Beyond the BackyardLake Apopka

Gray January Morning at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Last week I headed to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD) one gray, foggy morning. I didn’t have high expectations for photography with the low light, but the wildlife drive is always a fun trip.

Purple Gallinule
Purple Gallinule

I didn’t spend much time at the Lust Gate entrance because it was too dark / foggy, and the breeze kept the little birds from posing for my camera. So as I approached the Crazy U, one of my first birds was this Purple Gallinule. Then I finally spotted a bird that I’ve been chasing at the wildlife drive for several years – the Gray-headed Swamphen. The Swamphen basically looks like a larger version of the Purple Gallinule. It is native to India and Asia, and has established a range in South Florida that apparently extends up to LAWD in the wintertime.

Gray-headed Swamphen
Gray-headed Swamphen

Although the wildlife drive is obviously intended to be traversed in a car, I find that I enjoy it best when I park and get out and walk. It’s easier to spot and photograph the little birds when I’m on foot. Like this Common Yellowthroat, who hopped out into the open briefly before flitting along in the reeds…

Common Yellowthroat (Female)
Common Yellowthroat (Female)

…or this juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, who I might not have spotted from my car because of how well he blended into the distant reeds.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Juvenile)
Black-crowned Night Heron (Juvenile)

During one of the brief periods when the sun made an appearance, I spotted this Northern Harrier flying not too far from the Crazy U. It was tricky to hand-hold the camera while keeping the focus on the bird as he flew in front of the blowing reeds. I liked the result though. :)

Northern Harrier in Flight
Northern Harrier in Flight

The female Vermilion Flycatcher is back this winter at her same spot just south of the Crazy U. I spotted her far out in the marsh, and I won’t waste pixels posting the terrible picture that I took of her. When I turned around, though, I spotted a Green Heron stalking his breakfast in the canal. The good thing about a day with no sunshine is that you can shoot in any direction without harsh shadows. So I squatted down to the bird’s level and watched the bird catch minnow after minnow for breakfast.

Green Heron
Green Heron

My time at the Crazy U was definitely the best part of the drive that morning. A steady stream of cars kept me moving as I tried to photograph the wintering ducks on various parts of the drive. I did get this quick head shot of a Northern Shoveler who was almost right next to my car.

Northern Shoveler (Male) Head Shot
Northern Shoveler (Male) Head Shot

At the sod farms near the end of the drive, I spotted another Northern Harrier flying close. I hopped out of the car in time for the bird to fly over my head. Not a bad end to a fun morning of winter birds!

Northern Harrier Flyby
Northern Harrier Flyby

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