Posts Tagged With: red-shouldered hawk

Lake Apopka Addiction

“Are you sure you don’t mind? We were just there a couple of weeks ago.” We are blessed to have many potential great birding destinations within a fairly reasonable driving distance. Having said that, we seem to gravitate toward some spots more often than others. Lake Apopka is one of those “special” places.

Once again, I found myself on the receiving end of “The Look“. How can such an attractive face launch such a devastating glance?

“Besides”, Gini reminded me, “we can have lunch at Yalaha.” That in itself was motivation. Yalaha, Florida is a small (population ca. 1400) village not far from Lake Apopka which is the home of Yalaha German Bakery. Equipment imported from Europe, old country methods, no preservatives, fresh breads, tortes, kuchen, brotchen… ¬†And a small delicatessen serving German sausage, kraut, potato salad, gulasch … And music at an outdoor patio …

Oh. Where was I? Birding. Yes, we decided to go birding.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive takes one through 11 miles of extensive wetlands adjacent to Lake Apopka, Florida’s fourth-largest lake (+30,000 acres). More and more, we’re treating this as a drive-and-walk as we see so much by combining the driving with a bit of footwork.

The car does perform well at times as a blind and many of the resident birds have become accustomed to the traffic so one can get quite close to a subject. Walking along the canal banks or the road adjacent to the wetlands provides a different perspective. Tracking birds flying overhead becomes simpler, a closer inspection of reeds can reveal a partially hidden Marsh Wren or Least Bittern. Snakes, frogs, turtles and an incredible collection of insects are easily missed when driving but more likely observed when walking slowly (which is my normal speed).

Once again, we marveled at the astounding diversity of life we encountered! It took us almost six hours to cover only 11 miles and even at that, Gini whined — uhh, I mean she suggested we go around one more time. We opted to head for Yalaha and lunch. Currywurst and kraut under shady oak trees. Stocking up on a few goodies for later, we motored home and consoled ourselves that all of this was only an hour away when next we needed to feed our Lake Apopka addiction.

By the entrance gate, we found a bird that likely would have been missed if not for using that walking strategy. A small Grasshopper Sparrow blends in so well with the foliage it would have remained invisible if it hadn’t moved. (This is a migratory northern bird as opposed to one of Florida’s endemic sub-species, which are uncommon and found in different habitat.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The shallow waters of much of the wetlands attracts many shorebirds and waders. Here, a Greater Yellowlegs heads over the marsh to join a couple dozen of its closest friends for breakfast.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal display the wing patches for which the bird is named. A single male looks quite handsome in the morning sun.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Overhead, a flock of Fulvous Whistling-ducks searched for a suitable landing spot. Several hundred of these large tan ducks were present this morning. A few even posed for a portrait.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

The Anhinga must continually dry its feathers and preen thoroughly to maintain enough water resistance to retain buoyancy while swimming.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Based on overall plumage and eyes that appear more orange than red, this is likely a second year Black-crowned Night Heron. The long white plumes on the head are present during breeding season.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Native to Asia and the Middle East, the Gray-headed Swamphen (Porphyrio poliocephalus) has found Florida to its liking. Unintended releases in the mid-1990’s resulted in a population being established in southeast Florida. The species has gradually expanded and the ones we saw at Lake Apopka may be the northernmost limit for the Florida group to date.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

A Florida Red-bellied Turtle enjoys the sun.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

This Red-shouldered Hawk is an immature bird very close to adulthood. Remnants of the vertical tear-drop breast plumage is transitioning into the horizontal reddish barring indicative of the adult.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

It is increasingly difficult to identify “true” Mottled Ducks with certainty due to extensive hybridization with Mallards. This pair seems to exhibit all Mottled Duck traits.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Mottled Duck – Male

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Mottled Duck – Female

 

How enjoyable to observe animals as they hunt! The Green Heron locates her prey, patiently waits … and … plunges through the weeds. Success! It may be a small minnow but it is essential for survival.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

When a duck takes a bath, it is often followed by a glorious wing-flap to help dry the feathers. When I point a camera at a duck engaging in this behavior, chances are excellent there will be a nearby coot who can’t wait to “photo-bomb” my masterpiece. This series of a female Ring-necked Duck was typical of my efforts.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

Our Apopka addiction was temporarily sated. A lunch at our favorite German bakery was a great exclamation point on the day! We are already plotting our return to both.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Yalaha Bakery

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

The Kingbird Roost

“Feel like going for a ride?”

“I’ll get my shoes on. Where to?”

“Let’s check out the kingbird roost.”

Notice, Gini gets her shoes first. She has always been that way. Positive, optimistic, action-oriented. Worry about little details, like a destination, later.

Several years ago (10 according to records I could find), a group of Western Kingbirds along with a couple of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were noted roosting in a citrus grove not too far from here. They begin arriving around early December and stay until March. Like clockwork, they appear on utility lines bordering the grove 30-40 minutes before sunset. They chatter, hawk a few insects and one-by-one dive into the dense trees as dark settles in.

These two species are not commonly seen in central Florida, even during migration, so it’s a treat for those who may not have an opportunity to travel west of the Mississippi River where they are more prevalent. Two years ago, the group included an even more uncommon member, a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, a rare neo-tropical bird likely from South America.

Arriving a bit early allowed us to cruise the perimeter of the groves and we were rewarded with a nice selection of birds, very active near the end of the day. A trio of female Baltimore Orioles was a surprise and a half-dozen American Robins provided a splash of color and noise. A quick click through the car window was the only chance I had to catch an image of a low-flying Bald Eagle as she appeared over an orange tree.

We are concerned about this area. Florida has faced a devastating loss of citrus trees in recent years due to a disease which has been hard to tame. Many grove owners are turning to other, more reliable, crops. A large section of the groves used by these roosting flycatchers is being converted to huge covered greenhouses. We are not sure what the plans are for greenhouse production. Some good news was found in several plots of newly planted citrus trees. Hopefully, they will thrive and provide shelter for future generations of these beautiful winter visitors.

 

The rays of the setting sun highlight the lemon yellow undersides of a Western Kingbird.

Cox Road

 

Gray head, salmon-colored sides and – that tail! Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are a joy to behold.

Cox Road

 

An image of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher from two years ago. A few of these striking birds are seen in the southern United States each year although their home is in South America and southern Mexico. This one seemed to be among friends as he joined in the nightly routine prior to diving into an orange tree. (The strong rays of the setting sun gave his wings and tail an unnaturally colored glow.)

Cox Road Area

 

New fencing around a greenhouse complex provides a handy perch for a Palm Warbler as he scans the grass for the last meal of the day.

Cox Road

 

Just beyond the Palm Warbler above, a Red-shouldered Hawk uses a newly erected greenhouse support pole for his own lookout spot.

Cox Road

 

 

 

Around the edges of the citrus groves are lakes, open fields and old homesteads where long-ago plantings of shrubs, vines and hardwood trees grow wild. In one large tree were three female Baltimore Orioles searching the leaves for a juicy insect morsel.

Cox Road

Cox Road

 

A half-dozen American Robins swooped into the top of the oriole tree, chatted for awhile then noisily flapped off toward their own citrus tree roost for the night.

Cox Road

 

Another hardwood tree harbored two Red-bellied Woodpeckers. They had no time for visiting as the sun was getting low and they still needed to shop for supper.

Cox Road

 

Speaking of supper, an American Kestrel sure would like a grasshopper or lizard to show up in the field below. Where did these falcons perch before utility lines were invented?

Cox Road

 

We approached an intersection at the edge of the grove and a Bald Eagle came into sudden view over the orange trees. I went through my routine of trying to slam on the brakes, point the camera out the window, focus and shoot. Imagine my surprise to discover the image is almost adequate!

Cox Road

 

Our late afternoon spur-of-the-moment outing was delightful! Beautiful birds, spectacular sunset and I got to spend time with my best friend. Life. Is. Good.

 

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

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

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