Posts Tagged With: common gallinule

A New Birding Venue

We recently wrote about a trip earlier this year to the north shore of Lake Apopka. (See previous post: The Potato Eating Place.) At the time, we heard that there would soon be a drive along the northwest shore of the lake opening for public use. The new Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive opened in early May and our initial foray a couple of weeks ago confirms it will rapidly become a very popular destination for birders and anyone wishing to enjoy nature from the comfort of a vehicle. The drive is 11 miles long, one-way only with pull-offs along the way. There is room along the side of the road in most places to allow traffic to pass if needed. Marsh and floodplain restoration has been underway here since the late 1980’s in an attempt to undo the damage done by agricultural pollution over a long period. It is a work in progress. Hopefully, this opportunity to allow more of the public to view this fantastic slice of nature will create a sense of stewardship in a new generation.

The entrance gate opens at sunrise and Gini and I arrived early to enjoy the gradually lightening sky, the inspiring view of parked gravel trucks, the sweet melody of humming diesel generators, the delicate touch of mosquitoes landing on our cheeks — okay, so the prelude to the actual drive wasn’t a nature-lover’s paradise. Once the gate was opened, however, — well, actually, another birder pulled up just as the gate was opening and darted in ahead of us. As the dust cleared from his spinning tires, THEN we started enjoying the wonders of nature. The awe of car-rattling thunder, the amazing brightness of lightning and the refreshing experience of large raindrops clearing the aforementioned dust from the windshield.

Since we’re Florida natives, we knew patience would be rewarded. Sure enough, the morning thunderstorm vanished quickly and our planned two-hour tour evolved into a six-hour total immersion relaxation session. “I TOLD you we should have packed a lunch.” Gini is truly the mistress of subtle understatement and highness of hindsight. From start to finish, we just had FUN! We cannot wait to return.

Spring migration has pretty much dwindled in central Florida, although we had hopes of glimpsing Bobolinks as others had reported. Alas, no joy. We did find over 40 species of resident birds, several of which were fully engaged in raising families. Occupied nests of Boat-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were numerous and Common Gallinule chicks littered the marsh. Black-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons were abundant but shy and most of our views were of birds flying low and away from us. A congenial Yellow-crowned Night Heron posed in a flowering Primrose Willow. These are usually found closer to the coast but I guess this one heard about the new drive and wanted to check it out. A few dozen Barn Swallows were very active at one spot with several young birds perched on utility lines being fed by adults who would swoop in and shove a bug in the waiting mouths. We found a couple of Tree Swallows perched with the Barn Swallows, quite late in the season as most sensible Tree Swallows left for their northern home a few weeks ago. Frogs serenaded us all day long. Grunting Pig Frogs seemed to be everywhere and their snuffling was only occasionally interrupted by the deep hum of the Bullfrog. Dragonflies hovered over weed-covered pools and flung their eggs onto the surface. Opportunistic frogs grabbed the vulnerable bugs and were in turn snatched up by hungry herons. The circle of life was vibrant here.

If you get a chance – GO! It’s wonderful now even as our Florida summer approaches. Once fall arrives, so will thousands of wintering shorebirds and tens of thousands of eager birders. No matter the season, this is going to be a fun place for anyone who enjoys nature.

 

The view just inside the entrance gives an idea of what the area looks like.

Lust Road

Lust Road

 

Common Gallinule families were, well, common. New chicks were numerous and there were a few “teen-agers” as well, probably having hatched several weeks ago.

Common Gallinule - Juvenile

Common Gallinule – Juvenile

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule

 

A Little Blue Heron loves frogs’ legs, but also enjoys frogs without legs. This large tadpole has already been “tenderized” by the bird and a split-second later was swallowed whole.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

We saw many Black-crowned Night Herons, but this is about the best look we had as most of them flew away from us at a high rate of speed.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

This Yellow-crowned Night Heron must like the area as it’s in his/her breeding plumage. Yes, we did have to pay it to perch among yellow flowers.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

 

As we neared the actual lake, anything that resembled a tall perch was occupied by an Osprey with breakfast.

Osprey

Osprey

 

Red-winged Blackbird nests were not hard to spot, even for alligators.

American Alligator, Red-winged Blackbird Nest

American Alligator, Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Blooms of all sorts dotted the landscape (“marshscape”?). This Swamp Hibiscus was one of the larger flowers on display.

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

 

Purple Gallinules seem to have two modes: “clown” and “aggressive”. Sometimes the two overlap.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

Male Four-spotted Pennants are quite dark and can appear to be black. The females are brown to orangish in appearance.

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant - Female  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Female (Brachymesia gravida)

 

Needham’s Skimmer females (and immature males) can have a very golden look and it’s sometimes difficult to separate them from Golden-winged Skimmers. Mature males are very bright red-orange (both Needham’s and Golden-winged).

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami(

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami(

 

I was attempting to photograph an Eastern Pondhawk which had been busy laying eggs when it was eaten by this Pig Frog. Sigh. Good models are so hard to find and keep.

Pig Frog (Rana grylio)

Pig Frog (Rana grylio)

 

Young Barn Swallows were being kept company by Tree Swallows as Mom and Dad flew around catching bugs. The youngsters would squawk and flutter their wings as an adult approached and put a bug in their beak on the fly.

Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

 

I’ve seen White Ibises all my life but never noticed that in breeding season they develop an extended gular (throat) pouch. It apparently only lasts a short while.

White ibis

White ibis

 

We counted a half-dozen Black-necked Stilts during the day and judging by the agitated behavior and calls of some they likely have a nest and/or young ones nearby.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

 

Amongst the cattails, baby Boat-tailed Grackles yell for Mom to hurry up with lunch!

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

 

 

Speaking of lunch, Gini started screeching at me to find some – immediately! (Now, you know as well as I do that she has never “screeched” in her life! She isn’t capable of it.) Fortunately, one of our favorite spots was not far away. (Do a computer search for Yalaha Bakery. Go there. Be hungry.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. A new place for y’all to visit! And you don’t even have to be a birder! This is a terrific opportunity for all of us and especially for those of us who may not be physically able to hike a trail or jump on a mountain bike. Nature is just there waiting for us!

 

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

 

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka – North Shore

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

The Trap

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” ~Aldous Huxley

 

I turned the pillow over again. Have I been in bed for an hour? Two? Is the room becoming a bit brighter? If I go through the woods first, I might find some migrant warblers. But it will be too dark under the canopy for good photographs. The trail by the windmill was where I saw that bobcat last year, but lately one has been reported by the lake shore. The open marsh is where the early action will probably be best. It seems it always takes me forever to get there, though, because there’s so much to see along the way. A Sora is a good possibility on that path, as well as an American Bittern. Not to mention Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with babies. The Barred Owl should be along the canal and nests are being built in that area by eagles and herons. It’s cool enough maybe the mosquitoes won’t be horrible. I turned the pillow over one more time.

The drive to Circle B Bar Reserve is less than 30 minutes. Long enough to finish a cup of coffee. Stumbling out of the truck in the almost-darkness of pre-dawn, even MY poor hearing is assaulted by the shrieks of Limpkins announcing the new day. (Limpkin Call) As I stood on the asphalt of the parking lot, a Barred Owl added a bit of tenor to the soprano of the Limpkins. The clear whistle of a Northern Cardinal reminded the world it’s Spring! Shuffling along the path to the marsh I marveled at the beauty of an almost full moon, still bright even as the sun approached the horizon behind me. Sandhill Cranes trumpeted in the distance. Ouch! Mosquitoes. Not horrible, but awake. And hungry. I am easily impressed by Nature and this place is pretty special. Birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, flora – it’s all here in abundance.

Three hours later I came through the front door and after the mushy stuff (that’s guy talk for “romantic greeting involving hugging and kissing”), Gini asked: “So how was the birding?” A pause. “The dragonflies are really showing up now with the warmer weather.” Uh-oh. “Not many birds today?” She doesn’t miss much. “It was good. There seemed to be a lot of activity but I could only come up with 48 species.”

I know. I feel so ashamed.

It’s difficult to visit the Circle B and not have tallied over 50 species, even if you’re only having a picnic. With one eye closed. But that’s not why I felt guilty. I recently chatted with a birder visiting Florida from one of our far northwestern states. His highest single day list was 21 species. Most trips result in single digits. Of course, he was thrilled to be enjoying our birding paradise, but you knew he simply loved birding. As do we all. I have no problem at all being similarly thrilled with each trip, no matter how many birds I “list”. If I should fall into the trap of becoming complacent and bemoaning that I saw “only” 48 species within a couple of hours – I’ll recall that young birder who becomes ecstatic with a dozen!

Highlights of the morning’s stroll about the marsh include: a young Black-crowned Night Heron, a Bald Eagle guarding a nest, a curious Swamp Sparrow who followed me along the trail, a sun-lit Purple Galllinule, the Double-crested Cormorant with the turquoise eyes and a hungry armadillo oblivious to my presence.

 

The Circle B Bar Reserve is on the north shore of Lake Hancock which in some winters hosts up to 4,000 American White Pelicans. This pair was checking out some of the open water areas within the marsh.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

 

Blue-winged Teal don’t mind including a Common Gallinule in their breakfast club. They do have a little different feeding style than the Gallinule.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal, Common Gallinule

Blue-winged Teal, Common Gallinule

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

 

When it’s time to eat, the Tricolored and Little Blue Herons are all serious business.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

This Swamp Sparrow couldn’t figure out what I was and kept flitting in and out of low shrubs along the path almost right beside me. He finally got bored and flew back to where I first saw him.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

 

I keep trying to find a better word than “handsome” to describe the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, but no luck so far.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

 

When viewed in this sitting position, one might never suspect how long the Green Heron’s neck can stretch!

Green Heron

Green Heron

 

The morning sun really enhanced the vibrant colors of the Purple Gallinule. He may have been checking himself out in the reflection.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

An immature Black-crowned Night Heron was busy stalking a frog and I could only get a partial view of her. She’ll soon become the more familiar black and gray color of an adult.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

With a prehistoric look, settlers used to call the Wood Stork “Old Flinthead” due to the gray, stone-like appearance of his head.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

 

(Obligatory alligator image required by state tourism board.) Yes, this American Alligator is sound asleep so you can pet him with no worries. Pay no attention to the smile on his face.

American Alligator

American Alligator

 

At least two pairs of Bald Eagles are nesting within the reserve. This adult was vigorously driving away any bird flying too close to his nest. A pretty good sign there are eggs or young birds in the nest.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

I waited patiently for this Blue-headed Vireo to turn around for a pleasant portrait. Never happened. Sigh. Well, we need to be able to identify birds from the rear, too, don’t we?

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

 

The Double-crested Cormorant may not be the first bird one thinks of as “beautiful”, but those turquoise eyes are stunning! This one was perched in a red maple tree and gave me one chance for a quick shot.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

 

A couple of migrants put in an appearance just before I returned to the parking lot. The Black-and-White Warbler usually feeds like a nuthatch, running down a tree trunk or walking along the underside of a branch. A Pine Warbler can vary from a dull yellow-green to bright yellow and can be distinguished by its face pattern, broken eye-ring, wing bars and white belly and undertail coverts.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

 

Florida’s Nine-banded Armadillo has very poor eyesight but an extremely keen sense of smell. They’re often seen standing on their hind legs sniffing the air. Their powerful claws can dig a substantial hole in short order. This one heard the camera shutter click, gave me a quick glance and returned to his search for brunch. Ho-hum. Paparazzi.

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

 

It was a great day in a wonderful location. I am truly thankful for having been able to identify 48 species of birds within a couple of hours. Please don’t fall into the trap of taking whatever you have for granted!

 

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

 

Additional Information

Circle B Bar Reserve

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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