Tuesday, February 13: Flint Pen Strand

Sunrise over the lakes didn't have spectacular colors, but the sun's rays just beginning to flash through the clouds and their reflection on the lake was still quite impressive.

Temperatures were mild and although the wind picked up later in the morning, it was a beautiful start to the day.

With the warmer weather and some sunshine, insects were more common and more active. Even herps were active. Only three species of herps were seen -- gators and Cricket Frogs were the regulars, but one snake made an appearance.

The small Blue-striped Garter Snake in the photo at the lower left casually made its way from the pines to the east and into the tall grasses in the marsh to the west. Its head rocked back and forth as it searched for scents of a potential meal.

A Least Sandpiper, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, and two Wood Storks joined the regular crew of birds to bring the total to 43 species identified.

The adult Bald Eagle in the photo was the only one seen. Its mate or the two juveniles were elsewhere. The female Snail Kite and Red-shouldered Hawks were the only other raptors.

The Snail Kite may be a very young one that hasn't mastered all of nuances of dining. She caught a large Apple Snail and flew to the top of a snag to dine. However, her back was to the wind and she was having serious problems trying to hang onto the top of the snag with one talon, grasp the snail in the other, and bend down to eat. Finally, she figured out, or maybe it was just dumb luck, that she was much more steady when she faced the wind.

The most often seen species were the ibis. Large flights of White Ibis flew in just before sunrise and landed in the marsh. Smaller groups of the white ibis kept flying in all morning and joining the others. We estimated that there were about six dozen individuals, but there easily could have been over a hundred since they were well hidden in the tall grasses once they landed.

One large flock of Glossy Ibis flew later in the morning, also landing in the marsh. By counting them in photos afterwards, the estimate was 38 Glossy Ibis. The next most frequently observed birds were 23 Little Blue Herons.

Boat-tailed and Common Grackles, usually the most common, were fewer, But what they lacked in numbers they more than compensated for with the volume and frequency of their calls.

Only sevens species of butterflies were found. While that's a small number, it's considerably more than were seen in the past two weeks. The most common of those were Gulf Fritillaries whose numbers doubled the number of all of the other species combined.

Only six species of dragonflies and damselflies were identified. Common Green Darners, one of my favorites, and Rambur's Forktails were the most often seen.

The Rambur's Forktails were a mixed group. There were adult males, adult females, and juveniles, and each one looked totally different than the others. The one at the right is an adult male.


Friday, February 16: Pepper Ranch Preserve

Originally I had an appointment on Friday, so I hadn't planned to visit PRP. However, one of the people who was to be at the meeting couldn't make it, so the meeting was postponed until March. So I was able to visit the preserve after all. The trails have begun to dry out enough that they are passable, so instead of birding almost entirely by car with a little bit of walking, I tried the Sunflower Trace West and Tuscawilla trails to see what they were like.

Sunflower Trace had no standing water but there were soft, muddy places. Tuscawilla Trail was good although muddy right up to the start of the Loop 2 alternate route. Then it got very wet, so I turned back at that point and took Loop 1 alternate route back.

Hiking two of the trails which are wooded made a difference in what and how much wildlife was observed. Insects and small bird numbers were higher while those of the larger prairie and pasture birds were lower.

The Northern Parula at the left was along the grassy path leading to the Lake Trafford observation platform. It shared the area with lots of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, one Downy Woodpecker, and several Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Out on the lake, Lesser Scaups were much more cooperative this week. they swam closer to the platform and directly at it for a while. The photo below is of one group of the Scaups.

The Double-crested Cormorant roost was still intact early in the morning. Eighty-seven individuals were counted, but there may have been more.

Of the 48 species of birds identified, they were by far the most common. Other species with high individual numbers were 65 White Ibis, 51 Cattle Egrets, 32 Turkey Vultures, and 21 Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Only one Bald Eagle was spotted today, and it was a juvenile around two and a half years old. It was also well out into the preserve rather than at the usual eagle perch near the ranger station.

The tree it chose was one that the Crested Caracaras have used in the recent past. Today, no Caracaras were seen, possibly because the eagle had usurped their spot.

The eagle had left by the time I passed the spot on my way out, but the Caracaras weren't there because by that time they should have been elsewhere foraging. I did see one Crested Caracara soaring over Immokalee Road on my way home, but that was a little far from the preserve to be one of Pepper Ranch's birds.

The only other raptors that I saw were one American Kestrel and 11 Red-shouldered Hawks. I heard one Swallow-tailed Kite, but I was in a wooded area and couldn't see much of the sky. Later, Tom saw two of them soaring high in the air.

Ten species of butterflies/moths were identified but more tiny ones were too small and too well hidden under blades of grass to be sure of an identification. Dorantes Longtails and White Peacocks were the most common. New species that haven't been present recently were a pair of Horace's Duskywings, a Great Southern White, and thee Cloudless Sulphurs.

Herps were the usual suspects: gators, Brown Anoles, and Cricket Frogs. One common herp but not commonly seen was a large Red-bellied Turtle sunning on a log.

Mammals were just White-tailed Deer and Gray Squirrels. Most of the deer were seen on the Sunflower Trace trail where people usually don't go. Smart deer!

Here's the photo of the Lesser Scaups.


My Yard

The Gray Foxes that visit are really remarkable little animals. One was outside the bedroom window Sunday night picking up some peanuts. Then, its ears shot up, it took a quick look to its right, and then it bolted. It wasn't until 20 seconds later that a Bobcat came into view. Bobcats are not noisy when the move, but somehow that fox not only heard it moving, but it knew that it didn't want to stick around until the predator came close. Here's a short video of the two.