Posts Tagged With: tricolored heron

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (3/4)

(Laughlin Road)

The mid-morning sun was beginning to remind us that we were in sub-tropical Florida in the summer. It was hot. Driving along at our slow pace (even the Apple Snails were passing us) didn’t create much breeze. We once again gave thanks to the genius who worked out how to install air-conditioning in vehicles.

For almost two miles, the gleaming white ribbon of ground shell road stretched out ahead of us. (Click on the link below for a map and virtual tour of the wildlife drive.) Water on both sides. Old irrigation canals offered channels where alligators, turtles and swimming birds could forage for fish and other aquatic creatures. Shallow water beyond the canals with low-growing trees, reeds and water-loving flora provided perfect cover for a diverse collection of wildlife. Wading birds love the habitat for the great hunting perches. Waterfowl appreciate the protection while feeding and nesting.

As we paused to admire a Great Blue Heron preening, Gini remarked how, at first glance, the flat wet environment looks pretty desolate. If one takes the time to look, really look, there is just an incredible amount of life here. She is so right. (I have become accustomed to saying that.)

I watched a Least Bittern fly across the road and was happily surprised when he landed in a clump of cattails near the car. As I walked nearer, I could hear him “chuckling” at the base of the clump. I hoped he would eventually become visible. While I waited, and as if to underscore Gini’s profound observations moments earlier, at my feet a pair of White Peacock butterflies landed to extract nectar from small flowers. At the edge of the canal, a turtle popped his head above the surface to see if I was a threat. Lifting my head just a bit revealed a Green Heron I hadn’t seen holding perfectly still as his eyes fixated on a meal. An Anhinga swam up the canal with a shad adorning the end of his spear-like bill. Overhead, a pair of Fulvous Whistling-ducks headed for open water.

As I took a photograph of the Green Heron, I became aware of being “watched”. I think the clicking of the camera shutter made the Least Bittern curious, as he had worked his way higher up in the reeds and was peeking at me from the greenery. As I tried not to move, he eventually became bored with me (story of my life) and began to preen. I managed a couple of images before he snuggled back down and out of sight.

The drive along this straightaway was packed with busy birds and creatures! We alternated between hot flashes as we put the windows down to enjoy the sounds all around us and putting them back up to savor the evil luxury of modern cool air.

 

We saw over 200 Common Gallinule during the 11-mile drive. There were dozens of brand new chicks trying to learn the trick of walking on vegetation while looking for food. Within a day of hatching, these black downy puff-balls can swim on their own. Like babies everywhere, they also know how to scream and beg.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Great Blue Herons are the largest of our wading birds. Constant preening is required to keep those beautiful feathers in good shape.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Tricolored Herons run through shallow water, stop and quickly change directions and look like some sort of demented ballerina as they chase small fish. A combination of blue-gray, purple and white give this small heron its name.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

With prominent yellow feet, the Snowy Egret walks along in shallow water, uses a foot to stir up the bottom and snaps up whatever tries to escape.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

Excellent swimmers, Double-crested Cormorants can dive quite deep to chase down a fish dinner. Don’t look at those eyes lest you become hypnotized!

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

I’m always fascinated how a bird such as this Green Heron can locate prey underneath dense cover. Patience and incredible sight almost always pay off.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

True to its name, the Least Bittern is a very small heron (11-14 in/ 28-36 cm) which likes to hunt from a low perch. Extra long toes allow it to grasp a reed as it lunges into the water with its long neck. Vertical stripes on its underside allow it to point its beak upward and by holding still it resembles the reeds, making it difficult for predators (and birders) to notice.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

In the wetlands, the brunch buffet can be an adventure. A Great Egret selected the fresh catfish this morning. Keeping it is another matter.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

 

 

Next up, the final leg of the wildlife drive provides open water, open fields, more babies and aerobatic displays. Don’t miss it!

 

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

 

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Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

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

Evening At The Rookery

Procrastination is the root of all evil. You can quote me.

“Snail Kite!” Sure enough, the cinnamon-colored female was at the end of a fishing pier extracting a morsel from a large Apple Snail. Gini said I should come back and walk along this area in hopes of getting some good photos.

“Look at all those egrets!” Gini pointed to a clump of reeds along the shore which were anchored by a stand of willows and a couple of tall cypress trees. This is a spot which has, for the past few years, hosted a small rookery and is quite accessible from the sidewalk running parallel to the lake frontage.

This two-mile stretch of road along the lake is a main connector to a major thoroughfare on the northern city limits. As such, it is heavily traveled. The low speed limit is helpful for spotting birds along the shore and out into the lake, but it’s best to leave such activity to the passenger for safety’s sake.

The above sightings were almost two months ago. Last week I finally visited the area with the camera. Most of the nests were empty. No chicks were visible. A few young birds were hanging about, mostly to mock me for being so late.

It was about two hours before sunset, but in an hour the sun’s rays would be blocked by buildings on the west side of the road so I only had about an hour of good light left. The gang of youngsters was raucous and began pushing and shoving to claim the best spot to roost for the night. A few adults made an appearance but could not calm the unruly kids.

Next year. Yeah. Next year I’ll get here in time for nesting and eggs and babies. Honest.

 

The ubiquitous Cattle Egret is usually taken for granted. We ignore them in our rush to find something “less common”. In breeding plumage, we realize how handsome they can be.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

A young Tricolored Heron has learned patience from his parents and was eventually rewarded with a small fish. His sister wants to know if you like her hair styling.

West Lake Parker Drive

West Lake Parker Drive

 

For a brief time during breeding, adult Little Blue Herons display darker blue bills, black eyes and black legs.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

Immature Little Blue Herons will remain white for most of their first year and will have mottled blue and white plumage for almost another year before displaying the complete blue of an adult.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

Juvenile Anhingas are also white (mostly) at birth and begin to show light brown within their first few weeks. These are still on the nest but will soon be capable of independent flight. Interestingly, they can swim (if they have to) within several days of hatching.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

The sun was about to drop out of sight and a mass of American Lotus lit up with the final light of the day.

West Lake Parker Drive

 

As you pass that spot which beckons you to grab your camera, do it. Don’t put it off. I don’t want you to miss the joy of this year’s baby egrets, the heron hiding her chick with a wing, the breeding plumage only visible for a few days. Carpe Diem.

 

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

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

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