I finally got to start out the New Year with a sunrise photo. The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive opens at sunrise, but I had enough time to get through the gate and find a location before the sun came up over the trees. My favorite shot was just before the big orb made its fiery appearance. Happy 2020!
Normally I poke slowly along Lust Road, but on this particular morning, I moved along rather quickly to give myself more time at the duck ponds with good morning light. So the first bird of the morning was the Peregrine Falcon. I first spotted him on Wally’s favorite power line. He was getting a lot of attention from photographers beneath him, and I had barely focused when he flew off. He was pretty far away from me but I enjoyed the flight shot opportunity.
Lots of wintering ducks are hanging out at Lake Apopka this winter. The most common are the Blue-winged Teals, who are easy to find and photograph near the trails. This is a female.
Another winter visitor that I love to watch is the Belted Kingfisher. This male perched on a tree branch and used it to watch for fish underneath him. He would dive repeatedly, enter the water with a big splash, then come up with an empty beak. I was trying for flight shots when an impatient car behind me forced me to move along.
Don’t look at the next one too closely if you’re squeamish. A Red-shouldered Hawk was enjoying what was left of his breakfast when I happened upon him. A hawk has to eat, too – and he certainly has an ample supply of coots to keep him nourished.
The Northern Harrier visits Florida in the wintertime. This female was sweeping low over the marsh in a slow, deliberate pattern. If you pull over and watch for a while, they will come in close enough for a good shot.
I was surprised to see this flock of Mottled Ducks flying over the marsh. I spotted them as they flew in front of me, then they criss-crossed the marsh. To my delight they flew out into the perfect sun angle. The challenge with a good flight shot is waiting for the birds to separate so that the birds don’t block each other in the photo. I liked seeing the bright blue on their wings.
As I approached the ponds with the most ducks, I traded my camera for binoculars. Looking for rarities in the thousands of ducks can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. I spotted Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, even a couple of female Canvasbacks. Not to mention the American Coots and all the Blue-winged Teals.
A pair of American Wigeon flew together for me. I had more Gadwalls than Wigeons though. I didn’t see the Green-winged Teals or the Cinnamon Teal.
Closer to the path was a Northern Shoveler. He spent most of his time with his head underwater, looking for his breakfast. I tried to time my shots when his head was up and angled towards the camera. Silly bird, he didn’t make it easy for me.
As usual, I left the drive with a big grin on my face. 2020 is going to be a good year!
Find my birding list from today on eBird.
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!