Posts Tagged With: peregrine falcon

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

Fall In The Outfall

Once more I swiped the lenses of my binoculars in a futile attempt to dry the moisture of our early morning humidity. They immediately fogged up again. I was scanning the marsh before dawn hoping to spot a light-colored shape coasting just above the reeds. Two years ago a Barn Owl had materialized from a fog bank and just as quickly disappeared. To say they are uncommon in this area is a gross understatement.

Our last visit to Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands was in mid-September (Doldrums) and it was hot and humid. There was an abundance of mosquitoes. Now it’s late fall, winter is almost here. It’s hot and humid. There is an abundance of mosquitoes.

Although the weather was very similar, the birding was quite different. In September our total species tally was 40 and this time it increased to 56. Much of the difference was due to fall migration. Ducks, raptors and warblers really like the marsh habitat. I didn’t see the Barn Owl this morning, but was amply rewarded with six duck species, stilts, avocets, harriers, eagles, warblers, sparrows and a speedy falcon.

Enjoy the marsh.

 

Even the Black-necked Stilts had a hard time opening their little red eyes this morning. That blanket of warm fog was really comfortable.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt

 

Nothing like having unexpected guests for breakfast. This poor stilt had Long-billed Dowitchers drop in – literally – to his dining room.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Dowitcher

 

The dour dowitchers paddled around noisily and stabbed at the water a bit and flapped off into the marsh. They didn’t even offer to wash the dishes.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Long-billed Dowitchers

 

A dainty American Avocet is either wading up to her waist or floating or swimming in water deeper than that to which she is accustomed.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

American Avocet

 

I didn’t do very well at photographing a Peregrine Falcon cruising the shore for bagels and ducks. Any hints on how to slow these bullets down a bit for a portrait?

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Peregrine Falcon

 

This is not the only bare tree in the whole marsh, but it sure has something attractive to Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants. I had the impression this might be Mother Nature’s version of a Christmas Tree.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant

 

Open water areas of the wetlands were filled with ducks today. Well represented were Northern Shovelers. This female trio kept a nervous eye on the skies. A good idea, what with falcons and eagles darting about.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Northern Shoveler

 

American White Pelicans gather on and around Lake Hancock during the winter and some years can number in the thousands. I counted about 80 this morning as they flew in small groups from their roost within the wetlands to the lake for a day of fishing.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

American White Pelican

 

It seems everywhere we go this year, we see high numbers of Eastern Phoebes. It’s warmer than normal so far this fall so many may be lingering here instead of continuing on to South America. Hope they don’t get caught in a sudden freeze.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Eastern Phoebe

 

Large size and bright red bill are diagnostic for the Caspian Tern, largest tern in North America.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Caspian Tern

 

A bit of shade is provided to a Black-necked Stilt by a Great Egret. He isn’t called “Great” for no reason!

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Black-necked Stilt, Great Egret

 

One of the only moths in Florida to be active throughout daylight hours is the brightly colored Bella. It’s a challenge to find one perched in the open.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix)

 

Another fall visitor is the Northern Harrier. Their characteristic low flight over the marsh and lazy wing flap, along with an owl-like face, make them easy to identify. This female headed straight for me as I lay in the grass.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Northern Harrier – Female

 

Mottled Ducks have interbred so widely with Mallards that it’s difficult to identify a truly wild one. Most will show some mallard trait. This one flew by too fast for close examination so we’ll just call it a probably, possibly, maybe actual Mottled Duck. And that’s final!

20151206 Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands 00232.jpg

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal abruptly lift off the surface as a Bald Eagle passed overhead. Hundreds of ducks in the adjacent pond followed suit.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Blue-winged Teal

 

The hunters. An immature and an adult Bald Eagle. It takes an eagle about four years to achieve totally white feathers on its head and tail.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bald Eagle – Immature

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Bald Eagle

 

Palm Warblers do not breed in central Florida but they certainly do like to spend the winter here! Every yard, field and tree is covered with the little bug eaters. This one has claimed a rock for his throne.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Palm Warbler

 

The Hooded Merganser is a really good looking tourist which loves our quiet ponds. The male with his large white crest usually gets the attention, but the female exudes her own special beauty.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Hooded Merganser – Female

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Hooded Merganser – Male

 

A pair of Great Blue Herons have selected a nesting site among the colorful (but invasive) Brazilian Pepper bushes along the lake shore.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Great Blue Heron

 

It’s good to see sparrows return for the fall. This Savannah Sparrow blends in quite well with the brown reeds of the wetlands.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Savannah sparrow

 

The Double-crested Cormorant doesn’t usually get mentioned in a discussion of beautiful birds. Until you get to those eyes. Wow.

Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands

Double-crested Cormorant

 

 

No Barn Owl. Humidity at 100%. Temperature 92 F (33.3 C) at noon. Mosquitoes. It’s fall in the Outfall! It just doesn’t get any better than this. (Until winter.)

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

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

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