Wildlife Weekend

I’m a bit of a birder – not quite a “Big Year” type, but I have the Peterson Field Guide to Birds app on my phone and I try to keep my life list up. Binoculars are always on the ready by my back door.

My mother bequeathed me with this passion and we love to bird watch together. Twenty minutes from our home is the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. It usually takes us three hours to do the 11-mile drive at a maximum of 10 mph. We stop a lot. You just can’t help yourself. There’s so much to see.

The drive is part of the successful effort to restore beautiful Lake Apopka, which is northwest of Orlando, and home to 369 species of birds, though some are quite literally snow birds. It’s a big winter migration area.

Today, the wildlife drive really lived up to its name. Mom and I spent the morning there, and we agreed it was the best day we’ve ever had on the drive. We identified 24 different species of birds, witnessed an alligator turtle laying eggs, and observed more American alligators than you can shake a stick at. Note: Don’t shake sticks at alligators or feed them. It’s against the law.

 

These beautiful flowers grow in the water.

 

Baby Gallinule

 

You can tell it’s springtime. There were baby gallinules everywhere. Here’s a family portrait.

 

I always find a gator in this particular spot. Today as we pulled up there was a woman taking pictures of the babies. Do you see them? There were five altogether but only four are in this pic. At first we didn’t even notice that mama had her eye on us.

We had never been to the drive during alligator mating season. It began a couple of weeks ago. Their gestation period is 65 days, so I guess this mama got an early start. Since we’re talking about alligators here, it brings more meaning to the fact that they are fiercely protective of their babies. When we saw the babies, we knew she must be close by so we were happy to spot her from a safe distance.

 

Great Blue Heron

 

Gator grabbing lunch

You know how you can be out in the wild and hear something and turn to discover you’ve just missed a spectacular moment? Well, we saw the spectacular moment. We were standing along the shore when this alligator leaped out of the water and caught a bird. I think he leaped from below and snatched it on his way up. We saw most of his white underbelly. It was quite violent and really cool. I snapped this picture right after the jump. You can see the poor bird in his jaws.

 

Anhinga drying its wings.

Anhingas swim through the water with their head and neck poking out of the water. They look like a snake, hence the nickname Snake Bird. They’re also called water turkeys. They’re beautiful in flight.

Cutest Bird Award goes to the Black-Necked Stilt

 

The green is so vivid that you almost don’t notice what’s lurking just under the surface.

Is the north side of the gator where the moss always grows?

 

Here’s a close-up of our camo-gator.

We heard a lot of gators bellowing. At first I thought it was a bullfrog, then I remembered it was mating season. We were on alert because these big guys can be submerged right in front of you and you not know it. On the drive, food is aplenty, and I’ve never seen anyone harass or feed a gator, which I have witnessed in other areas of Florida. Don’t feed the gators! It is a felony and makes them lose their fear of people and start to look at them as a food source. It’s funny to think they fear us. If a gator offered me food, I’m pretty sure I’d think it was up to something and fear it more!

Pretty sure this is a White Ibis. The bill being dark on the end makes me doubt a little.

 

Alligator Turtle laying eggs by the side of the road. I think she’s pretty ugly and maybe not too smart. People were right next to her. But I guess when it’s time, it’s just time.

 

Another Great Blue Heron. He just took a bath and was cute and fluffy.

I hope you enjoyed going on the drive with me. Any birders out there? I’d love to hear from you.

 

This is Post #14 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

 

Birds of a Feather Flock Together for Lunch

Carolina Wren hiding in bushes

Carolina Wren hiding in bushes

One of the things that I miss from my old house is my backyard birds.  I had a feeding station set up just off my porch.  Watching the birds was one of my joys.  I guess you could say I’m a birder, but not one of those go-out-in-the-great-beyond birders who knows where and when different species migrate to add them to my life list.  I wait for them to come to me.  They are my perfect little pets.  (They never mess up my house.)

As the crow flies, I don’t live far from my old home.  It was suggested to me that I leave a trail of breadcrumbs so my feathered friends could find me.  If that would have worked, I probably would have done it; but I figured it was time for me to make some new feathered friends and let the new owners of my old house enjoy the regular visitors there. I guess you could say I’m branching out to a new birding environment.

So we set up the feeding station in our new backyard and waited.  I could hear the birds in the trees which surround my yard – hear them but not see them.  Days passed and I wondered what was preventing them.  I know there are hawks around.  Perhaps these birds weren’t willing to risk going out in the open.  At long last, the blue jays came.  I appreciated their loud cackle alerting me to their visit.  Eventually a titmouse popped in and soon returned with his whole family.

I was a happy girl…for a while.  Here’s an analogy that might help you understand my temporary happiness.  It is the reason why I shouldn’t open a large bag of M&Ms.  I can start out with a few and be content, but soon I want more.  I don’t have to see them.  I can hear them calling me from the pantry – just like the birds in the trees.

The sound of cardinals in the trees really bothered me.  What was it going to take to lure them in?  Sometimes I would see one on my fence, but he never stopped at the feeder. I also heard a sweet little bird called a Phoebe, whose call sounds like his name. I would hear him every day but never lay eyes on him.  Until today.  Phoebe stopped by.  He doesn’t spend much time at the feeder but he loves to perch on top of it and fly from perch to perch around the yard.  While I was looking at him, the cardinals stopped in.  (They usually travel in pairs.)  I caught a glimpse of the female leaving as the brilliant male made a pit stop.  This is happiness for me.  Watching the birds relaxes me and is one of the things God uses to still my anxious heart.

He uses my friends that way, too.  Today I had lunch with two such friends.  I’ll call them Phoebe and Cardinal.  I often hear how they’re doing on Facebook or receive a phone call or text, but I really need to see them.  Visit a feeder with them.  Spend time with them.  One of the things that I’m adjusting to is my access to my friends.  They are not as readily available, but I’m only 15 minutes away from that old neighborhood.  That is practically nothing.

Patience was what it took to see birds at my feeder.  Intentionality is what it takes to keep friendships near and dear.  Even if those friends are only fifteen minutes away.

Isn't he beautiful?

Isn’t he beautiful?