Posts Tagged With: yellow-crowned night heron

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

Happiness Is A Dirt Road

The county map describes Peavine Trail as an “unimproved” road.  The dictionary defines “unimproved” as:  not made better; neglected; unused.  It’s a dirt road.  When it rains, it’s a mud road.  For us, it’s a happy road.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice, smooth, stretch of asphalt highway where you can cruise from Point A to Point B without much delay.  But when you leave that technological marvel and pull onto a dirt road, your whole psyche breathes a sigh of relief.  The “unimproved” nature of the path requires you to travel slowly.  You can roll down all the windows to breathe in pine-scented air and wildflowers.  You can stop as often as you like.  And you can “read” a dirt road.  Walk a short ways and you will inevitably find evidence where a group of deer crossed in the night, see the tracks a raccoon left as he trotted alongside the ditch full of frogs, wonder if that is a dog’s footprint or that of a coyote.

That’s where we began last Thursday.  Peavine Trail in Osceola County just a few miles west of Yeehaw Junction.  Lake Kissimmee is 15 miles to the west, Lake Marian a dozen miles north and all around are the remnants of one of the largest grass prairies remaining in the  southeast United States.  The Kissimmee Prairie is quite a unique environment and this road cuts through its northernmost section.  It’s only ten miles from one end of the road to the other, but along the way several distinct ecosystems produce an astounding diversity of life forms.  The southern portion of the area is bordered by wetlands which give way to the familiar grass and scrub palmetto of the prairie.  A little over half way to the northern terminus one encounters huge oaks and other hardwoods.  Finally, there are stands of Long-leaf Pine trees among scrub palmetto (nice place in the spring for singing Bachman’s Sparrows and Brown-headed Nuthatches).

After enjoying a quick breakfast in the truck as the sky began to brighten, we ambled along the road, stopping often to listen for bird songs or look at a flower or study a track or watch an eagle, hawk or vulture soar in the brilliant blue sky.  The slow pace allowed us to take advantage of that most precious of commodities:  time.  We had time with each other.  We talked.  We held hands.  We actually looked at one another.  At the end of this ten mile long dirt road, we did not feel that we had “not been made better“.  We did not feel “neglected“.  We did not feel our time was “unused“.  Nope.  We didn’t feel “unimproved” at all.  Quite the opposite.

 

Here are a few of the sights we really enjoyed.  We hope you do, too.

 

A young male Common Yellowthroat was in constant motion on branches hanging over a canal in his search for insects.  The gray on his head will soon turn to the dark black mask of the adult.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

 

 

It was morning and the Morning Glory announced it from every part of the roadside!

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

 

 

I guess the butterfly experts would call this Viceroy’s appearance “worn”.  We just called it “beautiful”.

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

 

 

Loggerhead Shrikes are also known as “Butcher Birds” for their habit of impaling their prey on a sharp twig, thorn or barbed wire and then dismembering it to eat a piece at a time.  The morning breeze was blowing through its soft gray feathers and it was hard to visualize this handsome fellow as a “butcher”.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

 

 

October in central Florida is very colorful!  There is quite a variety of blooming wildflowers this time of year and everywhere we looked we found bright colors of all shapes and sizes.  Florida has over a dozen species of native sunflowers.  This one is the Narrowleaf Sunflower.  It was interesting to see even these smaller sunflower specimens all facing east toward the rising sun, just like their larger cousins would!

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

Narrowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

 

 

An immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron has not  yet learned that humans may, sadly, pose a threat.  His parents melted into the thick undergrowth as we approached, but Junior just stared with his bright orange eyes.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Immature)

 

 

This small yellow flower grows fairly low to the ground but is so bright it cannot be ignored.  It’s called Leavenworth’s Tickseed.

Leavenworth's Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

Leavenworth’s Tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii)

 

 

An opossum succumbed during the night and today is providing nourishment to a group of Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Crested Caracara and Bald Eagles.  Here, a young Crested Caracara instinctively knows he is ahead of the vultures in pecking order and goes in for his share.  (This is probably a first-year bird as he still has a very light-colored bill, light facial skin and light-colored legs.)

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara

 

 

More yellow!  Common Primrose Willow grows to over 12 feet tall.

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

Common Primrose Willow (Ludwigia peruviana)

 

 

A very vocal Red-shouldered Hawk let me know she was not happy that I interrupted her search for breakfast.  I snapped a quick picture and retreated.  She continued to yell at me as we drove out of sight.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

 

 

This Palamedes Swallowtail contrasts nicely with the pure white flowers of the Lance-leaved Arrowhead.

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)

Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)

 

Peavine Trail

 

 

A flock of crows had been harassing this Bald Eagle who was perched on a snag minding his own business.  He shrugged it off.  Just another day on the prairie.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

 

 

And this day on the prairie ended for us with a wonderful view of the vast grass and palmetto scrub punctuated here and there by a lone Cypress or Pine tree.

Prairie Sunset

Prairie Sunset

 

 

As the sun was setting on our trip, we turned onto the smooth, modern, “improved” highway.  As we fell in line with transport trucks and were passed by cars in a hurry to be somewhere, we knew that we would soon be searching that map for more “unimproved” roads.  There’s nothing like a bit of dirt to make a couple of kids like us happy!

 

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

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

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