Posts Tagged With: little blue heron

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

Leftovers

It’s time to show you my favorite photographs from blogging during the past year!

Relax. Not really. I already did that to you once. And you were all very kind. Thank you for that!

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know (or strongly suspect) that I’m more of a contrarian than a conformist. So instead of trying to determine which images I liked the best, I shall serve you a heaping dish of leftovers. Scraps. Remains. Dregs. Residue. Leavings. Remnants. Stuff acquired during 2015 which didn’t quite fit into a nice, neat blogging category. Maybe it was a picture from a Sunday drive or a single image from a trip where no other suitable images were made or a snapshot from the back yard.

For those of you who have never participated in that grandest of American feasting holidays, Thanksgiving, I’m sorry. Typically, our extended family (along with friends who we think of as family) meet at a central location and everyone brings food to share. The table is usually overburdened with roast turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, pies, cakes … it’s quite a spectacle. At the end of the day, any food items remaining are parceled out for those who are interested in taking them home. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast turkey on Thanksgiving Day is a turkey sandwich the next day. And to enjoy that sandwich on the edge of a lake with Gini by my side while we count migrating ducks, well, that’s something special.

No sooner had we cleaned out the refrigerator of Thanksgiving leftovers than Christmas arrived. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast ham on Christmas Day is a ham sandwich the next day. And to enjoy it on the edge of a lake…. (you know the rest).

One week later. Happy New Year! Now, although a leftover sandwich made from a standing rib roast is really good (especially to enjoy it on the edge of a lake, etc.), Gini is able to turn the remaining meat and bones into a pot of heavenly harmony affectionately known as “hash”. Originating from the French for “to cut or chop”, Gini’s hash contains the aforementioned remnants of a superb roast, including bones, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and ingredients so secret even the government doesn’t know about them. Just the aroma of her hash being warmed has been known to make grown men weep and Southern Women swoon. It’s that good.

Well, all of the above culinary delights are now but a memory and the food planning calendar contains a lot of salad and bean items. Sigh. Before the glow fades from these fond memories, I offer you a platter of luminous leftovers. Don’t forget your napkin.

Enjoy.

 

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest hawk species in North America and has been observed in an amazing range of plumages. From almost all black to almost all light-colored, the signature brick red tail is usually present in adult birds. Where better to find one of our most beautiful raptors than hiking around all day in summer at – the local landfill. (The sacrifices I make for you all.)

North Central Landfill

Red-tailed Hawk

 

Also known as “traffic warden”, this Eastern Phoebe reminds visitors to get out and walk.

Saddle Creek Park

Eastern Phoebe

 

For those with acute hearing (which would NOT be me), the Sedge Wren readily announces his location. The problem is once you find his location, he usually remains hidden deep within the reeds. This one couldn’t resist taking a peek at the guy in the camouflage shirt which he could CLEARLY SEE. (I must get my money back.)

McKendree Road

Sedge Wren

 

I stooped to new lows this past year to locate damsels in distress. This Variable Dancer remained motionless for a micro-second and a single shutter click captured a gorgeous miniature ballerina.

Mosaic FMA

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

When Little Blue Herons are young, they are white. As the year progresses, they begin to show their slaty plumage bit by bit and it’s common to spot “calico” herons in the marsh. This fellow had an itch and is sporting the latest teen hairdo so popular in today’s heron society.

Lake Gwyn

Little Blue Heron – Immature

 

An artsy moment in which I search for my roots.

Saddle Creek Park

Roots

 

Short-tailed Hawks (Buteo brachyurus) are not common in North America and probably number less than 500 in Florida. This small tropical hawk usually soars quite high (often above vultures) and drops quickly and unexpectedly to capture small songbirds. This is the first one I’ve ever seen perched. There are two forms, light (as pictured) and an all dark morph.

Saddle Creek Park

Short-tailed Hawk

 

A Wood Stork and White Ibis may share a perch but they don’t have to speak to each other.

McKendree Road

White Ibis, Wood Stork

 

Visitors are surprised to learn there are hills and valleys in Florida. Okay, they aren’t very dramatic, but parts of the state are not as flat as most think. This pasture land is only about a half hour from our house and is prime habitat for one of our favorite birds …..

Pasco County

Trilby Road Pasture

 

Burrowing Owls love the open, closely cropped fields found in pastures. Within a couple of square miles of this burrow were eight additional burrows, all with one or two owlets last year. Here, Mom stands guard while the two youngsters begin to explore around the burrow entrance. They quickly learn to use those big eyes to scan the sky often. Hawks eat little owls.

Pasco County

Burrowing Owl

 

It has been amazing to discover the world of dragons! Incredible diversity of colors, expert hunters, dedicated parents, acrobatic fliers – and to think they spend their first three or four years under water! This Roseate Skimmer is one of the more colorful members of the species.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Skimmer – Male (Orthemis ferruginea)

 

The American Redstart is seen in our area only during spring and fall migration. They flash their tails and wings frequently as they move through a tree’s foliage to flush insects from hiding.

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – Female

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – male

 

Although the Sedge Wren above likes to remain hidden, the Marsh Wren aggressively jumps out of the weeds to see who’s invading his territory. A lot of attitude for his size!

Saddle Creek Park

Marsh Wren

 

This immature Wood Stork isn’t as handsome as the adult yet (okay, maybe there’s no difference), but he still can’t help but admire himself as he quenches his thirst.

Banana Lake Park

Wood Stork

 

Almost any visit to the marsh offers a vision in pink overhead. The Roseate Spoonbill is hard to miss in clear sky.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Spoonbill

 

A trip to refill the back yard bird bath revealed a surprise. A Cooper’s Hawk, who usually invites birds to dinner, decided to try squirrel for a change of pace. He was polite enough to wait to begin his meal until I returned with the camera.

Polk County

Cooper’s Hawk

 

Even though the population of the Red-headed Woodpecker has declined significantly over the past 25 years, it has been a bit encouraging to discover they are nesting successfully in good numbers in our area. Hopefully, they will continue to stage a comeback.

Lake Garfield

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Our community hosts a modest farmer’s market every Saturday and it’s a nice way to find locally produced goods. There is often a good selection of organic fruits and vegetables. We even have a train that goes through the center of town. (Much to the chagrin of commuters every day.)

Lakeland Market

Market

Lakeland Market

Tomatoes

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Peaches

Lakeland Market

Pastry

Lakeland Market

Flowers

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Train

 

 

Well, we hope you enjoyed your leftovers this year! I’m already dreaming of Gini’s hash for next year. After such a feast, there’s only one sensible thing to do —

Rolling Woods Lane

Mourning Dove

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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