Florida: Circle B Bar Reserve I

My dad and I birded almost every day on this trip. It’s nice he shares a fondness of feathers. And since last time I left without finding Limpkins, this time he took time scouting parks for potential. He found Circle B Bar Reserve.

Located in Lakeland, FL, the former cattle ranch is over 1200 acres of now protected wildlife reserve home to more than 220 species of birds. Not to mention the alligators, bobcats, armadillos, otters, foxes, insects, reptiles, and 45 butterfly species. It’s part of the East Section of the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2000-mile collection of protected spaces.

We made three trips to this park in six days and each time we found something new.

It’s glorious. And also a popular destination for photographers (check out the Flickr page).

On our first visit, just a few feet down the trail as I scanned for birds, all of a sudden Limpkins, Limpkins, Limpkins!!!

Not just Limpkins, BABY Limpkins!

I think my exact words were, “OMG baby Limpkins, are you kidding me?”

Limpkins’ main source of food is apple snails, and they are found in abundance here. Florida apple snails are the only native snail, but several invasives have moved in, including the island apple snail, wrecking havoc on wetland crops and the ecosystem, but creating a great food source for Limpkins. They also have the potential to help the endangered Snail Kite (one bird we missed).

Bubblegum or snail eggs?

Where food is plentiful, so are babies. Even in November apparently.

My dad and I watched mama Limpkin break open the apple snail to feed the little Limpkin chick. It was so amazing to watch.

Eventually I pulled myself away from the Limpkins long enough to admire other birds, like plentiful Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Including Black-bellied Whistling ducklings. Awwww.

And baby Wood Storks. Awwww?

Wood Storks are great, to feed, they balance one wing out while swirling their feet in the water stirring up good stuff.

So clever.

Another lifer common at the park was the Glossy Ibis.

So glossy

Different from the White-faced Ibis I’ve seen in southeastern Oregon because of its dark iris and pale lines on its face.

Tri-colored Herons coasted by.

Cattle Egrets scarfed down grasshoppers.

And Anhinga juggled fish. Birds here are so talented.

While watching this Anhinga toss fish like pizza dough I looked down and caught a glimpse of movement. Hey!

Sneaky snipe

Wilson’s Snipe! A great spot. It’s important to keep your eyes open, you never know when something will sneak up on you, it could have been this guy.

Hey, I recognize that hump.

We never got a look at its face but I’m pretty sure I heard a low growl rumble from those waters. Check out this video of it crossing the path. So big!

The only thing we saw crossing the trail were tiny birds like this Little Blue Heron.

And a turtle (peninsula cooter?) that stopped for a moment to lay eggs.

The real treat came when we turned around on the trail and something bright yellow caught my eye.

Hello Yellow-throated Warbler! What a beauty. Captivated we followed the busy warbler while it pried leaves open and searched the moss for tiny insects.

A treat for the warbler and a treat for us. This park was so great!

More Circle B birds to come.

Tweets, chirps, and Limpkins,

Audrey

Texas: Lost Maples

Spring break is all about drinking, partying, and birding, right?

For months a group of friends and I planned a trip to Texas this spring to accomplish at least one of those things. Jen and I flew in a couple of days early to explore the Hill Country area of Texas two hours west of San Antonio that is home to the rare and endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler that only nests in juniper-oak woodlands of Central Texas.

The warbler has good taste. This is the prettiest part of Texas I’ve ever seen.

We stayed at Foxfire Cabins less than a mile from Lost Maples State Natural Area. What the cabins lacked in swankiness the property made up for with birds.

feeder titmouse

Inca Dove

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Carolina Chickadee

Boom. Just like that, four lifers. There was also a Yellow-throated Vireo sighting and a drive-by Ringed Kingfisher. Make that six lifers. Birding is so easy. Once the sun dipped below the hills we star-gazed enjoying the clear dark skies, then got up early in the morning to hike Lost Maples Park.

The chalkboard doesn’t lie.

We parked the car, started up the trail, and almost immediately heard the buzzy “ter-wih-zeee-e-e-e, chy” song I’d studied long before the trip. Incredible. It took much longer to get a visual on the warblers, but when we did it was even sweeter.

Yay! The extra time and effort was all worth it. Relaxed and happy, we soaked up other sights along the trail including Yellow-throated Warblers and White-eyed Vireos.

And a Black-chinned Hummingbird that stopped to take a drink from the stream.

Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soared higher in the sky as the wind picked up and we hiked up the hillside.

Black Vulture

Here we’d hoped for an early Black-capped Vireo, but came up with Black-crested Titmouse.

And Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Along the trail we were easily distracted by damselflies, butterflies and lizards.

And a Carolina Wren singing like crazy.

The wind picked up further as we hiked back to check the feeders near the trail entrance.

This turned up many birds including:

White-tipped Dove

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Three more lifebirds. Bam! What a gorgeous birdy place. I’m already dreaming of a return backpacking trip.

In the heat of the day we took a quick lunch break before heading north to Kerr Wildlife Management Area to try again for Black-capped Vireo. On the drive there we passed a Vesper Sparrow.

A Lark Sparrow.

A mystery snake that slivered quickly across the road.

And we passed a pile of vultures on the side of the road with a Crested Caracara in the mix!

New bird! I was surprised to learn they’re actually quite common in southern Texas. Here’s a picture from a later sighting:

Eventually we made it to Kerr WMA, and dipped again on vireos, but we found plenty more lifebirds for me including Vermilion Flycatchers.

A Field Sparrow.

And a wonderful surprise bird Jen spotted just as we were leaving the park, a Louisiana Waterthrush! Good spot.

We made it back to the cabins without running out of gas and prepared ourselves for an early departure the next morning. 18 new birds in less than two full days? Not a bad start!

Thanks Texas.

Birders gone wild,

Audrey