Posts Tagged With: lake apopka wildlife drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (4/4)

(Interceptor Road)

With so much to experience, the passage of time was of little importance. Indeed, the only way we realized it was nearing noon was the increase in temperature. The sun directly overhead combined with our ubiquitous humidity was steaming the wetlands.

The final leg of our tour (see “Additional Information” for link to a map) took us alongside an area of open water, a canal and a commercial sod farm. The latter can be a good area for spotting migrating shorebirds. Late summer, however, found us staring at a lot of nice green grass devoid of bird life. The air space above those fields was a different story!

As summer draws to a close, Swallow-tailed Kites begin forming into migratory groups in preparation for their journey to South America for the winter. These sleek aerialists will return around the second week of February to breed. Watching them twist, turn and dive as they catch flying insects and eat them on the wing is fascinating.

Not to be outdone in the aerobatic department, swallows swooped low above the  sod fields and wetlands scooping up bugs for lunch. We only saw Barn Swallows on this trip but Bank and Northern Rough-winged had recently been reported. Barn Swallows breed in the area and we have had some very enjoyable days watching the never-ending cycle of young swallows begging as the adults trudged back and forth stuffing waiting maws with small winged morsels.

Speaking of babies. We found a bumper crop of Fulvous Whistling-Duck families on the open water today. Little striped balls of fluff were constantly diving as mom and dad watched over them. Also, several new families of Black-necked Stilts were out and about. We watched one pair of adults work with two new youngsters showing them how to forage in the shallow water.

As we neared the exit gate, two events which almost always occur at this point played out again. First, we both sighed deeply and commented that it had been a wonderful morning. We just saw so much! Second, and this is quite rare, Gini whined. Normally, she is more of a “declarative” person, leaving no doubt about what she means. Now, however, it seemed a little girl was looking at me with expectant beautiful brown eyes, pleading:  “Can we go around again?”.

 

The Florida Mottled Duck is one of the only ducks in North America which does not migrate. Populations have been in trouble for over 30 years due to habitat loss, drought and hybridization with introduced Mallards. Biologists are concerned that, with continued hybridization, Florida’s Mottled Duck may become extinct in the not-too-distant future.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A large lens is not very effective for landscape images, but this may give you an idea of what a portion of the wetlands looks like. The Great Blue Heron has declared this green spot is HERS!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

We were fortunate to see several new families of Black-necked Stilts throughout the area. One group was near the road. As we watched, an adult and one juvenile waded about 50 yards away and the adult watched as the new stilt foraged in the shallow water. Closer to us, the second adult did the same with the other juvenile. At one point, a hawk flew overhead and the juvenile instinctively ducked and looked up. The adult let out a call and the young one immediately ran to his side. Nature’s classroom – right in front of us.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Black-necked Stilt – Juvenile

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Black-necked Stilt – Adult

Several families of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were cruising the open water with Mom and Dad keeping watch as the ducklings dove for food, bobbed on the surface, preened and enjoyed the day. And we appreciated it.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Nearing the sod field area, we counted 36 Swallow-tailed Kites, swooping, swirling, soaring, scooping up flying insects. What a display!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

Another spectacular day at Lake Apopka! If you’re in the area, stop by and be impressed.

 

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: , , , , , | 10 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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