Posts Tagged With: northern parula

Winter Preview

I was doing my best to create man-made global warming, and I didn’t feel at all guilty about it. Okay, so it was actually “automobile warming”. As a Floridian who birds mostly in, well, Florida, I don’t get a chance to complain about cold weather too often. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from doing so when the occasion arises.

The occasion arose a couple of weeks ago. We experienced our first actual cold front and naturally just knew it would blow in all sorts of migrants. So, off to Lake Apopka!

We write about this area often because it is just so unique. Thousands of birds, diverse species, native flora and fauna – and if you want, you can enjoy it all from the comfort of your vehicle! For someone with physical limitations, this is a wonderful opportunity. The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is about 11 miles in length, winds through expansive wetlands and many birds are literally right outside your window!

The thing is, it would have been so simple to keep the heater running and casually motor through the area sipping hot chocolate and leisurely commenting: “Oh, look, ANOTHER Peregrine Falcon.” It seems we are not built that way. For the full experience, one must use all the senses to appreciate what nature has to offer. This is true for any venue.

So, down went the windows and we strained to hear the whinny of a Sora ten miles distant or a Marsh Wren scolding from the Alligator Weed alongside the canal. We were cold. The low temperatures were exacerbated by near gale force winds and bits of mist that soaked your face as soon as you gazed the wrong direction. Plus, we frequently exited the car and explored paths away from the main road. This gave us the illusion we were really “birding” instead of just riding in the car.

(If you are in the market for a vehicle and plan to go birding anywhere it may be cold, three words: “Individual. Seat. Heaters.”)

Estimates for the day included nearly 10,000 American Coot; over 5,000 Common Gallinule; hundreds of Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail and Ring-necked Duck; a smattering of American Widgeon, Gadwall and Green-winged Teal; a couple of Canvasback and even a rarish Cinnamon Teal. Throw in wading birds, song birds, shore birds, raptors (including the aforementioned uncommon Peregrine – a pair!) – and it didn’t take long to almost not notice how wet and cold we were!

The wildlife drive is on the east side of Lake Apopka. We also visited two small parks on the south side of the lake where we found a few surprises. Links to all three places we traveled are below under “Additional Information“.

 

A gray face and collar, reddish brown wings, a bit of yellow at the base of its bill – a Swamp Sparrow mostly remained in heavy brush. Probably to keep warm!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The male Painted Bunting looks like it fell onto an artist’s palette and rolled around. They are not extremely common and it is a treat to see that ball of color flitting about gathering seeds. Later in the day at Oakland Nature Preserve, we spotted a female. Not as gaudy as a male, it’s easy to see why many call her a “greenie”.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Oakland Nature Preserve

 

Plumages of many shorebirds and waders help them blend perfectly with their surroundings. Of course, once this Greater Yellowlegs shows off his bright legs, it’s tough to remain hidden.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The Peregrine Falcon is a rare sighting for me. They don’t breed in Florida so our only chance to spot one is during migration. We saw a pair almost immediately after entering the wildlife drive, chasing one another at Mach 3. About an hour later, I found one perched by the side of the road. I try to avoid photos of raptors on utility lines, but in this case I made an exception. What magnificent creatures!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

I am a Florida native and grew up fishing all across central and south Florida. Everywhere I fished, the Great Blue Heron fished. I have seen them try to eat a lot of things. Today was the first time I watched one eat an alligator.

Four-step process: 1. Make sure the ‘gator is dead. 2. Get the head pointing toward the back of your throat. 3. Try to flatten out the critter as much as possible. 4. Toss your head back and swallow. (Hot sauce optional.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Let’s face it. Few birds have attitudes similar to a wren. They are fearless. Quick to jump out at any disturbance. Vocal about anything in their territory. The Marsh Wren only visits us in the winter and we are better for it. Did I mention they are adorable?

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Speaking of cute. We counted nearly 100 Pied-billed Grebe for the day. That’s a lot of little fluffy butts turned up as they dive for a meal.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Expert waders and stalkers, the Snowy Egret’s “golden slippers” at the ends of her black legs provide a perfect contrast for those white airy feathers.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

When you first gaze out across some of the more dense vegetation of the wetlands, you soon become aware the whole surface seems to be moving. Through the binoculars, an amazing variety of life comes into focus. If not for her powder-blue namesake, this Blue-winged Teal is nearly invisible.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Talk about camouflage! The Wilson’s Snipe could sit still and it would be easy to walk right by him. Which I suspect has happened more than I would like to admit. Once they take off in an explosion from under your boot – adrenaline happens!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

After lunch, we visited Owens Park on the south side of Lake Apopka. It’s a community park perfect for picnics, fishing from a pier and launching a boat. This uncommon Snail Kite found it a perfect spot to find Apple Snails.

Newton Park

 

Also at Owens Park, a Bronzed Cowbird foraged with a flock of Boat-tailed Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds. The bluish wings and tail along with its red eyes help it to stand out as “something different”.

Newton Park

 

A bit further south and west we found the Oakland Nature Preserve. A well-maintained boardwalk allows visitors to enjoy stands of hardwood which give way to cypress swamp on the way to the shore of Lake Apopka.

The female Painted Bunting above was with a group of Tufted Titmice, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

 

Along the boardwalk, a Brown Thrasher kept a wary golden eye on us.

Oakland Nature Preserve

 

The iridescence of a Common Grackle adds to the color of Red Maple leaves.

Oakland Nature Preserve

 

A small Northern Parula dropped by to see what we were up to.

Oakland Nature Preserve

 

Almost back to the parking lot, a sleepy Barred Owl was roused (but not much) by the clicking shutter of my camera.

Oakland Nature Preserve

 

Fall migration is essentially finished. Winter is making itself at home in many parts of the country. No matter the season, get out and enjoy a walk (or a drive in a warm car!) to see what nature has to show you.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Newton Park

Oakland Nature Preserve

 

P.S.

In many areas, volunteers are helping out with the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. If you have never participated, find a group near you and spend a day counting our feathered friends. At this time in history, accurate recording of their numbers may be more vital than ever before. Thank you!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Patching Things Up

“The greater effort you expend the more rewarding will be your results.” I’m sure they didn’t use those words, but our parents made certain we understood the concept. Their parents drilled it into them that hard work would provide what they need to survive. Thanks to my genius in marrying well, Gini was successful in raising our two children with those same values. We are infinitely proud to see those traits being passed along to grandchildren.

Birders exhibit similar behavior. If we drive for hours, hack through the bush with our machete, tip-toe across the swamp on the snouts of alligators, fight off hordes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and arrive in a clearing just as the sun is about to peek above the horizon – well, naturally we will be amply compensated for all that effort by having the best day ever of birding, replete with a diverse number of rarities never before observed by mortal bird-watchers!

You get the idea.

In all our fervor to explore distant venues and chase those elusive “lifers”, it’s easy to forget about what’s close to home. Our “Patch”. Sure, it may not produce some exotic sighting or allow one to tick off a hundred species in half an hour, but it’s just ten minutes away. No machete needed.

I arrived at Lake Parker Park just as the sun was about to peek above the horizon (that sounds familiar) and the moon was sinking in the western sky. I’ve developed a loosely defined pattern over the years in which I check the reeds near the boat ramp first for Least Bitterns, hike north along the shoreline, follow a canal westward, check the big oak trees in the open park area, peek into the shallow pond by the soccer fields, scan the soccer fields for ground-feeders, check the tall light supports for raptors, probe a row of mulberry trees and then back to the parking lot. A couple of miles, a couple of hours.

Sometimes, as with birding anywhere, there are surprises. Always, there is satisfaction.

 

I was glad a hand-held shot with the 600mm lens produced a passable image of a not-quite-full moon as it neared the horizon.

Lake Parker Park

 

As fall migration ramps up, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher forms into groups, sometimes with other species, and it is common to see several in one trip. (Today’s total was 28.)

Lake Parker Park

 

Like an old friend returning home, the tail-pumping Palm Warbler began arriving in small numbers last week. Soon, they will be everywhere and birders will be exclaiming: “Uhh, just another Palm!” Although easily dismissed due to their profusion and relatively plain appearance, they are among my favorite birds.

Lake Parker Park

 

An Anhinga dries its wings before another plunge into the lake for more breakfast.

Lake Parker Park

 

Similar to the Palm Warbler, the Eastern Phoebe (also a tail-pumper) is returning to the area and is a welcome sight. Many of these small flycatchers will remain here all winter while most of their relatives will continue on to South America.

Lake Parker Park

 

A year-round resident, the Red-shouldered Hawk is our most abundant raptor. This one was very upset that I passed under HER tree. She circled me three times yelling the whole time before returning to the same branch once I had moved along.

Lake Parker Park

 

Like soldiers on a mission, a group of White Ibis marched across the park lawn constantly probing the soft ground.

Lake Parker Park

 

Male American Redstarts are hard to miss with their inky black feathers highlighted with bright orange. The female is more subdued in her gray cloak with tasteful yellow markings.

Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker Park

 

Whoa! Something different! This was only the third time I’ve seen a Black-throated Blue Warbler. A handsome male who finally remained still long enough for a snapshot.

Lake Parker Park

 

In past years, it has been uncommon to see very many Magnolia Warblers. This season, quite a few have been reported around the county. I was happy to catch a glimpse of this colorful migrant.

Lake Parker Park

 

Although not uncommon, it is always a treat to see the colorful male Northern Parula. As winter progresses, they will disappear until spring.

Lake Parker Park

 

A nice walk, a beautiful morning, lots of bird activity, fresh migrants, old friends. All only ten minutes from the front door. As you plan your next birding adventure up the peak of Mt. Fuji, don’t forget your local patch!

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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