Windows. Holes in a building which invite air and light to come inside. Functional. They have the additional benefit of allowing us to gaze outside our buildings once in awhile. Some progressive architects and engineers realized that with conditioned air and artificial light, windows were obsolete as practical devices. So we have office buildings, factories, schools and dwellings with no hint of natural light intruding within or any chance of breathing fresh air and certainly no worry of an accidental breeze falling on one’s cheek. Peering out at the blue sky or catching sight of a tree – now, you wouldn’t want to be distracted would you?
Gini and I have been quite fortunate to have lived in several different locales over the past few decades. In each area we discovered unbelievable beauty and found some truly ugly sights as well. One of our most delightful discoveries was in a small village in Germany. Our search for a place to live took us to a cobblestone street lined with a hodgepodge of quaint cottages, whitewash-covered block buildings and combination storefront/dwellings. Each shared a common feature. Window boxes overflowing with a profusion of flowers. On the other side of the double-paned glass, sills were packed with all manner of containers stuffed with greenery. Ferns, ivies, begonias, orchids, cacti. All of this flora was typically framed in lacy looking curtains neatly pulled back as if each window was vying for some sort of prize. This street was not unique. More than once, we were gently informed the windows of a home reflected the character, or even the soul, of the inhabitants. Needless to say, we spent a fortune on pots and fertilizer during our stay!
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit a birding spot near the town of Apopka, Florida. In the center of the state, agriculture has long been a major source of economic activity here. It has alternately been dubbed the “Fern City” and “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World”. Growing conditions here in the sub-tropical climate are quite conducive to producing plants which thrive within buildings.
The town is adjacent to Lake Apopka, Florida’s third largest lake. Evidence indicates humans existed along the lake’s shore as long ago as 15 B.C. Since then, various Indian tribes have lived in the area, including the Seminole in the 1700-1800’s. The name “Apopka” likely comes from the Creek/Seminole words “Aha” (potato) and “Papka” (eating place). In the mid-1800’s, European settlers moved into the area with land grants from the government in exchange for developing the land. Many crops thrived and the area did well economically. Too well. Agricultural business developers saw the potential and over the next 100 years abused the land and in the 1970’s once-vibrant Lake Apopka was declared the country’s most polluted lake. Efforts to reclaim the lake have been successful. Today it is well on the way toward returning to one of the most beautiful and wildlife rich environments in the state.
The entire northwest shore of Lake Apopka has been turned into a system of hiking trails and years of sound management practices have resulted in this being a premier birding spot. Our trip today was motivated by recent sightings of two Groove-billed Ani, a little unusual for this location and it would be a life bird for me. Well, the Ani apparently had an appointment elsewhere, but as often happens, Nature offers outstanding consolation prizes for those who participate. We saw 55 species during a two mile walk and the special highlights include: Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, White-crowned Sparrows, four Painted Buntings, what may be a migrant Western Red-tailed Hawk (immature) and a very uncommon (for this time and place) Nashville Warbler. On the way home, we stopped in at Lake Minneola in nearby Clermont and found several dozen Lesser Scaup, about a dozen Bufflehead and an assortment of terns and gulls to round out a spectacular day.
From lush agricultural paradise to pollution nightmare to reclamation success story – The Potato Eating Place is worth a visit any time!
The star of the show today was the diminutive but beautiful Nashville Warbler. (He’s supposed to be in Central America right now.)
A couple of migratory White-crowned Sparrows played hide-and-seek before finally consenting to give us a decent view.
We heard the clear whistle of Eastern Towhees all day but only got a clear shot of this pretty female.
Male Painted Buntings are hard to miss. They look like they fell onto an artist’s palette and rolled around. The females are overall greenish in color and blend in with just about everything.
This Red-tailed Hawk was quite different than what we normally encounter in central Florida and resembles images of young western species. No reddish color to the tail (typical of immature birds), heavily marked underparts, dark throat. A gorgeous raptor no matter where it came from!
A female Bufflehead was busily diving and I could only get one shot of her briefly resting on the surface. I’ve been trying for some time to get a decent shot of the handsome male. I’m still waiting – the males remained in the middle of the lake.
Lesser Scaup are Florida’s most numerous winter ducks. When the sun strikes their head the colors range from brown to green to purple.
Forster’s Tern is sleek and fast. During breeding season their heads will be completely black.
A Ring-billed Gull rests before continuing the hunt for lunch. These are second in numbers only to the Laughing Gull in our area.
Our natural world is filled with wonderful things to experience. As a species, we continue to abuse our environment and once in awhile we succeed in reversing the process. Whether it’s a window box of flowers, a reclaimed wetland, a national park or just a “potato eating place” – find something beautiful in your life for which to be thankful.
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!