Sunday Drive

Once upon a time, there were two families. They lived almost 300 miles from each other. One family had six children, the other had four. Once a week, on Sunday, their routines were remarkably similar. The day began early with lots of bustling about, having a quick breakfast together, checking skirts, shirts and ties. Church was a big deal. Although a pew was not reserved, each of these families always seemed to occupy the same respective one every week. Trying to keep that many young children attentive during a long sermon must have been a challenge. A “shushhh” from Mother or a loud “Hallelujah!” from the minister was usually enough to keep us all in line. The ultimate silencer, though, would be “The Look” from Dad. None would dare make a peep or continue to fidget after THAT!

Back home, the first priority was to get out of those Sunday clothes! The two Mothers performed their ritual weekly magic and a huge lunch always appeared on the large family dining table. A roast beef and mashed potatoes, a baked ham with apple sauce or mounds of spaghetti. After such a feast, a short nap was in order. Well, our duty as kids was to fight taking naps with a vengeance, so we usually found something to keep us busy while the old folks snoozed. (Funny how now that WE are the old folks, we would love to have a nap!)

About mid-afternoon, both families would pile into the car again for “The Sunday Drive”. There was usually no actual destination for these drives but they usually involved getting “out in the country”. About the time the kids started becoming obnoxious (“She’s TOUCHING me!!”), Dad would say something like “Who wants ice cream?”. Riot control extraordinaire.

Gini and I have often marveled how similar our childhood memories are.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on a Sunday Drive.

We visited Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. Visit the link below for information on exploring Lake Apopka. The 11 mile wildlife drive always seems to offer something wonderful. Today was no exception.

 

It’s fall and migration is in progress. A flock of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks soars over the marsh in search of a protective spot to rest.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Palm Warblers are among the first wood warblers to arrive each season and we saw well over three dozen of the active little birds during the day.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Squawking his displeasure at us interrupting his hunting, a Great Egret flapped to another area where he hopes for more privacy.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This immature Red-shouldered Hawk paid no attention to us at all as his gaze was fixed on a water snake for breakfast. He grabbed the snake and flew directly into the bright sun, so no photo of him with his prize.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Autumn means the return of one of our favorite raptors, the Northern Harrier. The owl-like face, long tail and checkered wing pattern combined with a low, lilting flight just above the marsh make this hunter a joy to watch.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Rich colors of the Green Heron help it to blend with the surrounding vegetation as it patiently stalks prey such as small fish, frogs, lizards and snakes.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Watching a Great Egret preen, we are reminded how hunters almost decimated the species as they harvested the beautiful long feathers (aigrettes) for ladies’ hats.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Blooms of the water lily decorated a few spaces of open water.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal are likely migrants as the species typically does not spend the whole year in central Florida.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This Fulvous Whistling-Duck appears to be peeved that I’m taking his portrait.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A large lake bordered by a vast expanse of marsh interspersed with canals makes excellent habitat for the American Alligator. We observed many dozens. They, in turn, observed us.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Several species of freshwater turtles call this area home. Here, a Peninsula Turtle lounges on a limb and soaks up a little sunshine.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

When bees are covered in pollen identification (for me) becomes difficult.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Gaining altitude over the wetlands, an immature Bald Eagle almost looks “dirty”. This is probably a third-year bird and this time next year she should be decked out in fresh white and black plumage.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

There are many variations of the Stink Bug and I think this one is a Brown Stink Bug (Euschistus sp.). Most members of this insect family can damage a wide variety of crops.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Don’t tell this Common Gallinule he’s common. I did and he took offense.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The bill of this small diving bird provides a clue to how it got its name, Pied-billed Grebe. (Gini calls them “fuzzy butts”. Call the ornithological union.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Throughout the marsh there are plenty of snags from which hunters such as the Little Blue Heron can perch and scan below for a meal.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

One of the largest and most efficient of hunters, the Great Blue Heron, is not only magnificent to look at but is also amazing to observe as it hunts a huge variety of prey.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Another early migrant, the American Bittern, specializes in camouflage. When it stands motionless in front of reeds and holds its head toward the sky, it can become almost invisible.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Florida residents. Paper wasps are common and if you don’t provide the respect they deserve you will receive a painful reminder to keep your distance!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday Drive. Just as I started to get a bit fidgety, Gini said there was ice cream ahead! Turned out to be grilled German sausage and apple pie. Just as good!

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

Additional Information:

Lake Apopka North Shore

 

Postscript

On the way home from our Sunday Drive, we received a phone call. Help was needed. We went home, packed and headed north.

On October 10th, Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm very near my brother’s home. As the storm churned northeastward, it passed directly over the homes of two of Gini’s brothers. Thankfully, all three families had evacuated and received no injuries. Property damage was extensive, unfortunately, and it will be awhile before things return to normal.

We helped in our small way by providing some food and cleaning up a seemingly infinite number of downed tree limbs. Other family members pitched in with financial aid and helped as they were able.

Safely back home, we are thankful for all we have and, for awhile, will try not to take what we have for granted.

Life is good. Enjoy it!

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

Sturm und Drang

Last month was pretty wet, even by Florida standards. I gave up on “water resistant” boots and just wear what are marketed as “all-terrain running shoes”. Not that I am likely ever to be caught running. Even in bear country, I’m sure to go with someone likely to be slower than me. (No, not my Gini! No critter would ever challenge her!) This type shoe at least dries fairly quickly. The “water resistant” footwear gives up resisting sooner than later and never dries out as long it’s on your foot. So you walk around with your feet encased in little air-tight hothouses. Fun.

As native Floridians, we are required by law to visit the coast often. Usually, for us, this means salt marshes, river mouths, mud flats – you know, the good spots! We avoid most sandy beaches as they are littered with bodies greased up and turning over regularly until well-toasted on all sides. This trip, however, we specifically targeted an area described as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches!!”, Fort DeSoto Park in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Why would we be so insane as to go to a popular beach, on purpose? Storms. There had been three days of large, rolling thunderstorms moving across the state from the Atlantic Ocean and marching westward out into the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, such weather confuses birds and one can spot some unusual species on this piece of land jutting into the gulf. Such sightings are much more common during migration, but even in summer, we have been surprised.

Alas, no surprise species today. We did find a few shorebirds busily probing the tide and wrack lines as ominous clouds formed, dissipated, re-formed and thunder rolled. It was nice to see the beach with nothing but breakers and birds!

Fort DeSoto is located on Mullet Key, an island at the entrance to Tampa Bay.

(From an unofficial website about the fort. See Additional Information.)

 

Much has happened on this tiny island:

 

  • during the Civil War, Union troops had a detachment on both Egmont and Mullet Keys. Union ships were looking for blockade runners
  • during WWII the island was used for bombing practice by the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima;

 

 

Fort DeSoto is a premier birding spot during spring and fall migration. Its location serves as an important rest and refueling point for a very diverse group of birds. To appreciate how significant this park is, show up any day during the height of migration and try to find a parking spot!

Also, the park has terrific fishing from shore or from two long piers as well as a very large and well maintained boat ramp. Boaters can easily access the Gulf of Mexico for deep water species, Tamp Bay for excellent flats fishing or simply enjoy probing myriad small islands, sand bars or cruise along the beaches. Camping is available (reservations recommended) and there are several nature trails for those who just want to hike. Use the park’s official website (see Additional Information) to check the calendar for special events (runs, biking, tournaments, etc.) as the park will fill quickly at these times and there are likely to be road closures.

We accomplished exactly what we had hoped on our short evening visit. Saw a few birds, enjoyed the salt water environment, watched stormy weather from an empty beach and can’t wait to do it all again.

 

Red Knots are in transition from breeding to non-breeding plumage.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

The Least Sandpiper is North America’s smallest shorebird (5 inches/13 centimeters).

Fort DeSoto Park

 

With its substantial black bill, a Wilson’s Plover stands out in a group, or in this case, all by herself enjoying a stretch by a rain puddle.

Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto Park

 

One of our larger shorebirds, a Willet, is in hot pursuit of a small crab. He caught it, crunched it to disable it and swallowed it whole – without any garlic lemon butter!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

“You look f a b u l o u s!” A Snowy Egret admires the handsome creature staring back at him from one of nature’s mirrors.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Large Gray Kingbirds breed along many of Florida’s coasts then retreat to warmer climes for the winter.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Fort DeSoto is a fairly reliable location to find Reddish Egrets. Watching them hunt is an amazing experience as they engage in what seems at times to be a very choreographed dance. Incredible birds!

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Thunderstorm activity is prevalent in August and this evening’s sunset was mostly obscured as clouds moved along the horizon and along the beach. The large stone slabs in this image used to be a support for a gun emplacement, from what I understand.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Weather can change quickly along the coast and the pastel reflection from the setting sun belies the black stormy sky which just preceded this photograph. Across the channel is Egmont Key and its lighthouse marking the entrance to Tampa Bay for ships arriving from and departing for the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort DeSoto Park

 

Beaches are for more than sizzling your skin! Storms, shorebirds and sunsets are for all of us!

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

 

Additional Information

Fort DeSoto Park (Unofficial Website)

Fort DeSoto County Park (Official Website)

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: