Drab little birds in late December

There were a lot of non-breeding male indigo buntings at Felts Preserve the morning I was there in late December. It was cold that morning as I sat in the bushes waiting for them to come to the feeders (just under 40 degrees is cold for us central Florida folks).  They were all fighting over the best feeding spots. Occasionally a painting bunting would pop out of the bushes but most of the birds there that morning were indigo buntings.

Either a very young bunting or a female.

There were a few other birds as well including doves and a cardinal.

Splattered blue on the leaves. This guy had a little more blue on his head.

A non-breeding male goldfinch also made an appearance. I never see goldfinches in the parks near my house. The only time I’ve seen bright yellow breeding ones are during my visits to Atlanta in the spring.

A storm was coming in

Storms were coming on a Saturday morning in mid-February. I still had to get out so I headed down to Fort Desoto and brave the weather (to really look for some owls). The clouds were starting to roll in when I stopped at the bay fishing pier. The wind was blowing so hard that there were no one out fishing. Walking halfway out I saw a common loon all alone. I was hoping he would get closer but he stayed pretty far out.

A great blue heron flying in and landing in front of me.

A cormorant sitting in front of the bridge.

White ibis fly by in front of the clouds.

I headed up to north beach to look for shorebirds but only kiteboarders were there. The sun was trying to peak out but it didn’t for long.

In the other direction, a kite surfer was struggling to stay up.

Back at the gulf pier, the storms were coming in from the south and it started to sprinkle so I pulled my umbrella out of my backpack and walked around a little while longer before heading home in the rain. Even on a dark cloudy day this is a magically place (unless you are just looking to get tan).

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A new preserve close by

I had only recently heard about Lake Dan Preserve through a hiking group. It’s only 30 minutes north so I decided to check it out in early February. It was a colder morning but the sun was warming up. The parking lot was small and hawk was sitting in a tree right over my car. There wasn’t a lot of birds when I first got there.  Only a few yellow-rumped warblers. Probably because that hawk was sitting there out in the open. I hit the trail and walked across the bridge over the lake.

Out on the edge of the lake I could see deer getting a drink.

As I got farther down the trail, I came across a deer that was standing right in front of me. She stared at me for a few seconds before taking off across the field. She did stop and look back for a few seconds before heading into the woods. There were a lot of deer up here roaming around.  All females that I saw this morning.

The only thing I didn’t like about the trail here was that most of it was soft sand which didn’t help my hip. Even walking on the edge didn’t help. I could feel my hip starting to hurt. I really need hard dirt or paved trails for now to keep my hip from going back out again so I didn’t walk as much as I would have liked to.

I found this interesting swamp pond about half way on my walk on a side trail. It was very quiet and I could barely make out deer getting water on the far end. I’m sure lots of critters use this instead of the big lake close by. It was kind of cool to be out here in the quiet and the bald cypress trees in the middle made it feel like winter. It’s amazing what you can find a half hour out of Tampa. First shot is out of the camera, the second I added a filter to make it look more like winter. I wasn’t sure which one I liked better.

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A sad story on a beautiful afternoon

It was a beautiful afternoon in late January and I was able to get outside for a little while on a late Friday before sunset. I jumped in the car and headed over to Dunedin, thinking I would stop by the fishing pier and then go over for a quick walk at the causeway. I was snapping the shot of the water when I turned around and noticed the two osprey that had built a nest on top of the building next to the pier.  I was pretty excited to see the camera up on the top but when I got home and searched it, you could only see over the building so the camera wasn’t look down on the nest. Would have been fun to watch that nest up close.

I found this cute little boat in the marina that I hadn’t seen before.

I headed over to the beach area on the causeway and saw the sailboat that has washed up back in November during Hurricane ETA. I had seen many pictures of it posted on the internet, people climbing and playing on it. They had it roped off which didn’t make for a pretty picture. I have since heard that it was hauled away a few weeks after I took this. The state of these old damaged sailboats are sad. At some point years ago, someone paid a lot of money for this boat. Probably used it at first. Then it sits out there for a long time and becomes a hazard. The owner, if they had insurance, probably just collected and moved on. Many people with these old boats let their insurance lapse and the city pays for the haul. Not sure if they can sell them for scrap.

On a sad note, at the end of the causeway, a dead dolphin had washed up on shore hours before I arrived. Everyone was standing around watching the marine life rescue team (with Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Winter the flipperless dolphin resides) get him ready to be taken away. They will do a necropsy on him to find out the cause of death. Was he old? Sick?  Eaten something bad? Hit with a boat? Swallowed too many fish hooks from stealing fish from the fishermen at the pier? So many questions.  Everyone was watching from a respectful distance. It was sad to watch these volunteers do their work.

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Rainbows in the woods

I was in the mood for a road trip but didn’t want to go anywhere that I would have to walk far. I headed down to a small Audubon preserve about an hour south of Tampa. There’s a small preserve run by the Audubon Society that has feeders set up with a blind in the middle of a neighborhood (mostly horse farms and small cow pastures). It was 40 degrees when I got there early in the morning in late December. No one else was around. I got to the blind and sat for a few minutes thinking “Is it too cold for the birds?”. I walked around the small preserve for a while and when I came back to the blind a half hour later I just sat on the bench. I was about to give up when a saw a flash of color head to the feeders. Several male painted buntings and young blue buntings started coming to feeder.  One was sitting on an empty feeder waiting his turn at the full feeder. I think this is the most painted buntings I’ve seen in one place. I ended up spending an hour watching these beautiful birds in the quiet.

Walking out of the preserve, I noticed this tree had turned bright orange. Yes, fall was starting to hit in late December.

More pictures from Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

I pulled over and got out for these guys. The fulvous whistling ducks are rare here in central Florida. I’ve only seen them here and rarely at Circle B Bar Reserve (although they could also be hiding out in lesser known smaller ponds).  Although they are not as pretty as black bellied whistling ducks, they are still pretty fun to watch. A section of the marsh along the drive had a big flock of them and the ducks were busy feeding and chasing each other around. It seemed like everyone wanted to be in someone else’s spot. They were easy to spot, making all of that loud whistling noise.

Along the back side of the drive, things got quiet. Mostly coots and moorhens before you leave the drive. I was out on a rare Friday off so the traffic through the drive wasn’t too bad.

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A new bird that looks like an old bird

I had heard of the gray headed swamphen that you could find down in south Florida but hadn’t heard until recently that they are moving into central Florida. This bird originates from southeast Asia. The audubon thinks that many escaped captivity from a zoo during Hurricane Andrew years ago. It looks a lot like the purple gallinule but has an all red nose and his legs are pink vs. the yellow legs on a purple gallinule. Two had been seen at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive so I headed over in late December.  The pair were easily seen right at the beginning of the drive. I pulled over and jumped out the car and walked over and spent a while watching them. It felt freezing this morning. I had a warm hoody on with sweats but had not brought my gloves since I didn’t think it would be that cold. I finally got back in the car and the temp read 39 degrees on my car. It had gotten colder since driving up from Tampa. What was I thinking?? Not prepared for this cold morning.

I managed to catch one of the swamphens catching a tiny fish. He walked over to the vegetation and ate his breakfast there.

He kept cruising back to the water, running off any other birds in his way including a grackle and a coot.

It was interesting to watch him pull up the vegetation with his foot and then use his foot to eat it. He used both feet to do this. I’m assuming he’s eating the seed pods in the water.  The couple were busy feeding for a while. They eventually ventured farther in the reeds and disappeared after an hour of feeding.

The morning did warm up and I was able to get out along the drive to enjoy the beautiful morning out. Just like the comical purple gallinules, the swamphen was fun to watch.

Swamphen on the left and a purple gallinule on the right. Subtle differences are the all red beak (the purple has a light blue spot on his head) and the legs are different colors.

My Corner of the World

The floating Florida potato

One of the magical things about living in central Florida is seeing the manatees out in the wild. One of the best places to see them up close is at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, an hour north of Tampa. The springs that run through the area stay fairly warm all year so the manatees congregate far into the springs in the winter. The wildlife park has both a bridge and a dock that goes over the springs.  I headed up in late December early in the morning and got there when the park opened. Most of the manatees were around the dock. I caught two mothers with babies right when I got there. One baby was hanging on to Mom’s flipper as they came up for air right in front of me. The dock looks over the area where you can swim with the manatees.  After seeing all of the crowds here in the winter, I’m not a big fan. Not when I can see them this close from the dock. I don’t really feel like people need to swim right up to them. The manatees do have roped off “no people” zones where they can hide but I’ve seen the river here almost body to body with people. I get that it’s amazing having a manatee swimming right up to you but I still feel like they should remain truly wild. I do have to say Brett and I were at the Fort Desoto beach several years ago in the summer and I had a manatee swim up to me when we were swimming out to the sand bar. He didn’t get quite close enough for me to touch him but it was still amazing. All I could think of was were was my camera?


So many coming up for air right in front of me. Most of them have distinctive marks on their backs so you could track the different ones coming up to the dock. Many have barnacles or moss growing on their backs.

I’m glad I brought my shorter lens with me but I took the two above with my phone since I couldn’t fit them all in with my camera. You can really see the boat propeller scars on the first one.

Looking out over the bridge, you could see the manatee dots in the clear water.

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Flying flashes of green

There are now so many wild parakeets in the St. Pete area that I can hear them screaming as they fly overhead at just about any park in the area. We have a small flock of monk parakeets living in Tampa near our neighborhood. I hear them screaming when I’m sitting at the red light before getting on the highway. On a recent Saturday I was at Crescent Lake Park walking around (hoping to see the otters there) when they came flying in right into the trees in front of me. They nest near the baseball field at the park so you can almost always see them here. It looked like they were chewing on sticks up in the tree. Many of them were eating the acorns on the ground as well. They spent quite a while feeding before all taking off.

I looked down at the lake and the baby ducks on the drain cover were looking at me like “why are you watching those crazy loud birds?”

Two parks in one morning.

A northern parula going for a mulberry at Possum Brand Preserve. This is one of two trees there but only one blooms in the fall.

I’m not sure what the second picture is. I thought it was a red eyed vireo like the 3rd one but the yellow around the eyes is throwing me off.

Yellow-rumped warblers are pretty easy to spot. Mostly drab colors but that pop of yellow on his backside gives him away.

A house wren with a teeny snack in his beak. These guys are usually pretty shy and stay deep in the bushes but this one popped out for a minute.

The grebes are always looking up. Ready to take a dive if a hawk flies by.

The anhinga was across the pond but I managed to catch him with his catch.

After leaving Possum Branch I headed for a quick walk at Chesnut Park. I found a purple gallinule at the end of the dock there. Last year a pair had babies there in the spring so hoping for another crop this year.

I spotted this great blue heron with breakfast.

At the beginning of January, if finally looked like winter at the pond at Chesnut Park. The bald cypress leaves had fallen and blanketed the pond with brown and orange.

At Possum Brand Preserve, some of the cypress trees still had their leaves but they were already brown.

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