Monday, July 06, 2015

Lake Apopka Swallows

Saving the best for last from my Lake Apopka North Shore Drive trip we revisit the Barn Swallows. When I first started noticing them they were flying over the canal to my right. I was trying to figure if I should get out and try some flight shots but that would have meant shooting into the Sun and hoping for any shots captured in frame. Swallows are so darned fast!

I edged the car forward toward the turn and glanced out to the left. Swallows began to settle on the branches just to my left. In the good light.

Barn Swallow

One after another, the Barn Swallows settled for a few minutes and twittered away.

Barn Swallow

Among the adults, a few juveniles dropped by for a few seconds.

Barn Swallow

A short time later, I drove down the road. Flocks of Barn Swallows where on the wires and there is a small bridge where the birds are nesting and they were feeding and flying under the bridge to feed young.

Barn Swallow

I made another round of the drive since I had missed one of the legs along the lake but I kept thinking about the Barn Swallows all along the trip. When I got back to the corner there were not birds in the trees but settling down on the railing of a maintenance structure.

Barn Swallow

This younger bird stayed on the rial longer than others and I snapped away.

Barn Swallow

A few adult Barn Swallow would stop for a few seconds before heading back into the air in search of insects.

Barn Swallow

The variety of orange on these birds was remarkable, especially on the older birds.

Barn Swallow

The juvenile bird would occasionally make little calls, apparently begging to be fed.

Barn Swallow

I was about to drive away when I noticed another bird flying in next to the juvenile.

Barn Swallow and Hybrid

While I was taking photos my first thought was that this was a leucistic (a partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes) Barn Swallow.

Barn Swallow and Hybrid

I even mentioned this to some friends I rolled up on later. Then I started thinking about thing I had noticed like a slight size and shape difference. The two interacted for a while before they both flew off. When I got home I processed photos and had major 2nd thoughts and sent the photos into the world of birding forums.

Barn Swallow and Hybrid

Once I culled all of the responses it seems like the overall conclusion is this is probably a Barn Swallow and Tree Swallow hybrid. There have been Tree Swallows in the area that stayed later than they typically do and it is breeding season. We will never know conclusively but that seems to be the most likely answer.

Barn Swallow and Hybrid

Definitely not a pure Barn, by any means, but a pretty little bird.

Barn Swallow and Hybrid

Glad I decided to make that second pass. It was well worth it with just this discovery alone. The entirety of the visit was just as special and I can't wait for a chance to get back out there.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Lake Apopka Ospreys

Ospreys. A very wide-spread bird across the planet and a bird I remember even as a child living in Key West before I knew what birdwatching was. How many species did I walk right past way back then? But Ospreys are everywhere and especially in the early morning skies at Lake Apopka. They began searching for fish right after sunrise and were flying past me as I made my way into the North Shore Drive.

Osprey

My favorite part of the drive is that is runs primarily West so the rising Sun is behind you making for excellent lighting. The Ospreys were bringing in breakfast to almost any perch available but they really love telephone poles with their flat tops and height.

Osprey

In between meals they still sit there and watch these silly humans drive through their territory.

Osprey

Most things can't reach them at their dining table. Except maybe that wasp!

Osprey

Sometimes you can even spot the rare Double-tailed Osprey.

Osprey

You don't often see one sitting but this one appears to be using its meal for a cushion.

Osprey

Most of the fish is pretty clean. Sometimes things can get a bit more...messy.

Osprey

Out at the edge of the lake there seemed to be an inlet that was teaming with circling birds, most were Ospreys but they were too far off for an interesting shot. By the time I made my second run of the morning it seemed all of the birds were sated and I couldn't find many. However, one was waiting for me at the end of the drive as I made it toward home.

Osprey

I like Ospreys. Ospreys are cool.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Lake Apopka North Shore Drive, Pt. 2

Time for pass Number 2! Back at the first jog, I stopped to get another family shot to the Black-necked Stilts still feeding in the marsh.

Black-necked Stilt

My second American Alligator of the day was a tiny guy. Maybe 2-years-old.

American Alligator

Nearby, I had a nice surprise by spotting an American Coot in the canal. This species typically is found only in Winter in these parts though I have had one stay in Orlando through one Summer a few years ago.

American Coot

I hurried down the first stretch realizing I hadn't taken a good shot of the Pump House the first time around.

Pump House

Common Gallinules in all age ranges are present right now along the Drive. This little newborn reminded me of a tiny dinosaur just up and walking through the reeds.

Common Gallinule

I only saw a few grackles during my visit today and only got a shot of a female Boat-tailed Grackle at one spot.

Boat-tailed Grackle

The last American Alligator sighting of the morning was a good one as this fella was basking in the rays of the rising Sun.

American Alligator

I was now back at the Barn Swallow curve and was taking shots of a juvenile calling for food when this bird flew in next to the youngster. My photos made quite a stir on the local forums and I will talk about it in a future posting.

Barn Swallow

You cannot imagine how hard it was to get a shot of any of the Cattle Egrets. They were all over but flushed any time you got close to them. At the swallow curve I had a small flock that let me get close enough for a couple of shots. They look great in breeding plumage.

Cattle Egret

A Common Ground Dove was walking along the roadway and I tried to get a shot of it on the ground but it kept flying ahead of me until finally cruising up to the wires.

Common Ground Dove

Most of the Snowy Egrets were further out in the canals but every now and then I would find one close to the Drive.

Snowy Egret

Same with the Great Egrets.

Great Egret

White Ibis were mostly fly-overs but this one was sitting in the marsh fairly close.

White Ibis

It is fun to see so many local birds in breeding plumage, including the Glossy Ibis.

Glossy Ibis

Usually you could only see their backs as they fed in the grasses so I took a shot to catch some iridescence on one of the birds.

Glossy Ibis

The last bird of the morning was a solitary Osprey up in a snag before the road turns toward the highway. The last mile is pretty quite and more forested. It may be more interesting when the Winter birds come our way but for now...

Osprey

This is a remarkable trail along Lake Apopka and I hope to visit it more in the future. However, I fear it will be a madhouse come Fall/Winter. Could be bumper to bumper. We shall see.

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.

Moon

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.

Sign

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.

Dragonfly

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.

Anhinga

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.

Osprey

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.

Anhinga

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.

Limpkin

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

Anhinga

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...