Posts Tagged With: blue grosbeak

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

Spring At The Fort – Part One

It’s that time of year in Florida.  Our severe winter weather has abated and the air and water temperatures are emitting  their siren song attracting great throngs to the coasts to enjoy white sand beaches, emerald green seas and shady woods for siestas.  It’s the time of crowds pushing each other out of the way to gorge themselves on whatever they can find to eat, drinking their fill and fueling that age-old “urge to merge” which is overtaking their hormonal instincts.

Yes, it’s bird migration in full swing.

Huh?  What did you think I was talking about?

This will be a two-part series on our recent visit (April 15) to Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We have written about exploring this area before.  (See the previous posts:   Fort De Soto – July and Sunrise, Surf, Storms.)  There will, undoubtedly, be future articles on this location.  It’s one of those places which can be overwhelming  for birders, photographers, tourists or just casual visitors.  Located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it boasts award-winning beaches, has one of the finest boat launching facilities in the area, woods to explore, outstanding fishing and sensational sunrises and sunsets.

This post will take you along our paths in the woods.  It’s quite a wonderful sensation to be surrounded by tall trees and dense undergrowth yet still be able to hear the pounding surf as the beach is only 50 yards away.  In the second part, we’ll stroll along the beach and see what we can find in the sand, water and sky.

Due to its location along a major migration route, unique position on the coast, mix of hardwood and pine woods and freshwater ponds, it is a major stopover spot for migratory birds in spring and fall.  We planned to spend the day searching for warblers in the woods.  I have no self-discipline.  If I get that close to saltwater, I will eventually wind up in the stuff.  I can’t help myself.  Warm, salty water is meant to wallow in and wade along pushing your toes in the soft sand and having crabs and rays scuttle out of your way and watching the mullet jump and……but I digress.  We wandered the beach and marsh areas as well as explored the woods.  We spent the whole day there – and loved every second!

A popular spot to locate our migrant friends is a wooded area adjacent to a beach.  There are a few mulberry trees and the park has placed a freshwater fountain here.  The trees were fruiting and the birds were eating.  It’s Florida, so the insect-loving crowd was also happy.  At times, this little area can contain hundreds of warblers and other birds in a single tree.  Today, we had to hunt a bit but were rewarded with some beautiful sights.  The adjacent picnic areas have scattered oak trees which are also quite productive.  It’s easy to get a case of “warbler neck” after bending your head back all day to scan the tops of trees.

Hope you enjoy our winged tourists returning from South and Central America.  They will soon be building nests further north, raising their young and returning to the woods and beaches of Florida this fall.

Male Hooded Warblers were fairly abundant today.  Most were busy looking for insects on the ground but I found this fellow up on a tree branch where a warbler belongs!

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

The Gray-headed Catbird was well represented.  I counted seven in one tree.  This one can’t hide the fact that he has been enjoying mulberries for breakfast.  Those purple stains in his feathers will be a challenge to get clean.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Bright blue Indigo Buntings were in the trees and on the ground gorging on anything that resembled a seed.  They made for a very colorful and lively walk in the woods as they never seemed to hold still.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Speaking of bright, a Yellow-throated Warbler was quite curious about me standing under his tree.  That throat was like a beacon as he hopped up and down every branch sucking up insects as he went.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

The Northern Mockingbird may not be a migrant, but he sure knows where to find insects.  I was leaning  against a tree to rest in the shade when this one flew in to gather insects from a hedge of lantana.  He was about four feet away and was oblivious to my presence.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Prairie Warblers provided a yellow exclamation point to the trees and bushes.  Most of these birds are so intent on fueling up for their long flights that they almost don’t notice the human stalking them with a camera.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

As usual, I’m easily distracted.  Giant Swallowtail butterflies were quite busy feeding at the lantana.  These were as large as some of the birds we were chasing!

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Sometimes, your wings just get tired of flapping and if you can find a nice paved sidewalk heading north, why not walk for awhile?  This Blue Grosbeak has the appearance of a bird who won’t put up with any nonsense.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

The small Common Ground Dove is another non-migratory bird enjoying a day at the beach.  This species has been in decline throughout the southeast.  They have a distinctive cooing much different than the longer call of the Mourning Dove.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

A lizard on a tree.

Lizard

Lizard

After watching a Nuthatch running down a tree trunk, the Black and White Warbler tried it, liked it, and is now seen upside down more often than not.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

I think this is a Mangrove Skipper but would appreciate anyone knowing differently letting me know.

Mangrove Skipper

Mangrove Skipper

White-eyed Vireos were numerous and hearing them sing is wonderful any time.  This one checked me out with a serious stare and then returned to the mulberry tree for more juice.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

I watched three female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks methodically work through a mulberry tree gorging on every ripe fruit they found.  This one continually chased away any other bird daring to come near.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

One of those birds who kept coming near to the above Grosbeak, was this female Orchard Oriole.  She eventually found good eating at the top of the tree.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

An Eastern Wood-Pewee found an oak tree he liked and continually swooped down to grab a bug.  We checked later in the day and he was still there.  Others said he’s been in that same tree for at least a week.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Well, technically, this is a warbler.  But he was not in the woods.  This Palm Warbler apparently saw the shorebirds feeding and thought he would check out the wrack line to see what was so good.  This offers a perfect segue into our next episode involving beachcombing.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

We hope you’ll return to enjoy the remainder of the day.  It will be more enjoyable if you’re bare-footed.

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

Additional Resources

Fort De Soto – Park Information

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

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