Posts Tagged With: Tree Swallow

Ramp Up Your Birding !

Have you ever noticed the thing you seek is sometimes close at hand? Can’t find your car keys? Don’t move. Look around where you’re standing. Open the nearest drawer. Chances are good you’ll find them within a moment or two. But the normal human urge is to think the farther we travel the greater will be our reward. So we go outside first and look in the car to see if we left the keys in the ignition. In fishing, we spend all day plying the deep waters far from shore only to return to see the guy who spent an hour fishing from the dock stuffing another fish into an overloaded cooler. How many times have we hiked through a park all morning in search of migrant warblers only to return to the parking lot and find them feeding under the car?

Gini handed me an egg salad sandwich and we shared a container of fresh tangerine slices. The mirror surface of the lake reflected the impossibly blue sky and a Tricolored Heron flapped lazily along the shoreline. Early morning is an active time for wild creatures. While we enjoyed breakfast, ripples in the water gave away locations of feeding fish, turtles poked their heads above the surface to enjoy the sun’s rays, a Limpkin tip-toed through the cattails in search of snails and a Bald Eagle soared above the lake and was harassed by two loudly scolding Fish Crows. A loud, rhythmic “thwack!”, “thwack!” directed our attention to an oak tree beside us where a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers tore large chunks of bark from the trunk and probed deep within the tree for insect morsels. A more dainty, quick “rat-a-tat-tat-tat” told us a Downy Woodpecker was also in the area. An after-breakfast walk resulted in almost 40 species of birds in the small park.

Our breakfast venue was Lake Rosalie Park in eastern Polk County. A boat ramp, a few picnic tables and small number of primitive camping spots did not offer an extensive area to explore. But what a pleasure to be almost alone (there was one friendly couple camping) and be able to observe so many birds in such a relatively small place!

We feel very fortunate to live in Florida, a state which is not only surrounded on three sides by water but where the interior is dotted with myriad ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. All that water encourages a really diverse flourishing of flora and fauna. Although it’s wonderful to have large parks, reserves and impoundments containing huge numbers of birds nearby, we have learned to enjoy the small places, too. Early in our bird-watching endeavors, we made the astounding scientific discovery that most birds have wings and cannot read the map where it clearly states:  “Birding Hotspot“.

A quick look at a city, county or state website will direct one to a listing of public boat ramps. These don’t always have a park associated with them, but all are definitely worth a glance once in awhile. Not only can you usually get a look at a body of water and its associated shoreline, the surrounding area is often prime habitat for a great variety of birds, native as well as migratory. And if you happen to have  someone with deep brown eyes and soft hands next to you, it’s quite possible that birding will suddenly cease to be all that critical.

Coleman Landing At Shady Oaks Recreation Area has recently expanded to include several improved camping sites for recreational vehicles and a new large shower facility. It’s still basically just a boat ramp which provides access to huge Lake Kissimmee and is nestled among a very nice grove of shady oak trees. The following photographs are from a recent breakfast excursion.

This Red-shouldered Hawk is quite pale and is a good example of the species found in south Florida.

Coleman Landing

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

A White-eyed Vireo took time out from his tireless singing to gawk at the guy walking around poking his face in all the shrubbery.

Coleman Landing

White-eyed Vireo

 

A rare (for me) photograph of a Merlin perched (albeit for only a moment). My usual view of this seasonal migrant is of a blurry brown rear end. They are about the size of an American Kestrel but are faster, don’t hover like a kestrel and whereas the kestrel prefers insects the Merlin specializes in small birds.

Coleman Landing

Merlin

 

Speaking of the American Kestrel, this one was just up the path from the Merlin. Hearing the click of the camera, he gave me the “evil eye” and screamed something about he was trying to hunt here so I left him alone.

Coleman Landing

American Kestrel

Coleman Landing

American Kestrel

 

Another early morning breakfast was enjoyed at the aforementioned boat ramp at Lake Rosalie Park where a few feathered friends kept us entertained.

 

It was a bit early in the season for Pileated Woodpeckers to be choosing a nesting site, but this species mates for life so it’s not unusual to see a pair together throughout the year. The male is distinguished by  red malar stripes while the female’s are dark. These large woodpeckers (average length 16.5 inches/42 cm) will often bore quite deeply into a tree to find insects.

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Male

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Female

Lake Rosalie Park

Pileated Woodpecker – Male

 

Limpkins blend in very well with the colors and patterns of vegetation found near water.

Lake Rosalie Park

Limpkin

 

A Northern Parula is not common here during the winter months but this one appears to be enjoying the mild weather just fine.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula

 

A very small portion of a huge flock of Tree Swallows swarmed a section of trees and vacuumed up bugs from the leaves without ever landing.

Saddle Creek Park

Tree Swallow

 

It seemed a bit out of place to spot a Brown Pelican high in a moss-draped oak tree. Of course, they frequently choose such a location for nest placement, although I didn’t spot a nest here.

Saddle Creek Park

Brown Pelican

 

On the way home, we stopped at another public boat ramp near our house at Lake Parker in Lakeland. Snail Kites have been expanding their range but they are still an endangered species.  It’s good to see one any time. They have been spotted at Lake Parker with some regularity since last year. The expansion of their range is tied to their main food source, the Apple Snail. Here a female or immature kite hovers over a weedy area near the lake’s shore and comes up with supper.

West Lake Parker Drive

Snail Kite

West Lake Parker Drive

Snail Kite

 

We sold our boat but still like hanging around boat ramps! The next time you see a public boat ramp sign, take a look. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find. And if you have your priorities straight, go with someone you love. Take breakfast. Take binoculars. Ignore the last two items.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

A New Birding Venue

We recently wrote about a trip earlier this year to the north shore of Lake Apopka. (See previous post: The Potato Eating Place.) At the time, we heard that there would soon be a drive along the northwest shore of the lake opening for public use. The new Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive opened in early May and our initial foray a couple of weeks ago confirms it will rapidly become a very popular destination for birders and anyone wishing to enjoy nature from the comfort of a vehicle. The drive is 11 miles long, one-way only with pull-offs along the way. There is room along the side of the road in most places to allow traffic to pass if needed. Marsh and floodplain restoration has been underway here since the late 1980’s in an attempt to undo the damage done by agricultural pollution over a long period. It is a work in progress. Hopefully, this opportunity to allow more of the public to view this fantastic slice of nature will create a sense of stewardship in a new generation.

The entrance gate opens at sunrise and Gini and I arrived early to enjoy the gradually lightening sky, the inspiring view of parked gravel trucks, the sweet melody of humming diesel generators, the delicate touch of mosquitoes landing on our cheeks — okay, so the prelude to the actual drive wasn’t a nature-lover’s paradise. Once the gate was opened, however, — well, actually, another birder pulled up just as the gate was opening and darted in ahead of us. As the dust cleared from his spinning tires, THEN we started enjoying the wonders of nature. The awe of car-rattling thunder, the amazing brightness of lightning and the refreshing experience of large raindrops clearing the aforementioned dust from the windshield.

Since we’re Florida natives, we knew patience would be rewarded. Sure enough, the morning thunderstorm vanished quickly and our planned two-hour tour evolved into a six-hour total immersion relaxation session. “I TOLD you we should have packed a lunch.” Gini is truly the mistress of subtle understatement and highness of hindsight. From start to finish, we just had FUN! We cannot wait to return.

Spring migration has pretty much dwindled in central Florida, although we had hopes of glimpsing Bobolinks as others had reported. Alas, no joy. We did find over 40 species of resident birds, several of which were fully engaged in raising families. Occupied nests of Boat-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were numerous and Common Gallinule chicks littered the marsh. Black-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons were abundant but shy and most of our views were of birds flying low and away from us. A congenial Yellow-crowned Night Heron posed in a flowering Primrose Willow. These are usually found closer to the coast but I guess this one heard about the new drive and wanted to check it out. A few dozen Barn Swallows were very active at one spot with several young birds perched on utility lines being fed by adults who would swoop in and shove a bug in the waiting mouths. We found a couple of Tree Swallows perched with the Barn Swallows, quite late in the season as most sensible Tree Swallows left for their northern home a few weeks ago. Frogs serenaded us all day long. Grunting Pig Frogs seemed to be everywhere and their snuffling was only occasionally interrupted by the deep hum of the Bullfrog. Dragonflies hovered over weed-covered pools and flung their eggs onto the surface. Opportunistic frogs grabbed the vulnerable bugs and were in turn snatched up by hungry herons. The circle of life was vibrant here.

If you get a chance – GO! It’s wonderful now even as our Florida summer approaches. Once fall arrives, so will thousands of wintering shorebirds and tens of thousands of eager birders. No matter the season, this is going to be a fun place for anyone who enjoys nature.

 

The view just inside the entrance gives an idea of what the area looks like.

Lust Road

Lust Road

 

Common Gallinule families were, well, common. New chicks were numerous and there were a few “teen-agers” as well, probably having hatched several weeks ago.

Common Gallinule - Juvenile

Common Gallinule – Juvenile

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule

 

A Little Blue Heron loves frogs’ legs, but also enjoys frogs without legs. This large tadpole has already been “tenderized” by the bird and a split-second later was swallowed whole.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

 

We saw many Black-crowned Night Herons, but this is about the best look we had as most of them flew away from us at a high rate of speed.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

 

This Yellow-crowned Night Heron must like the area as it’s in his/her breeding plumage. Yes, we did have to pay it to perch among yellow flowers.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

 

As we neared the actual lake, anything that resembled a tall perch was occupied by an Osprey with breakfast.

Osprey

Osprey

 

Red-winged Blackbird nests were not hard to spot, even for alligators.

American Alligator, Red-winged Blackbird Nest

American Alligator, Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

 

Blooms of all sorts dotted the landscape (“marshscape”?). This Swamp Hibiscus was one of the larger flowers on display.

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus)

 

Purple Gallinules seem to have two modes: “clown” and “aggressive”. Sometimes the two overlap.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

 

Male Four-spotted Pennants are quite dark and can appear to be black. The females are brown to orangish in appearance.

Four-spotted Pennant - Male  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Male (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant - Female  (Brachymesia gravida)

Four-spotted Pennant – Female (Brachymesia gravida)

 

Needham’s Skimmer females (and immature males) can have a very golden look and it’s sometimes difficult to separate them from Golden-winged Skimmers. Mature males are very bright red-orange (both Needham’s and Golden-winged).

Needham's Skimmer - Female  (Libellula needhami(

Needham’s Skimmer – Female (Libellula needhami(

 

I was attempting to photograph an Eastern Pondhawk which had been busy laying eggs when it was eaten by this Pig Frog. Sigh. Good models are so hard to find and keep.

Pig Frog (Rana grylio)

Pig Frog (Rana grylio)

 

Young Barn Swallows were being kept company by Tree Swallows as Mom and Dad flew around catching bugs. The youngsters would squawk and flutter their wings as an adult approached and put a bug in their beak on the fly.

Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

 

I’ve seen White Ibises all my life but never noticed that in breeding season they develop an extended gular (throat) pouch. It apparently only lasts a short while.

White ibis

White ibis

 

We counted a half-dozen Black-necked Stilts during the day and judging by the agitated behavior and calls of some they likely have a nest and/or young ones nearby.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

 

Amongst the cattails, baby Boat-tailed Grackles yell for Mom to hurry up with lunch!

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

 

 

Speaking of lunch, Gini started screeching at me to find some – immediately! (Now, you know as well as I do that she has never “screeched” in her life! She isn’t capable of it.) Fortunately, one of our favorite spots was not far away. (Do a computer search for Yalaha Bakery. Go there. Be hungry.)

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. A new place for y’all to visit! And you don’t even have to be a birder! This is a terrific opportunity for all of us and especially for those of us who may not be physically able to hike a trail or jump on a mountain bike. Nature is just there waiting for us!

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

 

Additional Information

Lake Apopka – North Shore

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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