It was a chilly morning in early January. I’d read that one of the Bronzed Cowbirds was back at Newton Park. I located the bird in a flock of grackles that was hanging on the dock. It was a fun game of “which one is not like the others?” His bright red eye and unique shape distinguished him from all the other black birds. They spooked a few times as people passed, but each time, I re-spotted this rare-to-Florida bird. I have to assume he’s one of the same birds who has wintered at Lake Apopka in years past (I first photographed them in 2019). I wonder what happened to his friend.
It was so cold that morning!! The temperature itself wasn’t bad, but the lake breezes kicked up, and I think my teeth even chattered. With the cowbird giving me only the “pose on dock” image, I started walking around to try to warm up. A pair of juvenile Purple Gallinules started to laugh at me from the reeds. “It’s even colder down here in the shade!” They are quickly getting their adult colors in preparation for this year’s breeding season.
Just when I decided that I couldn’t take the cold wind any longer, a Bald Eagle flew by. He was out fishing for his breakfast on the lake. His strong wings pumped in the cold wind as he called down a reminder: “Most of my eagle friends live in much colder places than Florida! It will warm up soon!”
Sometimes you come across two Common Gallinules going at each other, and I’ve never been sure if it was a fighting thing or a mating thing. As a photographer, it’s a fun action shot that often makes me chuckle – it’s not often that you see the yellow feet above water! On this particular morning, the action went on…and on…and on. The nearby gallinules all gathered close by, egging on what I realized must be a fight. There were many flapping wings, splashing water drops, and claws wrapped around faces and beaks! I’m not sure who won. They seemed to get bored and decide to call a truce. Silly birds!
I had hardly finished photographing the egrets when I heard the mocking call of a Belted Kingfisher. We started our usual game – I approached, he flew, I approached again, he flew again. Finally he let me snap a few quick shots before he spied his breakfast!
The white birds are starting to put on their breeding plumage. Their long lacy feathers are gorgeous, especially at sunrise. It won’t be long before this Snowy Egret’s lores turn a deep red and he focuses on finding a mate.
You can’t go to Orlando Wetlands without seeing at least one vulture. On this particular morning, each tree in the rookery area was being guarded by a vulture, most of them with wings spread. This one below surprised me when I found him perched on the edge of the boardwalk. He had a soft, pretty background and I couldn’t resist a photo – even if he does have a face that only a mother could love!
I heard a big song coming from the reeds, and I knew exactly which small bird was playing hide and seek with me! This is a Marsh Wren. He’s a winter visitor to Florida.
As I circled around for my second pass along the boardwalk, I came across this Eastern Phoebe. He must have taken lessons from the Belted Kingfisher – he was very good at flying just as I got close enough to take his picture! I liked this one in the cattails, with the soft sunny background of the reeds behind him.
I was about to enter the boardwalk again when I spotted this Osprey in a nearby tree. He seemed to be biting at his foot (he reminded me of a certain cat who was almost certainly zonked on my couch at that hour!) He was fun to photograph as he spread his feathers wide.
All morning the Black-bellied Whistling-ducks were taunting me. They’d whistle and fly to me, but stay low to the ground where I couldn’t get good shots. So I was happy to see a couple of ducks hanging out on the edge of the boardwalk. I love how their feathers glisten in the sunlight. I managed a quick head shot before the birds were startled by a passing group of people.
There was a small group of Tree Swallows circling overhead. They are fast fliers and such a challenge to photograph in flight! This was my best flight shot of the morning. Look at the glimmer in the blue feathers!
After that, the sun was pretty high in the sky. I hiked a lot, saying hello to the eagles in their nest. Finally it was time to leave, and I was happy knowing that was just the first of many trips to Orlando Wetlands for 2024. :)