Birds

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (2/4)

(Welland Road, Roach Road)

About this time two years ago, Florida was raked with winds and rain thanks to a rude lady named Irma. The hurricane downed trees and utility lines, dumping up to two feet of water in some areas as she stomped up the peninsula. The north shore of Lake Apopka experienced a breach in one of the levees built to protect 20,000 acres of wetland from being inundated by water from the main lake. After Irma, it’s estimated 75% of that area was under a couple of feet of water.

One of the results of that storm for the Wildlife Drive was a change in topography. Many trees were uprooted by the storm’s winds and some water flows were altered. Biologists report that, overall, wildlife in the area suffered no long-term ill effects. Hopefully, they are correct. For observers, there is now more open water area to scan and may result in more winter waterfowl being seen.

It is not winter now. Florida in summer can be oppressive, even for us natives. Temperatures in the high 90 F range with humidity percentages the same. Drink plenty of water, wear a hat, enjoy your vehicle’s air-conditioning. Watch out for sudden storms. In all that wonderful open space, lightning seeks the highest point to strike. Thankfully, we are not tall people.

Gini makes even fruit and simple sandwiches into something special. Enjoying our meal while watching birds fly around us, frogs grunting in the duckweed, alligators cruising the canal – what heat?

A short way along Welland Road, Gini’s sharp ears heard the grunt/chuckle of a King Rail. Two of the secretive birds struck up a conversation and I waited in vain for one to make an appearance. While I was waiting, a small colorful movement caught my eye. Laying in the grass allowed me to capture a few images of Rambur’s Forktail, in three of its color stages.

More movement. Dragonflies, butterflies, moths. Overhead, Ibises, Ospreys, a flock of ducks. The rails clucked behind me. A curious alligator poked his snout from under a lily pad. Delirious from the heat? Nah, just enjoying our small slice of Nature’s paradise.

We ambled along as slowly as possible, stopping often, pulling over to gawk at more of the same. Making the turn onto Laughlin Road we wondered what else could we possibly hope to see?

Stay tuned.

(Click on the link below for information on the drive and then click on the map to see the road references.)

 

A combination of gold and black fluttering low above the ground is eye-catching. A Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) finally took mercy and posed on a grass top for a quick photo op.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Ungainly-looking on the ground as they probe the mud with long bills, the White Ibis is beautiful and graceful in flight.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Very small damselflies are easy to overlook as they hide in the weeds and try to keep a low profile to avoid predators. One of the more unusual of these fascinating insects is Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii). The male has a green and black thorax, a black and gold abdomen and blue tail. The female can look similar to the male but with a blue and black thorax or she can sport a couple of totally different appearances. To make it even more fun, all of the combinations can look different in different geographical regions. Whew!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Male

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Andromorph Female

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Immature Heteromorph Female

 

Even in mid-summer, the wetlands are full of flowering plants. One that is especially prominent is the American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) .

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Easy to mistake for a wasp, the tiny Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) catches the light of the sun and reflects pure gold wherever it flies. The wings of the male are fairly plain while those of the female have dark spots. (Surprise! There can be significant variation is these patterns.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Male

 

Fresh catfish is on this Osprey’s brunch menu. I was very fortunate to go fishing with my Dad a lot when I was growing up. He would look up from the boat, point out an Osprey and say: “Wish we were as good as that Fish Hawk at catching ’em!” Me, too.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Laughlin Road lay stretched out before us like a straight white arrow. Wetlands on each side extended nearly to opposing horizons.

What would we find?

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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

“Catch”

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Position”

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Swallow”

 

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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