Posts Tagged With: red-bellied woodpecker

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (1/4)

(Entrance, Lust Road)

Timing. We all know it’s important. Execution is another matter.

When possible, we avoid high traffic roads in our travels but once in awhile there is not a better alternative. This was one of those times. Leaving the house five minutes too late would mean encountering the morning commuters on the expressway and alternating driving bumper to bumper at breakneck speed and sitting still for long periods. Leaving too early would mean having to wait until the drive opened at sunrise and poking about alongside the road for a singing grosbeak or watching ducks flying overhead – oh, wait – too early it is!

Lake Apopka’s sad history has been mentioned here before. The short story: Large Lake Apopka (over 30,000 acres) was once a premier fishing and vacation destination in central Florida. Poor agricultural practices resulted in it becoming one of the nation’s most polluted waterways by the mid-20th century. Outstanding efforts by citizens, conservation groups and the government have restored the lake and its surrounding environment to a vastly improved ecological status.

In May 2015, an 11 mile drive was opened for visitors to enjoy the vast wetlands created from former agricultural land along the northeast shore of Lake Apopka. The drive is one way only and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. (Check for additional openings on government holidays which fall on a Monday.) There are pull-outs along the drive as well as additional trails in the area for hiking and biking.

During the winter, the wetlands are filled with waterfowl and other birds enjoying Florida’s sub-tropical weather. Spring and fall bring temporary migrants fueling up on insects and an aquatic smorgasbord to help them on their journey. Then, there is the summer. Hot, humid, steamy, sticky summer. Who wants to explore a marsh in THAT??

Late July at Lake Apopka is family time! Baby birds yelling at Mom and Dad for MORE FOOD! Immature birds doing the same thing, but also learning from their parents how to find their own food while avoiding predators.

Gini had packed a wonderful breakfast which we would eventually enjoy while looking out over the vast wetlands. Now, however, the sun was peeking over the horizon. Barn swallows swoop low on all sides, a Great Crested Flycatcher snags a dragonfly, alligators watch from under the duckweed, the willows are alive with feeding birds.

We are blessed.

(As usual, I have too many pictures to share. So, the trip will be split up into four posts roughly corresponding to sections of the wildlife drive. See the link below for a very nice audio tour and click on the map for reference.)

 

Just before we drove through the entrance gate, a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers landed on a telephone pole. It appeared as if the parents were guiding the immature bird in how to hunt. One of the adults yelled encouragement from atop the pole. Not sure if the “wild” look is due to wind or molting or a combination.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Plenty of insects in the wetlands. (Imagine that!) This male Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) with characteristic wings-forward posture is ready to ambush his breakfast as soon as something tasty flies in range.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Matching the cattail on which she is perched, a female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) resembles an emerald carving.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

One of the largest birds around the lake is the Great Blue Heron. This one demonstrates the proper technique in consuming a catfish.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Catch”

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Position”

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

“Swallow”

 

We typically see the Green Heron perched on a low limb over water in a “hunched” pose ready to strike at passing prey. This one is stretched out revealing the surprising length of its neck as well as the beautiful colors and patterns of the whole bird.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Well, watching all of this hunting and gathering has made us hungry. Gini has found a parking spot with an outstanding view and we shall return after breakfast for more slow driving, laying down in the grass, pointing, looking up and, most of all, sharing it  – with you.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (Audio Tour)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Would You Prefer Your Woods Hydric Or Mesic?

“The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”
(Eeyore), A.A. Milne

 

Florida! The Sunshine State! Except when it’s raining.

Summer. The wet season. Wait, yesterday it didn’t start raining until after 3:00. Maybe tomorrow will be like that and we’ll have several hours to explore! Hmmm, the weather forecast is for 85% chance of scattered thunderstorms. That means we have a 15% chance of NOT getting rained on! AND – the storms are supposed to be scattered! Maybe it will actually rain somewhere other than where we are!

See what a problem my poor Gini faces? I’m an eternal optimist with no common sense at all. (She thinks “common” means EVERYONE has some sense about practical matters. Please don’t tell her.)

We had been wanting to return to Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area for some time. It’s about two hours from the house and near the gulf coast. It’s easy to find as it’s just off the interstate highway. With over 80,000 acres (+32,000 Ha.) it’s also easy to quickly forget how close to that highway you are. That’s a good thing, in our opinion.

A large portion of this land was purchased by Mr. Fred Babcock in the 1930’s for raising cattle, timbering and hunting. For awhile, the area was famous for a thriving pineapple industry. The state bought the land in 1941 and somewhere along the way they added the name of one of the fish and game commissioners with Mr. Babcock’s to produce the unwieldy official name: Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area.

This vast area represents the largest tract of undeveloped hydric pine flatwoods in southwest Florida. Combined with some drier areas (“mesic” flatwoods), open wet prairies, a few lakes and ponds – it is a wonderfully diverse habitat supporting a good mix of flora and fauna. Old logging roads provide easy access to much of the management lands, but take care if it has been raining or if your vehicle has low clearance. Also, this is a hunting area, so check the on-line calendar for current open hunting times. If you decide to visit during hunting season, wear a blaze orange vest and BE CAREFUL! It’s amazing how much we humans can resemble White-tailed Deer.

We arrived shortly after sunrise and our morning was filled with breathing the scent of fresh pine, admiring an incredible variety of blooming flowers, listening to woodpeckers hammering, chasing dragonflies along the edge of the wetlands, watching in awe as a group of Common Nighthawks put on a spectacular aerial display – just for us.

Egg sandwiches along with fruit was the perfect breakfast for the outdoors. It seemed we were stopping every few yards to gawk at something new. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. How had we lost track of time? We seem to do that a lot.

A few images may give you an idea of why we could care less about looking at a watch.

(Pssst. No sign of thunderstorms yet, scattered or otherwise.)

What’s for lunch?

 

An immature Bald Eagle soared over the open wet prairie searching for her own breakfast.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

There are around 40 species of Spider Lily in the New World and 13 of them are in Florida. This is the Alligatorlily (Hymenolcallis palmeri), fairly common but beautiful. Up close it has a wonderful fragrance.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Dragons and damsels were in abundance. Convincing them to pose for a photograph was a challenge. The colorful Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) would be hard to mistake for anything else. During the day we saw dozens floating above the reeds.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Pink seemed to be the color of the day for flowers in the flatwoods and prairie. A lovely Large Flower Rose Gentian (Sabatia grandiflora) languished right by the side of the road.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

One of the more common birds in this habitat is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. This one was busy finding bugs and hustling back to a nest cavity where junior was likely squawking “Hurry up!”.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Frequently found at commercial nurseries, American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) somehow seems more elegant in the wild.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

A common dragonfly throughout our area is Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami). This female was very patient while I knelt down to her level for a portrait.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Resembling snapdragons, the Eastern False Dragonhead (Physostegia purpurea) is sometimes called Obedient Plant for the tendency of blossoms to remain in place if pushed or twisted.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Peeking through a curtain of pine needles, a diminutive Downy Woodpecker wastes no time in checking up, down and around limbs for signs of insects.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Much smaller than the American White Waterlily above, Big Floatingheart (Nymphoides aquatica) more than holds its own in the beauty department.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Part of maintaining a healthy habitat, prescribed burns take place regularly to help reduce accumulation of hazardous fuel (dead wood, etc.), to restore some ecological communities and to improve overall wildlife habitat. In an area of a recent burn, we found this pine tree with dripping resin “frozen” on the trunk.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

A section of wet prairie resembles a “green sky” dotted with pink “stars”.

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Rounding a bend on a back road, we were blessed to watch a group of four Common Nighthawks put on an impressive aerial display as they twisted and turned at high speed chasing clouds of insects. Fast birds!

Babcock/Webb WMA

 

Whew! Busy morning! We’re now at the shore of Webb Lake enjoying cold chicken and discussing whether to begin the trip home or …

Next up, Part Two.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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