Posts Tagged With: lake apopka

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

The Potato Eating Place

Windows. Holes in a building which invite air and light to come inside. Functional. They have the additional benefit of allowing us to gaze outside our buildings once in awhile. Some progressive architects and engineers realized that with conditioned air and artificial light, windows were obsolete as practical devices. So we have office buildings, factories, schools and dwellings with no hint of natural light intruding within or any chance of breathing fresh air and certainly no worry of an accidental breeze falling on one’s cheek. Peering out at the blue sky or catching sight of a tree – now, you wouldn’t want to be distracted would you?

Gini and I have been quite fortunate to have lived in several different locales over the past few decades. In each area we discovered unbelievable beauty and found some truly ugly sights as well. One of our most delightful discoveries was in a small village in Germany. Our search for a place to live took us to a cobblestone street lined with a hodgepodge of quaint cottages, whitewash-covered block buildings and combination storefront/dwellings. Each shared a common feature. Window boxes overflowing with a profusion of flowers. On the other side of the double-paned glass, sills were packed with all manner of containers stuffed with greenery. Ferns, ivies, begonias, orchids, cacti. All of this flora was typically framed in lacy looking curtains neatly pulled back as if each window was vying for some sort of prize. This street was not unique. More than once, we were gently informed the windows of a home reflected the character, or even the soul, of the inhabitants. Needless to say, we spent a fortune on pots and fertilizer during our stay!

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit a birding spot near the town of Apopka, Florida. In the center of the state, agriculture has long been a major source of economic activity here. It has alternately been dubbed the “Fern City” and “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World”. Growing conditions here in the sub-tropical climate are quite conducive to producing plants which thrive within buildings.

The town is adjacent to Lake Apopka, Florida’s third largest lake. Evidence indicates humans existed along the lake’s shore as long ago as 15 B.C. Since then, various Indian tribes have lived in the area, including the Seminole in the 1700-1800’s. The name “Apopka” likely comes from the Creek/Seminole words “Aha” (potato) and “Papka” (eating place). In the mid-1800’s, European settlers moved into the area with land grants from the government in exchange for developing the land. Many crops thrived and the area did well economically. Too well. Agricultural business developers saw the potential and over the next 100 years abused the land and in the 1970’s once-vibrant Lake Apopka was declared the country’s most polluted lake. Efforts to reclaim the lake have been successful. Today it is well on the way toward returning to one of the most beautiful and wildlife rich environments in the state.

The entire northwest shore of Lake Apopka has been turned into a system of hiking trails and years of sound management practices have resulted in this being a premier birding spot. Our trip today was motivated by recent sightings of two Groove-billed Ani, a little unusual for this location and it would be a life bird for me. Well, the Ani apparently had an appointment elsewhere, but as often happens, Nature offers outstanding consolation prizes for those who participate. We saw 55 species during a two mile walk and the special highlights include:  Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, White-crowned Sparrows, four Painted Buntings, what may be a migrant Western Red-tailed Hawk (immature) and a very uncommon (for this time and place) Nashville Warbler. On the way home, we stopped in at Lake Minneola in nearby Clermont and found several dozen Lesser Scaup, about a dozen Bufflehead and an assortment of terns and gulls to round out a spectacular day.

From lush agricultural paradise to pollution nightmare to reclamation success story – The Potato Eating Place is worth a visit any time!

The star of the show today was the diminutive but beautiful Nashville Warbler. (He’s supposed to be in Central America right now.)

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

 

A couple of migratory White-crowned Sparrows played hide-and-seek before finally consenting to give us a decent view.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

 

We heard the clear whistle of Eastern Towhees all day but only got a clear shot of this pretty female.

Eastern Towhee - Female

Eastern Towhee – Female

 

Eastern Towhee - Female

Eastern Towhee – Female

 

Male Painted Buntings are hard to miss. They look like they fell onto an artist’s palette and rolled around. The females are overall greenish in color and blend in with just about everything.

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male

 

This Red-tailed Hawk was quite different than what we normally encounter in central Florida and resembles images of young western species. No reddish color to the tail (typical of immature birds), heavily marked underparts, dark throat. A gorgeous raptor no matter where it came from!

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 

A female Bufflehead was busily diving and I could only get one shot of her briefly resting on the surface. I’ve been trying for some time to get a decent shot of the handsome male. I’m still waiting – the males remained in the middle of the lake.

Bufflehead - Female

Bufflehead – Female

 

Lesser Scaup are Florida’s most numerous winter ducks. When the sun strikes their head the colors range from brown to green to purple.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

 

Forster’s Tern is sleek and fast. During breeding season their heads will be completely black.

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern

 

A Ring-billed Gull rests before continuing the hunt for lunch. These are second in numbers only to the Laughing Gull in our area.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

 

Our natural world is filled with wonderful things to experience. As a species, we continue to abuse our environment and once in awhile we succeed in reversing the process. Whether it’s a window box of flowers, a reclaimed wetland, a national park or just a “potato eating place” – find something beautiful in your life for which to be thankful.

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information:

Northwest Lake Apopka Restoration Area

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – Lake Apopka, Clay Island

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail – Lake Apopka, North Shore

 

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

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