Posts Tagged With: eastern pondhawk

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

Urban Desert Oasis

“Visit today and experience our all-natural park that is popular with cross-country and other runners alike.”

Despite the gracious invitation of the Holloway Park website, running of any sort is not what attracted me to this 362 acre green area. I admire runners greatly. I just choose not to participate. (Okay, I choose not to due to immediate complaints from my feet, knees, hips, back and lungs.)

Surrounded on all sides by constant high-volume traffic and urban development, Holloway Park on Lakeland’s south side offers a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Before 1950, the spot was mined for phosphate. In the ensuing years it was left alone for nature to begin it’s reclamation process. The property owners, Mr. and Mrs. Holloway, generously provided the tract in 2010 for the creation of a natural recreational park. It’s primary attraction has been a venue for running events on most weekends. Given my aforementioned allergy to running, we visit on weekdays.

The park is not huge so it’s easy to walk the nicely maintained paths. There is a small pond, a stream, wetland area and section of mixed hardwood forest to explore. Open fields also attract several species of birds and insects during different times of the year.

This has always been a good spot to find dragonflies and birds and we looked forward to a nice morning. We were not disappointed. Birds were in short supply, but I managed my first decent images of the large darner dragonfly family. As our summer thunderstorm schedule is producing rain and lightning earlier in the day lately, we cut our visit a bit short as dark clouds began to blot out the light and large drops threatened to knock the cap off my head.

 

A beautiful female Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) soaks up the early sun to help dry her wings.

Holloway Park

 

One of our most abundant dragonfly species, a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) , looks a little worse for wear as wings show the effects of flying through the brush, mating and/or territorial combat.

Holloway Park

 

Very soon, many of our song birds, like this Northern Parula, will be departing for their southern migration destinations.

Holloway Park

 

Finally! I had hoped to find a darner today, and did! This gorgeous Blue-faced Darner (Coryphaeschna adnexa) was hanging around waiting for the morning sun to cause potential prey to become active. These dragons can reach 2.75 inches (70 mm) in length and normally fly continuously during daylight. I caught this one before its daily schedule started. (Thank you, Richard Pegler, Pegler Birding, for handing me a metric ruler to correct an error! – Visit his beautiful website when you have a chance!)

Holloway Park

 

Spider webs throughout the park were loaded with dew and resembled nets, ready to snag any errant bug which stumbled into the trap.

Holloway Park

 

Smaller than any other North American dragonfly, the female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) has black spots on her wings whereas the males have clear wings.

Holloway Park

 

A long and slender abdomen help identify the Pin-tailed Pondhawk (Erythemis plebeja).

Holloway Park

 

To paraphrase the great Ogden Nash, moulting is pretty revolting. That may explain the grumpy look from a Northern Cardinal.

Holloway Park

 

This male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) simply refused to look my direction, but even from this angle, his bright blue and yellow is stunning.

Holloway Park

 

Perched over water, a male Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) guards his territory and remains alert for a potential meal.

Holloway Park

 

Holloway Park is not vast, not famous and on weekends may be filled with people running for no apparent reason. However, it can truly be an oasis of relief for anyone wishing to escape the daily grind. If you are fortunate enough to have such a place where you live, go – breathe easy – observe nature, and, if you must, go for a run. I’ll sit here and cheer for you.

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

 

Additional Information

Holloway Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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