Last Friday I checked the Sunset Forecast website and saw red for the first time in months. Red, you see, is a prediction of a spectacular sunset. So I grabbed the camera and fought through traffic to get to my favorite sunset spot…yep, you guessed it, the Magnolia Park boat ramp!
The sky looked as if the clouds had been painted on. The strokes were broad and uneven. As the sun slipped below the horizon, the clouds lit up like they were on fire. I watched and marveled (and slapped at a few mosquitoes!)
It’s amazing to see the progression of color in the minutes just after sunset. I stitched together my favorite shots into a video to show the progression…
I think we were the last sunset-watchers to leave that evening. As we walked to the car, I turned around and said, “wait, just one more!” (Rich has heard that one before!) It’s not always possible to get this shot without a bunch of people in it…
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.
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…
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!
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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!
Just another beautiful winter sunset from the shores of Lake Apopka. I arrived at the Magnolia Park boat ramp just minutes before the sun slipped below the horizon. For the 20 or so minutes afterward as the color lit up and then faded from the sky, I enjoyed a quiet moment of solitude.