Posts Tagged With: blue dasher

A Drive In The Country

“Clouds of insects danced and buzzed in the golden autumn light, and the air was full of the piping of the song-birds. Long, glinting dragonflies shot across the path, or hung tremulous with gauzy wings and gleaming bodies.”

Arthur Conan Doyle

 

“That alligator came up almost completely out of the water chasing that fish!” Gini was filling me in on what I had missed when I took a short walk under the oak trees, searching in vain for small, colorful migrating warblers. After about an hour’s drive from home and another hour poking along looking at flowers, birds and bugs we were taking care of granola bars and tangerines. A late, but satisfying, breakfast.

The scene before us was a tranquil lake bordered by tall cypress trees mixed with bay and willow. A small island was decorated with the white, black and brown of dozens of egrets, herons, anhinga and cormorants. In a couple of months the population will swell as raucous courtship, mating and nesting occurs. This annual cycle of renewal is not unknown to other creatures as well. Such as birders, like us. Oh, and we counted well over two dozen alligators chasing fish, watching us, watching the birds, disappearing into the depths of the lake.

Some days it’s nice to just drive with no specific destination in mind. Explore side roads. Decide to unexpectedly turn left instead of right. Today was such a day.

We were in the southwest corner of Polk County, Florida. The Peace River flows a few miles to the east and the area is dotted with deep lakes, former phosphate mining pits which have been reclaimed and the surrounding land restored to something resembling its former state. There is a robust agriculture industry here as well as several large cattle ranches. The mix of farming, pasture land and lakes provides an excellent environment for diverse flora and fauna.

We didn’t find any migrating warblers today and most of the birds we did see were very camera shy. One migrant, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, took pity on us and posed for a moment. Distant woodpeckers, high-flying hawks, the aforementioned water birds – all good to see but none came near enough for photos. The day was beautiful, so was my partner, and we just kept driving.

Off the main road, we followed a path along a fence line. On one side, a pasture with curious cattle. On the other side, a pair of lakes with tall hardwood trees and dense undergrowth. A very nice combination!

The strands of barbed wire were quite popular for all sorts of insects, mostly dragonflies. Perching, eating, obelisking. And what a nice collection of different species! The water and trees attracted a whole separate set of specimens. It was well past lunch time and getting hot when we reluctantly headed home.

Our trip to nowhere in particular had been spectacular.

 

I almost walked into this awesome creature! Both me and the spider, a Spiny Orb-weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis), were happy no web was harmed in the making of this picture.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

A new dragonfly for us! The Twilight Darner (Gynacantha nervosa)  is quite plain and blends in with twigs as it hangs around waiting for – twilight. Then it will fly along the bank of the lake dining on some of the pesky mosquitoes we’ve been swatting all day.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

It’s a bird! Eastern Wood-Pewees are not residents here and we see a few of these small flycatchers each fall as they head for South America.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

 

A female Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) has smudges on her wings whereas the male displays large black spots.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

 

The facial pattern of a Two-striped Forceptail (Aphylla williamsoni) is quite menacing. Reminds me of a hockey player.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

One characteristic of the darner family is they like to hang vertically. They are strong flyers and can fly for long periods without landing. I got lucky and found a Blue-faced Darner (Coryphaeschna adnexa) taking a break.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

 

On about every other fence post, a lizard was waiting in ambush on the shady side. Most were Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei).

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Native to Asia, the Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia) was introduced to southern Florida in 1975. It has spread throughout the southern part of the peninsula since. The male is distinctive as it is all bright red. The female is golden.

Mosaic FMA-Pine Lakes East

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Dragonflies aren’t the only fence-sitters in these parts. A Whirlabout (Polites vibex), one of the small grass-skipper butterflies, thinks the view is just fine from up here.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Another one of those hanging jewels, the Common Green Darner (Anax junius) can really blend with the leaves of certain trees – like this one!

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Small but aggressive. A Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) is “obelisking”, holding its abdomen vertically, which is thought to help with heat dispersion.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

The male Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea) is hard to miss all dressed in purple. The female may not be as brightly colored, but she is still quite the looker. This one is finishing up a meal.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

A large grasshopper along the trail got our attention. It’s a new one for us, called an Obscure Birdwing Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura).

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Yet another large dragonfly, the Regal Darner (Coryphaeschna ingens). This female is ovipositing on lily pads near the lake shore.

Mosaic FMA-SP12 South

 

Having a goal is always a good thing. Once in awhile, though, wandering aimlessly about the countryside can be very rewarding. Try it!

 

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

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

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (1/4)

(Entrance, Lust Road)

Timing. We all know it’s important. Execution is another matter.

When possible, we avoid high traffic roads in our travels but once in awhile there is not a better alternative. This was one of those times. Leaving the house five minutes too late would mean encountering the morning commuters on the expressway and alternating driving bumper to bumper at breakneck speed and sitting still for long periods. Leaving too early would mean having to wait until the drive opened at sunrise and poking about alongside the road for a singing grosbeak or watching ducks flying overhead – oh, wait – too early it is!

Lake Apopka’s sad history has been mentioned here before. The short story: Large Lake Apopka (over 30,000 acres) was once a premier fishing and vacation destination in central Florida. Poor agricultural practices resulted in it becoming one of the nation’s most polluted waterways by the mid-20th century. Outstanding efforts by citizens, conservation groups and the government have restored the lake and its surrounding environment to a vastly improved ecological status.

In May 2015, an 11 mile drive was opened for visitors to enjoy the vast wetlands created from former agricultural land along the northeast shore of Lake Apopka. The drive is one way only and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. (Check for additional openings on government holidays which fall on a Monday.) There are pull-outs along the drive as well as additional trails in the area for hiking and biking.

During the winter, the wetlands are filled with waterfowl and other birds enjoying Florida’s sub-tropical weather. Spring and fall bring temporary migrants fueling up on insects and an aquatic smorgasbord to help them on their journey. Then, there is the summer. Hot, humid, steamy, sticky summer. Who wants to explore a marsh in THAT??

Late July at Lake Apopka is family time! Baby birds yelling at Mom and Dad for MORE FOOD! Immature birds doing the same thing, but also learning from their parents how to find their own food while avoiding predators.

Gini had packed a wonderful breakfast which we would eventually enjoy while looking out over the vast wetlands. Now, however, the sun was peeking over the horizon. Barn swallows swoop low on all sides, a Great Crested Flycatcher snags a dragonfly, alligators watch from under the duckweed, the willows are alive with feeding birds.

We are blessed.

(As usual, I have too many pictures to share. So, the trip will be split up into four posts roughly corresponding to sections of the wildlife drive. See the link below for a very nice audio tour and click on the map for reference.)

 

Just before we drove through the entrance gate, a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers landed on a telephone pole. It appeared as if the parents were guiding the immature bird in how to hunt. One of the adults yelled encouragement from atop the pole. Not sure if the “wild” look is due to wind or molting or a combination.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Plenty of insects in the wetlands. (Imagine that!) This male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) with characteristic wings-forward posture is ready to ambush his breakfast as soon as something tasty flies in range.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Matching the cattail on which she is perched, a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) resembles an emerald carving.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

One of the largest birds around the lake is the Great Blue Heron. This one demonstrates the proper technique in consuming a catfish.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Catch”

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Position”

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Swallow”

 

We typically see the Green Heron perched on a low limb over water in a “hunched” pose ready to strike at passing prey. This one is stretched out revealing the surprising length of its neck as well as the beautiful colors and patterns of the whole bird.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Well, watching all of this hunting and gathering has made us hungry. Gini has found a parking spot with an outstanding view and we shall return after breakfast for more slow driving, laying down in the grass, pointing, looking up and, most of all, sharing it  – with you.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (Audio Tour)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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