Posts Tagged With: double-crested cormorant

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (3/4)

(Laughlin Road)

The mid-morning sun was beginning to remind us that we were in sub-tropical Florida in the summer. It was hot. Driving along at our slow pace (even the Apple Snails were passing us) didn’t create much breeze. We once again gave thanks to the genius who worked out how to install air-conditioning in vehicles.

For almost two miles, the gleaming white ribbon of ground shell road stretched out ahead of us. (Click on the link below for a map and virtual tour of the wildlife drive.) Water on both sides. Old irrigation canals offered channels where alligators, turtles and swimming birds could forage for fish and other aquatic creatures. Shallow water beyond the canals with low-growing trees, reeds and water-loving flora provided perfect cover for a diverse collection of wildlife. Wading birds love the habitat for the great hunting perches. Waterfowl appreciate the protection while feeding and nesting.

As we paused to admire a Great Blue Heron preening, Gini remarked how, at first glance, the flat wet environment looks pretty desolate. If one takes the time to look, really look, there is just an incredible amount of life here. She is so right. (I have become accustomed to saying that.)

I watched a Least Bittern fly across the road and was happily surprised when he landed in a clump of cattails near the car. As I walked nearer, I could hear him “chuckling” at the base of the clump. I hoped he would eventually become visible. While I waited, and as if to underscore Gini’s profound observations moments earlier, at my feet a pair of White Peacock butterflies landed to extract nectar from small flowers. At the edge of the canal, a turtle popped his head above the surface to see if I was a threat. Lifting my head just a bit revealed a Green Heron I hadn’t seen holding perfectly still as his eyes fixated on a meal. An Anhinga swam up the canal with a shad adorning the end of his spear-like bill. Overhead, a pair of Fulvous Whistling-ducks headed for open water.

As I took a photograph of the Green Heron, I became aware of being “watched”. I think the clicking of the camera shutter made the Least Bittern curious, as he had worked his way higher up in the reeds and was peeking at me from the greenery. As I tried not to move, he eventually became bored with me (story of my life) and began to preen. I managed a couple of images before he snuggled back down and out of sight.

The drive along this straightaway was packed with busy birds and creatures! We alternated between hot flashes as we put the windows down to enjoy the sounds all around us and putting them back up to savor the evil luxury of modern cool air.

 

We saw over 200 Common Gallinule during the 11-mile drive. There were dozens of brand new chicks trying to learn the trick of walking on vegetation while looking for food. Within a day of hatching, these black downy puff-balls can swim on their own. Like babies everywhere, they also know how to scream and beg.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Great Blue Herons are the largest of our wading birds. Constant preening is required to keep those beautiful feathers in good shape.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Tricolored Herons run through shallow water, stop and quickly change directions and look like some sort of demented ballerina as they chase small fish. A combination of blue-gray, purple and white give this small heron its name.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

With prominent yellow feet, the Snowy Egret walks along in shallow water, uses a foot to stir up the bottom and snaps up whatever tries to escape.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Excellent swimmers, Double-crested Cormorants can dive quite deep to chase down a fish dinner. Don’t look at those eyes lest you become hypnotized!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

I’m always fascinated how a bird such as this Green Heron can locate prey underneath dense cover. Patience and incredible sight almost always pay off.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

True to its name, the Least Bittern is a very small heron (11-14 in/ 28-36 cm) which likes to hunt from a low perch. Extra long toes allow it to grasp a reed as it lunges into the water with its long neck. Vertical stripes on its underside allow it to point its beak upward and by holding still it resembles the reeds, making it difficult for predators (and birders) to notice.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

In the wetlands, the brunch buffet can be an adventure. A Great Egret selected the fresh catfish this morning. Keeping it is another matter.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

Next up, the final leg of the wildlife drive provides open water, open fields, more babies and aerobatic displays. Don’t miss it!

 

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

 

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Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Rain Falls, Mainly It’s A Pain

I often joke about how being a meteorologist in Florida has to be the easiest job in the world. No matter what time of year, you just say: “Fifty-percent chance of rain.” Collect a paycheck. Repeat.

In our sub-tropical climate, much of the year produces conditions conducive to moisture. Sometimes it rains. A lot. We are currently in the “dry season”. So, naturally, as I glanced at the forecast for the day:  “Fifty-percent chance of rain.” Sigh.

The good news is I planned to only travel about ten minutes from the house, so if I get up and it’s raining, hooray! Back under the covers.

It wasn’t raining.

Lake Parker Park officially opens at 7:00. Sunrise was scheduled (?) for 7:02. Fortunately, I arrived at 6:50 to find a nice welcoming open gate. The sun remained under covers of its own for awhile. When it did peek out from the low clouds, some very nice golden light warmed the shoreline.  The birds don’t care so much about schedules, gates or even the weather. They gotta eat. So there was plenty of activity in the air, on the lake’s surface, in the shallow water, among the reeds and in the trees throughout the park.

Yours truly was thankful for no rain. My outlook on our forecasts is: “Fifty-percent chance of not that much rain.” I’ll take those odds. The morning was mild with only a gentle breeze and a hint of actual coolness to the air. Some trees showed a bit of color and a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks overhead confirmed fall and winter migration is proceeding right on time.

It’s rare that I only spend an hour-and-a-half here, but today I headed home early. When I arrived, Gini was busy threatening some fresh fruit with a very sharp knife. I put the kettle on for coffee. Once the images were processed Gini nodded her approval. We agreed that we continue to be blessed in so many ways.

Hope you enjoy the morning walk. No brolly needed.

 

Sunrise.

Lake Parker Park

 

Cypress trees turn a rusty color during the winter. (An Anhinga is perched at the extreme left.)

Lake Parker Park

 

A quartet of Double-crested Cormorants greet the day from their overnight roost.

Lake Parker Park

 

An immature Bald Eagle soars over the lake in search of a fishy breakfast.

Lake Parker Park

 

Cypress knees are vertical protrusions above the roots of cypress trees. Their function is not really understood. One theory is they help anchor trees growing in saturated soil. Trees growing in well-drained areas do not develop “knees”.

Lake Parker Park

 

I choose to believe this Wood Stork was yawning. The other option would be he was laughing at me, and I just know that couldn’t be possible.

Lake Parker Park

 

The American Coot is extremely common and is usually passed over when it comes to photo ops. I think they are quite handsome in their black plumage, white bills and red eyes.

Lake Parker Park

 

Across a narrow inlet a small cypress tree is bathed with morning sunlight on its right side and bright yellow flowers cover the ground beneath its branches.

Lake Parker Park

 

In the shallows, a Glossy Ibis probes the soft mud for insects, fish and crustaceans.

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park 

An actual autumn leaf! In Florida! Pretty sure it’s a maple species, possibly Florida Maple (Acer saccharum var. floridum) or Red Maple (Acer rubrum).

Lake Parker Park

 

If you go about willy-nilly taking pictures of creatures bathing and preening, expect to receive a nasty glare. Black-crowned Night Heron, disturbed.

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

Rain in the forecast does not mean it won’t be a beautiful day. At worst, the rain will replenish the watershed, bring relief to dry flora and offer a drink to our thirsty wildlife. Where’s the pain in that?

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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