Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hidden Springs

I saw a notice posted by Facebook Friend Jim Robison that there would be a "Hidden Springs" hike in the Seminole Forest and thought that would be a lovely day. Carolyn decided she would like to go along, too. As the date approached I started to wonder how much hiking this would be. If I search the springs online it looked like a 10 mile loop! Fortunately, it turns out that the main distance there and back is by car. Whew.

We all gathered at 9 and one of the first people who spoke to us turned out to be Jim in person. A nice way to start. Soon, Bill Belleville spoke about the springs and conservation.

Bill Belleville

Ranger Ralph had map duty before he dispensed some information before we all spilt into groups and headed off toward the springs.

Ranger Ralph

Turns out that Jim ended up being our driver as the several cars headed down dirt roads to our first stop at a spring discovered only 3 years ago. Most springs are close to the roadways but this one required a 1/2 mile hike to reach through pine flats and palmetto scrub.


We had to backtrack after a wrong turn but relocated the pink markers that led us back toward the path and made our way across the muddy ground before the vegetation opened up revealing Helene Spring.

Helene Spring

Leaves just below the surface were gathering sediments along their edges.


Minnows swan and searched for food along the surface of this marvelous upwelling of water.


As we headed back to the cars I noticed one of the tree trunks covered with dainty, flowering fern.


The path back was lined with many other flowering plants like blueberries getting an early start before Spring.


Ranger Mike gave a quick talk about the next spring we were to visit, Palm Spring, before we headed down a steep slope covered with slippery pine needles.

Ranger Mike

Palm Spring is made up of several spring heads that feed water toward the river downstream.

Palm Spring

Leading away from the spring heads, filaments of sediment twist and sway in the current.

Palm Spring

Ranger Mike said he wasn't sure why the spring was named Palm Spring but, to me, the presence of many toppled, decaying palm trunks makes it fairly obvious. It was most likely ringed by many palm trees back in the day.

Palm Spring

On the way out, another boil could be seen in the slow moving water, churning the sand as it reaches the stream bed.

Palm Spring

Next up, Boulder Spring. It have a small boulder at the boil area that remind some of a small bear cup taking a sip.

Boulder Spring

Our final stop before heading back to the parking lot was Sharktooth Spring. Like many springs in Central Florida, this spring deposits ancient shark teeth left behind from when this area was ocean water millennia ago. I scooped one small segment of sand and easily found a small sharks tooth right at the surface. I have a bunch from a trip to Kelly Spring just up the road when I visited there in my high school days.

Sharktooth Spring

A perfect end to January. Temperatures were excellent and the company as we traveled was entertaining and informative. We will have to venture out here again some day on our own or to show some friends. There are springs to visit all over the region when we have the time.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Traveling Around the Neighborhood

Have hardly had a chance to bird since the first of the year. If it weren't for space related things my January would be pretty vacant, blog-wise. I was going to go out to help round up sparrows on the west coast but a forecast of bad weather lead them to cancel the event. So, on this gloomy morning I decided to at least drive around the neighborhood.

This season has been so quiet I was wondering if I would find much but it actually was pretty bird. I was watching a small flock of Ring-necked Ducks at Lake Weldona when I saw a Tricolored Heron out of the corner of my eye spearing a fish. I edged the car up slowly but hoping fast enough to get some snack time shots.

Little Blue Heron

It took several tries to get the fish off of the bill before the bird was able to swing the prey around and gulp it down.

Little Blue Heron

While I was snapping shots of the heron a feeding flock of Western Palm Warblers were flying just above ground level to snatch up insects. Only one would stop long enough for a portrait.

Western Palm Warbler

I discovered another little retention pond between a local church and some homes up the road and add it to my loop check from time to time. As the rain creeped back over I noticed a wet Belted Kingfisher. Usually they fly off on any sort of approach but this one just stared through the chainlink fence.

Belted Kingfisher

On the other edge of the pond, a Pied-billed Grebe dove and bobbed near the shore.

Pied-billed Grebe

I then remembered a few ponds near a hotel toward the airport and headed over to check for any ducks. Total disappointment. Nothing in the ponds. However, when I got back onto the road to head back home I noticed some large shapes along the sidewalk. I turned toward them and tried to figure out what they were. I was almost up to them before I realized they were Wild Turkey!

Wild Turkey

I was not expecting them here closer to the airport but here they were. Four females grabbing seeds along the roadway before disappearing into the bushes.

Wild Turkey

On the way home I made my way around the high school to check the feeders at a home I have checked over the years. There was a bit of activity around but what made me stop in my tracks was the color blue. There shouldn't be any birds with blue feathers except for Blue Jays. I could never get them in better focus in this low light.

Blue Waxbill

I raced home to do some research and found they were Blue Waxbills, a member of the cordon-bleu finches from Africa. They most likely escaped form some home but it was weird to see 6 of them in one flock. I tried to refind them when the clouds cleared but I never saw them again.

Blue Waxbill

Not a bad morning check. Quite full of little surprises. Hoping I can get out more but we are getting into festival season so my weekends are pretty booked for a while. At least those involve birds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Atlas V

This work thing is really cramping my birding! However, there have been some interesting flying things to see at night. It is set to be a busy year for launches but my problem is the cloud cover between here and the coast. As launch time approached I was watching a low bank of clouds that were not building too much. But I could also tell that fog was beginning to form around the city.

Just after 8 PM I could see the glow of the initial firing of the engines. The Atlas V is not as big as the shuttles were but this is a huge rocket. I began shooting photos throughout the launch until I couldn't see it anymore but I like the first frame the best. You can see the shadow of the rocket again the fog as it gets higher in the sky.

Atlas V

First launch of the year with many more to come. I'm ready.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Searching for Lovejoy

Recently discovered Comet Lovejoy is rising in the Northern sky now so I decided to head out and try to see it. Here, the clouds kept me from doing that for a week. Tonight was fairly clear so I found the darkest spot I could in Orlando and aimed towards the Pleiades cluster that I grew up calling the Seven Sisters. Just below it was a green fuzzy ball.

Comet Lovejoy

I had hoped it would be brighter, but... Still got it in the collection.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Local Lake Search

This season has been so slow for migrants that I keep wondering why I even take my daily lake rounds to look for them. It has been consistently disappointing. A typical year usually has hundreds of Ring-necked Duck in the area. This year the best flock is on Lake Weldona with just over 30 birds.

Ring-necked Duck

There must be something out there just out of sight because I am starting to see more raptors on the move. This Cooper's Hawk was trying to stay hidden in a Cypress at Lake Lancaster.

Cooper's Hawk

On the opposite shore, the Great Blue Herons are preparing to nest in their usual oak trees.

Great Blue Heron

On to Lake Davis to look for a reported bird I haven't seen in a few years. The first ducks I found were a couple of young Muscovy Ducks that were hatched last month.

Muscovy Duck

Just when I thought I wasn't going to see any Anhinga, there she was.


A small flock of Blue-winged Teal have been hanging out this season. Mostly they cling to the shore under the shade. Today I caught one in the sunlight for a few seconds.

Blue-winged Teal

It seemed to take a while for the American Coots to show up this Winter but they are here and there around the area now.

American Coot

Rounding the last part of my lake walk I spotted the birds I was after. Northern Shovelers congregate in large numbers over on the coasts but some years they venture inland. They are another duck that stays in the shade a lot.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler males get pretty flashy. This is actually the 'dull' plumage.

Northern Shoveler

A few more species in the area with a little while longer to go. I have yet to see a Cedar Waxwing this season which is really odd. Waiting and watching.

Friday, January 02, 2015

2015 New Year's Day Hike, Part 2

Having already walked at least 10 miles, I rounded the bend and still had a little over a couple miles to go. At least I knew the car was way down that road and to the left. Somewhere down that road was a bird I would like to see so I kept moving and watched the bushes in hopes of finding it.


I got to a promising spot but all I could find was a small bird in the gloom. Once I was closer I could tell it was a Chipping Sparrow.

Chipping Sparrow

Pretty little birds. I wish I would get more closer to home.

Chipping Sparrow

A bit further up the road, a Swamp Sparrow darted out for a look around before heading back into the vegetation. I was hearing them all through the morning but they don't pop out that often.

Swamp Sparrow

Up ahead in the distance, I spotted a black bird perched in a tree. Could this be my bird? I walked slower and searched through my binoculars. It could be. Closer still and, yep, that was the Groove-billed Ani that was being reported.

Groove-billed Ani

Groove-billed Ani breed in South Texas and are mostly found through Mexico to northern South America so it is a rare treat to have them visit Florida. I had photos of Groove-billed Anis from years ago but that was still in the film days. They were very skittish back then but this bird was totally fine with me walking pretty close and snapping digitals.

Groove-billed Ani

I inched closer and was probably no more than 20 feet from the Ani.

Groove-billed Ani

I never noticed those beautiful feathers the last time I saw this species. It is actually in the Cuckoo family of birds. A gorgeous little dinosaur posing in the overcast morning. A nice experience added to my long hike.

Groove-billed Ani

Almost back to the car and there was not a lot of bird activity. Perhaps the American Kestrel looking for a meal played a part.

American Kestrel

Exhausted, I climbed back in the car and prepared for the long drive home. A ton of exercise on the first day of 2015. Heres to a bunch of good trips and bird photos in the new year.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015 New Year's Day Hike, Part 1

Happy New Year! Sometimes I like to find a new place to hike on the first day of the year. Today I hiked part or the Lake Apopka Loop Trail. I wanted to try and see some new birds that were being reported which I figured would take me a few miles. I didn't count on the 13 miles I actually ended up walking.

Loop Sign

The morning was totally overcast the entire trip. The best shot of one of the many Eastern Phoebes was pretty gloomy.

Eastern Phoebe

Not long after the first turn I noticed a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flitting about the shrubs.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A lot of other birders were down the road searching for the same birds that I was but none were showing right now. Over in the marsh a few Glossy Ibis searched for breakfast.

Glossy Ibis

A couple mile down the trail I reached the Orange County line.

Orange County Sign

A Killdeer called and flew back and forth across the road and finally posed for me by the picnic shelter.


Around the next turn, a Great Egret watched me carefully.

Great Egret

I thought I would be able to see Lake Apopka by now but the trail just kept turning back and forth. I came to a large canal and thought I would just keep going until I did reach the lake shore.


Down in the canal, a large Alligator was deciding to come up the bank. Big boy!


Just when I though the lake was in reach, the trail switched back again. Dang. At least I had a few Savannah Sparrows to keep me company.

Savannah Sparrow

There were many signs of mammals around but I wasn't finding them. Just scat up and down the roadway.


There were signs along the trail every now and then. I didn't notice until I took the photo that they were milage signs. They marked the distance from the other end of the trail near Magnolia Park but I was not going that far. Just to the lake. I hope.


A couple Bald Eagles passed overhead as I stubbornly walked down the trail despite by now aching feet.

Bald Eagle

At last! The edge of Lake Apopka. No real number of birds around. Definitely not on the water. I did finally hear a flock of Fulvous Whistling Ducks but they kept back in the marsh so I couldn't get a photo. It was one of the birds I was after, however.

Lake Apopka

I continued to a more open spot on the lake and could see the Pumphouse in the distance. This was as far as I would go before turning back. Going to be a long haul.


One thing you, hopefully, learn as a birder is to keep an eye on the ground. Anthills are all over and the last thing you want is to be so interested in a bird that you stand on one by mistake. It is a quick lesson.


Back near the trail switchback a pair of Anhinga chased one another.


The broke through the clouds for a couple of minutes and gave me a good view of one of the many Little Blue Herons I saw today.

Little Blue Heron

At the canal, the big Alligator had reached to bank and I noticed it brought along a friend. I wanted a better shot but I figured I would not have enough energy for escape if I got too close.


In another canal I found another Alligator with a better profile.


Finally! A mammal!! This Raccoon was busy checking the vegetation for a morsel until it noticed me about to take its picture.


Nearing the Picnic shelter a spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk having a meal. I could not tell what it was eating.

Red-shouldered Hawk

When I reached the shelter I noticed a mass up ahead next to the road. A little closer and I could tell it was another mammal. A Bobcat. Resting. Until I got a few feet closer.


A juvenile Little Blue Heron kept an eye on me as I trudged past.

Little Blue Heron

A good sign. Back into Lake County which meant I was only a couple of miles from the car. Not going to Clay Island today. I did that hike a few years ago on New Year's Day.


I was still hoping to add a couple more interesting birds for the day. But those will keep until the next post. Man, my feet hurt...