Posts Tagged With: black-crowned night heron

A Comfortable Contrarian

It was good to be back. I couldn’t believe it had been eight months since my last visit. Some things in life maintain a “comfort level” which never fades. When living in Germany, I purchased a light jacket with leather panels on the front and loosely knit wool in the back. It was perfect for hiking the steep trails through dark forests of fir where the leather buffered the chilly wind and wool at the back allowed fresh air to circulate. Comfortable. Two pairs of walking shoes in the closet are almost identical in design and appearance yet one is used much more often. They’re just more – comfortable. Most mornings I reach in the cabinet and pull down the same cup which for years has held the juice from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. It holds the same amount as other cups and even looks similar to many. But there is something about its weight, the way my hand fits through the handle, the Meerschaum quality of the coffee-stained china. Comfortable.

I drove through the entrance gates of the Circle B Bar Reserve on the north shore of Lake Hancock, parked at the first picnic table, slung the camera over my shoulder and hung binoculars around my neck. After walking 50 yards, I stopped and turned 360 degrees. There! That’s the feeling! Spanish moss hanging almost to the ground was parted slightly by the wind’s unseen hand revealing huge hundred-year old oak trees, Northern Cardinals leaped through the underbrush, dragonflies shimmered in the sunlight on tall weeds along the path and ahead the walkway met the bright blue sky which beckoned one to discover something wondrous. An involuntary deep sigh caught me by surprise. I was – comfortable. It was good to be back.

Years ago, upon first discovering the Circle B, I tried to visit often. It’s a former cattle ranch which has been developed into a marsh and has restored the flow of Saddle Creek into Lake Hancock. The result is one of the most spectacular birding venues in Florida. A diverse habitat attracts a huge number of birds throughout the year. The day before my visit, a friend (and one of the state’s best birders) sent an email that he spotted a Ruff on the mud flats which have been exposed due to our recent very dry weather. I don’t usually “chase” rarities, but I’ve never seen a Ruff and Circle B is only 30 minutes away…..

Being the experienced and veteran birder and photographer which I so clearly am, I know that one must arrive to a potential birding spot early in the day in order to take advantage of the “golden hours” for best photographic light and maximum bird activity. Not to mention it is much cooler early in the morning.  Armed with this knowledge, I arrived on site promptly at – 3:00 in the afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky so the light was wonderfully harsh. Not a sound to be heard except cicadas buzzing so all the birds were likely sleeping. And the temperature was a balmy 95 F, perfect for hiking out to the marsh without a bit of shade along the way. (There were appointments in the morning, you see, and I was afraid to wait until the next morning as the Ruff would surely leave on its northward journey, and besides I may not be as much of an expert as has been advertised.)

Gini says I am a natural contrarian but adds sweetly:  “But you’re MY contrarian!”. She’s so diplomatic.

The good news is, even under less than ideal circumstances, the Circle B is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. I found a couple hundred shorebirds on the mud flats, and there may well have been a Ruff (or a dozen) amongst the crowd of sandpipers, plovers, skimmers and others. Unfortunately, they were about 500 miles away and even when I enlarged the many photographs I attempted, it just appeared to be a mass of mottled brown with nothing in focus at all. Sigh.

So, I wandered around and discovered not ALL of the wildlife was taking a nap. Overhead were Bald Eagles, a Red-shouldered Hawk, vultures, Wood Storks and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites. Not to mention water birds of all types flying from one spot of water to another. I even found a flock of Bobolinks filling up on grass seed before resuming their migration. It was even comforting to see so many alligators still here, right where I left them so many months ago.

Despite the lousy light, heat, limited activity and no rare bird, I still (although reluctantly) took a few pictures. Just for you.

 

All decked out in breeding plumage, a Tricolored Heron runs toward a potential meal.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Snowy Egret already has his meal, well, maybe more like a snack. Another Snowy glides overhead, looking almost like an x-ray against the bright sky.

 

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

The Great Blue Heron is a large bird, standing almost four feet tall. This young alligator was not impressed. He swam back and forth in front of the heron and twice made a sudden lunge in its direction. The heron was likewise not impressed and never flinched.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A female Bobolink loads up on seeds. She was part of a flock of about two dozen. They are not residents here and we only see them during migration.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This male Black-necked Stilt was busy feeding and there were reports of an occupied nest in this area. I’ll have to return soon to try and find it. Maybe I can get lucky and discover young ones.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are normally seen in groups. This one evidently found a spot in the mud he liked as I couldn’t see others anywhere.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A resting Roseate Spoonbill keeps one eye on its surroundings. Good idea. Lots of ‘gators wandering by. Not to mention two-legged critters making clicking noises. A little further down the path and I found another spoonbill soaring overhead.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle leaves a wide path as it scoots along in the soft mud of the marsh. Another one suns itself on a log. The weeds and algae on their shells hide a really pretty reddish-orange pattern.

Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

I startled an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and he hurried out of sight.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A bit later, an immature night heron hid behind some moss. This is likely a second-year bird as first-year night herons are mottled brown but this one doesn’t have the contrasting black and gray of a full adult (see the one above). Plus its eyes are not quite as red as an adult’s.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

A large female Florida Softshell Turtle throws sand and gravel in the air as she tries to dig a nest along the hard-packed side of the trail. She’ll need to find some softer sand or mud before she can deposit her 10-30 eggs.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

This is a common pose for the Great Blue Heron and may be used to warm the inside of the wings enough to drive out small biting bugs such as mites.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

As the sun began to set, a Nine-banded Armadillo foraged in the dry leaves of the oak woods looking for insects. These fascinating animals remind me of Winnie The Pooh’s friend, Piglet.

Circle B Bar Reserve

 

 

No Ruff today. Despite my contrariness, I found some wonderful birds, several interesting animals and had an exhilarating outdoor experience. Back at the car, I turned back for one more look at where I had been. There was that sigh again. I felt – comfortable.

 

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

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

Waders, ‘Gators and Spectators

High speed traffic. Billboards. Promises of fantasy, adventure and fun galore. We took the exit ramp just before becoming hopelessly ensnared in the bounty of modern Florida. Admittedly, if you have small children and a large bank account, it’s truly a place you should visit. After that, remember where this exit ramp is located.

Thankfully, it was an hour before sunrise and only a few hundred cars were racing toward the gates of Mouse Nirvana hoping to be first in line for unlimited joy. As we reached the end of the exit road, Gini and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. I looked left. I looked right. No traffic in sight. Soon we were meandering (as much as one can meander in a two ton hunk of metal) along a winding country road, all alone in the dark (one of our favorite places to be all alone …).

The gate for the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive was already open for us and we had the place to ourselves just as the sun appeared over the horizon. The one-way drive is eleven miles of unimproved road through freshwater marsh, lake shoreline, sod fields and mixed woods. It provides a terrific place for migrating birds of all types and many will spend the winter here. There are several places to pull off the road and it’s wide enough in most spots for other vehicles to pass comfortably. I was recently asked to list what we typically see on a trip. Naturally, birds “typically” seen will vary by location but hopefully this will provide an idea of what to expect in early autumn (mid-September) at this location. We were hoping to see more migrants, especially shorebirds, but the normally wet sod fields were bone dry.

The list for this trip:

55 species

  • Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  4     Flew northwest over Lust Road near entry gate.
  • Wood Duck  2
  • Mottled Duck  4
  • Blue-winged Teal  28     Group of 8 in pool on south side of Lust Rd. about 0.2 mile west of entry gate. Flock of 20 flying east parallel to Lust Rd.
  • Pied-billed Grebe  4
  • Wood Stork  3
  • Double-crested Cormorant  4
  • Anhinga  18
  • Least Bittern  4     Three seen, one heard only.
  • Great Blue Heron  16
  • Great Egret  22
  • Snowy Egret  4
  • Little Blue Heron  12
  • Tricolored Heron  2
  • Cattle Egret  36
  • Green Heron  5
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron  4
  • White Ibis  58
  • Glossy Ibis  14
  • Black Vulture  9
  • Turkey Vulture  4
  • Osprey  9
  • Red-shouldered Hawk  3
  • King Rail  1     Heard only. Fairly steady “kek-kek-kek-kek-kek” call.
  • Purple Gallinule  2
  • Common Gallinule  160     Conservative estimate. Many immature birds.
  • Limpkin  2
  • Killdeer  2
  • Common Ground-Dove  2
  • Mourning Dove  6
  • Belted Kingfisher  2
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
  • Downy Woodpecker  1
  • Pileated Woodpecker  1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher  1
  • White-eyed Vireo  3
  • Red-eyed Vireo  2
  • Blue Jay  2
  • Fish Crow  3
  • Bank Swallow  4     Perched on utility wires with Barn Swallows. Smaller than Barn Swallow, dark breast band with line extending down center of breast.
  • Barn Swallow  22
  • Tufted Titmouse  3
  • Carolina Wren  2
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  4
  • Northern Mockingbird  2
  • European Starling  5
  • Black-and-white Warbler  1
  • Common Yellowthroat  4
  • American Redstart  2
  • Northern Parula  3
  • Yellow-throated Warbler  2
  • Prairie Warbler  1
  • Northern Cardinal  4
  • Red-winged Blackbird  26
  • Boat-tailed Grackle  32

It was a good day.

We joined a pair of Ospreys for breakfast just after sunrise. They had very fresh fish, we had egg sandwiches. On the lake shore is an old pump house which was once used to divert water into a canal system for crop irrigation. Adjacent to the pump house is a pool from which the water was further pumped into fields. As we approached this pool, we noticed a lot of activity. First, a large alligator moved across the road right in front of the truck. Then we noticed a good number of herons and egrets lining the shore and soaring above the pool. When we pulled alongside the pool, it got really interesting! We counted 40 alligators within our field of view and more were in a smaller pool near the pump house. The object of all of this attention was a very large number of shad in the pool. The alligators were feasting and the birds were wishing. I kept waiting for Tarzan to swing in on a vine from stage right.

There are a lot of pictures here so I won’t be offended if you don’t look at all of them. Well, not too much.

 

We are continually amazed at what a Great Blue Heron will try to eat. Even though this fish is a very normal part of its diet, the size of the meal makes you wonder if there is any way he’ll be able to swallow it. He always does. He made a quick check to be sure we weren’t a threat.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

 

“The Pool.” The birds appear to be assessing the risk in trying to grab a meal. At times, the ‘gators almost cleared the water as they chased fish from underneath. Quite a sight!

Feeding Time

Feeding Time

 

An immature Tricolored Heron still has quite a bit of rufous plumage but instinctively knows a threat when he sees one.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

 

This Great Blue Heron keeps a wary eye on a large alligator under his perch until it moves away.

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

American Alligator, Great Blue Heron

 

A Great Egret arrives and asks the Great Blue Heron what’s to be done about all the reptilian riffraff.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret

 

Time for a reconnaissance flight. The brave Snowy Egret volunteers to count the enemy and see if they’re showing any sign of retreat.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

A Black-crowned Night Heron senses a “presence” behind her. She glimpses the large eyes watching her and begins to sneak away. But wait, what’s that? Breakfast! And no ‘gators nearby! A quick plunge and – success! A short flight to the nearest perch. Now, how do I eat this thing? Where is Big Blue? He knows about these things.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

Immersed in trying to photograph all the action, I also became aware of a “presence”. This 10-foot fellow was measuring me for a plate. Thank goodness for l-o-n-g lenses! (And a steep bank.)

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the road ….. A Green Heron was content to wait in the reeds for a frog or a crayfish. Not as much competition. Also, less chance of becoming breakfast yourself!

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

Above the fray, Barn Swallows perched on utility lines and hawked insects. Among them we spotted four Bank Swallows, not rare but a bit unusual this time of year. They are smaller than the Barn Swallow and have a clean underside except for a dark breast band with a line running downward from the center of the band.

Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow

Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow

Bank Swallow

Bank Swallow

 

A little further along the road, we encountered a calling Great Crested Flycatcher. They’re residents here but migrants also fly through the area.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

 

An immature Red-shouldered Hawk spotted a potential meal from his perch and launched from the branches without taking his eyes from the target. He used his broad tail as a rudder and soon dropped behind a line of Willow trees, likely to grab brunch. The light “crescents” near the end of the wings are diagnostic for this species and can be helpful in identifying birds soaring quite high. (The last two images are a different bird than the first four.)

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk - Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk – Immature

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

The iridescence of the Glossy Ibis helps it stand out even in a busy background.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

 

Although Pied-billed Grebes breed in this area, the population increases as migrants fly through to Central and South America and many will overwinter here.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

 

Since we started with “dragons” it seems fitting we end with one. A Carolina Saddlebags is silhouetted nicely by the lushness of the marsh in the background.

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina)

Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea Carolina)

 

We enjoyed a lazy drive in this diverse habitat and were pleasantly surprised at the show put on by the alligators – just for us. There was no entry fee, no lines to wait in and we didn’t have to be “this tall ^” to go on the ride. And it’s all right there when we want to do it again. Which we do.

 

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

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

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