Wildlife

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

In Our Comfort Zone

“Okay to have lunch at the usual spot?” A bit elevated, we can find a shady place to park near the wetlands boardwalk which offers a nice view of two lakes. As we pulled off the dirt road, my Chief Navigator astutely announced:  “This isn’t gonna work. The windows are already covered with bugs!” We were faced with leaving the windows rolled up, keep the air-conditioner on and eat our lunch in a cocoon – or find a different location. Gini suggested Option Number Two. (Okay, it may not have been an actual suggestion. More like just a “look”. But, it was “THE LOOK”. We found a very nice alternate spot.)

The large number of insects which disrupted our lunch plans were what we native Floridians call “Blind Mosquitoes”, actually the adult stage of freshwater midges in the family Chironomidae. The good news is they don’t bite, sting or suck your blood. The bad news is they occur in such huge numbers that when encountered they plug up your eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth – eating a sandwich is virtually impossible.

Earlier, we had entered Hardee Lakes Park not long after sunrise and had been leisurely exploring the shorelines of the park’s four lakes and adjacent woods and wetlands. We were hoping to catch early migrating passerines. Alas, no luck in that department. The park did, however, offer its usual array of bugs, birds and blooms as well as some surprises.

This 1200 acre county park has been one of our favorite places to visit for several years. About an hour from the house, it has four lakes which were formerly phosphate mining pits but have been reclaimed for over 20 years and provide excellent fishing and wildlife habitat. (I am concerned that recent efforts to manage the park may be bordering on the “too much of a good thing” department. Killing of vegetation around the lakes’ shorelines has resulted in severe reduction of potential cover and nesting sites for water birds.) A diverse environment of water, wetlands, hardwood and conifer forest and open grassy areas make this a great destination for birders at any time of year.

Our familiarity with the park, knowing what birds are resident, anticipation of seasonal migrants and the fact we almost always find something unexpected will keep us coming back for more. We just hope the county’s efforts to lure more campers, hold community events (e.g., “mud runs”) and the aforementioned temptation to over-manage the natural resources won’t result in long-term negative results for folks like us who think selfishly. (We don’t like sharing our outdoors with anybody!).

Not many bird images this trip. Many avian residents are dealing with new family members and molting. As a result, they were pretty shy. No worries! Plenty to see here for those willing to look.

 

This immature Sandhill Crane will soon look like Mom. We heard two families trumpeting back and forth throughout the morning.

Hardee Lakes Park

Immature Sandhill Crane

Hardee Lakes Park

Adult Sandhill Crane

 

One of Florida’s most abundant yellow butterflies is the Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa). The male is sparsely marked below. Typically, views of the bright yellow upper wings are rare except when in flight.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is common in the state and its various stages of growth offer quite different appearances.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As with many dragonflies, male and female Four-spotted Pennants (Brachymesia gravida) may not look at all alike.

Hardee Lakes Park

Male

Hardee Lakes Park

Female

 

Even authoritative field guides admit it’s often difficult to identify members of the Duskywing butterfly family. I’m going out on a limb and stating this is Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), based on the above wing markings and white behind the eyes.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Bumble Bee (Bombus spp.) had been as busy as – well – a bee, collecting pollen and storing it in a leg pouch. Inquiring minds will want to know that pouch is called a “corbicula” and only occurs on the hind tibiae of the female.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

This is not Hawaii. To my knowledge, there are no beets grown within Hardee Lakes Park. Imagine our astonishment, then, to find a Hawaiian Beet Webworm Moth (Spoladea recurvalis) feeding right at our feet! Turns out the larvae of this moth and two others closely related can cause quite a bit of damage to leafy green crops. In Florida, this species is sometimes called the Spinach Moth and is not usually abundant. It is found worldwide.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorers brought a few pigs with them to serve as a food source while they explored Florida’s peninsula. They didn’t take them back when they left. Today the state has a feral pig problem. The animals occur in all 67 of the state’s counties. Rooting with their broad snouts can leave vast tracts looking like a plowed field, destroys vegetation and disturbs topsoil. They can be hunted and trapped (with landowner permission) without a license or permit and there is no limit on how many may be harvested. This group was oblivious to my presence. (There were an additional eight individuals nearby.)

Hardee Lakes Park

 

A Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly is, at first glance, similar to the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and like its cousin can taste bitter to predators. The bad taste is believed to be due to this species’ preference for milkweed plants as hosts for their larva.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Also called Lance-leafed Arrowhead and Duck Potato, Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia) is very common in our area. The corms (underground rhizomes) are about the size of chestnuts and supposedly are edible.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Grass-skippers are small, vary in color from brown to dull orange and fly very erratically. Did I mention they can be difficult to identify? I’m pretty sure this one is a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), but if anyone has a correction, I’d welcome another opinion!

Hardee Lakes Park

 

As we rounded a curve, we spotted a family of White-tailed Deer in a clearing. We were blessed to be able to observe as a gentle rain fell and a mother took care of her new fawns.

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

Hardee Lakes Park

 

It’s exciting to discover new places to explore, but returning to a familiar location which has become “comfortable” has its own rewards. Find your own comfort zone and visit as often as possible.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Map Location

Hardee Lakes Park, Facebook Page

Hardee Lakes Park Brochure

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

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