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Baby Pied-billed Grebes! at Lake Apopka

I’ve wanted to see baby Pied-billed Grebes for years.  A friend posted some from Viera Wetlands about five years ago and I thought they were the cutest little babies ever.  Then I looked for them at Lake Apopka last year but couldn’t find them.  Well, I found some this year!  At their nest!  Such cuteness!

I first spotted this little family as they were returning to their nest mound.  Both babies promptly hopped under Mom’s wing.  Dad, however, had one more morsel to give out before letting the babies take their nap.  You can see one of the babies stick his little head out to finish his breakfast.

Pied-billed Grebe Babies at Nest with Both Parents

Pied-billed Grebe Babies at Nest with Both Parents

The next few minutes were kind of boring.  Dad went off by himself, leaving the babies to nap under Mom.  Mom sat there quietly while her feathers trembled periodically.  Baby bird naps always seem to last too long.  But then the older/stronger of the two chicks decided that he was tired of sleeping…

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Baby

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Baby

Look at his colors!  The dark stripes and orange accents are what made me want to see the babies so badly.  It’s amazing how different the babies are from their parents.  Whoever would have thought that bright orange spots are part of nature’s camouflage?

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Mom's Back

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Mom’s Back

Naptime over!  The second baby popped his head out through Mom’s wing.  How cool!  I love watching baby birds on the nest.  This nest was kind of far out, and I was parked behind some vegetation, so the birds didn’t notice me at all.  That’s the great thing about a Beast and a 2x teleconverter – you can join in on moments like these without bothering your subjects. :)

Pied-billed Grebe Babies

Baby Pied-billed Grebe eating…a feather?

You could tell that one baby was a little stronger than the second.  He stayed out longer, he begged for more attention, and he was more active.  Baby #2 settled back in under Mom while the older one wiggled over to the other side of the nest mound.  If you look carefully at the shot above, Mom was actually giving him a small feather to eat. Or play with.  I couldn’t quite tell which.

Mom, what big feet I have!

Mom, what big feet I have!

These babies have big feet! and they like to stretch them.  In the shot above, the right-most baby seems to be saying to Mom, “Look at what big feet I have!”

Pied-billed Grebe Mother Leaving the Nest

Pied-billed Grebe Mother Leaving the Nest

Mom has big feet, too, and she showed them to me as she left the nest to swim for a minute.  This was fine with me – it let me get a really good look at the babies!

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Nest

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Nest

The babies didn’t mind being left alone.  The smaller one stretched his legs while the older one practiced some wing flaps.  It surprised me to see how much they lie on their tummies on the nest.  Their feet go behind them, not under them.  These birds are truly designed for underwater diving, not being on land.

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby Preening Together

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby Preening Together

Mom returned to the nest after a few minutes.  She proceeded to preen her feathers while her oldest offspring stretched his feet and tried to help.  Mom was so patient.  She didn’t seem to mind being poked and prodded.

Pied-billed Grebe Baby Yawn

Pied-billed Grebe Baby Yawn

The older baby was ready for a nap.  Look at that yawn!  But Mom had other plans.  She decided it was time to take the babies for a swim. She stepped into the water again, then urged them to follow her.  It didn’t take long for them to go beyond the range of my camera.  But they did stop to wave goodbye… :)

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Babies Out for a Swim

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Babies Out for a Swim

I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the day.  It was so special to spend a few minutes with this family.  If you want to see more (and I know you do!), check out this little video.

A Morning of Possibilities at Lake Apopka

I got to make an unexpected trip to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD) last Friday morning.  When the sunrise looks like this, you know it’s going to be a special day…

Sunrise at LAWD

Sunrise at LAWD.   HDR processing applied.  Photographed on Lust Road.

It was so nice to see the sun after so many days of rain!  The clouds were beautiful in the sky as the sun peeked through.  I loved seeing the reflections of the clouds in the canals that are becoming so familiar to me on the drive.

Sunrise at LAWD

Sunrise at LAWD.  HDR processing applied.  Photographed on Lust Road.

I thought I caught a glimpse of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in flight as I made my way down Lust Road.  I didn’t get the photo, but the possible-cuckoo was flying with food in its mouth, and it was being chased by a bunch of juvenile grackles.

Then I spotted a Northern Flicker on the power line above my head.  Northern Flickers do breed in Florida, but I don’t seem to see them much in summer.  Of course as I pointed my camera at him, he flew.  I followed him to a distant pole, where his mate was waiting.  Maybe we’ll have baby flickers to photograph soon!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker (on left).  Photographed on Lust Road.

A Wood Stork was quietly patrolling the canal area.  He stopped and pulled out a giant fish, which he proceeded to display to all his friends.  All his friends got jealous.  They wanted the fish.  Sometimes it doesn’t pay to show off!

Wood Stork with Fish

Wood Stork with Fish.  Photographed on Lust Road.

I got out at the “Crazy U” to see if I could get closer to the flicker.  Of course he didn’t like that idea.  I spotted an Eastern Towhee in his usual spot, singing at the top of “his” tree.  Listening to his song made me thirsty.  “Drink!  Drink!  Drink your tea!”

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee. Photographed at the “Crazy U” on Lust Road.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker discovered a feast.  A nice clump of ripe berries was his for the taking.  The only catch?  The berries were hanging from a tree branch that didn’t offer easy access.  No problem.  The woodpecker caught ahold of the branch, dangled upside down, and gorged himself on the berries.  Yum!

Red-bellied Woodpecker Eating Berries

Red-bellied Woodpecker Eating Berries. Photographed at the “Crazy U” on Lust Road.

Welland Road is a great spot to look for Least Bitterns.  They like to hang out on the branches sticking out of the water.  An added bonus is the great morning light.  I found a beautiful male who came out and posed for my camera…

Least Bittern.  Photographed on Welland Road.

Least Bittern. Photographed on Welland Road.

Next I spotted a female Red-winged Blackbird making a nest.  She had bits of grass that she was tucking in to make it extra comfortable for her babies.  I would have liked to stay and watch her longer.  She was such an industrious little worker.

Red-winged Blackbird at Nest

Red-winged Blackbird at Nest. Photographed along Welland Road.

Along Interceptor Road were the usual Barn Swallows.  I just love these guys!  On this visit there weren’t really any baby feedings going on.  Some of the birds were just hanging out on a bush.  They were still a joy to photograph.

Barn Swallow.  Photographed along Laughlin Road.

Barn Swallow. Photographed along Laughlin Road by Interceptor.

Another Least Bittern poked his head out to say good morning.  I like the coloring in this image.  It shows how well the bittern can blend into his surroundings.  He’s just another stick when he wants to be!

Least Bittern.  Photographed along Roach Road.

Least Bittern. Photographed along Roach Road.

But the real highlight of the morning was the time I spent with the Pied-billed Grebe family.  Want to see more?  Come back to read my next post! :)

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby


Addicted to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Hi, my name is Jess, and I’m completely addicted to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive!  Maybe it’s because it’s close to home and not a long drive like most of my other birding sites.  Maybe because it’s fun even in cloudy or rainy weather.  Maybe because there are tons of great birds there, and I see surprises every time I go.  Maybe all of the above.  I’m hopelessly addicted!

Two weekends ago, I decided to throw my landscape lens in my bag, just in case.  I was glad I did.  This morning was cloudy, but there was color in the sunrise and an Anhinga decided to pose for me…

Sunrise at Lake Apopka

Sunrise at Lake Apopka.  Photographed on Welland Road.

My first bird of the morning was…you guessed it!…a Red-winged Blackbird!  They are all over the place!  Regular readers of my blog will know that I can’t resist a good red-winged picture.  :)

Red-winged Blackbird Singing on Cattail - Photographed on Lust Road

Red-winged Blackbird Singing on Cattail – Photographed on Lust Road

My Purple Gallinule from my previous visit was back out – and he had a friend!  This time he posed for me in some reeds.  Such a beautiful bird.  I wonder what a Purple Gallinule would say to a male Painted Bunting?

Purple Gallinule - Photographed along Welland Road

Purple Gallinule – Photographed along Welland Road

Cloudy, drizzly days at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive seem to draw out the Least Bitterns.  They are easy to find on any day, but they seem especially brave on cloudy days.  It’s such a joy to find them out in the open!  At one point I was photographing one Least Bittern, then another TWO flew in!

Here are my favorite two bittern shots from this morning.  One hopped out onto a branch to catch his breakfast (look closely in his beak to see his fish).  Another hopped out in the reeds right next to my car window to give me a head shot!

Least Bittern with Fish. Photographed along Welland Road.

Least Bittern with Fish. Photographed along Welland Road.

Least Bittern Head Shot. Photographed along Roach Road.

Least Bittern Head Shot. Photographed along Roach Road.

There are Red-winged Blackbird nests all over the place.  This one made me chuckle – a double-decker!

Double-decker Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Double-decker Red-winged Blackbird Nest

The red-wings aren’t the only empty nesters around Lake Apopka.  The bushes are full of juvenile grackles.  They seem big enough to look for their own food, yet it’s so much easier to dance and beg for breakfast.  Such a fuss!

Juvenile Grackles Begging for Breakfast

Juvenile Grackles Begging for Breakfast. Photographed along Welland Road.

At one point I came across a baby Common Gallinule crossing the road.  Mom and Dad were down with his siblings in the water, but he didn’t seem to mind being alone on higher ground.  I got out of the car and knelt down to take his picture.  In my favorite shot, he seemed to be examining his very long feet.

Common Gallinule Baby - Such Big Feet!

Common Gallinule Baby – Such Big Feet!  Photographed along Roach Road.

After seeing many Green Herons fly away just as I tried to take their picture, I was starting to wonder if I’d ever get a decent shot.  Then I spotted this guy, who had just caught a giant frog for breakfast.  The frog put up a good fight but the heron wasn’t letting go of his prey.  I’ve heard frog legs are good for breakfast!

Green Heron with Frog

Green Heron with Frog.  Photographed along Roach Road.

There’s a Tricolored Heron on Laughlin that reminds me of the Reddish Egret “drunken sailor” dance.  He throws his wings up and seems to stumble haphazardly around as he casts his shadow in search of a meal.  He was challenging to photograph because he was far away and he moved so quickly!

Tricolored Heron Fishing

Tricolored Heron Fishing.  Photographed on Laughin Road.

Donna spotted this Eastern Towhee and wow, did he pose for her!  He was singing his heart out, too.  “Drink!  Drink your tea!”

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee.  Photographed along Laughlin Road.

The pond at the east end of Interceptor Road sometimes turns up fun birds (like the recent White-faced Ibis).  This morning was no exception.  I pulled up to the pond and broke into a huge grin as I spotted a small group of American White Pelicans feeding in the distance.  Normally we see American White Pelicans in the wintertime, not in June!  These appeared to be juvenile birds (because of the brown spots on their backs).  I told them they were a month early for Christmas in July. :)

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans.  Photographed at the Interceptor pond.

Speaking of wintertime, this next bird was a little confused about the season, too.  I heard myself saying out loud, “What are you doing here?”  This is a female Red-breasted Merganser.  She must have been lonely – all her friends left Florida well over a month ago!

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser.  Photographed at the Interceptor pond.

Next up was my little Killdeer family. I was happy that it was cloudy, for the even light was better than my previous day with sidelight and heavy spectral highlights from the mud.  This was the last time I saw this little family.  I hope they found a safe place to grow up.

Killdeer Baby

Killdeer Baby.  Photographed along Interceptor Road.

I spent a few minutes saying hi to Forky, who persisted in staying waaaaay out in the field.  It was still early, and I had yet to see any of the Swallow-tailed or Mississippi kites that have been recently reported.  So I decided to drive around a second time.  There are several alternate trails that I rarely take.  One takes you down by the lake shore.  It was really pretty down there.

Shore of Lake Apopka

Shore of Lake Apopka

The lake shore trail didn’t seem nearly as birdy as the Welland/Roach paths.  Maybe it was just getting too late in the morning.  I did see juvenile grackles, one of whom showed me the dragonfly that he had caught for breakfast.  He promptly swallowed it.

Boat-tailed Grackle Eating Dragonfly

Boat-tailed Grackle Eating Dragonfly.  Taken by the lake shore.

I didn’t see kites on my second time around. But I did see a few more fun birds, like the Great-crested Flycatcher at the Lust entrance gate, or this little Common Ground Dove who hopped up on a branch to pose along Laughlin.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove.  Taken along Laughlin Road.

It was such a great morning!  And I saved the best for last – a soft-shelled turtle was about to cross the road.  He said to say hi to Rich!

Soft-shelled Turtle

Soft-shelled Turtle

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