Posts Tagged With: green heron

Lake Apopka Addiction

“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.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The Anhinga must continually dry its feathers and preen thoroughly to maintain enough water resistance to retain buoyancy while swimming.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle enjoys the sun.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Mottled Duck – Male

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Mottled Duck – Female

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

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.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

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!

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Yalaha Bakery

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

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!

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

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

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