Hit the fast forward button about nine and a half years. I was working with the Alachua Audubon field trip committee planning this year's outings. I thought of Emeralda Marsh, a place I've visited a few times and really enjoyed. But I knew that access was limited, so I placed a call to the office of the St. Johns River Water Management District. I learned that a trip to the marsh within the time frame we wanted was impossible. As I was about to hang up the woman said, "Have you thought about the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive?" I knew nothing about it so she said, "You should try it; it's filled with birds." I decided to take a chance, put it on the schedule, and lead the trip myself. But I was worried. When a non-birder says a place is "filled with birds" it could mean anything, right?
The place is filled with birds.
Later, the three of us compared notes on what we saw of that falcon. After consulting field guides and range maps, we realized it had to be a Peregrine Falcon.
The canal along the road was also very active. Anhingas, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Great Egrets were common. A Belted Kingfisher noisily announced his presence. Pied-billed Grebes swam with Common Gallinules, completely ignoring me. An American Bittern hunted on the far edge, freezing in position and lulling his prey into a false sense of security.
Farther down the road we ran into a a group of birders that included Jim Eager, Susan Daughtrey and Paul Huber. We found a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a White-eyed Vireo, a couple of Swamp Sparrows, and a Tricolored Heron. Meanwhile, a Northern Harrier coasted just above the marsh looking for food.
At the pump house, Jim told me to be on the lookout for a Black Skimmer that had been seen in the area. Almost on cue, the Skimmer flew over the little pond behind the pump house and headed out over the lake. Jim also told me about three other birds of interest. He said White-crowned Sparrows had been seen in the area as had a Peregrine Falcon. And he noted that a pond nearby had some Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. At the time, I didn't realize that the raptor we had seen earlier was probably the Peregrine. We searched for the sparrows, but I didn't find any. When we left the pump house, Jim took the more eastern route while I drove along the lake. Jim relocated the Whistling-Ducks and posted a great photo of them online (below).
The lakeside route proved to be a little less productive than I hoped, but perhaps as more ducks fly in, the area will pick up a bit. However, there were several Ospreys and Red-shouldered Hawks that didn't mind posing for photos.
|Osprey with Lunch|
We ended the day at a Beef O'Brady's in Tangerine. I was taught that if you can't say anything nice about someone or something, don't say anything at all. Instead, I'll mention that there is a terrific, multiple award-winning novel for adolescents called Tangerine by Edward Bloor set in a fictionalized version of this town. It was a compelling read, and I highly recommend it rather than the aforementioned restaurant.
Overall, we had 48 species for the morning and I added eight to my Orange County life list. I'm really looking forward to bringing a field trip back here in a few weeks. When I post something on Facebook to advertise the trip, there's one thing I'm confident in saying.
It is filled with birds.
|Jim Eager's photo of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Yes, I'm jealous.|
|A Palm Warbler flashing its white outer tail feathers.|
|Another look at a Glossy Ibis|
|This Palm Warbler just needed a good stretch!|