The nice folks at the St. John’s River Water Management District know a thing or two about the joy of the Christmas season. They’ve been hard at work rebuilding the Lake Apopka conservation areas that sustained heavy damage during Hurricane Irma. I didn’t expect the property to reopen until next summer, but on the Friday before Christmas we got a wonderful surprise: the wildlife drive was partially reopen!
So even though the forecast was 100% humidity and 90% cloud cover, I just had to go. I’ve missed that place!!
You know, there’s a reason that I sometimes roll over and go back to sleep on cloudy, foggy days. The visibility was almost zero. I walked up and down at the Lust Road entrance, thinking I’d look for sparrows and the Ash-throated Flycatcher. But funny thing about that – if you want to see little birds in the trees, it helps to be able to see the trees! ;-)
Fog or no fog, it still felt wonderful to be out on the drive. The hurricane has re-shaped the landscape along LAWD just like everywhere else in Florida. Areas that used to be full of cattails are now open ponds. The water levels in places are almost up to the road. But the essence of the place hadn’t changed, and the birds were plentiful.
I made my way to the Crazy U and stopped to look for the Vermilion Flycatcher that was recently reported there. I stood there for a long time without seeing her, then as I was leaving, someone pointed her out to me. (Thanks again!!) This was the first female Vermilion I’ve encountered (I got a male several years ago at Orlando Wetlands Park.) There were several Eastern Phoebes nearby posing as flycatcher wannabes, but the red on the female Vermilion was unmistakable. Maybe she’ll come closer on my next visit.
By this point it was well past 9am and the fog still hadn’t burned off. That’s ok, there were plenty of American Coots posing nice and close to the road, just begging to have their photos taken. I know, I know. People see me pointing my Beastly lens at a coot and think I’m crazy. They might be right. But how can you pass by a bird with such funny-looking feet?
Grebe Corner is now Duck Corner. There were tons of ducks off Welland Road. The closest ones were Ruddy Ducks and a Ring-necked Duck, who obliging gave me a wing-flap.
Further away were a greater variety of ducks. I spotted American Wigeon, Gadwall, more Ruddies, more Ring-necks, Pied-billed Grebes, and of course, more coots. I mentally begged them to come closer. I heard a laugh–or was it a Common Moorhen?–and then I drove on.
Parts of the drive are still closed. You have to turn off Laughlin Road onto the canal road, which brings you to Lake Level and the way out. The canal road has never been particularly active. So my next bird was a Merlin perched high in the treetops out by Forky’s lair. Although I guess it’s not Forky’s lair anymore, as I saw no sign of the fork-tailed celebrity that graced us with several months of rare bird sightings before the hurricane. I hope he made it through the storm ok and found his way back to where he’s supposed to be.
It was so great just to be out at LAWD again! You can view which parts of the drive are open on this map. Now that it’s open, I’ll definitely be back soon – maybe I’ll see you out there! :)
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!
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Great pictures, as always. I had either forgotten or didn’t know that the Wildlife Drive was closed so thanks for the heads-up and the updated map!