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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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Want to know more about photographing 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. Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!

7 Responses to "Addicted to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive"

  • tnwaphotography
    Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 9:09 AM

    Love the amazing variety of bird sightings you got … I’ve got to get up there one morning! Loved that poor frog trying to resist its fate. All spectacular images, my friend!

    • Jess Yarnell
      Thursday, June 22, 2017 - 6:45 PM

      Yes, you need to come! You’d squeal the whole drive ;-)

  • Nathalie
    Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 10:33 AM

    Fantastic photos, as usual. I especially always enjoy the ones when a bird catches breakfast or lunch. The one with the heron and the frog is especially great. I love the Apopka Wildlife Drive as well!

    • Jess Yarnell
      Thursday, June 22, 2017 - 6:46 PM

      Thanks, Nathalie, maybe I will see you out there one day.

  • Michael
    Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 5:20 PM

    Great images and post Jess. Love the frog with his leg extended against the heron’s neck. Fighting until the bitter end.

    • Jess Yarnell
      Thursday, June 22, 2017 - 6:46 PM

      The frog was actually trying to cover the bird’s eye with his foot. He put up a good fight.

  • Rich
    Friday, June 23, 2017 - 9:36 PM

    Hi Turtle!