Posts Tagged With: black-necked stilt

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (4/4)

(Interceptor Road)

With so much to experience, the passage of time was of little importance. Indeed, the only way we realized it was nearing noon was the increase in temperature. The sun directly overhead combined with our ubiquitous humidity was steaming the wetlands.

The final leg of our tour (see “Additional Information” for link to a map) took us alongside an area of open water, a canal and a commercial sod farm. The latter can be a good area for spotting migrating shorebirds. Late summer, however, found us staring at a lot of nice green grass devoid of bird life. The air space above those fields was a different story!

As summer draws to a close, Swallow-tailed Kites begin forming into migratory groups in preparation for their journey to South America for the winter. These sleek aerialists will return around the second week of February to breed. Watching them twist, turn and dive as they catch flying insects and eat them on the wing is fascinating.

Not to be outdone in the aerobatic department, swallows swooped low above the  sod fields and wetlands scooping up bugs for lunch. We only saw Barn Swallows on this trip but Bank and Northern Rough-winged had recently been reported. Barn Swallows breed in the area and we have had some very enjoyable days watching the never-ending cycle of young swallows begging as the adults trudged back and forth stuffing waiting maws with small winged morsels.

Speaking of babies. We found a bumper crop of Fulvous Whistling-Duck families on the open water today. Little striped balls of fluff were constantly diving as mom and dad watched over them. Also, several new families of Black-necked Stilts were out and about. We watched one pair of adults work with two new youngsters showing them how to forage in the shallow water.

As we neared the exit gate, two events which almost always occur at this point played out again. First, we both sighed deeply and commented that it had been a wonderful morning. We just saw so much! Second, and this is quite rare, Gini whined. Normally, she is more of a “declarative” person, leaving no doubt about what she means. Now, however, it seemed a little girl was looking at me with expectant beautiful brown eyes, pleading:  “Can we go around again?”.

 

The Florida Mottled Duck is one of the only ducks in North America which does not migrate. Populations have been in trouble for over 30 years due to habitat loss, drought and hybridization with introduced Mallards. Biologists are concerned that, with continued hybridization, Florida’s Mottled Duck may become extinct in the not-too-distant future.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A large lens is not very effective for landscape images, but this may give you an idea of what a portion of the wetlands looks like. The Great Blue Heron has declared this green spot is HERS!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

We were fortunate to see several new families of Black-necked Stilts throughout the area. One group was near the road. As we watched, an adult and one juvenile waded about 50 yards away and the adult watched as the new stilt foraged in the shallow water. Closer to us, the second adult did the same with the other juvenile. At one point, a hawk flew overhead and the juvenile instinctively ducked and looked up. The adult let out a call and the young one immediately ran to his side. Nature’s classroom – right in front of us.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Black-necked Stilt – Juvenile

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Black-necked Stilt – Adult

Several families of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were cruising the open water with Mom and Dad keeping watch as the ducklings dove for food, bobbed on the surface, preened and enjoyed the day. And we appreciated it.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Nearing the sod field area, we counted 36 Swallow-tailed Kites, swooping, swirling, soaring, scooping up flying insects. What a display!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

Another spectacular day at Lake Apopka! If you’re in the area, stop by and be impressed.

 

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

 

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

TEXAS ! – Too.

Driving south from Houston, one encounters extensive agricultural production. Corn, cotton, grain sorghum, rice and local seasonal vegetables. Don’t forget about cattle! Texas leads the nation in production of cattle, sheep and goats. After about half an hour, traffic began to thin (most was heading north to jobs in the city) and the sunrise revealed a landscape familiar to these two Florida natives – really flat.

Our destination was the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1969 specifically to provide shelter for migrating songbirds, it sounded like our kind of place. Bordered on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, the refuge consists of vast salt marshes, two rivers feed freshwater marshes, man-made impoundments provide protected spots for tens of thousands of waterfowl and there is even a section of old-growth hardwood forest to explore.

We typically spend our driving time talking to each other. (I know, right? But it’s only been 51 years so we may run out of things to say some day. Not.) Today’s topic centered on our son and his family. Their daughter is ten and we really enjoyed seeing her perform in a school play. Her brother is eight and full of mischief, exactly as a boy of eight should be. We couldn’t believe how much they had grown physically and socially since our last visit. It was a lot of fun watching the two of them interact with friends after the play had ended. We normally only see them in a home setting and this was different! They were both so full of energy and you could tell they are – happy. So were we.

Alas, we missed songbird migration by a week or so. Fortunately, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day poking around the refuge. We knew it would be a good day when we stopped at the entrance kiosk for a brochure and a Carolina Wren flew out of one of the empty map boxes where we found a perfectly formed nest. We retreated and hoped the wren would return.

A few images below may indicate the diversity to be found at this refuge. They are still in a bit of a re-building mode due to significant damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. We look forward to a return visit and will try to adjust our timing a bit so we can see trees full of colorful warblers and thousands of ducks!

 

Entering the refuge.

San Bernard NWR

 

In Florida, it is uncommon to spot a White-faced Ibis but Glossy Ibis are extremely common. This situation is reversed at San Bernard NWR. In breeding plumage, the White-faced Ibis has a white border around a reddish face, a gray bill, red legs and a red iris. The Glossy has pale lines around a dark face, the bill is more brownish and the eyes dark. (The image of the Glossy Ibis is from Florida.)

San Bernard NWR

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Black-necked Stilts nest in the refuge and we spotted more than a dozen during the day.

San Bernard NWR

 

A lone tree in the salt marsh is the only notable break in the grass between us and the Gulf of Mexico.

San Bernard NWR

 

Stand silently and observe the marsh for a few minutes and an incredible array of life becomes evident. Here, a flock of Snowy Egrets moves from one spot of open water to another.

San Bernard NWR

 

We are always amazed at the size of the Purple Gallinule’s feet! Very helpful when walking atop aquatic plants.

San Bernard NWR

 

This immature White Ibis will gradually molt into the all-white plumage of an adult.

San Bernard NWR

 

Crested Caracara won’t hesitate to prey on waterfowl (or anything else that moves) but is equally happy to feed upon carrion.

San Bernard NWR

 

Darting among reeds along a pond shoreline, the Common Yellowthroat male is not exactly camouflaged. During breeding season the male sings for what seems to be 24 hours a day.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

It’s a bit unusual to catch a Sora fully exposed, as they tend to skulk further back in the weeds. I lay on my stomach and inched close enough for a few shots.

San Bernard NWR

 

While laying in the grass taking photos of the Sora, I counted ten very young (12-18 inches) alligators run into the water ahead of me. Number 11 remained behind and let me know he was unafraid. I began to wonder where Mama was. Seemed like a good time to return to the path. Quickly. Looking over my shoulder.

San Bernard NWR

 

On one of the impoundments constructed for wintering waterfowl, a Pied-billed Grebe paused for a candid portrait before returning to his fishing.

San Bernard NWR

 

During breeding season, the Little Blue Heron’s eyes and legs turn black and the base of the bill becomes bright blue.

San Bernard NWR

 

Flocks of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks could be seen all across the impoundments as they moved from one open water area to another. (Two immature Little Blue Herons are in the foreground.)

San Bernard NWR

 

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks watched their fulvous cousins from atop a nearby berm.

San Bernard NWR

 

We even found a few flowers in bloom. A showy orange Lantana and bright red Tropical Sage.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

In a muddy area, we were tempted to follow this alligator track to see where it went. Okay, Gini wasn’t thrilled with the idea. Okay, we both jumped in the car and locked the doors and sped away. There, satisfied?

San Bernard NWR

 

Birds aren’t the only migrants which take advantage of the refuge. A Monarch butterfly almost blends in with the wildflowers.

San Bernard NWR

 

One Black-bellied Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate feeds. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

One Fulvous Whistling-Duck stands watch while its mate bathes. The mate is appreciative.

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Along a canal in the marsh, we came upon two very mature American Alligators announcing their territory. They were about 20 yards apart and quite loud. The water droplets “dance” above the alligator’s back due to sub-audible vibrations which precede the audible bellowing. Recent research indicates an alligator’s size can be determined by its bellowing characteristics. This allows a potential adversary to determine if a fight for territory or a mate is feasible.  (Alligator’s Bellow Communicates Size.)

Listen: Alligator Bellowing

San Bernard NWR

San Bernard NWR

 

Despite all that bellowing not far away, this Black-necked Stilt just had to get a little power nap.

San Bernard NWR

 

Speaking of naps, it was time for us to head to Houston. After a satisfying bit of Texas Bar-B-Que, we made it back and began packing for our return to Florida. It was a great visit!

If you get a chance to go coastal in Texas, drop by San Bernard NWR. Watch out for the wren’s nest at the entrance and respect the alligator’s territory – or test your own bellowing and see if you measure up.

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

 

Additional Information

San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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