The Catbird and the Cat Who Thought He Was a Bird

Last weekend the family and I headed up to Central Florida on a scheduled weekend sneak away trip to see some good friends.  Our trip coincided nicely with a little cold front that pushed through Florida, resulting in brisk cool weather that was eagerly welcomed by me and tolerated by the rest.  The afternoon drive up was beautiful.  The densely populated Tri-county South Florida megalopolis gradually gave way to a sprawling Florida landscape of sawgrass and pine trees.  We passed countless egrets and herons feeding by the canals that run alongside the roadway.  Vultures circled high above, and at one point a large osprey, with a freshly-caught fish glided over the highway right in front of us.  I wondered aloud at how I missed all of these things in the past, before I began birding.

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Saturday was the obligatory trip to a local amusement park and on Sunday our friends took us to Wekiwa Springs State Park.  The park is located at the headwaters of the Wekiva River and features a natural spring with refreshing 72 degree water that would have probably felt warm the day that we were there.  We decided not to test it out, as we were there just to sight-see.  The surrounding countryside was pristine, and, according to an informative placard posted near the spring, looked just as it did when Timucuan Indians hunted and fished in the area hundreds of years ago.

Natural Spring

Both families posed for photographs at the waters edge and while we were trading cameras and snapping pictures I was distracted by a raspy “cha-a-ak, cha-a-ak” in the bushes nearby. I tiptoed over to see a small bluish-gray bird with a dark crown perched on a branch just a few yards from me.  He was rather bold and his dark eyes watched me closely as I slowly raised my camera.  He let me get one shot then disappeared deeper into the thicket.  I thought he was a Florida Scrub-jay, but later I was able to positively identify him as a Gray Catbird.

Gray Catbird

Wet to Dry Boardwalk

We decided to venture out away from the springs and down some of the trails.  We took the Wet to Dry boardwalk that led from the water into the woods, which took us gradually upward from the river swamp to the dry sandy ridge above.  The trees were tall and majestic.  We saw hollowed out logs and fungi and a great variety of Florida plant life.  The kids kept wanting to run too far ahead, so I warned them about the lurking Black Bear, who waits for children to get separated from their parents.  Later I found out that there actually is a bear in the park.  We reached the end of the boardwalk and then followed one of the sandy hiking trails back toward the spring and the front of the park.

Wild Turkey

When we emerged from the woods out into the clearing beside the spring we saw a group of Wild Turkeys foraging in the grass followed by a calico cat. At first I thought the cat was stalking the turkeys, which seemed quite comical, as each of the turkeys were four times its size.  But after watching them for a few minutes I realized that the cat was foraging too, as if he were a turkey himself.  That was actually more comical.  I managed to convince the two kids, who instinctively need to chase the turkeys when they see them, to hold off while I took some pictures.  When I was done the kids took off and the turkeys flew and the cat scampered away.

Wild Turkeys Foraging
Calico Cat and Wild Turkeys

Just One of the Turkeys