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.

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.

Better than birds

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I had heard there were buntings down at Felts Preserve, almost an hour south of my home.  I don’t know whether I was too early or too late. After walking around for over an hour, the only birds I saw were doves and grackles. I decided to make a loop around the outer trail and heard something splashing along the little creek. I sat down in the grass and watched the otter family play for a while before they dove under water and headed down the creek. They were so cute. They kept their eye on me but they seemed okay that I was sitting farther down the trail.  All of the above are extremely cropped.

Felts Preserve – A new park for me.

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A pileated woodpecker high up in the tree. I heard they nested close by here this summer. I totally missed the boat on it this year. Next year I’m going to try to get down here to see baby pileateds.   To see some amazing baby woodpeckers screaming at mom, see Jim Gray’s shots here . He has the patience of a saint and will sit there all day waiting for those babies to wake up.

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The preserve was full of these grasshoppers. They were on ground all over the trails and would hop up in front of me to get out the way. At one point, one hopped on my shoulder. They have a pretty dotted pattern on their back wings, almost like a leopard print. When they hop away, they look yellow.

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A skipper on the blade of grass.

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A nearby goat farm. They all looked so cute grazing.

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Or do they?

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This one looked cute. He was standing close to the fence.

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Across the street from the goat farm was a horse pasture with a few horses grazing. I’m not sure what that is on his face. I’ve never seen that before. I’m guessing something to keep the bugs out of his eyes? I bet Theresa from Run A Round Ranch  knows why that cover is on his face.

I had heard of Felts Preserve (in between St. Petersburg and Sarasota) but had not made it there. I had heard it was a big painted and indigo bunting stop-over during migration and still had not gone. Someone told me it was near the outlet mall. Oh! I usually get to the outlet mall about twice a year. It’s almost an hour south of my house. It’s a beautiful drive down (over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge) and tons of great stores but life (or birding) usually gets in the way of shopping. After two hours of shopping, I found the preserve. It’s a small preserve, only 27 acres and is in the middle of cow, goat and horse farms. The land was donated to the Audubon Society when Otis Felts died in 2002. I was crazy to go in July. It was hot and I had to put on two coats of bug spray. The only bird I saw was the pileated woodpecker. The air was filled with grasshoppers, gnats and mosquitos. But, I can’t wait to get back there in the fall. I think it has potential when migration starts (and it’s always  nice to be able to pick up a few bargains at the outlet mall before hand).

Shine the Divine Mandarin Orange Monday