Category Archives: outdoors

Friday bunnyblogging

While Noe is having a mellow Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve seen a few swamp rabbits while going for a walk.

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Yummy clover underfoot and sheltering reeds just a hop away.

Okay, not such a great photo. But the rabbits were seemingly enjoying themselves munching on clover at Lakes Park in Fort Myers.

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Anhinga sunning herself. Females have a tannish neck, males black.

There were a few birds around, but it was a bit windy and late in the day so not too much activity on that front.

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This Tricolored Heron seemed put out at the attention.

Not too many flowers blooming, either. This is a Hoarypea, Tephrosia spp.

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Might be Florida hoarypea, I’m not sure.

Continuing our trend of snake sightings, we saw a Black Racer sunning itself. Unlike the rattlers we saw last month, this one was pretty long- at least a meter.

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You can’t see it in this photo, but the snake was pretty scarred on the side. Clearly it had a close escape from some sticky situation in the past.

Two snake day at Orlando Wetlands Park

Last weekend, we went biking at Orlando Wetlands Park. It was the last weekend to visit before the park closes for the winter, and quite a nice day. We actually saw a fair variety of birds- including a lifer painted bunting, a pair of somewhat early canvasbacks, five species of warbler, a kestrel, and a Wilson’s snipe. You can tell it’s winter in Florida when the shrubs are hopping with yellow-rumped and palm warblers, and they were in fine form at OWP.

One thing about bike-birding that I’d never really thought about before is that it’s much easier to spot snakes before you get too close to them. This is a net positive, as far as I’m concerned 🙂 We saw two species of rattlesnake today, both crossing the berm trail or maybe sunning on it, and both only moderately put out at us riding by.

I’ve seen eastern diamondback rattlesnakes before, and this one was only about two feet or so long. Still, I was more than happy to let it do its thing in peace. We gave it a pretty wide berth, but not before Yan stopped and took a photo:

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Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

The pygmy rattlesnake I hadn’t seen before, bringing me four for four on seeing Central Florida’s venomous species (the other two being the cottonmouth and coral snake). This snake was a bit over a foot long, and much more petite than the diamondback. Notice how tiny the rattle is? It’s on the right end:

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Pygmy rattlesnake (Photo: Y. Fernandez)

While Yan was taking this photo, he said it started to rattle at him in sort of a cute, hard-to-hear way. At that point, he left it alone and we biked on.

So, not a terribly exciting pair of snake sightings, but I’m okay with that. We did encounter some fairly territorial dragonflies who seemed irritated at our presence (the males seem to do this guarding thing at certain times of the year). But since we’re way past the Carboniferous Period dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans, they weren’t particularly intimidating. The 6-foot gator we saw was a bit more threatening, but he was pointed away from us at the time. Strangely, we didn’t get off our bikes to take photos of him…

Visiting Sequoia NP

We paid a visit to California this summer, including some (literal) highs and lows. For the highs, we traveled to Sequoia National Park; for the lows, we visited the Kern River valley (more on that anon).

The literal high point of our trip to Sequoia was hiking up Moro Rock, elevation 2050 meters.

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The view on the way up.

Not being a fan of heights, the walk up the rock face was a bit disturbing in spots. There are a few narrow spots in the trail with a rock face looming overhead and a pretty short railing above a steep drop-off. The view from the top was breathtaking, though.

In the distance is the park backcountry and High Sierras.

In the distance is the park backcountry and High Sierras.

It was pretty cool to see other granite domes in the distance, like Moro Rock. There was also some snow to see, tucked into high valleys of the taller peaks. Really odd to see, given the mid-80’s temperatures we had in the park. But snow is always exciting to us Floridians!

High Sierras, with some snow.

High Sierras, with some snow (really, it’s back there…)

Of course, the highlight of this part of the trip was seeing the giant sequoias. And they were quite spectacular…

Sequoiadendron giganteum!

Sequoiadendron giganteum!

Mobile Bay

On a work-related trip to Alabama this summer, I stayed overnight in the town of Fairhope, on Mobile Bay. I took a short walk around town to the Fairhope pier, which has a set of purple martin houses set around it in the water.

Martin house in the bay.

Martin house in the bay.

Purple martins nest in holes in trees, but are having real problems competing with European starlings for nest sites. As a result, they do best in artificial nest boxes like the ones in Fairhope which people help keep starlings away from. As far as I know, there’s only one purple martin colony in the Eastern US that uses natural trees to nest in anymore, and that one is in the Orlando Wetlands Park.

Rainclouds rolling in.

Rainclouds rolling in.

Fairhope sits on bluffs above the bay, and it’s always nice to see some coastal topography, coming from Florida. Rain was moving in across the bay-an afternoon thunderstorm, which was pretty Florida-like-so I didn’t stay long at the pier. I headed back uphill to the hotel, walking through a park on the way.

Big old magnolia tree.

Big old magnolia tree on the bluffs.

Bluffs or no, the park was covered with pine woods that seemed fairly Florida-like. In fact, they are a remnant longleaf pine forest, which once covered a large part of the coastal SE US, including central Florida. Unfortunately, the longleaf ecosystem has been pretty impacted by human development; what’s more, this ecosystem is fire-dependent. It’s hard to say what will happen to the longleafs of Fairhope, since it’s unlikely that the town will be willing to manage the habitat with controlled burning right on the edge of town

Fairhope also has rocks- not coquina rocks either, but actual rocks.

Fairhope also has rocks- not coquina rocks either, but actual rocks.

So I got back to the hotel before rain started to fall. Martins and pine woods are nice any day, so I enjoyed my stroll in Alabama.

Minnesota May

Towards the end of May, I made a visit to Minnesota. It was a pretty good time to visit: the weather was getting warm but it was still nice and cool compared to Orlando.

Trees were in bloom.

Some trees were in bloom.

I spent some time with my dad while he did some printmaking, and then dragged him out on a birding field trip to the Minnesota River Valley. Which he did seem to enjoy- though he volunteered to carry a spotting scope for an older birder and ended up carrying it around for several miles. (Sorry, Dad.)

Trees were still leafing out.

Others were still leafing out.

We also took an evening stroll to the gardens around Lake Harriett, in Minneapolis. I can’t identify many of the plants, but they were quite pretty.

A few

A few irises were still blooming, barely.

As the sun was setting, we saw several common nighthawks fly by, making their peent! call. It’s always interesting to see relatively big birds in urban areas. Who knows-maybe they’re nighthawks that winter in Florida, and they’re migrating south now. I’ll often see nighthawks near the UCF campus observatory in the evenings.

We were clearly there at the right time to check out this spruce with the ornamental buds.

We were clearly there at the right time to check out this spruce with the ornamental cones. So purple!

The common nighthawk is the American Birding Association bird of the year for 2013. They’re pretty cool birds, though their numbers are declining. I hope the birds we saw in May were having a nice early summer evening catching bugs, and that they did well over the summer and are now ready to head south.

Split Oak Forest

Waaay back in May, we took a hike in the Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area. (A tongue-tying name, to be sure.) This area is accessed through Moss Park. While Moss Park is just south of the 417, we’d only made it there once before, and were chased away by a summer thunderstorm. On the day we took this hike, the weather was great!

The Split Oak.

The Split Oak.

The protected area (I’ll call it that in preference to “Wildlife and Environmental Area”) is named after the Split Oak, a 200 year-old tree that was struck by lightning at one point, and continued to grow. It’s an interesting sight.

Apparently, this isn't that unusual of a phenomenon, though it is pretty cool.

Apparently, this isn’t that unusual of a phenomenon, though it is pretty cool.

The protected area itself contains a variety of ecosystems: you enter it through a swampy wetland, and the trail passes through pine flatwoods before entering the oak forest and passing by a little lake. We didn’t explore too far on this hike, as we were meeting friends at a soccer game that evening (as you can see from Yan’s jersey).

As a plus, our favored sporting team was ultimately victorious (Go Lions!)

As a plus, our favored sporting team was ultimately victorious (Go Lions!)

So, it was a short but interesting walk, with a variety of birds, plants, and a strikingly-colored electric turquoise-striped garter snake. Sadly, the snake slithered off before we got any good photos of it. But since my preference is for shy non-venomous snakes rather than aggressive venomous ones, I can’t really complain.

Blackroot (Pterocaulon pycnostachyum) was blooming in the pine forest areas.

Blackroot (Pterocaulon pycnostachyum)? was blooming in the pine forest areas.

Circle Bar B Reserve

I just realized that I’d been remiss in posting some photos from a hike we went on way back in February. Not that I’ve been consistently posting anything but rabbit photos lately, but anyway…

We went on a weekend trip to Tampa in the first part of February (the kittiwake-spotting  trip), and on the way back stopped at the Circle Bar B Reserve in Lakeland. As you might guess from the name, this is a former ranch (and phosphate mining site) that’s been partially turned into a wildlife preserve. It’s a good place for birding, and seemed quite popular on a Sunday afternoon.

Sandhill cranes at Circle Bar B.

Sandhill cranes at Circle Bar B.

I was really hoping to see some fulvous whistling-ducks there. Not only because these are interesting birds in and of themselves, but also how can you resist looking for a bird whose name combines an obscure color with the adorable whistling sounds it makes?

Fulvous.

Fulvous.

Sadly, it was not to be. Even though several families of fulvous whistling-ducks were reported that weekend on eBird (including with infuriating comments like “Really obvious, right by the trail”), we were not able to see any. But we had fun anyway.

Spoonbill in a tree.

Spoonbill in a tree.

We had a nice walk- the weather was quite pleasant- and saw a lot of birds and other wildlife. One of the highlights was a mother gator and her recently-hatched brood of babies. They were clearly acclimated to human attention. We assumed they were pretty close to their former nest site, which was right by the trail. Probably not a bad place for a nest, as long as you can stand the noisy human presence-maybe it helped keep the other adult alligators away.

Gator family. The mother is on the right, and babies on the left. They're pretty well camouflaged.

Gator family. The mother is on the right, and babies on the left. They’re pretty well camouflaged & just look like ridges in the muck.

Circle Bar B includes quite a bit of upland habitat, including some pine flatwoods and oak forest. However, it’s the system of ponds that are exciting to birders. There was quite a variety of wading birds, along with woodpeckers, warblers, and some raptors.

Another gator baby.

Another gator baby.

One of the highlights was a massive black & turkey vulture roost (YMMV). The birds perch in cypresses and pines along both sides of the trail. Since we were there until late afternoon, they were starting to fly in to sleep. It’s neat to hear their feathers swooshing in the wind when you’re close to them.

Limpkin on a tree.

Limpkin on a tree. The spots in the sky weren’t from a dirty lens- they’re swallows.

We also saw quite a few limpkins. These are fairly uncommon big wading birds that eat snails. While they’re solitary, we did see a lot of them in close proximity. I guess it’s good snail habitat.

Limpkin with snail.

Limpkin with snail.

After doing a big loop through the ponds, we swung by a lake before heading back to the car. It was an interesting place to visit, and it would be fun to go back at some point.

Winter day at Circle Bar B.

Winter day at Circle Bar B.

Snake taking a stroll

A few days ago, we encountered a Southern ringneck snake while on our way back from an evening walk:

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You can just make out the yellow ring behind its head (Photo: Yan Fernandez).

This is probably the second snake of this species we’ve seen in our apartment complex at night. They hide under rotting logs- and apparently decorative landscape mulch- and eat a variety of prey types. They’re non-venomous, and very, very cute. This one was only about five inches long.

It did not care for the flash, or the attention (Photo: Yan Fernandez).

It did not care for the flash, or the attention (Photo: Yan Fernandez).

At any rate, we backed off to let this one have a clear path into the grass. Hopefully it’s enjoying a nice earthworm or slug or arthropod as you read this. Cute little snake.

Walking in Seminole County

The weekend before last, I went to the Earth Day festivities at Seminole County’s Environmental Studies Center. This is a small nature center near the southeast corner of Lake Jesup; I’d previously biked past it on the Cross Seminole Trail, but never visited.

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Early afternoon at the nature center.

I took a short stroll on the center’s trails after the event- not too far, but it was nice to get into the outdoors. There weren’t too many birds, because it was pretty warm in the early afternoon.

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Moss and droopy bark.

It’s apparently a good spot to see migrating warblers (and other forest birds) early in the morning at this time of year. I did see (and hear) the ubiquitous cardinals, catbirds, and blue-gray gnatcatchers. I also heard a red-shouldered hawk or two and saw a swallow-tailed kite soaring overhead.

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Wildflowers.

The area is pretty damp, as it’s pretty close to the lake. I’m sure it gets even wetter during the summer.

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Light through the palm fronds.

I’m not sure how extensive the trail system is, but it might be fun to go back and explore.

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Thick, wavy patterns in the pine bark.