The Potato Eating Place

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.)

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler


A couple of migratory White-crowned Sparrows played hide-and-seek before finally consenting to give us a decent view.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow


White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow


We heard the clear whistle of Eastern Towhees all day but only got a clear shot of this pretty female.

Eastern Towhee - Female

Eastern Towhee – Female


Eastern Towhee - Female

Eastern Towhee – 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.

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male


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!

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk


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.

Bufflehead - Female

Bufflehead – Female


Lesser Scaup are Florida’s most numerous winter ducks. When the sun strikes their head the colors range from brown to green to purple.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup


Forster’s Tern is sleek and fast. During breeding season their heads will be completely black.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern


A Ring-billed Gull rests before continuing the hunt for lunch. These are second in numbers only to the Laughing Gull in our area.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull


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!


Additional Information:

Northwest Lake Apopka Restoration Area

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – Lake Apopka, Clay Island

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – Lake Apopka, North Shore


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

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14 thoughts on “The Potato Eating Place

  1. Wonderful birds as always … I would say excellent compensation. Enjoy learning bits of Florida history too as well as adding more places to our 2 be visited list every time I drop in on you.

    • We appreciate you kind words, Sallie! Yes, warblers and buntings make pretty good consolation prizes! Hopefully, we’ll expand our exploration further southwest soon to visit some of the fabulous spots closer to you.

  2. Hi Wally sorry you did not see the Ani but you were rewarded with the beautiful little Nashville Warbler. I usually never chase birds. If there is an unusual one around I will try and see if however often like you, on that day it is allusive bit nature never disappoints and comes up with something you did not expect. I think the ‘ potato area’ must have been the Irish bringing them!!! We get everywhere! Your Hawk images are stunning and the male Painted Bunting is very colourful and beautiful. Thanks for another lovely post.

    • You are so right about Nature never disappointing! We’re so blessed to be able to enjoy what she has to offer.
      Thank you so much for the very nice remarks!

  3. Your thoughtful pieces are guaranteed to make me read them with great interest Wally.

    It’s reassuring to learn that Apopka is returned to a semblance of how it used to be and available to the public to enjoy its natural wonders. When I read such stories I wish that I could be a time traveller, one who could take binoculars and camera with me.

    Sorry you missed old Ani but I’m sure you will meet up with her soon on one of your many birding adventures. Despite your declared love for Nashville I’m with the rest of your readers in loving that Painted Bunting – it’s rather like a small version of those exotic South American parrots that I see on the TV.

    The Red-tailed Hawk is a beauty too, but without the red tail it so resembles our Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). Thanks for the offer of a jacket my friend but you will be pleased to hear that I’ve cast a clout or two and even switched off the central heating until November. “Central heating? – look it up on Google.

    • Thank you for the generous remarks, Phil! It’s a beautiful area and we look forward to further exploration. I’m not worried about Ani as there remains a whole beautiful world out there to keep me busy. Truth be told, that bunting and hawk were also my two favorites of the day.

      Well, a new week is upon us! I have near zero chance of getting out to bird this week so I look forward to vicariously enjoying your blog!

      All the best!

  4. Sorry to hear that you missed out on the Groove-billed Ani, Wally, but (as you note) Nature was true to form and compensated for this big-time! Your super images are testament to this. That male Painted Bunting looks as if a kid has run riot with the crayons in a coloring book!! Fabulous bird!

    Thank you also for the interesting bit of history (environmental and personal!)

    Best wishes from England – – – – – Richard

    • Good Morning, Richard! I’m nursing a cup of coffee today hoping the rain will soon stop. (Sound familiar?) It’s an interesting place to wander about and there is always something interesting to discover.

      All the best from both of us!

  5. Wally, your photos are sensational! I am so envious of the Painted Bunting. That one has been on my list for a long time. Good for you. The Nashville Warbler is pretty special, too.

    • Thank you, Gail! It was fun chasing the colorful bunting and I’m thankful one finally perched for a minute. A fun day!

  6. Your descriptions of the places you visit and photograph are always interesting and it is great to read about previous land and environment abuse being returned to a healthy state. The birds are beautiful and all very different from the ones I see out here. I think the most beautiful is the Painted Bunting – although the in-flight Hawk comes a very close second!

    • Good Morning to you, Mick! It is always a good thing to report any good news on the environmental front. I think you selected my two favorites from that trip also! Hope you’ve been able to get out on that ‘yak.

      All the best.

  7. beautiful photos and sightings! i’d have failed at the window box thing. our last place had window boxes (and we were far enough off the road). i faked folks into thinking i was a good gardener with silk flowers in them. until after the first freeze when i forgot to take them in and i was pretty well busted.

    • But your intentions were noble! At least you had some color around the house and just think how many people passing by that were cheered up by that!
      Thank you so much for your faithful visits and wonderful comments!

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