Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (3/4)

(Laughlin Road)

The mid-morning sun was beginning to remind us that we were in sub-tropical Florida in the summer. It was hot. Driving along at our slow pace (even the Apple Snails were passing us) didn’t create much breeze. We once again gave thanks to the genius who worked out how to install air-conditioning in vehicles.

For almost two miles, the gleaming white ribbon of ground shell road stretched out ahead of us. (Click on the link below for a map and virtual tour of the wildlife drive.) Water on both sides. Old irrigation canals offered channels where alligators, turtles and swimming birds could forage for fish and other aquatic creatures. Shallow water beyond the canals with low-growing trees, reeds and water-loving flora provided perfect cover for a diverse collection of wildlife. Wading birds love the habitat for the great hunting perches. Waterfowl appreciate the protection while feeding and nesting.

As we paused to admire a Great Blue Heron preening, Gini remarked how, at first glance, the flat wet environment looks pretty desolate. If one takes the time to look, really look, there is just an incredible amount of life here. She is so right. (I have become accustomed to saying that.)

I watched a Least Bittern fly across the road and was happily surprised when he landed in a clump of cattails near the car. As I walked nearer, I could hear him “chuckling” at the base of the clump. I hoped he would eventually become visible. While I waited, and as if to underscore Gini’s profound observations moments earlier, at my feet a pair of White Peacock butterflies landed to extract nectar from small flowers. At the edge of the canal, a turtle popped his head above the surface to see if I was a threat. Lifting my head just a bit revealed a Green Heron I hadn’t seen holding perfectly still as his eyes fixated on a meal. An Anhinga swam up the canal with a shad adorning the end of his spear-like bill. Overhead, a pair of Fulvous Whistling-ducks headed for open water.

As I took a photograph of the Green Heron, I became aware of being “watched”. I think the clicking of the camera shutter made the Least Bittern curious, as he had worked his way higher up in the reeds and was peeking at me from the greenery. As I tried not to move, he eventually became bored with me (story of my life) and began to preen. I managed a couple of images before he snuggled back down and out of sight.

The drive along this straightaway was packed with busy birds and creatures! We alternated between hot flashes as we put the windows down to enjoy the sounds all around us and putting them back up to savor the evil luxury of modern cool air.

 

We saw over 200 Common Gallinule during the 11-mile drive. There were dozens of brand new chicks trying to learn the trick of walking on vegetation while looking for food. Within a day of hatching, these black downy puff-balls can swim on their own. Like babies everywhere, they also know how to scream and beg.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Great Blue Herons are the largest of our wading birds. Constant preening is required to keep those beautiful feathers in good shape.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Tricolored Herons run through shallow water, stop and quickly change directions and look like some sort of demented ballerina as they chase small fish. A combination of blue-gray, purple and white give this small heron its name.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

With prominent yellow feet, the Snowy Egret walks along in shallow water, uses a foot to stir up the bottom and snaps up whatever tries to escape.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Excellent swimmers, Double-crested Cormorants can dive quite deep to chase down a fish dinner. Don’t look at those eyes lest you become hypnotized!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

I’m always fascinated how a bird such as this Green Heron can locate prey underneath dense cover. Patience and incredible sight almost always pay off.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

True to its name, the Least Bittern is a very small heron (11-14 in/ 28-36 cm) which likes to hunt from a low perch. Extra long toes allow it to grasp a reed as it lunges into the water with its long neck. Vertical stripes on its underside allow it to point its beak upward and by holding still it resembles the reeds, making it difficult for predators (and birders) to notice.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

In the wetlands, the brunch buffet can be an adventure. A Great Egret selected the fresh catfish this morning. Keeping it is another matter.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

Next up, the final leg of the wildlife drive provides open water, open fields, more babies and aerobatic displays. Don’t miss it!

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (2/4)

(Welland Road, Roach Road)

About this time two years ago, Florida was raked with winds and rain thanks to a rude lady named Irma. The hurricane downed trees and utility lines, dumping up to two feet of water in some areas as she stomped up the peninsula. The north shore of Lake Apopka experienced a breach in one of the levees built to protect 20,000 acres of wetland from being inundated by water from the main lake. After Irma, it’s estimated 75% of that area was under a couple of feet of water.

One of the results of that storm for the Wildlife Drive was a change in topography. Many trees were uprooted by the storm’s winds and some water flows were altered. Biologists report that, overall, wildlife in the area suffered no long-term ill effects. Hopefully, they are correct. For observers, there is now more open water area to scan and may result in more winter waterfowl being seen.

It is not winter now. Florida in summer can be oppressive, even for us natives. Temperatures in the high 90 F range with humidity percentages the same. Drink plenty of water, wear a hat, enjoy your vehicle’s air-conditioning. Watch out for sudden storms. In all that wonderful open space, lightning seeks the highest point to strike. Thankfully, we are not tall people.

Gini makes even fruit and simple sandwiches into something special. Enjoying our meal while watching birds fly around us, frogs grunting in the duckweed, alligators cruising the canal – what heat?

A short way along Welland Road, Gini’s sharp ears heard the grunt/chuckle of a King Rail. Two of the secretive birds struck up a conversation and I waited in vain for one to make an appearance. While I was waiting, a small colorful movement caught my eye. Laying in the grass allowed me to capture a few images of Rambur’s Forktail, in three of its color stages.

More movement. Dragonflies, butterflies, moths. Overhead, Ibises, Ospreys, a flock of ducks. The rails clucked behind me. A curious alligator poked his snout from under a lily pad. Delirious from the heat? Nah, just enjoying our small slice of Nature’s paradise.

We ambled along as slowly as possible, stopping often, pulling over to gawk at more of the same. Making the turn onto Laughlin Road we wondered what else could we possibly hope to see?

Stay tuned.

(Click on the link below for information on the drive and then click on the map to see the road references.)

 

A combination of gold and black fluttering low above the ground is eye-catching. A Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) finally took mercy and posed on a grass top for a quick photo op.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Ungainly-looking on the ground as they probe the mud with long bills, the White Ibis is beautiful and graceful in flight.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Very small damselflies are easy to overlook as they hide in the weeds and try to keep a low profile to avoid predators. One of the more unusual of these fascinating insects is Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii). The male has a green and black thorax, a black and gold abdomen and blue tail. The female can look similar to the male but with a blue and black thorax or she can sport a couple of totally different appearances. To make it even more fun, all of the combinations can look different in different geographical regions. Whew!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Male

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Andromorph Female

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Immature Heteromorph Female

 

Even in mid-summer, the wetlands are full of flowering plants. One that is especially prominent is the American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) .

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Easy to mistake for a wasp, the tiny Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) catches the light of the sun and reflects pure gold wherever it flies. The wings of the male are fairly plain while those of the female have dark spots. (Surprise! There can be significant variation is these patterns.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Male

 

Fresh catfish is on this Osprey’s brunch menu. I was very fortunate to go fishing with my Dad a lot when I was growing up. He would look up from the boat, point out an Osprey and say: “Wish we were as good as that Fish Hawk at catching ’em!” Me, too.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Laughlin Road lay stretched out before us like a straight white arrow. Wetlands on each side extended nearly to opposing horizons.

What would we find?

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: