Sex & Bugs & Flock & Pole

(Sincerest apologies to Ian Drury and The Blockheads.)


Somehow it felt like cheating. Looking back over 60-something years, our upbringing seems like a cliche. Work hard, be honest, treat others well, you will be rewarded. My Sunday School teacher had to explain (on a weekly basis) why a spiritual reward was far better than monetary recompense. So when we drove through the gate of the wildlife drive entrance last Friday and from the comfort of the car within the first 20 yards saw Blue Grosbeaks, Painted Buntings, Northern Cardinals, myriad water birds, low-flying hawks and a soaring eagle, it almost seemed unfair. Almost.

Great birding is supposed to involve great effort. Much hiking, climbing, crawling, sweating, fighting wild animals to reach some sort of avian apex of achievement! But here we were, resting on comfortable cushioned upholstery, cool drinks stashed in adorable beverage holders within easy reach, protected from the sun and wind, icy air conditioning available at the touch of a button – and seeing birds, and LOTS of them – on all sides as we slowly made our way along an 11 mile stretch of good road through a vast wetland area. Yes, totally unfair. And we feel very guilty about enjoying ourselves so much without any actual labor involved. Quite guilty, indeed. So guilty, we may not indulge in such birding luxury again. For at least a couple of weeks.

Lake Apopka, a large 48 square mile body of water northwest of Orlando, was once a fishing paradise and in the 1960’s boasted nine fish camps and numerous resorts. Unfortunately, a long history of agricultural abuses culminated in massive fish and bird kills and the once beautiful lake became one of the nation’s most polluted bodies of water. Today, no fish camps, no vacation resorts. A massive effort begun in the late 1980’s has resulted in an astonishing recovery. There is still work to be done, but the wildlife has responded spectacularly and the outlook is excellent. In 2011, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count produced 346 species, more than even Everglades National Park that year! See the link below if you plan to visit. There are several access points for hiking, biking and the one we visited, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

It was a fantastic day of birding and scenic driving which ended with lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Yalaha German Bakery. A plate of curry wurst, sauerkraut and potato salad. Apple strudel and fruit tart for later. (Hey, maybe this is some of that spiritual reward thing my Sunday School teacher meant!)

Birding highlights included singing Blue Grosbeaks, a first-year male Orchard Oriole also singing his heart out, a very large (500+) flock of migrating Bobolinks, many Barn Swallows, male and female Painted Buntings as well as the usual diverse selection of birds found here. While I chased the oriole on foot, Gini had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perch on a willow just outside the car window giving her the best looks she’s had at this species. As a nice extra, we came across a large Florida Softshell Turtle depositing her eggs along a canal bank.

We hope you enjoy a few images from our lazy birding day.



Yes, if you order now we will include AT NO EXTRA COST, bonus images of our short trip the following day to southern Polk County where we encountered Osprey with actual babies! Great Crested Flycatchers! The not-so-secret love life of the WILD Turkey!! Visit NOW! Operators are standing by!


Singing Blue Grosbeaks greeted us first thing in the morning just inside the entrance gate. Several could be heard out in the marsh as the sun made its appearance.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Insects love this area, especially as our weather has been very dry and there is plenty of water here. This Four-spotted Pennant rested for a brief photo op.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Although common, how can I resist the beauty of a Red-winged Blackbird? (That’s what he’s hoping one of the dozens of nearby females is thinking!)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


A female Boat-tailed Grackle gathers a bit of grass to help weave a nest in the marsh.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


There may no longer be any fish camps around the lake, but the Anhinga has discovered there are plenty of fish to be had if you know where to look!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


This large Florida Softshell Turtle will lay 10-30 eggs in the soft dirt of a canal bank. What a pretty face!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


I seldom get a chance to photograph swallows perched on something other than a utility line. Barn Swallows were abundant and we found a few sitting in a tree for a couple of nanoseconds. Several were also sitting in the middle of the dirt road. It’s my understanding they do this to heat up their feathers to make it uncomfortable for mites and small things in the hope the little bugs will leave.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Green Herons normally only extend their necks when striking prey, but this one seems to think he might be a bittern.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Immature Little Blue Herons are all white when born and gradually begin getting patches of slate blue during their first year before assuming the full blue color of an adult. There is speculation that the all-white coloration allows them to be tolerated by Snowy Egrets which may help them catch more prey.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Bobolinks are only present in Florida during migration and can sometimes be observed in large flocks. We estimated at least 500 birds in one sod field but they formed into smaller groups as they moved around to feed.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


(As promised, if you stuck around this long, here are a few images from our trip to an area south of Bartow in Polk County, Florida.)


Central Florida has an abundant population of Osprey. Numerous lakes and streams provide an ample supply of fish for feeding hungry chicks. Two little heads can be seen in this nest. Mama was screaming at hubby to chase away the paparazzo. His impressive talons convinced me I had enough pictures of his kids.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area


As Gini and I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh oranges and granola bars, a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers provided the entertainment. They worked a fence line and retrieved insects from tree branches and weeds.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area


Gini spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker carrying a bug into a cavity of a utility pole. No doubt there are young ones inside.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area


Driving through an area of orange groves, we came across a male Wild Turkey in full display with a hen by his side. We had a chance to watch the full mating process, something not normally seen in the wild, not to mention in the middle of the day out in the open. Pretty impressive sight!

Avon Park Cutoff Road

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area


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


Additional Information

Lake Apopka Recreational Guide

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Sex & Bugs & Flock & Pole

  1. Sometimes things do just fall into place – although I do know what you mean about some birding feeling just a wee bit too easy: “This way for your XXXX tick sir” kind of thing.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  2. It was a long time coming Wally. But you arrived with a big bang of stunning picture s and a masterclass of words. There was a Red-winged Blackbird on the Orkney Islands quite recently that boosted the bank accounts of ferry and small airline companies by way of a mass twitch from mainland UK.

    14 days of Menorca sunshine nearly at an end but few photos after my lens bust on day 3! Such is life.

    Adios amigo.

    • Oh, NO! So sorry to hear about the lens. But you have memories that no equipment can ever duplicate.
      Have a safe trip home!
      (Hard for me to envision birder excitement over our most common species! Perspective is everything.)

  3. Great photos and beautiful birds – and a fantastic story of how an environmental mess hass been rehabilitated to become such a beautiful place.

    • G’Day Mick! Thank you so much for visiting and providing really nice remarks. It’s great to see how lush this place has become over the past few years.

  4. Oh I loved this post. Saw an immature little blue heron last week at Green Cay … didn’t know what it was and now I do, so thank you for that. And for the link to this amazing Lake — to my data base of must visit places.

    Thanks for all the happy.

    • Thank you very much, Sallie! Green Cay is still on my bucket list. Try to make it to Lake Apopka as there is always a lot to see!

  5. Beth

    Wally — I love this exuberant post — will be smiling all day thinking of it. So many neat photos, but the Anhinga and the unlucky fish is my favorite. It’s like the look on the fish’s face is “Oops” or “Oh sugar.” Love you!

  6. Most excellent Wally! It was good to see the turkey being polite enough to cover up a bit…don’t want to embarrass the Mrs…

  7. Great post Wally, very informative ,interesting , and entertaining, although it took a while for sex to rear its head , LOL. I’ve never been to that part of Florida in all my 6 visits , and I do believe I’ve mist paradise.
    All the best Gordon.

    • Ahh, but Gordon, Paradise is where you find it! Thank you so much for the very kind remarks! We appreciate it very much.
      As is typical in writing of any sort, it’s best to advertise sex first to draw in the crowds and then hold off on its actual display as long as possible. – 🙂

  8. Richard Pegler

    My word, it’s good to have you back, Wally! I think there must be something strange going on, as I was thinking of you just yesterday morning and wondering if/when we would hear from you again.

    I’ve missed your warm, entertaining and informative narrative, and your delightful images – and you’ve returned in style! Thank you.

    My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – – Richard

    • Thank you very much Sir Richard! I’ve never been good at adhering to a “schedule”. To call what I do “blogging” would insult all the fine bloggers of the universe. My effort is more like “random rambling when I happen to be at the keyboard from time to time”. I tried to make a cute acronym from that but couldn’t.
      We are both quite well, thank you! All the best!

  9. Woo Hoo.
    And happy dances.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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