Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bob's Gone Birding at Rainbow Springs State Park

Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida

Earlier this month I was doing some research on state parks and noticed that there was one fairly close to me that I had never visited.  Rainbow Springs State Park is in Dunnellon, just west of Ocala and less than 90 minutes away.  Grudgingly I had to admit I didn't know my local state parks as well as I thought I did.  So early one Wednesday morning, the big red van headed south to explore a new park.

Carolina Wren Enjoying the Decorative Lights
Thank you, God!

Rainbow Springs is one of the most beautiful spots in Florida.  The springs that feed Rainbow River produce over 400,000,000 gallons of pristine water every day.  There are no motorized boats to spoil its cleanliness and no pesticides along its course to poison its fish and plants.  The result is a crystal clear river that is as gorgeous today as it was a thousand years ago.   It truly is a gift from God, and thankfully we have done nothing to mess it up!

In fact, while we were there it was evident that the park volunteers had done much to dress it up!  The park was prepared for the holiday season with lighted deer drinking from shallow streams, multi-colored lights decorating the paths and railings, and small, holiday-themed buildings promising lots of excitement during the evenings for families.

Great Egret in the Mist
But are there any birds in the park?  Turns out, there are!  In fact, we had a hard time getting out of the parking lot. A Carolina Wren sang just above the van.  American Robins darted in and out of one tree while a Northern Flicker called from another.  A Black-and-White Warbler scurried along a branch of yet another.  American Crows and Northern Cardinals dashed around the parking lot, seemingly enjoying a game of avian hide and seek.  A lone American Goldfinch was seen by one birder, but eluded me.

We made our way into the park where a Pileated Woodpecker circled the gift shop and snack bar, calling noisily all the way.  A Red-shouldered Hawk landed high atop a live oak and declared his presence for all to hear.  Below him, some Ruby-crowned Kinglets and more Carolina Wrens hopped about generally ignoring us and the hawk.  One wren (above) was very curious about what we were doing - or perhaps was just enjoying the Christmas lights - but it stayed close to us for a long time.

Gray Catbird
Next we decided to walk along the falls that feed into the river and out to the observation platforms.  The falls were constructed early in the twentieth century when the springs were "an attraction" and not under state control.  The water is pumped from the river to the top of the falls where is drops into shimmering pools and short streams until it reaches the river again.  Gray Catbirds (left), Yellow-rumped Warblers, and White-eyed Vireos joined in the fun, popping up along the trail for a quick peek at us.  One of the viewing areas bordered a small lagoon where American Coots, Common Gallinules and a Little Blue Heron seemed to be finding lots to eat.

The Falls Trail was gorgeous, but our goal was to walk a portion of the 3.5 mile Nature Trail which follows the river to the south.  Unfortunately, the river is generally hidden from view along this trail even though you are never very far from it.  There are one or two small openings, but that's it.  Nonetheless, the birding was very good.  We encountered a mixed flock that surrounded and entertained us.  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue-headed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, Ovenbird, Hermit Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Pine Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Palm Warbler and Eastern Towhee all joined the melee.  I love birding in situations like this.  There was a bird everywhere I looked.  It seemed that every branch in every tree hosted at least one bird, often more.

Green Heron, the Only County Lifer of the Day
The trail left the cover of the canopy for a while to lead us along the edge of a field filled with something that looked like fennel, but I'm lousy at plants so I really don't know what it was.  A few birds flew among the sparse trees in the distance, but I never got a good look at them.  Then a House Wren started scolding us, and while I searched for it, a few Chipping Sparrows fluttered high in a nearby bush.

Now the trail took us back into the woods and finally to the edge of the river.  Here a Pied-billed Grebe and a Double-crested Cormorant swam and dove in the river.  A Belted Kingfisher patrolled the western bank, a Snowy Egret fed along our side, and a little farther south a Green Heron hunted in the reeds.

Rather than completing the loop, we decided to head back to the snack bar and have lunch.  I had a tasty cheeseburger from the concession stand prepared by a smiling park volunteer.  We ate while watching a Red-tailed Hawk soar overhead.  In the swimming area an Eastern Phoebe flew about, enjoying whatever treats he could find.

We were finished birding for the day, but it was difficult to leave the park.  Instead, we lingered for another half hour soaking up the perfect weather, and I even stretched out on the bench of a picnic table for a quick nap (at bottom).

I will return to Rainbow Springs State Park.  In fact, I'm excited about returning during spring and fall migration.  The birding should be terrific ... but the park is its own attraction.  If you've been there, you know what I mean.  If you haven't been there, you need to do yourself a favor. 

Bob's Gone Birding at Rainbow Springs State Park

While I was watching an Eastern Phoebe, these two were watching me.

A Cardinal munching on some berries.

This was too beautiful to leave out.  Enjoy it!

This Ovenbird didn't appreciate our presence in the woods

Bob's Gone Napping at Rain ... zzzzzzzzzzzz