.

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Barn Swallow, GRP, (Donna).

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Northern Parula Warbler, GRP.

Another look, GRP.

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Blue-headed Vireo, GRP, (Donna).

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Warbling Vireo, GRP.

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White-eyed Vireo, GRP, (Donna).

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Yellow Warbler, GRP, (Donna).

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Blue-winged Warbler, DP, (Donna).

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Black and White Warbler, GRP, (Donna).

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Yellow-throated Warbler, GRP.

Take 2, GRP, (Donna).

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White-crowned Sparrow, GRP.

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White-throated Sparrow, GRP, (Donna).

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Magnolia Warbler, GRP.

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Prothonotary Warbler, GRP, (Donna).

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Scarlet Tanager, DP.

Take 2, DP.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler, GRP.

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The Great-crested Flycatcher nest in the park, GRP.

Northern- Flickers also nest in the park, GRP.

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Tufted Titmouse are a year round resident, GRP, (Donna).

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As are Downy Woodpeckers, GRP, (Donna)

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House Wren, GRP, (Donna).

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Catbirds are also a summer long resident, GRP.

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Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, DP, (Donna).

Female, GRP, (Donna).

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Mallard family, GRP, (Donna).

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We hope that this post finds you in good health and that in this season of new life and rebirth, you find your celebration.

Chipmunk

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Thanks for stopping by.

Birds Being Birds

Early migrating spring warblers and other birds are moving through the area. With that in mind we’ve spent a fair amount of time in recent days looking into bushes and up into trees. Yellow-rumps have been found almost everywhere, but for yellow-throated warblers we had to look into the very top of tall sycamore trees making a good picture a challenge. Along with early warblers, many Ruby-crowned Kinglets were seen with males often displaying their ruby crown.

As if to throw out the welcome mat, spring wildflowers, including Large-flowered trillium compliment the beauty of migrating birds.

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While trying to find warblers along Griggs Reservoir we were distracted by the behavior of other birds. In the last few days that has included a crow, eastern bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds.

American Crow, fish for brunch:

Along the reservoir a crow carries off a scavenged shad in it’s beak, flying overhead it lands in a nearby tree and proceeds to dine, (Donna)

We were not sure whether this was a normal practice but the head was soon separated from the body, (Donna).

Then on to the main course, (Donna).

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The more common Virginia Bluebells add their color to the welcome mat.

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Eastern Bluebird harmony, then not.

As a male and female bluebird were busy with “homemaking” tasks I took a few shots:

Female Eastern Bluebird

The male.

Together with nest hole visible.

Leaving the happy couple I walked to our nearby car as my wife trailed behind. Putting my gear away I looked back to see my wife with her camera pointed at the ground. Apparently another female had decided to challenge the status quo resulting in an epic battle which went way beyond mere posturing. We have heard that competition during mating is not restricted to males and that often rivalry’s between females can be even more spirited. What we witnessed certainly bore that out.

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(fight action by Donna)

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Normally white, this Cutleaf Toothwort shows just a hint of pink.

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As we tried to listen for the faint treetop call of a yellow-throated warbler, a red-winged blackbird made it’s presence known:

Male Red-wing Blackbird.

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 Not far away a blue jay was enjoying the hazy morning sun.

Blue Jay

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Chickadees seemed too busy to notice anything but the task at hand.

Carolina Chickadee

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Dutchman’s Breeches also graced the landscape.

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Oh yes, we did manage to see a few warblers and even kinglets but their behavior wasn’t nearly as entertaining as that of some of the park’s normal residents.

Male Yellow-rumped Warbler. Right now the yellow-rumps are by far the most common.

 

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Yellow Warbler

Male Palm Warbler. A bird that’s quite common in Florida in the winter.

Male Black-throated Green Warbler with what appears to be nesting material. A bit unusual as this bird is not indicated to breed in central Ohio.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglets seem to be everywhere.

Okay, one more picture!

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As of the date of this post there have also been reports of Northern-Parula, Pine, and Yellow Warblers all of which we have yet to see. In the coming weeks, as the spring migration continues and before the trees fully leaf out and obscure the view, there should be no shortage of birds to entertain.

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Thanks for stopping by.

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Neighborhood Migrants

Warm days, now noticeably shorter, are giving way to colder nights with the landscape increasingly graced with the colors of autumn in Ohio.

Autumn reflection in central Ohio.

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During the past couple of weeks we’ve made a concerted effort to look for birds passing through Griggs Reservoir Park on their southern migration. We’ve avoiding the temptation to travel further afield thinking it would be fun just to see what is or isn’t passing through our “neighborhood”. There have been reports of birds that have eluded us, such as the Blackpoll and Yellow-throated Warbler, but all in all the effort has been rewarding.

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The Black-throated Green Warblers were very cooperative:

***, (Donna)

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Only one Cape May Warbler was seen:

Female Cape May Warbler

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A fair number of Northern Parula Warblers were spotted:

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This Yellow-throated Vireo is not sure he wants to eat a stink bug:

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We had only one sighting of a Black-throated Blue Warbler:

Good enough to ID the bird but that’s it.

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The fairly common Yellow-rumped Warblers are often seen eating poising ivy berries:

***, (Donna)

 

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A Nashville Warbler was also part of the mix:

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One Ruby-crowned Kinglet tries it’s best to hide while another jumps right out and poses. To date more kinglets have been heard than seen.

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Contrasting with last year, this has not been a good year for seeing Black-crowned Herons on the reservoir. However, on a resent paddle we were rewarded:

Juvenile, (Donna).

Adult, (Donna).

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While looking for warblers a group of very active Blue Birds was hard to ignore:

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A young male Wood Duck has been hanging around the park for the last couple of weeks. By it’s association with a group of mallards it appears to think it’s one:

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We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge some of the other birds that have fascinated us while we looked for fall migrants.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk seemed curious about what we were up to.

Something has this Juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker’s attention, (Donna).

A Mallard Duck, bathed in autumn light, swims across the reservoir.

A pair of Northern Flickers, (Donna).

A Tufted Titmouse acts cute like titmouse do, (Donna).

A White-breasted Nuthatch goes about it’s day.

One of the many Cedar Waxwings seen in the park in recent weeks.

A female Downy Woodpecker poses for a picture.

A Great Blue Heron strikes a graceful pose along the Scioto River, (Donna).

This Blue Jay has quite a mouthful, (Donna).

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It’s a dark gray rainy morning as I finish writing this so it’s hard to imagine what nature will offer in the coming days and this is the time of year when things tend to wind down. However, if past experience is any indication, it will only take another walk in the woods to again experience the magic. Thanks for stopping by.

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Journeying On Through Florida

After leaving Lake Kissimmee State Park we headed north, ran the Orlando metro area traffic gauntlet, and arrived at Blue Springs State Park which was a new park for us. After spending a week there we would take relatively quiet back roads further north to Mike Roess State Park. The two parks couldn’t be more different. Blue Springs is a heavily used “day use” park with a small campground near Orlando while the larger Mike Roess SP was quiet and lightly used during our stay. Part of the popularity of Blue Springs can be attributed to the Manatees that inhabit the springs during the winter months and which had started to leave while we were there due to warmer weather. When one ventured away from the campground after mid-morning parking lots were pretty much full and there were always more than enough people in the park’s general use areas. However, once on the water paddling into a secluded creek or cove things changed dramatically and the area felt like wilderness.

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The big find while hiking the parks limited trails was the endangered Scrub Jay which is a bird we’ve been in search of for some time without success. Habitat destruction appears to be the main reason for its decline.

Scrub Jay.

Another look.

Yellow Star Grass occurred periodically along the trail in single blossoms.

This Eastern Towhee was seen in the same scrub habitat as the jay, (Donna).

This Pileated Woodpecker was also seen along the trail as we searched for the Scrub Jays, (Donna).

Spiderwort.

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St Johns River near Blue Springs SP.

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The extensive wildlife seen while canoeing was the big draw at Blue Springs SP. Our favorite paddle was the eleven mile loop that incorporated Snake Creek. The creek is a true celebration of the richness and beauty of nature.

A small alligator checks us out, (Donna).

An immature Black Crowned Night Heron along Snake Creek, (Donna).

A Great Egret watches as we pass by.

St Johns River.

Florida Cooters,  (Donna).

Wood Stork, (Donna).

Black Crowned Night Heron along the St Johns River.

Little Blue Heron in the thick of it.

Snake Creek provided an intimate paddling experience.

Purple Gallinule eating flower petals, St Johns River.

While paddling Snake Creek we came upon this mating pair at Turkeys. The male seemed not to be bothered by our presence.

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Cypress

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A Tree frog at water’s edge, (Donna)

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St Johns River.

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American Bittern along the St Johns River.

Osprey with fish.

Little Blue Heron preening.

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Although they are common, Anhingas always catch our eye.

Male Anhinga dries it’s feathers along the St Johns River.

Preening.

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St Johns river landscape.

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A Snowy Egret shows off its yellow feet, (Donna).

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Unlike Blue Springs which provided excellent opportunities to observe wildlife from the water, hiking was the best way to do so at Mike Roess SP. A plus was that there were no crowed parking lots or large numbers of people to negotiate when one left the campground. There were areas to explore around the park’s several small lakes and along one fairly long designated hiking trail. We enjoyed the park’s quiet subtle beauty.

Mike Roess SP landscape.

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Walking the shoreline of the parks small lakes was an excellent way to see insects. Some of the dragonflies and damselflies seen were new to us.

Vesper Bluet Damselfly, (Donna).

The Variable Dancer Damselfly is one we haven’t seen further north in Ohio.

Carolina Saddlebags, (Donna).

Female Faded Pennant, (Donna).

Male Faded Pennant.

Slaty Skimmer, (Donna).

The Stripe-winged Baskettail is another dragonfly we’ve not seen further north in Ohio.

The Blue Corporal often perches on the ground, (adult male).

The Buckeye is usually seen in late summer in Ohio.

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Pond reflection.

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In addition to the insects there were birds to enjoy:

Hermit Thrush.

A Hooded Merganser and a Wood Duck pose.

There was a sizable population of Ring-necked Ducks on the small park lakes.

A closer look.

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Pied Billed Grebes

A White Eyed Vireo announces its presence.

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Shoreline grass.

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As well as other things:

Cricket Frog at waters edge, (Donna).

Unfortunately these lovely but uncommon little flowers that liked the park’s sandy soil remain unidentified.

A Fence Lizard shows it’s underside, (Donna).

Lichen on fallen branch.

A Gopher Tortoise enjoys some grass, (Donna).

Trees.

Pinebarren Frostweed.

A Five Lined Skink shows its beautiful tail, (Donna)

A Long Leaf Pine just starting out.

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Leaving Mike Roess we’d completed six weeks of exploring nature in Florida. As we looked forward to spending time at Paynes Prairie Preserve and Black River SP before heading north to early spring in Ohio we couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed.

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Lily Pads

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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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