“Are you sure you don’t mind? We were just there a couple of weeks ago.” We are blessed to have many potential great birding destinations within a fairly reasonable driving distance. Having said that, we seem to gravitate toward some spots more often than others. Lake Apopka is one of those “special” places.
Once again, I found myself on the receiving end of “The Look“. How can such an attractive face launch such a devastating glance?
“Besides”, Gini reminded me, “we can have lunch at Yalaha.” That in itself was motivation. Yalaha, Florida is a small (population ca. 1400) village not far from Lake Apopka which is the home of Yalaha German Bakery. Equipment imported from Europe, old country methods, no preservatives, fresh breads, tortes, kuchen, brotchen… And a small delicatessen serving German sausage, kraut, potato salad, gulasch … And music at an outdoor patio …
Oh. Where was I? Birding. Yes, we decided to go birding.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive takes one through 11 miles of extensive wetlands adjacent to Lake Apopka, Florida’s fourth-largest lake (+30,000 acres). More and more, we’re treating this as a drive-and-walk as we see so much by combining the driving with a bit of footwork.
The car does perform well at times as a blind and many of the resident birds have become accustomed to the traffic so one can get quite close to a subject. Walking along the canal banks or the road adjacent to the wetlands provides a different perspective. Tracking birds flying overhead becomes simpler, a closer inspection of reeds can reveal a partially hidden Marsh Wren or Least Bittern. Snakes, frogs, turtles and an incredible collection of insects are easily missed when driving but more likely observed when walking slowly (which is my normal speed).
Once again, we marveled at the astounding diversity of life we encountered! It took us almost six hours to cover only 11 miles and even at that, Gini whined — uhh, I mean she suggested we go around one more time. We opted to head for Yalaha and lunch. Currywurst and kraut under shady oak trees. Stocking up on a few goodies for later, we motored home and consoled ourselves that all of this was only an hour away when next we needed to feed our Lake Apopka addiction.
By the entrance gate, we found a bird that likely would have been missed if not for using that walking strategy. A small Grasshopper Sparrow blends in so well with the foliage it would have remained invisible if it hadn’t moved. (This is a migratory northern bird as opposed to one of Florida’s endemic sub-species, which are uncommon and found in different habitat.)
The shallow waters of much of the wetlands attracts many shorebirds and waders. Here, a Greater Yellowlegs heads over the marsh to join a couple dozen of its closest friends for breakfast.
A pair of Blue-winged Teal display the wing patches for which the bird is named. A single male looks quite handsome in the morning sun.
Overhead, a flock of Fulvous Whistling-ducks searched for a suitable landing spot. Several hundred of these large tan ducks were present this morning. A few even posed for a portrait.
The Anhinga must continually dry its feathers and preen thoroughly to maintain enough water resistance to retain buoyancy while swimming.
Based on overall plumage and eyes that appear more orange than red, this is likely a second year Black-crowned Night Heron. The long white plumes on the head are present during breeding season.
Native to Asia and the Middle East, the Gray-headed Swamphen (Porphyrio poliocephalus) has found Florida to its liking. Unintended releases in the mid-1990’s resulted in a population being established in southeast Florida. The species has gradually expanded and the ones we saw at Lake Apopka may be the northernmost limit for the Florida group to date.
A Florida Red-bellied Turtle enjoys the sun.
This Red-shouldered Hawk is an immature bird very close to adulthood. Remnants of the vertical tear-drop breast plumage is transitioning into the horizontal reddish barring indicative of the adult.
It is increasingly difficult to identify “true” Mottled Ducks with certainty due to extensive hybridization with Mallards. This pair seems to exhibit all Mottled Duck traits.
How enjoyable to observe animals as they hunt! The Green Heron locates her prey, patiently waits … and … plunges through the weeds. Success! It may be a small minnow but it is essential for survival.
When a duck takes a bath, it is often followed by a glorious wing-flap to help dry the feathers. When I point a camera at a duck engaging in this behavior, chances are excellent there will be a nearby coot who can’t wait to “photo-bomb” my masterpiece. This series of a female Ring-necked Duck was typical of my efforts.
Our Apopka addiction was temporarily sated. A lunch at our favorite German bakery was a great exclamation point on the day! We are already plotting our return to both.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!