Posts Tagged With: anhinga

Sex & Bugs & Flock & Pole

(Sincerest apologies to Ian Drury and The Blockheads.)

 

Somehow it felt like cheating. Looking back over 60-something years, our upbringing seems like a cliche. Work hard, be honest, treat others well, you will be rewarded. My Sunday School teacher had to explain (on a weekly basis) why a spiritual reward was far better than monetary recompense. So when we drove through the gate of the wildlife drive entrance last Friday and from the comfort of the car within the first 20 yards saw Blue Grosbeaks, Painted Buntings, Northern Cardinals, myriad water birds, low-flying hawks and a soaring eagle, it almost seemed unfair. Almost.

Great birding is supposed to involve great effort. Much hiking, climbing, crawling, sweating, fighting wild animals to reach some sort of avian apex of achievement! But here we were, resting on comfortable cushioned upholstery, cool drinks stashed in adorable beverage holders within easy reach, protected from the sun and wind, icy air conditioning available at the touch of a button – and seeing birds, and LOTS of them – on all sides as we slowly made our way along an 11 mile stretch of good road through a vast wetland area. Yes, totally unfair. And we feel very guilty about enjoying ourselves so much without any actual labor involved. Quite guilty, indeed. So guilty, we may not indulge in such birding luxury again. For at least a couple of weeks.

Lake Apopka, a large 48 square mile body of water northwest of Orlando, was once a fishing paradise and in the 1960’s boasted nine fish camps and numerous resorts. Unfortunately, a long history of agricultural abuses culminated in massive fish and bird kills and the once beautiful lake became one of the nation’s most polluted bodies of water. Today, no fish camps, no vacation resorts. A massive effort begun in the late 1980’s has resulted in an astonishing recovery. There is still work to be done, but the wildlife has responded spectacularly and the outlook is excellent. In 2011, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count produced 346 species, more than even Everglades National Park that year! See the link below if you plan to visit. There are several access points for hiking, biking and the one we visited, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

It was a fantastic day of birding and scenic driving which ended with lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Yalaha German Bakery. A plate of curry wurst, sauerkraut and potato salad. Apple strudel and fruit tart for later. (Hey, maybe this is some of that spiritual reward thing my Sunday School teacher meant!)

Birding highlights included singing Blue Grosbeaks, a first-year male Orchard Oriole also singing his heart out, a very large (500+) flock of migrating Bobolinks, many Barn Swallows, male and female Painted Buntings as well as the usual diverse selection of birds found here. While I chased the oriole on foot, Gini had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perch on a willow just outside the car window giving her the best looks she’s had at this species. As a nice extra, we came across a large Florida Softshell Turtle depositing her eggs along a canal bank.

We hope you enjoy a few images from our lazy birding day.

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Yes, if you order now we will include AT NO EXTRA COST, bonus images of our short trip the following day to southern Polk County where we encountered Osprey with actual babies! Great Crested Flycatchers! The not-so-secret love life of the WILD Turkey!! Visit NOW! Operators are standing by!

 

Singing Blue Grosbeaks greeted us first thing in the morning just inside the entrance gate. Several could be heard out in the marsh as the sun made its appearance.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Insects love this area, especially as our weather has been very dry and there is plenty of water here. This Four-spotted Pennant rested for a brief photo op.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Although common, how can I resist the beauty of a Red-winged Blackbird? (That’s what he’s hoping one of the dozens of nearby females is thinking!)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A female Boat-tailed Grackle gathers a bit of grass to help weave a nest in the marsh.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

There may no longer be any fish camps around the lake, but the Anhinga has discovered there are plenty of fish to be had if you know where to look!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This large Florida Softshell Turtle will lay 10-30 eggs in the soft dirt of a canal bank. What a pretty face!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

I seldom get a chance to photograph swallows perched on something other than a utility line. Barn Swallows were abundant and we found a few sitting in a tree for a couple of nanoseconds. Several were also sitting in the middle of the dirt road. It’s my understanding they do this to heat up their feathers to make it uncomfortable for mites and small things in the hope the little bugs will leave.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Green Herons normally only extend their necks when striking prey, but this one seems to think he might be a bittern.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Immature Little Blue Herons are all white when born and gradually begin getting patches of slate blue during their first year before assuming the full blue color of an adult. There is speculation that the all-white coloration allows them to be tolerated by Snowy Egrets which may help them catch more prey.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Bobolinks are only present in Florida during migration and can sometimes be observed in large flocks. We estimated at least 500 birds in one sod field but they formed into smaller groups as they moved around to feed.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

(As promised, if you stuck around this long, here are a few images from our trip to an area south of Bartow in Polk County, Florida.)

 

Central Florida has an abundant population of Osprey. Numerous lakes and streams provide an ample supply of fish for feeding hungry chicks. Two little heads can be seen in this nest. Mama was screaming at hubby to chase away the paparazzo. His impressive talons convinced me I had enough pictures of his kids.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

As Gini and I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh oranges and granola bars, a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers provided the entertainment. They worked a fence line and retrieved insects from tree branches and weeds.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Gini spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker carrying a bug into a cavity of a utility pole. No doubt there are young ones inside.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Driving through an area of orange groves, we came across a male Wild Turkey in full display with a hen by his side. We had a chance to watch the full mating process, something not normally seen in the wild, not to mention in the middle of the day out in the open. Pretty impressive sight!

Avon Park Cutoff Road

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Recreational Guide

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

Open To The Public

Not too long ago, a friend asked about a visit to a local area where I reported observing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and over 3,000 American White Pelicans. I confirmed those species and proudly talked about other unique birds I had seen during the same outing. He was quite excited as there were three species he had been striving to find in Florida and had been unsuccessful. I felt like a cad. Now I had to break it to him that this was a trip on land not open to the public. At the time, I felt  privileged to be asked to assist in a survey of bird life within this newly developed wetland. Little did I realize how bad I would later feel telling people they couldn’t visit the area.

Karma.

About a month after the above trip, I noted a report of several Burrowing Owls not too far away. My inquiry was met with, “Sorry, they were all on private land.”

Gini and I have been very fortunate to have traveled a modest amount during our time together. The nice thing about having a partner who is happy and positive all the time (yes, she wakes up smiling), is you just know something good is close by almost all the time. When we moved to a new area, we learned to explore close to home first and gradually expand our adventures. What a happy surprise to discover there are usually wonderful things within a stone’s throw of your front door.

Birding has been like that. It’s really exciting to visit a well-known “hotspot” and it’s not hard to figure out why these places are so popular. Plenty of birds! Also, plenty of birders! So we have tried to remember our early experiences and we seek out local parks to see what they have to offer. What we have found is that there are many birding “warmspots” that are all too easy to drive by as one speeds to the well-advertised “hotspots”! These local parks have something else that is missing from the more popular venues. A slower pace. I’m not worried about rushing to the “third tree on the left under the boat dock crouched under a lily pad” bird and getting in a line of sort-of birders who are more akin to contact sport athletes. Instead, I can leisurely walk around on a nicely constructed pathway, say “Good Morning” to a Mom pushing a stroller, admire the fortitude of runners perspiring profusely, take in the aroma of a grilled picnic lunch and still compile a respectable list of birds and perhaps even take a photograph or two.

Two days last month were spent visiting three such public parks. Relaxing, exciting and fun. What more could a very casual bird-watcher want?

 

Athletic fields have very tall poles atop which are mounted lights atop which are often found raptors searching for a meal. This American Kestrel has a great view from up there!

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

A large oak tree branch displayed the remains of what I think was a White Ibis. The lunch buffet was very fresh and a look around revealed a Bald Eagle skulking within the framework of tall utility line support structure. I’m not saying he was guilty, but he WAS near the scene of the dine……..

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Anhingas are common in our area and they use any available perch that’s open to the sun and wind to dry their feathers. Unlike other waterfowl, they secrete no oils to help them remain water-proof and could drown if unable to keep their feathers dry.

Patterson Park

 

A Double-crested Cormorant and Peninsula Cooter appear to be exchanging opinions as they share a convenient log.

Patterson Park

 

An important pollinator in our ecosystem, the Sweat Bee is so named for its attraction to the salt in human perspiration. Only the females sting and it hurts less than a Honeybee. There are over 49 species of Sweat Bee, including the one below, a Green Sweat Bee.

Patterson Park

 

For some reason, city planners feel the need to “enhance” local park lakes with exotic waterfowl, often with unfortunate results for native species. Some common city critters encountered are swans of all types. I guess, to a bureaucrat, bigger is better. This is a Black Swan, a native of Australia. The male Black Swan’s red eyes turn white during breeding season.

Lake Morton

 

Mute Swans originated in Europe and Asia and are the most common captive swans in North America.

Lake Morton

 

The Black-necked Swan is from South America and cannot survive very cold weather. They are more likely than other swan species to carry young on their backs.

Lake Morton

 

Widely held to be the ancestor of all domestic geese in North America, the Graylag Goose (Anser anser) is a large bulky bird and it is common to encounter a variety of plumages from all white to mostly gray. Hybrids are frequent. In many areas of the United States it is simply referred to as a “Barnyard Goose”.

Lake Morton

 

Ruddy Ducks visit our area only during migration but can sometimes be seen in fair numbers on larger bodies of water. Occasionally, we’ll see the male still in his breeding plumage of chestnut, white face and blue bill. (Below is a female.)

Lake Morton

 

Larger than the small Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Ducks also appear in the fall and many remain through the winter. In good light, the male’s head and neck appear iridescent.

Lake Morton

 

For sheer gaudiness, nothing compares to our native Wood Duck! Looks like an artist’s palette gone wild. Okay, gaudy but beautiful.

Lake Morton

 

At the other extreme of the color spectrum is the plain brown Limpkin. Plenty of apple snails in most public lakes attract these ancient-looking waders into the city.

Lake Morton

 

Good looking in its own right, the Common Gallinule is still confused as to why the “experts” changed his name (again) from Moorhen. Me, too.

Lake Morton

 

If you get a chance to look for rare birds on private land, go for it! Visit a popular birding “hotspot” whenever you can. For a relaxing day walking among familiar birds in a comfortable setting, check out the city park. You might be surprised at what you can find.

 

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

 

(Hah! You thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? Not yet.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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