Posts Tagged With: four-spotted pennant

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

Storm Dodging

My dad didn’t know I was using his long-handled minnow net to scrape along the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to catch crayfish. That changed when I hit an unforgiving root and bent the frame of the net. Fortunately, he was more forgiving than the root and a quick twist of the pliers and the net was as good as new. But I wouldn’t be using it in the drainage ditch anymore, he said.

That was in Miami, Florida about 60 years ago. At about that same time, a towheaded tomboy was busy trying to catch tadpoles in a drainage ditch near Tampa, Florida. Two kids, two drainage ditches, infinite curiosity about nature, 200 miles apart. Who knew fate would bring us together in a music room where love eventually blossomed and is still in full bloom.

Florida summers bring sudden and ferocious thunderstorms with raindrops the size of quarters, earth shaking rumbles and bright streaks of lightning hurled from inky skies. The only thing more frightening than the storm was what would happen to my rear end if my Mother had to call me indoors more than once! Although the storm would usually pass quickly, it was difficult to be patient. I knew the rain would add more water to the drainage ditches which could hold frogs, their thousands of tadpoles, turtles, crayfish and who knew what other wonders!

We are older now and much wiser, with enough sense to remain indoors when a severe storm is brewing —–

NOT!

Why, that’s when all the birds are busy hunting for a last minute meal before the rains begin! We simply MUST be out there with them!

Thus, so it was last Wednesday. About a week ago, as I was traveling to an appointment downtown, I thought I glimpsed a Snail Kite along the shore of Lake Parker. There was too much traffic to stop safely and I was running a bit late so confirmation would have to wait. Until Wednesday. Until gathering storm clouds motivated me to pile Gini and bins and camera into the truck and go hunting. Bingo! There she was, atop a small cypress tree. She didn’t like my slinking around trying to hide behind trees to get close enough for a photo, but she remained in the area and I snapped a few shots for the record and left quickly so she could continue hunting for her escargot lunch. Before the storm.

We decided to check out a couple of the public boat ramp areas on the south and east sides of the lake since the rain had not yet begun. At the south ramp, a pair of Royal Terns were busy criss-crossing the lake in front of us while a young Limpkin extracted an apple snail from its shell. Half a dozen Osprey appeared to be suspended in the sky as they faced into the stiffening wind of the coming storm.  At the east ramp, there are more trees and we found a group of 14 Yellow Warblers feeding voraciously. Along with these migrants were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a couple of Prairie Warblers and a Yellow-throated Warbler. I even got a rare glimpse of a migratory Northern Waterthrush, a bird usually heard but not often seen very well. A couple of woodpeckers and a vireo were scouring the branches of a large oak tree. Along a canal leading to the lake, the soft “chortle” of a Least Bittern led me to the spot where he slowly emerged for exactly one picture before he melted back into the reeds. A young alligator was totally unconcerned about any storms as he was way too busy demonstrating how to relax. In a protected spot, a dragon posed in the sunlight before the storm clouds rolled in.

Gini and I found a small barbeque place that sold us a couple of sandwiches and we parked on the shore of a small lake and enjoyed Nature’s show while we ate. The lake’s surface was whipped into whitecaps, the sky was black as night, thunder rolled, quarter-sized drops hit the windshield and we reminisced about running barefoot in a drainage ditch full of rain water. I am blessed.

Images from before the storm.

 

This lady started it all today. A Snail Kite, endangered due to loss of habitat throughout Florida but, happily, holding their own.

Lake Parker

Snail Kite

 

A Royal Tern enjoys the breeze before the storm rolls in.

Lake Parker

Royal Tern

 

A secretive Least Bittern. In the proper habitat, they are usually heard but prefer to remain deep in the reeds. (It is a smallish heron measuring only 11-14 inches (28-36 cm) in length.) Here is its soft chuckling call:  Least Bittern Call.

Lake Parker Park

Least Bittern

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in Florida but in fall we begin to see numbers of them as migrants head south for the winter.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

A Prairie Warbler can have very subtle or very vivid facial markings. This one is a bit in between the extremes. These birds don’t breed in our area and are only enjoyed during migration.

Lake Parker Park

Prairie Warbler

 

Another migrant, the Northern Waterthrush resembles a member of the thrush family (even bearing the name!) but is actually a warbler. It spends most of its time on the ground or low perches in boggy areas.

Lake Parker Park

Northern Waterthrush

 

This Red-bellied Woodpecker is likely a first-year bird transitioning into adult plumage. Thus the “dirty” face.

Lake Parker Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Small Downy Woodpeckers are common in our area. This female is examining a lichen-covered branch hoping to find a snack.

Lake Parker Park

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Yellow-throated Vireo stopped hunting for a moment to gaze down at the old guy gazing up. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if this is a local or a fall visitor.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

When we drove up to the east side boat ramp area, before we got out of the truck, a gang of Yellow Warblers was very actively feeding in trees adjacent to the parking lot. It was interesting that within the group we spotted brightly colored males, the more subtly hued females and some almost gray looking immature birds.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Storms hold no fear for a dragon! Well, I imagine once the wind and rain begin, this dragon will seek shelter. This is a Four-spotted Pennant and is a young female. As she matures, the spots on each wing will become darker. The bright white stigmas on each wing leading edge and the slender abdomen are diagnostic for this species.

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

 

“Storm? What storm?” Typical alligator attitude.

East Lake Parker

American Alligator

 

We love living in the Sunshine State with its clear bright blue skies most of the year. But when the storms arrive, we still don’t mind dodging the raindrops to find a few birds. And if we happen to spot a drainage ditch full of water, well, these shoes and socks can disappear pretty quick!

 

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

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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