Posts Tagged With: northern harrier

Sunday Drive

Once upon a time, there were two families. They lived almost 300 miles from each other. One family had six children, the other had four. Once a week, on Sunday, their routines were remarkably similar. The day began early with lots of bustling about, having a quick breakfast together, checking skirts, shirts and ties. Church was a big deal. Although a pew was not reserved, each of these families always seemed to occupy the same respective one every week. Trying to keep that many young children attentive during a long sermon must have been a challenge. A “shushhh” from Mother or a loud “Hallelujah!” from the minister was usually enough to keep us all in line. The ultimate silencer, though, would be “The Look” from Dad. None would dare make a peep or continue to fidget after THAT!

Back home, the first priority was to get out of those Sunday clothes! The two Mothers performed their ritual weekly magic and a huge lunch always appeared on the large family dining table. A roast beef and mashed potatoes, a baked ham with apple sauce or mounds of spaghetti. After such a feast, a short nap was in order. Well, our duty as kids was to fight taking naps with a vengeance, so we usually found something to keep us busy while the old folks snoozed. (Funny how now that WE are the old folks, we would love to have a nap!)

About mid-afternoon, both families would pile into the car again for “The Sunday Drive”. There was usually no actual destination for these drives but they usually involved getting “out in the country”. About the time the kids started becoming obnoxious (“She’s TOUCHING me!!”), Dad would say something like “Who wants ice cream?”. Riot control extraordinaire.

Gini and I have often marveled how similar our childhood memories are.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on a Sunday Drive.

We visited Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. Visit the link below for information on exploring Lake Apopka. The 11 mile wildlife drive always seems to offer something wonderful. Today was no exception.

 

It’s fall and migration is in progress. A flock of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks soars over the marsh in search of a protective spot to rest.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Palm Warblers are among the first wood warblers to arrive each season and we saw well over three dozen of the active little birds during the day.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Squawking his displeasure at us interrupting his hunting, a Great Egret flapped to another area where he hopes for more privacy.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This immature Red-shouldered Hawk paid no attention to us at all as his gaze was fixed on a water snake for breakfast. He grabbed the snake and flew directly into the bright sun, so no photo of him with his prize.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Autumn means the return of one of our favorite raptors, the Northern Harrier. The owl-like face, long tail and checkered wing pattern combined with a low, lilting flight just above the marsh make this hunter a joy to watch.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Rich colors of the Green Heron help it to blend with the surrounding vegetation as it patiently stalks prey such as small fish, frogs, lizards and snakes.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Watching a Great Egret preen, we are reminded how hunters almost decimated the species as they harvested the beautiful long feathers (aigrettes) for ladies’ hats.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Blooms of the water lily decorated a few spaces of open water.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal are likely migrants as the species typically does not spend the whole year in central Florida.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This Fulvous Whistling-Duck appears to be peeved that I’m taking his portrait.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A large lake bordered by a vast expanse of marsh interspersed with canals makes excellent habitat for the American Alligator. We observed many dozens. They, in turn, observed us.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Several species of freshwater turtles call this area home. Here, a Peninsula Turtle lounges on a limb and soaks up a little sunshine.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

When bees are covered in pollen identification (for me) becomes difficult.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Gaining altitude over the wetlands, an immature Bald Eagle almost looks “dirty”. This is probably a third-year bird and this time next year she should be decked out in fresh white and black plumage.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

There are many variations of the Stink Bug and I think this one is a Brown Stink Bug (Euschistus sp.). Most members of this insect family can damage a wide variety of crops.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Don’t tell this Common Gallinule he’s common. I did and he took offense.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The bill of this small diving bird provides a clue to how it got its name, Pied-billed Grebe. (Gini calls them “fuzzy butts”. Call the ornithological union.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Throughout the marsh there are plenty of snags from which hunters such as the Little Blue Heron can perch and scan below for a meal.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

One of the largest and most efficient of hunters, the Great Blue Heron, is not only magnificent to look at but is also amazing to observe as it hunts a huge variety of prey.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Another early migrant, the American Bittern, specializes in camouflage. When it stands motionless in front of reeds and holds its head toward the sky, it can become almost invisible.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Florida residents. Paper wasps are common and if you don’t provide the respect they deserve you will receive a painful reminder to keep your distance!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday Drive. Just as I started to get a bit fidgety, Gini said there was ice cream ahead! Turned out to be grilled German sausage and apple pie. Just as good!

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Additional Information:

Lake Apopka North Shore

 

Postscript

On the way home from our Sunday Drive, we received a phone call. Help was needed. We went home, packed and headed north.

On October 10th, Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm very near my brother’s home. As the storm churned northeastward, it passed directly over the homes of two of Gini’s brothers. Thankfully, all three families had evacuated and received no injuries. Property damage was extensive, unfortunately, and it will be awhile before things return to normal.

We helped in our small way by providing some food and cleaning up a seemingly infinite number of downed tree limbs. Other family members pitched in with financial aid and helped as they were able.

Safely back home, we are thankful for all we have and, for awhile, will try not to take what we have for granted.

Life is good. Enjoy it!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Bosque del Apache – 3

“Red, please.” The waitress topped off my mug with more steaming coffee and I had provided her with the answer to the most important question asked at all “authentic” New Mexican eateries:  “Green or red sauce?”.

Earlier, my son and I decided to delay breakfast and arrived at the “Flight Deck” pond about an hour before sunrise in order to get a choice spot along the shoreline in the hope of photographing Snow Geese as they awoke and took off from the surface. The temperature reading on the car’s dashboard said 11 F (-12 C). We were starting to fall into nature’s local rhythm. As the eastern horizon began to lighten we could make out long lines of birds beyond the hills. The distant sky turned blue, then pink, then as the sun was just below the line of mountains it seemed as if the edge of the earth was on fire!

With the growing light, hundreds of Snow Geese less than 50 yards in front of us began to stir and chatter. The long lines of birds we had seen in the distance had now grown to a cloud extending from the far eastern horizon to almost over our heads. The cackling of tens of thousands of geese obscured any other sounds of the new day. Geese on the pond increased the volume of their calling suddenly and significantly. The snow storm of birds in the sky flew in a wide arc and circled over our pond once and moved off to the west in one huge flapping jabbering mass. All at once, hundreds of geese sprang from the water in front of us, seemingly straight up, incredibly loud and flew at first southward, then circled back low over the pond and then westward to join the huge flock still passing overhead. Now, silence and an empty lake.

Familiar with the routine, we packed up and headed for the South Crane Pool where we knew several thousand Snow Geese would be staging before flying to local corn fields to feed for the rest of the day. It was good to be in the warm cocoon of the car. I had dressed warmly but operating two cameras for more than an hour with one glove removed took its toll. The Crane Pool – grab the gear!

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge once again provided a simply outstanding start to a magnificent day!

As the Snow Geese departed the South Crane Pool on schedule, my son and I decided to head about 40 minutes north to the Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area. We had heard this is where large numbers of Sandhill Cranes spend the day. On the way, we stopped in Socorro for a late breakfast. I opted for the “small” burrito with eggs. A very large platter arrived with two pork-stuffed burritos, two scrambled eggs, a huge portion of pinto beans, salsa and you already know what kind of sauce covered all of the above.

Sufficiently warmed by chiles and coffee, we found thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at the Bernardo management area. After exploring the small refuge for a couple of hours we returned to Bosque del Apache and wandered around the desert garden at the visitor’s center. There we found a terrific diversity of birds, plant life and a begging bunny. The afternoon found us on the North Loop again where we were dazzled by the amount of wildlife and spectacular scenery. As the sun began to set, the low angle of light provided an entirely different perspective to the landscape.

We remained until dark and returned to the hotel once again deliriously exhausted.

A few of our memories follow.

 

About 40  minutes before sunrise, Snow Geese resting on the “Flight Deck” pond. From this angle you can only see a small part of nearly a thousand birds who spent the night here.

Bosque del Apache

 

Ten minutes after dawn and just after a fly-over of tens of thousands of geese, the Snow Geese in front of us “blast off” to join the massive airborne flock.

Bosque del Apache

 

Thirty minutes after sunrise, hundreds of Snow Geese – and one Northern Shoveler – rest at the South Crane Pool before leaving in small groups to search for corn fields where they will spend the day feeding.

Bosque Del Apache

 

As large numbers of geese take off from the Crane Pool, the noise and motion is exciting to witness!

Bosque Del Apache

 

Our post-breakfast destination, Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area. Here we found thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and even a few other species, such as a Spotted Towhee.

Bernardo WMA

Bernardo WMA

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area

 

Returning to Bosque del Apache, we discovered a small group of Green-winged Teal feeding at the South Crane Pool and I managed a long-distance shot of a male.

Bosque Del Apache

 

A stop at the visitor’s center was informative (wonderful staff!) and we really enjoyed the well-maintained desert garden where we saw:

A Verdin, the only North American member of the Penduline Tit family.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Panhandler rabbit, obviously used to getting a treat from tourists. You can tell from his frown what he received from us. (Our thanks for posing!)

Bosque Del Apache

 

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, only recently (2016) named a separate species from the California Scrub Jay.

Bosque Del Apache

 

I had never seen a Gambel’s Quail and was stumped when we heard one calling. Once we discovered who the sound belonged to, we were quite surprised!

Bosque Del Apache

 

Back to the main refuge, we set off around the North Loop again. Almost immediately, we came across a Greater Roadrunner. Fantastic desert birds!

Bosque Del Apache

 

No matter where I see them, the Red-tailed Hawk is simply a magnificent raptor!

Bosque Del Apache

 

Since I am a native of sub-tropical flat Florida, I was easily impressed by the arid mountain landscape.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Speaking of easily impressed, I am always fascinated watching raptors hunt. This hen Northern Harrier glided over the grass, subtly changing direction by a small shift in tail or wing position. Gracefully elegant!

Bosque Del Apache

 

My first Mountain Chickadee!

Bosque Del Apache

 

My first White-breasted Nuthatch!

Bosque Del Apache

 

My first Steller’s Jay! (Sensing a pattern yet?)

Bosque Del Apache

 

I had no sooner uttered the phrase: “That smells like a skunk”, than my son pointed out the source. A Striped Skunk rooting through the leaves less than 100 feet from us. We “carefully” took a few photos before retreating to a safer distance.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes and a variety of ducks enjoy the corn grown throughout the refuge and surrounding areas.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Almost sunset. The low angle of the sun lit up the cottonwood trees at the “Flight Deck” pond giving it an entirely different look than we saw before dawn this morning. Soon, Snow Geese will begin settling in for another chilly night.

Bosque Del Apache

 

One more image as the sun’s last rays brush against a mountain peak.

Bosque Del Apache

 

 

Tomorrow will be our final day. Tonight, a hot meal, a hot shower, a long talk with my lady who I am missing terribly and lights out. See you in the morning.

 

Additional Information

Bosque del Apache NWR

Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR

Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area

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

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