“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!