Beyond the BackyardLake Apopka

Cold and Breezy Morning at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

I woke up early last Saturday morning and headed to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. The winds were already picking up as I pulled out of the driveway, and heavy winds usually make for bad birding. But I went anyway, and I’m glad I did. It was a fun morning of photographing some common birds, some rare birds, and some cute birds!

Lust Road Entrance

The Lust Road entrance is a great place to stop and look for little birds. I saw a flock of American Goldfinches singing in the tops of the trees. Sparrows and Painted Buntings called from the grassy field. American Robins flew overhead. A White-eyed Vireo flitted out in the open as he caught insects for breakfast. Then everybody dove for cover when we heard the ke-ke-ke call of an American Kestrel flying overhead. Because of the breeze, the birds stayed low and I didn’t get many shots. But it was so relaxing to just be there and hear the sounds of the birds as they woke up and greeted the sun.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler
Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

Crazy U and Lust Road

The Crazy U is the strange U-shaped jut in the middle of Lust Road. It’s a great place to get out and walk around – you never know what will show up. Like the female Vermilion Flycatcher who is wintering with us this year, or the Gray-headed Swamphens who dazzled me with a flash of purple as they flew in the sunlight…

Gray-headed Swamphen
Gray-headed Swamphen

One of the current “local celebrities” is a Yellow Warbler who has wintered at Lake Apopka. We usually only see Yellow Warblers during spring and fall migrations. They breed in the northern US and Canada, and they winter in Central America. Except for this little guy. I wonder if he gets lonely.

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler

As I watched the warbler flit around at the top of a tree, I was distracted by this cute little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher diving for bugs in a nearby bush. He thought he was a hummingbird, fluttering in place as he grabbed for his prey. Gnatcatchers are so quick that they are a challenge to photograph, but it’s such fun!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A group of photographers were gathered around this Red-shouldered Hawk, who sat patiently out in the open at very close range. He looked warmer than I felt as I shivered in the cold breeze.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

I sought the refuge of my heated car and headed down Lust Road toward the lake. Until I hit a traffic jam with several cars pulled over and everybody pointing their big lenses out into the marsh. “Must be the peregrine!” I thought. I was right…

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Welland and Roach Roads

Welland is one of my favorite stretches of the drive, as the morning sun is on a perfect angle as I photograph out the driver’s seat with my big lens balanced on a bean bag. On this particular morning, I met a nice father and son out enjoying a bird photography adventure. They made sure to point out the Roseate Spoonbill at the beginning of Welland. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a spoonie at Apopka!

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Alas, the high waters have reduced the number of good birds on Welland these days. I did see lots of Coots!

Laughlin and Interceptor Roads

My first bird on Interceptor was a good bird. An American Bittern stood out in the open, with his neck stretched long as he stalked his prey for breakfast. I got a couple of quick shots before he headed off into the bushes.

American Bittern
American Bittern

I inspected every Glossy Ibis I saw, as there has been a White-faced Ibis reported near Laughlin & Interceptor. I didn’t see him. Maybe next time!

But on the bright side, I saw three Canvasbacks up nice and close, and one of them was a drake in breeding plumage! These birds are rare visitors to Florida in the winter, and I’ve only ever seen females before. The birds were feeding and the drake came up from a dive with a bit of vegetation stuck to his back. He looked a little silly with it.

Canvasback (Drake)
Canvasback (Drake)
Canvasback (Female)
Canvasback (Female)

Sod Farms

I never drive past the sod farms without thinking of Forky and the pleasant days we spent begging him to come closer to our cameras! On this morning, the sod farms were not particularly birdy. A Turkey Vulture was eating his breakfast, which he dragged down into the vegetation so that I wouldn’t disturb his meal. He made sure to stick out his tongue for my camera before I left!

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture

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