Posts Tagged With: american alligator

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

Storm Dodging

My dad didn’t know I was using his long-handled minnow net to scrape along the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to catch crayfish. That changed when I hit an unforgiving root and bent the frame of the net. Fortunately, he was more forgiving than the root and a quick twist of the pliers and the net was as good as new. But I wouldn’t be using it in the drainage ditch anymore, he said.

That was in Miami, Florida about 60 years ago. At about that same time, a towheaded tomboy was busy trying to catch tadpoles in a drainage ditch near Tampa, Florida. Two kids, two drainage ditches, infinite curiosity about nature, 200 miles apart. Who knew fate would bring us together in a music room where love eventually blossomed and is still in full bloom.

Florida summers bring sudden and ferocious thunderstorms with raindrops the size of quarters, earth shaking rumbles and bright streaks of lightning hurled from inky skies. The only thing more frightening than the storm was what would happen to my rear end if my Mother had to call me indoors more than once! Although the storm would usually pass quickly, it was difficult to be patient. I knew the rain would add more water to the drainage ditches which could hold frogs, their thousands of tadpoles, turtles, crayfish and who knew what other wonders!

We are older now and much wiser, with enough sense to remain indoors when a severe storm is brewing —–

NOT!

Why, that’s when all the birds are busy hunting for a last minute meal before the rains begin! We simply MUST be out there with them!

Thus, so it was last Wednesday. About a week ago, as I was traveling to an appointment downtown, I thought I glimpsed a Snail Kite along the shore of Lake Parker. There was too much traffic to stop safely and I was running a bit late so confirmation would have to wait. Until Wednesday. Until gathering storm clouds motivated me to pile Gini and bins and camera into the truck and go hunting. Bingo! There she was, atop a small cypress tree. She didn’t like my slinking around trying to hide behind trees to get close enough for a photo, but she remained in the area and I snapped a few shots for the record and left quickly so she could continue hunting for her escargot lunch. Before the storm.

We decided to check out a couple of the public boat ramp areas on the south and east sides of the lake since the rain had not yet begun. At the south ramp, a pair of Royal Terns were busy criss-crossing the lake in front of us while a young Limpkin extracted an apple snail from its shell. Half a dozen Osprey appeared to be suspended in the sky as they faced into the stiffening wind of the coming storm.  At the east ramp, there are more trees and we found a group of 14 Yellow Warblers feeding voraciously. Along with these migrants were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a couple of Prairie Warblers and a Yellow-throated Warbler. I even got a rare glimpse of a migratory Northern Waterthrush, a bird usually heard but not often seen very well. A couple of woodpeckers and a vireo were scouring the branches of a large oak tree. Along a canal leading to the lake, the soft “chortle” of a Least Bittern led me to the spot where he slowly emerged for exactly one picture before he melted back into the reeds. A young alligator was totally unconcerned about any storms as he was way too busy demonstrating how to relax. In a protected spot, a dragon posed in the sunlight before the storm clouds rolled in.

Gini and I found a small barbeque place that sold us a couple of sandwiches and we parked on the shore of a small lake and enjoyed Nature’s show while we ate. The lake’s surface was whipped into whitecaps, the sky was black as night, thunder rolled, quarter-sized drops hit the windshield and we reminisced about running barefoot in a drainage ditch full of rain water. I am blessed.

Images from before the storm.

 

This lady started it all today. A Snail Kite, endangered due to loss of habitat throughout Florida but, happily, holding their own.

Lake Parker

Snail Kite

 

A Royal Tern enjoys the breeze before the storm rolls in.

Lake Parker

Royal Tern

 

A secretive Least Bittern. In the proper habitat, they are usually heard but prefer to remain deep in the reeds. (It is a smallish heron measuring only 11-14 inches (28-36 cm) in length.) Here is its soft chuckling call:  Least Bittern Call.

Lake Parker Park

Least Bittern

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in Florida but in fall we begin to see numbers of them as migrants head south for the winter.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

A Prairie Warbler can have very subtle or very vivid facial markings. This one is a bit in between the extremes. These birds don’t breed in our area and are only enjoyed during migration.

Lake Parker Park

Prairie Warbler

 

Another migrant, the Northern Waterthrush resembles a member of the thrush family (even bearing the name!) but is actually a warbler. It spends most of its time on the ground or low perches in boggy areas.

Lake Parker Park

Northern Waterthrush

 

This Red-bellied Woodpecker is likely a first-year bird transitioning into adult plumage. Thus the “dirty” face.

Lake Parker Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Small Downy Woodpeckers are common in our area. This female is examining a lichen-covered branch hoping to find a snack.

Lake Parker Park

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Yellow-throated Vireo stopped hunting for a moment to gaze down at the old guy gazing up. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if this is a local or a fall visitor.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

When we drove up to the east side boat ramp area, before we got out of the truck, a gang of Yellow Warblers was very actively feeding in trees adjacent to the parking lot. It was interesting that within the group we spotted brightly colored males, the more subtly hued females and some almost gray looking immature birds.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Storms hold no fear for a dragon! Well, I imagine once the wind and rain begin, this dragon will seek shelter. This is a Four-spotted Pennant and is a young female. As she matures, the spots on each wing will become darker. The bright white stigmas on each wing leading edge and the slender abdomen are diagnostic for this species.

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

 

“Storm? What storm?” Typical alligator attitude.

East Lake Parker

American Alligator

 

We love living in the Sunshine State with its clear bright blue skies most of the year. But when the storms arrive, we still don’t mind dodging the raindrops to find a few birds. And if we happen to spot a drainage ditch full of water, well, these shoes and socks can disappear pretty quick!

 

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

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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