Posts Tagged With: green heron

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: