A New Birding Venue

We recently wrote about a trip earlier this year to the north shore of Lake Apopka. (See previous post: The Potato Eating Place.) At the time, we heard that there would soon be a drive along the northwest shore of the lake opening for public use. The new Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive opened in early May and our initial foray a couple of weeks ago confirms it will rapidly become a very popular destination for birders and anyone wishing to enjoy nature from the comfort of a vehicle. The drive is 11 miles long, one-way only with pull-offs along the way. There is room along the side of the road in most places to allow traffic to pass if needed. Marsh and floodplain restoration has been underway here since the late 1980’s in an attempt to undo the damage done by agricultural pollution over a long period. It is a work in progress. Hopefully, this opportunity to allow more of the public to view this fantastic slice of nature will create a sense of stewardship in a new generation.

The entrance gate opens at sunrise and Gini and I arrived early to enjoy the gradually lightening sky, the inspiring view of parked gravel trucks, the sweet melody of humming diesel generators, the delicate touch of mosquitoes landing on our cheeks — okay, so the prelude to the actual drive wasn’t a nature-lover’s paradise. Once the gate was opened, however, — well, actually, another birder pulled up just as the gate was opening and darted in ahead of us. As the dust cleared from his spinning tires, THEN we started enjoying the wonders of nature. The awe of car-rattling thunder, the amazing brightness of lightning and the refreshing experience of large raindrops clearing the aforementioned dust from the windshield.

Since we’re Florida natives, we knew patience would be rewarded. Sure enough, the morning thunderstorm vanished quickly and our planned two-hour tour evolved into a six-hour total immersion relaxation session. “I TOLD you we should have packed a lunch.” Gini is truly the mistress of subtle understatement and highness of hindsight. From start to finish, we just had FUN! We cannot wait to return.

Spring migration has pretty much dwindled in central Florida, although we had hopes of glimpsing Bobolinks as others had reported. Alas, no joy. We did find over 40 species of resident birds, several of which were fully engaged in raising families. Occupied nests of Boat-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were numerous and Common Gallinule chicks littered the marsh. Black-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons were abundant but shy and most of our views were of birds flying low and away from us. A congenial Yellow-crowned Night Heron posed in a flowering Primrose Willow. These are usually found closer to the coast but I guess this one heard about the new drive and wanted to check it out. A few dozen Barn Swallows were very active at one spot with several young birds perched on utility lines being fed by adults who would swoop in and shove a bug in the waiting mouths. We found a couple of Tree Swallows perched with the Barn Swallows, quite late in the season as most sensible Tree Swallows left for their northern home a few weeks ago. Frogs serenaded us all day long. Grunting Pig Frogs seemed to be everywhere and their snuffling was only occasionally interrupted by the deep hum of the Bullfrog. Dragonflies hovered over weed-covered pools and flung their eggs onto the surface. Opportunistic frogs grabbed the vulnerable bugs and were in turn snatched up by hungry herons. The circle of life was vibrant here.

If you get a chance – GO! It’s wonderful now even as our Florida summer approaches. Once fall arrives, so will thousands of wintering shorebirds and tens of thousands of eager birders. No matter the season, this is going to be a fun place for anyone who enjoys nature.

 

The view just inside the entrance gives an idea of what the area looks like.

Lust Road

Lust Road

 

Common Gallinule families were, well, common. New chicks were numerous and there were a few “teen-agers” as well, probably having hatched several weeks ago.

Common Gallinule - Juvenile

Common Gallinule – Juvenile

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule

 

A Little Blue Heron loves frogs’ legs, but also enjoys frogs without legs. This large tadpole has already been “tenderized” by the bird and a split-second later was swallowed whole.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

We saw many Black-crowned Night Herons, but this is about the best look we had as most of them flew away from us at a high rate of speed.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

This Yellow-crowned Night Heron must like the area as it’s in his/her breeding plumage. Yes, we did have to pay it to perch among yellow flowers.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

 

As we neared the actual lake, anything that resembled a tall perch was occupied by an Osprey with breakfast.

Osprey

Osprey

 

Red-winged Blackbird nests were not hard to spot, even for alligators.

American Alligator, Red-winged Blackbird Nest

American Alligator, Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Blooms of all sorts dotted the landscape (“marshscape”?). This Swamp Hibiscus was one of the larger flowers on display.

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

 

Purple Gallinules seem to have two modes: “clown” and “aggressive”. Sometimes the two overlap.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

Male Four-spotted Pennants are quite dark and can appear to be black. The females are brown to orangish in appearance.

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant - Female  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Female (Brachymesia gravida)

 

Needham’s Skimmer females (and immature males) can have a very golden look and it’s sometimes difficult to separate them from Golden-winged Skimmers. Mature males are very bright red-orange (both Needham’s and Golden-winged).

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami(

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami(

 

I was attempting to photograph an Eastern Pondhawk which had been busy laying eggs when it was eaten by this Pig Frog. Sigh. Good models are so hard to find and keep.

Pig Frog (Rana grylio)

Pig Frog (Rana grylio)

 

Young Barn Swallows were being kept company by Tree Swallows as Mom and Dad flew around catching bugs. The youngsters would squawk and flutter their wings as an adult approached and put a bug in their beak on the fly.

Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

 

I’ve seen White Ibises all my life but never noticed that in breeding season they develop an extended gular (throat) pouch. It apparently only lasts a short while.

White ibis

White ibis

 

We counted a half-dozen Black-necked Stilts during the day and judging by the agitated behavior and calls of some they likely have a nest and/or young ones nearby.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

 

Amongst the cattails, baby Boat-tailed Grackles yell for Mom to hurry up with lunch!

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

 

 

Speaking of lunch, Gini started screeching at me to find some – immediately! (Now, you know as well as I do that she has never “screeched” in her life! She isn’t capable of it.) Fortunately, one of our favorite spots was not far away. (Do a computer search for Yalaha Bakery. Go there. Be hungry.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. A new place for y’all to visit! And you don’t even have to be a birder! This is a terrific opportunity for all of us and especially for those of us who may not be physically able to hike a trail or jump on a mountain bike. Nature is just there waiting for us!

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka – North Shore

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on “A New Birding Venue

  1. I’ve recently got back from a vacation in Scotland, Wally, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss this post from you. With your wonderful narrative, amazing photography, a superb variety of wildlife, and an insight into nature in action, it’s possibly one of your best ever!

    Best wishes to you and Gini – – – – – Richard

    • Welcome home, Richard! We hope you had a wonderful and relaxing time. Thank you very much for your gracious remarks! It’s an amazing place and we’ll be returning often.

      Off to the coast tomorrow in the hope of finding shorebirds wishing to become photo models.

      Have a great week!

  2. Thank you so much for this follow-up Wally — and the wonderful pictures as always of course. I had written this down from your post before but put ‘not open yet’…. so now it is on top of my list for sure. Maybe not until next season but definitely there. (And BTW, I love birding, but I better get fed regularly — or I really DO screech!)

    • You’re very welcome, Sallie! By next season, maybe all the cool birds will have heard about the place and be there waiting for you!

  3. Considering your start to this day, complete with windshield dust, I’d say it was a very successful outing. There are so many baby birds I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing yet. The Common Gallinule and Red-winged Blackbird among them. Sweet pose of the heron among the flowers. Amazing!

  4. Just amazing!!! The new area is beyond beautiful… Hoorah! Your captures of the blackbird babies in the nest are just gorgeous. Truly!!

  5. Liking the idea of a wildlife drive right now, with bad back issues. You got some great shots. Love those baby birds.

  6. Jess

    Thanks for inspiring me to visit there this morning! You are right, it was fantastic! How much did you pay that Yellow-crowned to pose along the flowers? He didn’t even show himself to me! I LOVE your baby pictures. I saw a bunch of nests this morning, but alas, they were all empty…

    • Hey, Jess! Happy you made it over there. It should be incredible during migration. As far as the heron and baby birds go – I simply employed my tried and true techniques for success: “Timing Is Everything” and “Better Lucky Than Good”! — 🙂

  7. HI Wally Another great post and wonderful that you have a new place to go birding. I have looked it up now on the internet adn it certainly is wonderful that all people will have to chance to visit it evendisabled people as you do not have to leave you car. Your photographs are fantastic but i especially loed the series of the Red winged Blackbird’s young on its nest adn a splendid shots of the male. Grea to have caught the White Ibis with its extended gular (throat) pouch. Interesting it is only there fr a very short time. Also looked seeing the Boat-tailed Grackle in their nest. I am not surprised the Eastern Pondhawk did not see the frog being so camophaged in all that greenery. grea that you saw 3 different Herons. Well I am off to Tory island this week. It is an island offDoneglad, Ireland.Thanks for your visit to me post onSunday and I hope you enjoyed all the wildlike I potographed from Vwasa Lodge over the past 2 weeks especialy the Elephant videos. I hope you and Gini have a marvellous week.

    • Good Day, Margaret! Thank you for your wonderful comments! How kind. It’s been a lot of fun being “on safari” with you! We have loved your photos and videos of the incredible diversity of wildlife! We appreciate you sharing it all with us.

      Enjoy your visit to Tory Island. Can’t wait to hear about your new adventures!

  8. It is great to read about some marshland and floodplain being restored – but wouldn’t it be great if we humans knew enough to leave such places alone in the first place! It is also great that there is a well-made road put in place for people to visit. All the birds are beautiful but your series of photos of nests with young birds screeching to be fed are especially great. I also especially like the Red-winged Blackbird sitting so nicely posed for its photo!

    • You’re right, Mick, but I’m afraid when profits are thrown into the mix, we humans lose all sense of what might be the right thing to do. I really appreciate your positive remarks! It was a great day and we’ll be heading back soon.

  9. What a birding bonanza, and naughty pig frog!

  10. wonderful chicks! love the ugly little gallinules. 🙂 great little blue shot with its meal. nice night-herons, too!

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