Friday, July 03, 2015

Lake Apopka North Shore Drive, Pt. 1

I have been waiting to get out to the new Lake Apopka North Shore Drive. Folks have been reporting fun birds but the drive is only open Friday-Sunday and my weekends have been a bit too crazy. Today I finally got my chance to head out.

I wanted to get there as soon as it opened and was greeted by a nice bright Moon before dawn in downtown Orlando on the way to the drive.


The beginning of the drive is at the end of Lust Road where many birders have gone for years but as far as you could go was the gate which is now open and has a new sign welcoming visitors.


Many carloads of birders were already on the Drive ahead of me. At the first little job was a very boisterous Black-necked Stilt family. Every time the chick would wander a bit too far, Mom would start calling loudly for all to stay away.

Black-necked Stilt

Eventually, the Black-necked Stilt chick would return to a parent's side to feed closer. I tried to get some shots of the parents attempting to shoo off a Glossy Ibis to no avail. The Ibis didn't seem to care too much about the fuss.

Black-necked Stilt

The best thing about the Lake Apopka North Shore Drive is that it heads due West for most of the time so the lighting is perfect in the early morning.

Lake Apopka North Shore Drive

Dragonflies were all over at daybreak. Occasionally one would light atop a swaying grassy stalk.


Green Herons were flying across the drive all morning but never settled in for a photo. Tricolored Herons were a bit more cooperative.

Tricolored Heron

Common Gallinules were also abundant but you don't often see one sitting up on an exposed branch!

Common Gallinule

Looking over the edge of the road I spotted an Anhinga making a catch and had to strain over the passenger seat to get a snap.


I was actually surprised I didn't see too many American Alligators out today. I have seen more hiking the North Shore in the past. Some BIG ones in some of the canals.

American Alligator

Great Blue Herons prowled the edges of the water but I didn't see any score a breakfast on my rounds.

Great Blue Heron

Red-winged Blackbirds were beyond counting. They were all over with most males calling and defending territories.

Red-winged Blackbird

Not a lot of vultures around this morning but I did have a nice close fly-by of an adult Turkey Vulture.

Turkey Vulture

This early in the morning the Ospreys were feeding and feasting all up and down the Drive. I will devote another post exclusively about Ospreys soon.


Most of the vegetation is weedy shrubs, grasses, and Cattails but every now and then a splash of color would appear like the white Moon Glory blossoms.

Moon Glory

Down by the Pump House turn a female Anhinga rested on a structure across the water.


I decided to take the righthand turn past the Pump House not knowing there was another stretch closer to the lake. I would take that portion of the drive next time around. This lane was fairly bird free and the only big bird I spotted first was a Limpkin. Too bad I could only get a shot through the wind shield.


On the opposite side, a wet male Anhinga tried to stay out of view.


At the end of this northerly drive I started to see Barn Swallows swooping over the canal at the bend. As I turned to head toward a flock sitting on wires ahead I noticed a Great Blue Heron sunning in the roadway. It is always fun to see this behavior.

Great Blue Heron

Just past the heron, a pair of Roseate Spoonbills were crossing to reach the canal and fields to the North.

Roseate Spoonbill

The Barn Swallows here were copious with only a few resting on the wires. Many more were feeding and returning to nests under a small bridge over the canal. I ended up with a lot of swallow photos (with a rather interesting discovery) that warrant them their own post in the future, as well.

Barn Swallow

The final bird shot on this pass was a female Red-winged Blackbird that was searching through the grasses for a snack.

Red-winged Blackbird

I thought of just heading home then but, as mentioned earlier, I found that there was another spur of the Drive so I swung back around to take one more pass and hoped for some interesting shot. Glad I did. Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jay Watch 2015, Part 2

The second morning of my Jay Watch duties found me at the Lake Monroe Conservation area at dawn. Once I signed in and gathered my gear I dod a bit of exploring in the parking lot before we started. One shot I missed since it was so quick was an adult Bald Eagle that flew straight past us on the road about 10 feet off the surface. Then it was gone.

Instead, I had to settle for an illuminated Spiny Orb Weaver and its web.

Spiny Orb Weaver

Gaura is a Florida native but I don't see it too often. It was all over this little lot.


Eastern Towhees are always calling out on this property but I could never get in a good position, lighting-wise.

Eastern Towhee

Once I turned around I did have perfect light for the Rusty Lyonia.


One pf my favorite flowers out in the scrub is the Tar Flower. I always make a point of trying to find the best bloom while I am searching for Jays.

Tar Flower

My point shift was over so I walked up toward the next point. Out in the distance was a single Florida Scrub Jay feeding around the vegetation. I played the Scrub Jay tape quickly and the bird flew our way. Too bad it was the only one I would see today but the photos do prove it is an unbanded bird.

Florida Scrub Jay

At the next count point I found some Lyonia sporting its small white blossoms.


Loblolly Bay flowers are hard to miss. Especially once you get nearer to thicker forest on property.

Loblolly Bay

Out in the more open areas out here we know there are not any Jays here but there are other birds that come through like Great-Crested Flycatchers perching on any high snag. Sometimes we find Blue Birds and we had several Bachman's Sparrows flying by.

Great-Crested Flycatcher

I was putting my clipboard down and prepared to play my Jay calls when I noticed this pink bloom in the middle of some rather barren ground. Not sure of the species yet. Most likely one of the Sabatia family species.


Off in the distance a pair of women on horseback were winding their way through the scrub. A couple of times they halted for a while but I couldn't tell why. By the time they passed me I said Hello and they said, "Wow, they aren't scared of you!" and they rode on. Turns out those pauses before was as they tried to go past the others in my party the horses spooked and would not go directly past the ladies. Go figure.


I was watching a Northern Mockingbird when suddenly a Brown Thrasher emerged from the scrub to pose for a bit.

Brown Thrasher

Several of these large stalked plant came into view. I have know idea what they are but they always intrigue me.


A really close inspection revealed a small batch of purple blooms at the top.


A very large ant came scurrying past me as the morning wore down. It looks kind of like a velvet ant but...not.


My last count point was pretty quiet but there was a very small dragonfly that landed next to me.


As I headed up the trail I was finding much larger dragonflies swaying in the rising breeze.


Around the corner was a plant full of seed heads. Kinda pretty.

Seed Heads

Swaying around with the dragonflies was a small patch of tall Yellow-eyed Grass. My last photo of the day.

Yellow-eyed Grass

We headed back in the truck to the parking lot and said our good-byes. Rain was moving in as I headed home. There are other spots I could have visited but this year I am too tired to stand in the heat any longer. I will be back out to count again next year, after all.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jay Watch 2015, Part 1

It's that time again! Back out into the Summer heat to count Florida Scrub Jays. This weekend I was stationed at Buck Lake Conservation Area near Mims, Florida. Always nice to meet up with old and new friends and hopefully get some shots of the Jays and other discoveries in the scrub.

While the instructions for our procedures were given to the new volunteers I spied something more interesting. Up on one of the powerless I spotted a Great-Crested Flycatcher. A few minutes later it actually stuck its head into on end of the large pipes and then flew back to perch. Another flycatcher arrived and then the two seemed to have a bit of a quarrel leaving the original bird sitting on the wire. I can only surmise they have a nest in that pipe. Cool.

Great-Crested Flycatcher

The group leaders seem to have finally nailed down how to get group photos of the daily volunteers. Used to be they would wait until the end of the morning but by then either half the group has gone home or is just too exhausted by the heat. Now we get the shot before heading out for the counts.


I had the closest count points with Jane and Maria (who runs the event on this side of the state). Approaching our first count point I spotted a pair of jays on a dead tree snag. We had to walk past the birds to get on the best side of the morning sunlight. Shortly after we settled in with our binoculars to get the leg band data. Soon, one of the Florida Scrub Jays flew among us, grabbed something from the ground and found a spot to cache it in the sand.

Florida Scrub Jay

It then hopped up into small tree right in front of me allowing me some nice shots.

Florida Scrub Jay

Maria had been looking for a photo that showed the pattern on the back of adult Florida Scrub Jays and our bird was happy to oblige me as I moved behind it and I got some excellent shots. Turns out that this shot serves a duel purpose as it is also a good example shot of tail molt.

Florida Scrub Jay

That bird flew back to the tree but the second one soon replaced it, again, right in front of me. This is a good shot of the leg bands on this bird which would be recorded Silver/Black/Mauve.

Florida Scrub Jay

We moved off to survey some other points before returning to this general area. I played my jay tapes and a pair of Florida Scrub Jays flew in from a quarter mile away. Took a few minutes to confirm but it was the same pair we hung with earlier.

Florida Scrub Jay

While I was positioning myself in the oaks for the best angle I could get of the Jay above me a juvenile Northern Mockingbird flew in to see what all the fuss was.

Northern Mockingbird

The next set of points was near the large ditch that cuts across the property. It stays a bit more damp and typically have some interesting flowers blooming like one of our species of St. John's Wort.

St. John's Wort

Tucked down in the grasses, a few Rhexia swayed in the gentle breeze.


A yellow flower I have yet to identify caught my eye as I headed back to the roadside to meet my ride.


Once I got settled a flash caught my eye up in the blue. First the sky was totally blue but suddenly an area of white would appear like a rotating advertising sign an disappear again. Wood Stork flock I figured but I took a shot just to document it. I thought that the Anhinga following at the bottom of the flock was interesting, too.

American White Pelican

Once I got the image on the home computer I was a bit more than surprised. Those weren't Storks. They were American White Pelicans! I am use to seeing them only in the Winter but I guess some do stick around sometimes according to records. Just a pretty rare sight for June.

American White Pelican

I play my first round of Jay calls per instructions then have to stop before the full minute was up. A Swallow-tailed Kite was flying right toward me. Kites have been known to prey upon young birds so we try not to attract any jays when raptors of any kind are in sight. The Kite eventually headed out over the tree line and I played the tape for one more round before my time was up.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Grasshoppers were constantly flying out of the way of my step at every stop. This one posed for a nice morning shot in the road.


It was taking a while for Maria to get me for the next round. Maybe she had a bird or two at her stop. As I waited I spotted a small dot on the horizon, high in the sky. Didn't seem like a Red-tailed Hawk to me so I snapped a few shot to take home and analyze. Turned out to be a Short-tailed Hawk, another excellent bird for this time of year. I have only seen a few of theses birds ever and never got a shot as clear.

Short-tailed Hawk

Maria finally headed down to get me reporting that she did, indeed have a bird at her area. It seemed to be unbanded so we hurried back with my camera to try for documentation. Sure enough, an unbanded Florida Scrub Jay panting in the warming morning.

Florida Scrub Jay

The scope was brought out for a closer view and to verify there were no bands on this bird.


No more birds for us on our remaining spot but I am sure some of the other teams had some. Tomorrow is Part Two at Lake Monroe. Hopefully, we can keep the nice breeze around. It wasn't as hot as I had feared it was going to be today