Driving down the Overstreet

September 30, 2017

Joe Overstreet Road and Landing are among Osceola County’s most interesting birding “hotspots”. The road heads down to the northeastern edge of Lake Kissimmee, through ranch and farm lands. At the landing, wading birds are common, and the lake’s resident Snail Kites are usually around. Last weekend was a good opportunity to check them out.

joe-overstreet-road
Joe Overstreet Road.
morning-deer
A White-tailed Deer in the morning mist.

The trees and shrubs along the road edges are often a good place to stop and watch for warblers or other small songbirds. Sometimes the early morning light can be a challenge, especially if the birds are back-lit. But I had some good luck this time around for some White-eyed Vireos and friends.

white-eyed-vireo
One of several White-eyed Vireos, going about morning duties.
common-yellowthroat
This first year male Common Yellowthroat doesn’t have his complete mask, or “domino” yet.

Wherever small birds are (or other prey items, like large grasshoppers or katydids), you have predators. There were Loggerhead Shrikes staking out the road edges, and further out over the fields I could hear Red-shouldered Hawks calling out.

loggerhead-shrike
This Loggerhead Shrike was looking quite interested at the Common Yellowthroats down below.

During Spring and Summer there are usually a large number of Cattle Egrets along with the cattle, but with the advent of Autumn there were very few of any sort of heron or egret species.

cattle
“What are yoooou looking at?”

Barn Swallows were working the open land and pausing in little groups on the wires and fence lines. Many were youngsters themselves, and trying to beg off of the adults who, to their evolutionary credit, were ignoring them. The young birds were certainly capable of feeding themselves.

barn-swallow
This Barn Swallow is nearly in adult plumage.
barn-swallow2
This is a younger Barn Swallow, with some downy feathers still remaining, and a little more tail to grow.

In addition to the Barn Swallows, there were a few Cliff and Bank Swallows in the mix as the birds swooped and darted around, catching insects.

The wet sod fields near the midpoint of the road had produced reports of shorebirds, including some American Golden Plovers and various sandpipers. I did not see any plovers (besides Killdeers) on the way to the lake, but  I did see some Least and Pectoral Sandpipers

least-sandpiper
Quite a few Least Sandpipers were making use of the flooded sod fields.
pectoral-sandpipers
Pectoral Sandpipers are larger than the “peeps”, like Least Sandpipers, and can usually be distinguished by the sharp transition of their breast markings to their bellies.

At the landing, I was almost immediately greeted by a family of Limpkins. The youngsters were almost full grown, and still looking a bit gangly as they ran to catch up with the adults.

limpkins
A pair of “teenage” Limpkins, running by.

One could liken these birds to “teenage” birds, and it won’t be long before they leave the proverbial nest (they left the actual one weeks ago).

limpkin-legs
This bird was legging it, to catch up with its siblings.

A few of them decided to take a rest on a nearby picnic table, fairly unconcerned with the people and boats. They even had a squirrell join in!

limpkin-picnic
Limpkin picnic.

The trees around the boat ramp usually have a Yellow Warbler or two around, and I was happy to see both a female and at least two males. One male hadn’t lost his bright yellow breeding colors quite yet. It always amazes me how a bird this bright yellow can be hard to find in a green tree. But they are.

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Female Yellow Warbler.
yellow-warbler-male2
A male Yellow Warbler, in the sun.
yellow-warbler-male1
In the shade, even these bright birds can blend into the green foliage.

Snail Kites were catching a large invasive variety of Apple Snail that seems to have taken over the lakes in central Florida. At least they (and the Limpkins) seem to be having no trouble with them. Ecologically, the invasive snails can do a lot of harm and are outcompeting the already threatened native snails.

snail-kite
A Snail Kite departing with a large Apple Snail.

One the way back up Joe Overstreet Road, I stopped one more time to scope out for American Golden Plovers. It took a while, and the help of two birders with a more stable and functioning scope (my Audubon “Light” scope had some failures), several of these somewhat rare visitors were seen and identified! This is the best photograph I could obtain.

plover
It’s hard to see here, but this American Golden Plover’s identifying features were clear in a scope.

As a final treat, I made it a point to stop on the “main road” by the Double C Bar ranch, in case a Whooping Crane was in view. My life-sighting of this species was on my first Central Florida Specialties trip with David Goodwin at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, several years ago. Since then, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to find these birds at this ranch (and elsewhere). Fortune favors the prepared, I suppose!

whooping-crane
This crane is one of the last survivors of a non-migratory Whooping Crane flock. The establishment and management of that flock was a failure, with resources now being put into a migratory flock that winters in the panhandle and spends the summer in Wisconsin.

That seemed like the cap on a pretty good birding day. While neither the American Golden Plovers nor the Whooping Crane were life birds, it was a thrill to see them, along with the other resident birds.

Here are the various eBird lists, for those who care.

Joe Overstreet Road (inbound to lake):
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39362311

Joe Overstreet Landing:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39363297

Joe Overstreet Road (incidental, outbound from lake):
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39365025

Double C Bar Ranch:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39365703

Joe Overstreet Road and Landing

This weekend’s adventure was to Joe Overstreet Road and Landing. I haven’t been to the area since three winters ago during the Central Florida Specialties field trip. Some Whooping Cranes are somewhat regularly seen from the road on the Double C Bar Ranch on Canoe Creek Road, just before Joe Overstreet Road. I did not see any Whoopers on this trip, though.

From Canoe Creek Road and for most of Joe Overstreet Road the landscape is dominated by upland fields and scattered trees. As one gets closer to Joe Overstreet Landing at Lake Kissimmee of course the landscape changes to marshes and open water, with some wet meadows (much of the land along the road is a cattle ranch). The transition from upland to wetland/lake was best illustrated by the change of crows, with American Crows along most of the road and Fish Crows closer to the lake. Not only were the voices a clear indication of species change, but the American Crows I saw seemed perceptually larger and more robust than the Fish Crows. Usually I have a much harder time telling the difference by sight, as the two species have a significant overlap in their sizes. For whatever reason the American Crows in this part of the state are quite large.

There were small bands of Savannah Sparrows along the barbed-wire fences. For the most part they seemed content to watch me, only fleeing if I stepped a little too close, but never really flying too far.

savannah-sparrow
The Savannah Sparrow equivalent of sitting on the front porch. Someone fetch this bird some lemonade!

Even the birds of prey were relatively approachable. A juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk sat just outside my car’s window, paying me little mind. It didn’t fly off the post it was on until I got out of the car, and even then it just swooped up to the top of the nearest utility pole.

red-shouldered-hawk

The nearby power lines and widely spaced trees make good perches for the raptors to hunt from. I saw both “regular” and “Florida form” Red-shouldered Hawks, including some that flew into a copse of pine trees and harassed a Great Horned Owl (from the sounds of it). The American Kestrels hung around nearby too, making the sparrows a little nervous, but the heavy hitters in the intimidation department were the Bald Eagles. Any time their shadows fell nearby, the sparrows and meadowlarks would dive for cover.

Down at the boat ramp by the lake there were American Coots, Common Gallinules, a Pied-billed Grebe and some Cattle Egrets. I scanned the lake and its more distant far shore for Snail Kites, but I did not see any. There were some gulls, terns, and a couple of Bald Eagles. I saw one Osprey and very few herons (I think I saw one Great Egret and a small group of Little Blue Herons). I could hear at least one Limpkin calling, but aside from some Boat-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, it was fairly quiet at the lake.

Crows are opportunistic scavengers and omnivorous, and are not above raiding the nests of songbirds (for eggs or young), and will eat lizards and small mammals if given the chance. They also will eat carrion. During nesting and fledging season, this does not endear them to smaller birds, and they will sometimes be chased or mobbed like hawks, eagles, or owls.

crow
This is what an American Crow looks like after being repeatedly dive-bombed and defecated on by 2 very angry Northern Mockingbirds. The small white specks are remnants of the altercation.

It was a final treat of the morning to see several Northern Bobwhites. I’ve heard them in various places in my adventures, but I haven’t had a solid visual identification. I saw one step out of some dead palm fronds for a moment, before a Red-shouldered Hawk caused it to take cover. I also managed to flush some females out, where they had been hiding in plain sight. They blended into the brown grasses and small shrubs so well that I didn’t know they were there until they quickly spang up in a burry flight to another concealed spot.

bobwhite
A Northern Bobwhite quail moments before dashing back under cover.

Besides birds attacking the American Crows, the Eastern Meadowlarks were courting and having territorial disputes. A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes were chasing each other around, too. I almost got one of my hope-for photographs, but the moment was so brief, I didn’t even have time to lift my camera. There was a Northern Mockingbird on a dead limb of a small tree, and the shrikes flew up in to the same tree. For an instant both a Northern Mockingbird and a Loggerhead Shrike were in the same tree, in the same field of view! I would really like to get such a photograph, showing the similarities and differences between these two birds.

shrikes
Moments after a Northern Mockingbird was chased off the limb on the right side of this dead tree-top. The bird at the bottom seems to be eating something as its companion watches.

Before turning onto Canoe Creek Road again, I stopped to watch a few Eastern Bluebirds fly and catch insects. I actually thought they were flycatchers at first, but the orange breast threw me off. When I finally got a good binocular view in full sunlight I saw they were actually bluebirds. Nearby, a Tufted Titmouse was calling and hopping through some branches while Northern Cardinals sang nearby.

I drove up to the Double C Bar Ranch for one final search for Whooping Cranes but coming up empty, I headed for home. I took a quick detour to the Wild Florida wildlife park and passed some Sandhill Cranes on the road leading to the parking lot. I didn’t really have time to look around, so I just circled the lot and headed back to the main road.

Here’s the trip’s species list in approximate order of positive identification:

  • White Ibis
  • Cattle Egret
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • American Crow
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Blue Jay
  • Black Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • European Starling
  • Osprey
  • Fish Crow
  • American Coot
  • Cattle Egret
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Limpkin (♫)
  • Palm Warbler
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Gallinule
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Killdeer
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Great Horned Owl (♫)
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Sandhill Crane

I’m hoping to check eBird and the e-mail lists to see if the Whooping Cranes are still being seen there, and to get some better tips for getting a good look. I’ll likely head back to Joe Overstreet Road soon, before the weather gets too hot.