Posts Tagged With: snowy egret

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

Not So Far Afield

You would think that I’d learn. “Tomorrow will start clear and dry and a few clouds may roll in during the afternoon.” Weather reporters. Sigh.

Fifty yards down the path, my face felt a few drops of what my Dad would have called “heavy dew”. Rain. Keep going? Turn back? I tucked the camera body under my shirt tail and put the lens covers over the binoculars. A Gray Catbird “mewed” sarcastically from a tangle of willows. Two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers crisscrossed the trail in front of me, daring me to whip out the camera and try to catch them between raindrops. Nature can be so cruel.

Around a bend, there was an opening through which I could see a lovely lake, wetlands extending for some distance and several large dead trees. Among the branches of the tallest snag was an Osprey nest and atop the highest limb perched an Osprey, surveying his wet kingdom. I was so enthralled with the view I had not noticed the rain had stopped.

This trail was new to me and I explored about a mile and a half before heading back to the car. Lakes on one side, old-growth hardwood forest on the other. “Birdy.”

We have written about this location before and doubtless will again. Tenoroc Public Use Area. I’m not sure when it changed, but it used to be known as Tenoroc Fish Management Area. Tenoroc is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Over 7,000 acres of fishing lakes, hiking/equestrian trails, a shooting range and special recreation areas for children and people with physical limitations. It is a “gateway” site for The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Did I mention it’s only ten minutes from the house?

By the time I returned to the car, I was almost dry and Gini was several chapters farther along in her book. Granola bars and fresh slices of orange fortified us for more exploring.

There was no more rain and the clouds eventually parted to reveal a deep blue sky and plenty of sunshine. We discovered amazing sights, sounds and supreme satisfaction!

(NOTE: These images are from two different visits, the second and third weeks of October 2019.)

 

An Osprey above an old nest. In Florida, nesting season for the Osprey begins in December and old nests are renovated and reused over and over. (Sadly, this particular nest was destroyed by a violent windstorm after our first visit.) This image provides an idea of habitat typical for the area. If you are able to enlarge the photo, you may spot a Belted Kingfisher near the bottom of the frame just left of center.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A House Wren dared me to take his picture in the rain. These “little brown jobs” only visit us during migration.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Another fall/winter visitor is the Eastern Phoebe. We heard them calling everywhere we stopped. This one kept her eye on a grasshopper which she eventually grabbed and flew out of sight to enjoy.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Little Blue Herons in good light show a subtle diversity of color in their plumage. Yes, this fellow loudly let me know I was disturbing his breakfast hunt.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Fall migration is in full swing and there were plenty of colorful feathered things scampering high in the treetops. I managed to get a shot directly above me of a busy Magnolia Warbler. One would think bright yellow would really stand out in the middle of a tree. One would be mistaken.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Black and orange, on the other hand, are hard to miss. A male American Redstart stopped and stared for 1/500th of a second. Click. Thank you, sir!

Tenoroc FMA

 

There’s that bright yellow again. This time mixed with black stripes which help this Prairie Warbler blend into a bush as he fought the urge to flee. He flew.

Tenoroc FMA

 

One of the benefits of our sub-tropical environment is we get to enjoy dragonflies later in the year than those living in cooler climates. A Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) can brighten up the dreariest day.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A new species for us! A huge dragon flew in front of the car and I about put Gini through the windshield (again) trying to stop, grab the camera and open the door all at the same time. The very courteous specimen grabbed a nearby branch and posed for several candid shots. Our newest find:  Royal River Cruiser (Macromia taeniolata)!

Tenoroc FMA

Tenoroc FMA

 

Stocky members of the heron family, American Bitterns are another of our fall/winter visitors. Their brown striped plumage allows them to remain motionless among reeds and escape detection. They are fairly uncommon in our county.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Spaniards exploring Florida over 500 years ago brought pigs with them for food. They left a few behind. We now have a feral pig problem. They proliferate faster than they can be hunted or trapped. As with most species, the babies can be pretty cute.

Tenoroc FMA

 

A beautiful Snowy Egret patiently waits for a frog to move. Yum.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Mrs. Belted Kingfisher has spied breakfast!

Tenoroc FMA

 

Mrs. Belted Kingfisher proudly displays her catch!

Tenoroc FMA

 

Mrs. Belted Kingfisher laughs loudly at Mr. Belted Kingfisher who has not had any breakfast!

Tenoroc FMA

 

Mr. Belted Kingfisher knows better than to say anything at all!

Tenoroc FMA

 

We are very thankful (I can’t believe I’m saying this) to the government forces which partnered with commercial interests and private citizens over half a century ago to create a real treasure for all citizens to enjoy. Hopefully, such success stories will motivate more people in all walks of life to encourage similar projects throughout the country (and beyond).

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

 

Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

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

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