Thursday, June 4, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 3, Barr Hammock

Educational Bike Rack at Barr Hammock
After all the reports of Phalarope activity on Tuesday, I seriously considered going to the La Chua Trail, yet again. But after thinking about it, I decided that 1) I probably wouldn't find it, 2) I had lots of other parks to hit in my month, and 3) I never have as much fun when I'm searching for something specific, anyway. So I broke with the pack and went to Barr Hammock. This turned out to be a good decision for many reasons, not the least of which was that it appears that the Phalarope has moved on. Along the highway through the Prairie, I picked up the Bald Eagle that I had missed on Monday. It was being mobbed by crows as it flew over. I got a good look at the  white tail, but had to remind myself that birdwatching and driving don't mix well. I also saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes, as well as some ducks that I couldn't identify from the car. They will merit another drive with a brief stop on the shoulder to figure out what they are, maybe on my way to Bolen's Bluff.

Red Shouldered Hawk

It was sunny and hot and humid after several days with afternoon rain and the Barr Hammock parking lot was almost empty. As I unloaded from the car a cyclist came in off the trail, leaving me with the park all to myself. I headed off on the right hand side of the loop. The plan was to walk to my usual turn around spot at the covered bench. I rarely walk the entire loop because it is 6 miles and I get tired, especially in the heat of the day. And there are no bathrooms. My target bird at Barr Hammock was the Common Yellowthroat, which I heard and then saw minutes into the trail, and all along the trail for the entire 4 hours I was out there. Such reliable little dears! After that I was free to see or not see anything I wanted and it felt great. I started thinking that over the years I have developed a pretty good idea where I could go if I wanted to visit certain plants, animals or insects around Gainesville. I wonder how long it will take me to figure that out in Athens?

Giant Swallowtail on Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
I walked slowly, watching for bugs and butterflies and listening for anything interesting. There were huge numbers of Swallowtail Butterflies. I saw Palamedes, Spicebush, Black, Giant and Tiger Swallowtails, as well as dozens of Viceroys. There are Button Bushes blooming on the sides of the dike and they are a terrific nectar plant. There are also Water Hemlock plants growing alongside and they are a host plant for Black Swallowtails, and Willows that are host plants for the Viceroys. I had good photo ops on several occasions when butterflies landed on the wet sand to "puddle"--ingest essential salts and other minerals.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillars on Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Viceroy Puddling

Palamedes Swallowtail Puddling

Not too far down the trail I came across a wing and feathers from a Red Shouldered Hawk. I have no idea what ate it, but it was gruesomely fascinating to look at. Something had just yanked the wing off. It was pretty fresh, too, but the ants and flies were making good work of it. A little further down the trail I found a dead turtle. I couldn't tell if it had been run over or stepped on. Even with the small amount of traffic on that trail, if an animal is in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can mean disaster. Like the hawk wing, the ants were busy cleaning off any meat from the turtle. I could see white bones inside through the hole in its shell.

Hawk Wing

Crushed Turtle

I kept walking, enjoying the solitude. The sky was a beautiful blue with big, fluffy clouds. A Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron flew over, adding 2 more birds to the list. Then around the bend I bumped into a family of Sandhill Cranes out for a stroll. I am pretty sure I saw this family a month or so ago and they had 2 colts (crane chicks), so something must have happened to the other. But this colt looked healthy and tall and was well protected by its parents. They were not too concerned with my presence and let me take photos. But they kept an eye on me, nonetheless, as they moved along. There was another, lone, adult crane further down the trail. I don't know if this was a 2nd year juvenile hanging around its family group, or just a lonely crane. But it moved away before I could get a good look.

Blue Skies

Crane Family Feeding

I looked over the bushes for Blue Grosbeaks, but didn't have any luck. I'll have to keep hunting. And I heard a Yellow Billed Cuckoo, but couldn't see it in the bushes. I did see 3 Least Bitterns! They're everywhere! At the turn around spot, I looked up and caught a Hummingbird sitting on a branch, and then heard a flock of common grackles. I think a Red Shouldered Hawk that was flying over had made them nervous. A Green Heron landed on a snag, then flew into the bushes. A Great Egret soared overhead and I saw the sun shining through the layers of its feathers. Red-winged Blackbirds gurgled and chucked from bushes all along the road.

Soaring Egret

At the trailhead, I decided to take a short walk the other direction on the loop to see if I could find a snake or a turtle or a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher. There were Northern Parulas everywhere. I'm always hoping to see an otter at Barr Hammock. I've heard them splash and have seen the places where they slide down the banks. No otters or Gnatcatchers this time, but I did see a Raccoon climbing through the greenery, and found some fox or coyote tracks. I saw 2 alligators, too. One was stretched out on a log and another on the path. I was ready to turn around and give up the path to the gator, but it spooked first and I walked on a bit. I scared a Black Racer and caught glimpses of turtles just as they ducked into the water. They are very wary, and understandably so. Everything eats turtles, and turtle eggs. I found a clutch of eaten eggs on the bank of the canal.

Rummaging Raccoon

Green Anole on Cattail

Turtle Eggs

Walking back to the car I considered taking a quick stop at Lake Wauberg to try to catch some more birds for the list. But then I came to my senses and accepted that I was hot and tired. I am not in the June Challenge to win, but sometimes the collector in me becomes obsessed. But what I really want in the coming weeks is to be outside, enjoying and experiencing as much as I can of my favorite places and if I see birds on the list, all the better. I have to keep reminding myself of this when I hear reports of special bird sightings. But then again, if someone reported that Phalarope…

Crane Family

Bird Count: I added 5 today, plus the Black Swans in the my neighborhood Duckpond, for a total of 65 (66). It really was not my intention to write 30 blog entries in the month of June, but so far every day has had enough activity to fill a page and then some. Time will tell if my energy and enthusiasm will last, but I'll ride the wave until then!

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