Posts Tagged With: swamp sparrow

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

Spring On The Wing

Where has Spring gone? Seems like we just started looking for spring migrants and “poof” the entire bird world is having babies! Perhaps it’s a feature of growing older. Someone hit the “fast forward” button and I can’t find it to turn the dang thing off.

The Beautiful Brown-Eyed Woman is obsessed with the season as well. “We simply MUST get going with the spring cleaning!” “Oh, look! A spring sale on linens!” “I love all the fresh produce we’re seeing this spring.”

Truth be told: She DOES put a spring into my step!

Colt Creek State Park. Twenty minutes from the house and some wonderfully diverse habitat. Entrance gates and parking lots. Probably the best birding spots on the planet. Today was no exception. Vireos and wrens sang from the underbrush, fish crows grunted overhead, curious catbirds popped onto a limb to give us the once-over and Holy Moley! It’s a Summer Tanager! Not necessarily rare but seldom seen.

A slow drive along the park roads yielded squeaky little nuthatches, woodpeckers, a gopher tortoise, clear-whistling titmice, deer calmly munching their grassy breakfast and a nice selection of migrants as well as resident birds.

The peaceful setting of the park’s primitive campground was a perfect spot for breakfast. From a nearby large oak tree came the ascending buzzy trill of Northern Parulas, recently arrived from their winter resort in South America. There! Just above the pine trees a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites, also returning from the tropics searching for a suitably tall tree to begin building a nest.

It seems as if Spring no sooner arrived than it’s time for high temperatures and daily thunderstorms to begin the wet season. Summer is not far away. More bird babies to locate!

Hope I finish my spring cleaning chores before the season is over.

 

At the park entrance, we were greeted by a bright red Summer Tanager.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Below the tree where the tanager was perched, a nervous Orange-crowned Warbler probed every twig and leaf for the protein-laden insects he’ll need to finish his northward migration.

Colt Creek State Park

 

This White-eyed Vireo looks like she had a rough night! A little preening and a sip of morning dew should soon set her right.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Songs of more returning breeding birds indicated the park was full of Red-eyed Vireos. We finally found one willing to pose for a moment.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Central Florida only has two species of sparrow which breed locally. The remainder, such as this Swamp Sparrow, will soon disappear until the fall.

Colt Creek State Park

 

One little bird we have an abundance of in summer is the diminutive and active Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Colt Creek State Park

 

In our area, three species of vireo breed: White-eyed, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated (pictured below with a caterpillar(?)).

Colt Creek State Park

 

A pair of Brown-headed Nuthatches were heard before our eyes could locate them. Ever squeezed a child’s toy rubber duck? Then you know what these pugnacious little creatures sound like. They begin breeding as early as mid-February here so this couple may already have chicks, which would account for them coming so near us to see if we might be a threat.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The clear whistle of the Tufted Titmouse can be heard at quite a distance and they’re usually the first to challenge us as we enter their area. During migratory seasons, they are also good indicators that other species may be nearby as they seem to act as gang leaders (okay, maybe tour guides).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Buzzy trills abound and Gini counted over a dozen of these colorful warblers as we drove through the park. Northern Parulas seemed to be everywhere, and that is just fine with us.

Colt Creek State Park

 

The photograph may not be that great but the feeling sure is! I seldom get to see this migrant much less have a chance to take his picture. The Northern Waterthrush has the characteristic stripes of the thrush family but is actually a warbler. Along with its cousin, the Louisiana Waterthrush, it walks along marshy ground constantly bobbing its tail as it pulls tasty morsels from the mud.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Carolina Wrens were calling throughout the park as they prepare to mate and are quick to respond to any intruders (that would be us).

Colt Creek State Park

 

Spring. Annual renewal. Migrants. Flashes of color. Exuberant songs. A fabulous time to explore the outdoors!

Oh. And, as I have just been reminded, a time to clean. Sigh.

 

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

 

Additional Information

Colt Creek State Park

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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