Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (1/4)

(Entrance, Lust Road)

Timing. We all know it’s important. Execution is another matter.

When possible, we avoid high traffic roads in our travels but once in awhile there is not a better alternative. This was one of those times. Leaving the house five minutes too late would mean encountering the morning commuters on the expressway and alternating driving bumper to bumper at breakneck speed and sitting still for long periods. Leaving too early would mean having to wait until the drive opened at sunrise and poking about alongside the road for a singing grosbeak or watching ducks flying overhead – oh, wait – too early it is!

Lake Apopka’s sad history has been mentioned here before. The short story: Large Lake Apopka (over 30,000 acres) was once a premier fishing and vacation destination in central Florida. Poor agricultural practices resulted in it becoming one of the nation’s most polluted waterways by the mid-20th century. Outstanding efforts by citizens, conservation groups and the government have restored the lake and its surrounding environment to a vastly improved ecological status.

In May 2015, an 11 mile drive was opened for visitors to enjoy the vast wetlands created from former agricultural land along the northeast shore of Lake Apopka. The drive is one way only and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. (Check for additional openings on government holidays which fall on a Monday.) There are pull-outs along the drive as well as additional trails in the area for hiking and biking.

During the winter, the wetlands are filled with waterfowl and other birds enjoying Florida’s sub-tropical weather. Spring and fall bring temporary migrants fueling up on insects and an aquatic smorgasbord to help them on their journey. Then, there is the summer. Hot, humid, steamy, sticky summer. Who wants to explore a marsh in THAT??

Late July at Lake Apopka is family time! Baby birds yelling at Mom and Dad for MORE FOOD! Immature birds doing the same thing, but also learning from their parents how to find their own food while avoiding predators.

Gini had packed a wonderful breakfast which we would eventually enjoy while looking out over the vast wetlands. Now, however, the sun was peeking over the horizon. Barn swallows swoop low on all sides, a Great Crested Flycatcher snags a dragonfly, alligators watch from under the duckweed, the willows are alive with feeding birds.

We are blessed.

(As usual, I have too many pictures to share. So, the trip will be split up into four posts roughly corresponding to sections of the wildlife drive. See the link below for a very nice audio tour and click on the map for reference.)


Just before we drove through the entrance gate, a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers landed on a telephone pole. It appeared as if the parents were guiding the immature bird in how to hunt. One of the adults yelled encouragement from atop the pole. Not sure if the “wild” look is due to wind or molting or a combination.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Plenty of insects in the wetlands. (Imagine that!) This male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) with characteristic wings-forward posture is ready to ambush his breakfast as soon as something tasty flies in range.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Matching the cattail on which she is perched, a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) resembles an emerald carving.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


One of the largest birds around the lake is the Great Blue Heron. This one demonstrates the proper technique in consuming a catfish.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive



We typically see the Green Heron perched on a low limb over water in a “hunched” pose ready to strike at passing prey. This one is stretched out revealing the surprising length of its neck as well as the beautiful colors and patterns of the whole bird.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive


Well, watching all of this hunting and gathering has made us hungry. Gini has found a parking spot with an outstanding view and we shall return after breakfast for more slow driving, laying down in the grass, pointing, looking up and, most of all, sharing it  – with you.


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


Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (Audio Tour)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (1/4)

  1. Great photographic record of the wildlife drive!! I suspect I will have the chance to explore the very place in the not too distant future as one of my sons will be living very near there in the new year. Meanwhile I can visit through your lens!!

    • Thank you, Judy. The drive always produces something interesting and usually offers up a few surprises.

      • I find with my frequent haunts that every visit brings something new, even if its just a new great pose of an old friend at the rookery.

      • You are so right, Judy! I seem to try harder to improve new images of familiar subjects.

      • Much as I’d love some new subjects in the way of birds, I don’t seem to get tired of the ones I know. I did finally have to go to Flamingo Park thought to have the opportunity to take pictures of Flamingos. What attitude those birds have. I understand some populations have been seen in Florida in the last few years and I would love to go back to Florida Bay near Flamingo in the Southern Glades to see if I could seem them in the wild. But, may go back to the gardens some time for photography.

  2. Hi Wally. It’s so good and so different to read of a positive result for wildlife in place off all the bad news. Bad news almost always caused by the hand of man and his inability to realise the mostly bad effect he has on the environment.

    Of course I think of modern Florida as an easy-going sort of place with not to many people or vehicles to spoil the view. Perhaps the TV programmes I see about holidays and idyllic homes by the water paint an unrealistic view viz-a-viz your description of the traffic you battle with.

    Be careful what you’re up along Lust Road young man.

    • Yes, Phil, it’s good to be able to report some good news involving man undoing mistakes made by man.
      I shall try to include some “modern Florida” images in a future blog which may run slightly counter to what your TV programmes have been portraying.

      With Gini by my side, all roads lead to Lust. (Actually, there doesn’t even need to be a road involved.)

      Have a wonderful weekend, Phil, and may your new week be filled with successful ringing!

  3. edro123

    All great images, Wally. I’m looking forward to the rest of the story!

  4. stephen jones

    Management should have the woodpeckers comb their hair before visitors arrive.

    • HOLEY MOLEY!! History has been made!

      How very nice to see your comment, Brother!

      I specifically asked the model to shake its head to achieve that “wind blown” effect.

  5. florice

    I like the Eastern Pondhawk. Beautiful coloring.

  6. I fully appreciate the value of ‘early’, Wally, but I’m not very good at it these days! This wonderful post of your just might tempt me to mend my ways – however, we don’t have a Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive close to home, and we certainly don’t have a Lust Road, although I do seem to remember a Lust Drive sometime in the distant past!

    My very best wishes to you, and Gini – I look forward to you finishing your breakfast!

    • G’Day Richard! We hope you’re feeling much better. You can’t mend your ways until your body mends fully. Continue your recuperation. The birds and beasties will wait for you.

      Gini and I send all our positive thoughts across the big pond for you and Lindsay!

  7. Yes I’m always away early, hate the traffic. That sounds a fantastic reserve, so good it’s be rescued. Love that woodpecker nice and scruffy just like me!

  8. You got some great shots there. I struggle with the traffic through the drive. I always get stuck behind someone going 2 miles an hour and won’t pull over.

  9. I vote for early too. I am early for almost every appointment but very, very rarely have scenes like these to enjoy.
    Many, many thanks.

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