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Beware the Red-winged Blackbirds! at LAWD

A few posts ago, I wrote about the Swallow-tailed Kites that have been visiting the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive fields this summer.  These graceful birds swoop through the air, feeding on insects.  They don’t seem to interact much with the local birds or the fields below.  So they didn’t seem to understand why the Red-winged Blackbirds began launching a full mid-air assault!

Red-winged Blackbird Attacks a Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird Attacks a Swallow-tailed Kite

At first I thought the blackbirds were stealing bugs from the kites.  But then I noticed that the Red-wings had a nest near where the kites were flying.  So the males were defending their territory.  The kites didn’t seem to understand.

What's Your Problem?

What’s Your Problem?

In the photo above, the kite looks over his shoulder to see the little bird attacking him.  The Red-wings are such brave little guys.  It takes a lot of courage to attack a bird so much bigger than yourself!

Attack of Red-Winged Blackbird

Attack of Red-Winged Blackbird

When the Red-winged Blackbirds got too close, the kites seemed to swat at them with their long wings.  Despite the blackbirds’ best effort, the kites continued to glide over the fields.  So the blackbirds kept attacking…

Red-winged Blackbird Attacking Swallow-tailed Kite

Red-winged Blackbird Attacking Swallow-tailed Kite

This was such a fun morning.  Maybe not for the blackbirds, but it was for me.  It was very challenging to capture these interactions! :)

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The First Sign of Fall at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

It’s strange to think of fall migration starting in mid-July, in the intense heat of our Florida summers.  But the birds start to leave their breeding grounds that early.  We begin to see phalaropes as they move through the state.  Shorebirds begin to return to the beaches, back from the Alaskan tundra.  And at Lake Apopka, the first Belted Kingfisher returned to the wildlife drive!

First of Fall Belted Kingfisher!

First of Fall Belted Kingfisher!

My dad came with me on this particular visit to the LAWD.  We got out at the Crazy U and walked around a bit.  We heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo but never saw it.  Then we were distracted by a family of cardinals.  The babies were very pretty in the soft morning light.

Juvenile Cardinal

Juvenile Cardinal

A Northern Flicker joined a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers on the power lines over our heads.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Back on the drive, we saw a Least Bittern on Welland Road.  The bittern was fishing from the dead sticks sticking up in the water.  My photos always seem to make the Least Bitterns seem bigger than they actually are.  They like to move their tails in a circular pattern while they are stalking their prey. It’s very entertaining.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

While we stalked the stalking bittern, I was surprised to see some Wood Ducks fly over.  I’ve seen them reported regularly on eBird, but I’d never seen them myself.  It appeared to be a male and a juvenile.

Wood Ducks in Flight

Wood Ducks in Flight

The Wood Ducks were not the only birds to fly over.  Some Fulvous Whistling-Ducks flew overhead shortly after.  Even though I see the Fulvous whistlers on almost every visit, I never get tired of photographing them, especially in flight.

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks in Flight

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks in Flight

As we neared Grebe Corner, we heard the persistent calls of a juvenile grebe.  He was swimming in the water made golden by the morning light and the reflection of the nearby reeds.  Such a pretty bird.  He’s growing up far too quickly.  It seemed like just yesterday that I photographed him as a baby at his nest.

Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe

Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe

We drove Laughlin slowly, but we didn’t see any orioles or cuckoos.  We heard Eastern Towhees, a Brown Thrasher, and White-eyed Vireos.  Then we came across this Green Heron perched nicely on the top of a branch.  He sat for quite a long time before flying off.

Green Heron

Green Heron

As we neared the end of the drive, we found Forky at his usual spot at the sod fields.  It’s rare that a Fork-tailed Flycatcher stays so long in Florida!  He gave us a rare treat – he flew in close and perched on the power lines right over our heads.  :)

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

eBirdFind my birding list from today on eBird.

Osprey with Fish! at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Imagine a pond at sunrise.  Now imagine that the pond is full of large fish.  It’s a Florida pond, so naturally, it’s also full of alligators — about 50 or 60, at least.  Now imagine that the gators are regularly leaping out of the water to grab the fish.  It’s a pretty spectacular sight.  Now imagine the pond surrounded with people, mostly photographers, gawking at the sight of all the gators.  It was just another morning at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive pump house in late July.

I’m not too fond of alligators, so I didn’t join the crowd of people shouting “oooh!” each time a gator grabbed a fish.  I headed for a quieter spot and focused the Beast on the skies…and the dozens of Ospreys who were also fishing in the pond. My goodness, they were pulling out some giant breakfasts!

Osprey with Fish!

Osprey with Fish!

Seriously, some of the fish were almost as big as the birds!  This next bird definitely needed both talons to hold on to that big fish!  It’s challenging to capture the birds as they first pull the fish out of the water.  You have to have time to pre-focus on the water near where the bird will dive, and then hope that the bird will fly towards you.

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

This fish was still dripping as the bird flew over the pond.  The distant trees made a nice background.  His fish wasn’t quite as big as his friends’ fish!

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

Something tells me that this bird had a stomachache before he finished his breakfast.  Look at the size of this fish!

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

This bird was circling over the pond when he spotted a fish before.  They dive very quickly.

Osprey Dive

Osprey Dive

When the bird first emerges from the water, he usually does a violent shake of his head to shake the water from his feathers.  When you catch him shaking in mid-air, he looks kind of funny… ;-)

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

I’ve never had so many awesome opportunities for Osprey flight shots with fish.  I must have photographed at least a dozen different birds that morning.

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

Here’s a final shot with a green background.  Manual exposure was a must that morning – it let me select a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action, and expose for the bird regardless of the background.

Osprey with Fish

Osprey with Fish

I was grinning from ear to ear when the action let up and I finally pulled myself away.  Such a fun morning!