I decided to go on a quest for a summer tanager today.
I’m having a “staycation” while the kids are out of town, so, outdoor adventures close to home are in order.
On last week’s adventure, I ran through Guana Reserve, where I spotted “giant garden spiders, an armadillo, two white-tailed deer, a raccoon in the trees I walked under, a hawk nest, a white cloud butterfly, a swallowtail butterfly, an impassable flooded trail, snakes in the grass, ticks, fiddler crabs, leaping frogs, lizards, birds, and that was enough,” as I noted on Instagram.
This week, I hit the Guana Wildlife Preserve, where my new photographer friend Don Christian said I might spot the tanagers. “Just head for the oaks and keep looking up in the trees!” he said.
I was thrilled to hear that I might be able to see these mysterious creatures! I am in love with tanagers. Last summer I happened upon several scarlet tanagers in the mature woods of the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was practically euphoric.
My son, Matthew, and I have had summer tanagers on our “watch list” for a few years now, but, I never knew where to find them.
Now I do.
So, I packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, scribbled the directions in my journal, stocked up with water, two cameras, natural bug repellant (I HATE that stuff but this was necessary!), my phone, and a song in my heart.
So, this is what “following your bliss” feels like, eh?
But first, the run. I planned to combine bird-watching AND running the trails. (p.s. this is not really good for spotting birds). I figured I would run first, THEN come back with the camera.
Well, it wasn’t great for bird-watching per se, but, I did get to see lots of other things: beautiful Florida oak groves, many swallowtails, fiddler crabs, and lots and lots and LOTS of flies, mosquitos and horseflies. But hey — no ticks! (So far, anyway).
Once again, as I got to the outer reaches, and took a wrong turn, and ended up further away than I thought, I did say to myself, Hmmm…why DO I have to do everything so hard? As I turned into a grassy section, the signs said the trails sometimes flood. Did that stop me? Oh, no. I just went deeper and deeper in the woods.
I was on a quest, you see.
Well, eventually, the flooding did stop me, so, I had to turn around. But that’s when I bumped into the baby armadillo! Such a cutie! He was hunched up in the grass, as if he was thinking, “Hey, if I cover my head, maybe she won’t see me!” But I sure did, and stopped running long enough to take out my phone and snap a shot — even though the lens was steamed up. I got super close and he untucked his head and looked up at me, with his cute little pink ears and sweet face. I smiled and kept going.
Finally, I reached the parking lot again, and took out my camera for the “bird watch” part. I thought I had heard an Eastern towhee in the pine section, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Needed the telescope lens of the camera.
So, very quietly, with a LOT more bug spray on me, I headed down the trails. I saw a weird lizard with something in it’s mouth, which I now realize was a bug he just ate. Ewww! I saw a delightful blue bee, a green dragonfly, wildflowers, a painted lady butterfly, and a lovely brown moth.
I spotted a baby cardinal, sitting shyly behind a branch. I heard bullfrogs. And I spotted something high up in the trees…yessss…it was…an Eastern towhee!
OK, not a tanager. BUT, this was the first towhee I ever located on my own, and was able to photograph! So, that was plenty exciting for me.
So now, I guess I just have to go back, and see if I can get the tanager. I’ll keep listening to Stan Tekiela’s CDs on “Birds Of Florida,” to try to recognize the tanager song.
But I’ve got one more bird to check off my Life List, and I’m plenty happy with that.
In the Florida garden.