“So Maybe I’ll See You There”
(Header image: American White Pelicans)
Sunrise will happen in about 45 minutes. I’m on the way to a spot where there have been reports of a couple of uncommon winter migratory waterfowl. As darkness gives way to the early morning light, I approach the target area and search for a place to park. I have calculated where the sun will rise in order to have it behind me as I hope for a decent photograph of the visiting ducks. There! The perfect spot to park, at the – public library??
Our hometown, Lakeland, Florida, has a population of a little over 100,000 and is situated almost half-way between Tampa and Orlando. Similar to many cities, at some point planners were convinced to “enhance” urban lakes with exotic waterfowl. In the early 20th century, the tale is told of swans which took up residence at Lake Morton near the center of downtown. They were promptly eaten by alligators. Some enterprising citizen wrote to Queen Elizabeth (no, really) who authorized the donation of a pair of royal swans in the 1950’s. With proper management, swans have proliferated here ever since.
With a vibrant population of swans, exotic geese, the ubiquitous mallard, a steady source of food (albeit not necessarily healthy food, tossed by a well-meaning public) and protection from predators (the city learned its lesson and keeps the urban lakes ‘gator free) – many migratory species now visit these watery oases during the winter months. Occasionally, a few less-common birds show up and cause a ruckus among local birders. (Hey, that would be me!)
It was too easy. The two ducks I went searching for were waiting as I got out of the car. Just as the sun’s rays streaked over the library, a small female Bufflehead swam from the lily pads near the shore toward open water. A few steps to the north and there was the Northern Shoveler, feeding and paddling and totally ignoring me. Mission accomplished. Time for coffee. Well, maybe a few shots of the locals. Since I’m already here.
“We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares … So go downtown …” (Downtown, written by Tony Hatch, recorded in 1964 by Petula Clark.)
Each winter, we usually see a couple of Bufflehead at the downtown lakes. Usually it’s females, like this pretty one.
A Northern Shoveler or two also pay us a visit. Soon, this male will be sporting his breeding plumage with all-green head, white chest and rusty brown sides.
Other migrants, very common and numerous during the winter, Ring-necked ducks can be found on many of our smaller lakes and ponds.
Similar in size and appearance to the Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup show up in small groups on city lakes but can occur in flocks of several hundred on our larger bodies of water. If you visit the coast you may encounter thousands in a single area!
A smaller wintering duck, this male Ruddy Duck will soon have a fairly bright blue bill and chestnut sides as it heads north to its breeding grounds in the north-central United States and Canada.
Not lacking in the bright color department, Wood Ducks are residents here and have already begun courtship and mating as they get a head start on spring.
Within the city’s parks and lakes, Mallards abound. In all sorts of configurations. All white to all black and everything in between. I managed to find a “normal-looking” male flying by. This bird is in “eclipse” plumage and is a bit scruffy looking as it molts into full breeding color.
But wait – there’s more! We not only have ducks, but many other water-loving fowl as well. Such as the Tricolored Heron. Beautiful, as the morning sun highlighted the subtle colors on its back. Impressive, as it sprang into action chasing breakfast!
The pure white of the Snowy Egret is interrupted by those golden eyes concentrating on a fish under a lily pad. The equally golden feet suddenly seemed to be walking on water as said fish was swallowed faster than the camera could click.
Several dozen American White Pelicans normally roost at Lake Morton (I counted 42 this morning). They spend a little time preening (like in the header image) and take off in small groups, circling high over the town center and head for nearby feeding areas before returning at dark. One was curious about me.
Brown Pelicans are found locally in our area also but in smaller groups than the American White Pelicans. They are just as curious as their cousins.
Overhead, a Wood Stork lumbered toward shore where a couple of his friends were waiting. Looked like a morning meeting of the chamber of commerce.
Always stately in appearance, a Great Blue Heron passed nearby.
Lake Morton is currently host to about 80 Mute Swans. Too many for this size lake. Every couple of years, some birds are sold to maintain a more balanced population. Is this one a descendant of royalty?
Could be …
Ahhh, a bird to which I can relate! Despite the hustle and bustle of a city awakening to a new day, the Limpkin is unperturbed. “Wake me when the coffee is ready.” I hear ya!
At times, in our rush to reach the “wilderness”, we forget to look in the other direction. Admittedly, a sunrise within the “concrete canyon” of an urban center may not have the same impact as dawn in the forest, swamp or shore, but a short drive might reveal unexpected rewards once we arrive – Downtown.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
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One of the first public places to open after we began to regain heat and water was the city library, and when I went by yesterday, the parking lot was packed. Contrary to certain stereotypes, Texans can read, and do a good bit of it.
I’ve not been out at all during our recent experience of winter. For one thing, the roads were so icy it was impossible to drive anywhere, even if I’d been inclined: which I wasn’t. But heat and water are back, the roads are clear, and it’s going to be 50F tomorrow. I’ll be off to see if there might be a bird of two in the ponds. I so enjoyed seeing your collection. The Northern Shoveler is one of our most common, and before the freeze, there were a lot of teal around. I don’t know whether they’re still here, or the coots, for that matter, but I’ll be off to find out!
That photo of the limpkin is stunning. It’s my favorite of the group.
It is good to hear you weathered the weather, hopefully without too much difficulty.
Our son and his family near Houston lost power for one night, had water pipe burst (which he was able to repair) and hosted eight family members and friends who were in worse shape. All is good today he reports.
Hope you find lots of birds!
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Looks like my latest comment went missing again Wally.
Here I was thinking you were an ornithologist rather than a twitcher and then off you go chasing rare birds. Well not so rare in the case of Shoveler for me, but it’s all relative as your common Ring-necked Duck would be nice to see.
I’m pretty sure a Mute Swan would put up a good fight against one of your tiny Florida alligators. I have the marks from previous attacks by these gentle beasts.
Do people still use libraries? With the Internet so readily available it would seem they are no longer required to the same extent. In any case when all the statues have been taken down and every historic book burned Facebook, Twitter and Bill Gates will rule the world.
Not sure what is causing your comments to go missing. Will try again to consult with “the experts”.
Neither ornithologist nor twitcher. Just a run-of-the-mill opportunist. If I had to expend much effort beyond driving downtown, the rare birds would have remained unmolested by me.
You may be right about our libraries. In the meantime, they have wonderful large (and largely empty) parking lots.
The rulers of the world may have already taken over. We simply failed to notice.
Huge day yesterday! Spent all day chasing birds at a wildlife refuge on Florida’s east coast. Fantastic day!
Good morning Wally: I am not sure how I missed this post. I usually get notified by email when you post, but I have checked, even in my spam folder, and I don’t see anything. In any event, great series of pictures. These local ponds can become a real oasis for a variety of birds, as you so well illustrate here. Too bad the alligators have to be deprived of a quick snack, but they are doing well wherever they are found it seems. Maybe we could toss the odd politician or two their way!
My problem is remembering to check the local city parks as I tend to avoid downtown areas if at all possible.
How could you suggest such a cruel thing for our alluring alligators! I’ve seen these lizards eat many things but even their digestive system couldn’t handle the toxicity of a politician!
I love walking around Lake Morton (gotta watch out for all of the swan and duck poo though). You captured the residents there beautifully.
Thank you, Dina. Usually plenty of subjects, not necessarily all of them cooperative!
Yeah, remember to take off the shoes before entering the house ….
Beautiful captures, Wally! I super enjoyed your ducks shots, they are also at home for me around the Chesapeake Bay right now, and I am missing them! (BUT not the cold and snow, lol)
We really appreciate you kind comments, Donna!
Fond memories of Christmas bird counts in a small open boat on creeks of the Eastern Shore emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. Brrrr!
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That’s pretty amazing for a city centre habitat, Wally! We live in the suburbs of what would usually be described in UK as a small maket town. It has absolutely nothing in the way of wildlife oases, apart from private gardens, but we do have a library, and it does have a stretch of water beside it – the public open-air swimming baths!
Super photos, but I particularly like the Limpkin shot, which is only outdone by your header – of course!
Best wishes to you both – – – Richard
We have so many lakes in the area it’s actually pretty surprising how many birds (domesticated as well as wild) show up in the middle of a busy town! I suppose once they learn there aren’t any real threats (other than people feeding them unhealthy food), they decide to hang around.
That Limpkin was my favorite image, too. I can take a nap anywhere, anytime!
Gini and I send our best to you and Lindsay.
Lots of nice photos Wally.
I hadn’t heard the Queen Elizabeth story. I wonder if the swans we have over here around Orlando are related?
Thank you very much, Ed.
I asked one of our swans about your question, but she was “Mute” on the subject.
Love these pictures. I am hoping to one day hang out with a Wood Duck. 🙂
They would be happy to pose for you, I’m sure!
Thank you, Kathy, for visiting!
A successful day!
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Thank you, Alice! It was fun!
I enjoyed that bit of duck watching, thanks Wally.
You’re welcome, Brian! Any time.
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Libraries are among my most favourite places in the world. With the additional incentive of feathered enchantment I would be tempted to move in.
Many, many thanks.
The library is a great place, but sometimes the best stories are beyond the walls.
Thank you so much, EC!