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Forky the Pig

You haven’t forgotten the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, have you?  He’s the rare bird who seems to be staying an unusually long time at the sod fields at the end of the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.  On our last visit to the drive, Forky put on quite a show for my dad and me.  Want to see some action shots? ;-)

Meet Forky.  Meet Forky's bug. I think it's a grasshopper.

Meet Forky. Meet Forky’s bug. I think it’s a grasshopper.

Forky likes to play with his food.  Or maybe it just tastes better upside down.

Forky likes to play with his food. Or maybe it just tastes better upside down.

Be careful playing with your food, Forky.  Sometimes it can fly away!

Be careful playing with your food, Forky. Sometimes it can fly away!

Fork-tailed Flycatching in action!  Forky didn't want to lose his breakfast.

Fork-tailed Flycatching in action! Forky didn’t want to lose his breakfast.

A triumphant return to his branch.  Look at that tail!

A triumphant return to his branch. Look at that tail!

Forky doesn't learn.  The grasshopper got tossed at least two more times before...

Forky doesn’t learn. The grasshopper got tossed at least two more times before…

The final gulp!

The final gulp!

It’s not often that you get to spend quality time with a rare bird.  Forky was definitely showing off all his best fly-catching moves!  It was such a pleasure to watch him.  Then he gave us one final treat…and came in closer!!

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Two Cuckoos on a Quest at Lake Apopka

Last weekend two cuckoos loaded up into the Birdmobile and went on a quest to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.  My target was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  My dad’s target was the Pied-bied Grebe babies and another visit with Forky.  We both found our birds – and our lifer Mississippi Kite, too!

After photographing the Pied-billed Grebe family at their nest on the day before, I was hoping to find them in the same spot.  Unfortunately for my dad, they had moved out further into the water.  But at least we got to see them.  Such cute little orange spots on those baby faces!

Pied-billed Grebe with Baby

Pied-billed Grebe with Baby

Not far from the grebes we spotted a Common Gallinule nest.  It’s the first I’ve seen built up like this on open water.  Nest-watching is such fun.

Common Gallinule Nest

Common Gallinule Nest

I lost count of the Least Bitterns we saw that morning.  This ended up being my favorite Least Bittern shot because it shows the bird hard at work doing what he does best – surviving!  He’s stealthily stalking his food, moving nothing but his tail as he watches and waits…and them pounces! with a stretch of that long neck.

Least Bittern Stalk

Least Bittern Stalk

We found the Yellow-billed Cuckoo perched nicely on the top of a tree branch on Laughlin Road.  He had a small worm or something in his mouth.  Usually I see Yellow-billed Cuckoos during migration.  But they actually breed in Florida during the summer.  Maybe the worm was for his babies…maybe we’ll get to see the babies in the upcoming weeks…you can never have enough cuckoos! ;-)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The pond at the east end of Interceptor Road, which has so recently hosted rare birds such as the White-faced Ibis, American White Pelicans, and Red-breasted Merganser, was virtually empty.  I saw a few cormorants on it, and that was about it.  But one of the cormorants decided to take flight, and I caught the take-off action, which I edited together in Photoshop.  It takes a lot of work for that bird to get out of the water!

Double-crested Cormorant Take-off

Double-crested Cormorant Take-off

The Barn Swallows were in their usual places along Interceptor Road.  It’s such fun to get to photograph them sitting still.  When they are not taking care of juveniles, the swallows spend most of their time on the wing.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

We got out to the sod fields and began looking for the rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher that was still hanging around.  Then a few Swallow-tailed Kites flew overhead.  My dad spotted the one that didn’t look like the others – our lifer Mississippi Kite!  He flew pretty high but I got a few quick identification shots.  I can’t wait to get a better look at him.  That’s the best thing about the LAWD – it always leaves you wanting to go back!

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

My dad’s patience and persistence paid off…the Fork-tailed Flycatcher decided to come closer to pose for my dad’s camera!  It’s funny how I waited to share my Forked-tailed Flycatcher post, hoping for better shots.  Finally I published it, and then on the next visit, I got better shots.  So here’s a teaser for the next post…Forky was a real show-off for us and we had a blast with him! :)

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

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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.