With the stay-at-home order lifted and our local state parks once again open for hiking, I motored over in search of some outdoor adventure. As usual, Highlands Hammock did not disappoint.
Throughout my day scouting around in search of warblers, I was blessed with sightings of numerous birds such as pileated woodpeckers, great crested flycatchers, black vultures, a great egret, downy woodpeckers, Carolina wrens and what I hope photos will reveal to be a yellow-throated warbler. Of course, the large alligator was sunning off the Cypress Swamp boardwalk.
While being a bird nerd on Mother’s Day weekend, I enjoyed observing the maternal behaviors of several species too. A white-tailed deer was deeply hidden on one trail by brush and soon I understood why. Not one, but two fawns bumbled behind her in erratic fashion as she browsed. It was a delightful experience to be still and just observe their beauty in the woodsy silence.
Later another paternal pair were sharing the duty of feeding their young. Red shouldered hawks have made a nest nearby the entrance of the well-known Cypress Swamp trail. As the adult raptors zip back and forth over the parking area, they are easily observed. While the nest itself is heavily sheltered by feathery cypress boughs, the raucous racket upon a parent’s return will help you get an idea of where to train those binoculars.
On this beautiful Saturday, I observed parent birds returning with many lizards and a snake. As they brought each wriggling meal, one by one, in a flyover of the parking area, it offered great observation and photo opportunities.
Imagine if you will the efforts needed to fill the bellies of baby raptors. While there is no need to wear a mask or worry over social distancing, avian parents must hunt each meal from sunrise to dark. Hang in there moms, nature toils in unison with you.
As dry as things have been, mosquitoes were negligible so if you’re bug-averse, now is the time to get your nature on. As you do, watch for great crested flycatchers boasting bright yellows and orange against olive plumage in the first historic orange grove. They too are feeding young and were continually active the day I visited.
We are so fortunate to have this gem of the outdoors right in our backyards. Early mornings or late afternoons are best if you wish to observe wildlife. Whether it’s the lumbering gopher tortoises adjacent to the park’s entrance drive or the alligators slipping through the dark swamp waters, nature continues despite COVID-19. Why not take a break and join them for a breather?