The weather forecast said it was going to be partially sunny on Friday morning. Michael and Donna invited me to join them in a search for the Groove-billed Anis that have been hanging out at the Lake Apopka Restoration Area. The Ani is a rare bird for Florida – they usually live in Mexico and are unusual winter visitors to Florida. It was great to think about getting out and seeing my first lifer of 2015. Then the alarm went off at 5:45am, I peeked out the window, and it was foggy. Again. “Are you still going?” texted Donna. Well, we went, and the fog didn’t burn off till almost 11am! Que barbaridad.
Well, we got out of our cars and Donna made the sage observation, “I see little birds but I can’t see them!” (Yes, it was the beginning of a silly morning.) The fog was so thick. We headed down the trail, knowing we had to walk a couple of miles before we’d hit the place where the Anis were hanging out. After a wrong turn at an intersection (let it stand for the record, Faith, that Michael was right about where to go!), we finally found a small pink flag. Now, the Ani location was supposed to be marked with an orange flag. We watched, waited, listened, and continued. We found another pink flag, but no orange flags. Finally we spotted a nice man staring intently through his binoculars. As we approached, he said, “I saw an Ani here about 15 minutes ago. He’s been hidden behind the brush since then.” Score!!
The Ani obligingly hopped out into the open for us. He was so cute! His name is very fitting for him, with distinct grooves in his bill. He was smaller than I expected, just a little bigger than a Red-winged Blackbird. Indeed, the Red-winged Blackbirds were hopping all around, trying to trick us. The Ani was the most cooperative rare bird I’ve seen in a while. He just sat there for us. Then he switched perches and sat some more. He didn’t care that we were close, or that the excited kids ran up and started shouting. (How cool is it to see 10-year-olds carrying life lists?) The Ani just sat there, the star of the photographic show. It turned out to be good that the sun was hidden, because we could aim our cameras in any direction, and we didn’t have harsh shadows.
The Ani called for us a few times, and it was fun to hear his song. Then he stuck out his wings and raised and lowered them a bunch of times. It was like he was trying to dry them. Maybe he disliked the 100% humidity as much as I did. We saw that he had a pudgy one-feather tail. His missing tail feathers might be contributing to his long stay in Florida. There was a second Ani reported in the area, but we didn’t see him today. It was a joy just to see the one.
We also saw another great bird, the Fulvous Whistling Duck. They flew several times over the marshy areas on the shore of the lake. They were a lifer for Michael, who will hopefully get a better look them next weekend at the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands.
It was hard to make ourselves leave the cooperative Ani, but the bobcat that we spotted down the road made it easier. We walked quickly to try to catch up to the big cat, who sat watching us for a while, then dove into the bushes. We spent the next half an hour trying to outsmart the bobcat to get a good photo of him. In doing so, we finally spotted the orange flag that marked the Ani location! Alas, the bobcat stayed under cover, and our stomachs called us to lunch. It was a fun morning, despite all the fog!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Lake Apopka?
Check out my Lake Apopka page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!