More Work, More Progress (Part Two)
Lake Apopka was essentially a dead lake in the 1960’s. Damage from pesticides and large-scale fertilizer runoff from muck farms was thought to be irreparable. To visit this area today is enough to make you believe in miracles. If we did not know the lake’s history, we would assume we were enjoying one of Florida’s premier birding locations and prime water recreation destinations.
So much has been done to reclaim Lake Apopka and the surrounding land and the effort has been undertaken by so many from citizens to environmental activists to business/industry leaders and politicians. It’s been a bumpy road at times. The results are so incredibly rewarding!
Cleaning up after decades of abuse has taken decades to reverse course. The work is not finished. Currently, phosphorous levels remain too high throughout the lake and within the marshes. Innovative solutions appear to be working and levels continue to (slowly) improve. The food chain within and around Lake Apopka seems to be healthy and many groups maintain a watchful eye for any disruption.
For those of us who may visit the area infrequently, all appears to be good. Just as we would at any venue we visit for birding, fishing, photography or to just relax, we don’t see the history, the very determined and difficult effort and ongoing plans surrounding the lake’s existence. We just want to see a bird.
The second half of our Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive adventure was every bit as exciting and fun as the first. Nearly 70 species of birds, abundant alligators, turtles, dozens of out-of-state license plates, Florida sunshine – all ours to enjoy!
And we did.
A group of Black-necked Stilts were napping not far from the road. We counted six alligators not far from their resting spot. Sleeping with one eye open is mandatory.
Even if you didn’t see a Belted Kingfisher, you knew they were nearby. Their very distinctive rattling call echoed around us all day.
I’m fascinated with the feet of the American Coot. They look like some sort of inflatable appendages.
That long patterned neck helps a Tricolored Heron blend in with the reeds so the little fish won’t see her until it’s too late.
What’s that saying? “Let sleeping ducks lie.” Or something. A pair of Ring-necked Ducks getting some shut-eye. One is keeping an eye out just in case.
A few flowers were starting to bloom across the marsh. One of the most common is Bulltongue Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia).
This Snowy Egret shows some of the fine feathers (aigrettes) of breeding season.
Some wetland areas have extensive masses of bright yellow at this time of year. We only found a few sparse plants of Burr Marigold (Bidens laevis) on today’s trip.
More nesting activity. Great Blue Herons need some substantial structures.
Our second Peregrine Falcon of the day didn’t cause me to drop any more food but clearly had been enjoying his own breakfast of Common Gallinule.
A fairly common resident of freshwater impoundments, the Florida Red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys nelson) can reach up to 14 inches (36 cm) in length.
Along the bank of a canal, we counted over 50 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. Gini tells me they were all whispering about us.
When this Anhinga first stabbed the fish, a young alligator nearby caused him to move. A Great Blue Heron flew in threatening to steal the meal. The Anhinga slapped the catfish senseless on a tree branch and managed to swallow it before any more pirates appeared!
Where there are fish, there are eagles. An adult Bald Eagle held still for a portrait and we appreciated it.
Finally, a public service announcement for those who may visit our state and are not familiar with some of the fauna they may encounter. When walking through tall weeds, be careful not to stumble over a young American Alligator. These gentle creatures can be hard to spot at times and we wouldn’t want one of you to accidentally harm one of these tender-skinned reptiles. Enjoy your visit!
Lake Apopka. Resurgent. We hope you enjoy the natural resources in your area and remember to not take them for granted. If you have children or grandchildren, show them the beauty of our planet. Teach them what it means to be a good steward.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
It is heartening to see things are on the mend for this lake and support the comment on introducing the younger generation to the wonders of nature – let’s keep the ball rolling. That is a species of turtle I have not encountered yet – will have to keep an eye out out for that one. Thankfully not a fish, getting speared, whacked repeatedly and then swallowed whole doesn’t sound like a dignified exit ha. I really liked the GBH shot, very unique perspective of their underwing. Oh, as an idiot who almost stepped on the head of sleeping gator…good advice!
It’s good to run across positive stories about fixing things we did wrong. Hopefully, one day we’ll learn not to do things wrong in the first place. (Not holding my breath.)
The area is really terrific now and supports such a huge amount and diversity of species. Winter migration is super and spring breeding season is fantastic. Since I’m a native Floridian, I even love it there in the heat of summer!
Yeah, birders and photographers need to remember to glance down at our feet once in awhile or we can trip over roots and snakes and gator’s heads!
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There’s nothing fascinating about this old coots feet. Well, maybe to a podiatrist who’s up for a challenge.
I’m always thrilled to hear or see a Kingfisher so thoroughly enjoyed your shot. Sweet Snowy shot too. And the Peregrine playing “what izzit?” at breakfast time.
It’s wonderful to see so many examples of the life that exists in an improving habitat after decades of misuse.
Thank you, Steve.
That place now ranks on our list of “Special” and we try to go as often as possible. Can’t wait for summer when the crowds thin out a bit and there will be frogs, snakes and dragons, oh my.
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You and Gini are terrific ambassadors of the wild places. Your stories and images make me want to get back out there!
What a nice thing to say, Sam!
No worries. Nature is very patient and will be there whenever you may be ready to visit.
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Another Peregrine Falcon? I am SO jealous! But we are seeing so many neat birds right now that I won’t complain…well, I might but just ignore me! lol Wish we could get a little rain to encourage the wildflowers. There are so many butterflies already. Your header…oh my! He’s BIG!!! Enjoy your week!
Thank you, Diane. It’s a great time to be in Florida. Oh – wait. That would be ANY time! 🙂
Sagittaria platyphylla is the common arrowhead species in the Austin area. I haven’t seen any flowering yet this year but we’re not quite even in March yet, so that’s not unusual.
The word anhinga always makes me think of the word unhinged, which could easily fit your description of slapping a catfish senseless on a tree branch.
It has been very spring-like the past several days and I’m wondering if we’re in for a late-season cold spell.
The Anhinga would argue that it makes good sense to slap a catfish senseless before swallowing. The barbs of the catfish can become erect if the fish is not dead and that would ruin the day of a sensible Anhinga.
Yes, the relationship between anhinga and unhinged is phonetic rather than behavioral.
Great story and images from one of my favorite places!
“Sleeping with one eye open is mandatory.” – this made me chuckle. So true!
Thanks for sharing, Wally!
Isn’t that a wonderful spot to explore?
Thank you very much for visiting with us, Max, and for your kind remarks.
I’ve been looking for signs of our Sagittaria species, but so far not a hint of those, or of our Avens species. On the other hand, I spotted a ditch filled with spider lilies today. I was trundling along at about 65 at the time, and was well past them before I realized what I’d seen. Next tme! I did see ‘my’ Belted Kingfisher this weekend (he who cannot be photographed because there’s nowhere to stop on the road next to his usual spot) and I came across my first juvenile alligator of the spring. He was sound asleep, or so it seemed, and only about two feet long. I suspect some family or friends were around as well.
Is the Tricolored Heron’s patterned neck breeding plumage? And do the Great Blue Herons sometimes have that same kind of patterning? I’m confused now, because I’ve seen patterns like that, but was certain at the time I was looking at a Great Blue.
I came across a new plant today — one that seems to be quite common in your area: the bog white violet, or Viola lanceolata. There were hundreds in the Solo tract — maybe thousands. I had to make myself stop taking photos of them!
We only saw a few Sagittaria in bloom so they were likely a little early.
I wonder if some birds like your kingfisher know they can perch in some spots where we can’t gawk at them easily?
The Tricolored and Great Blue Herons have similar neck patterns. Immature Tricolored Herons have rufous/reddish tones on the neck patterns as well as on some feather edges. Immature Great Blue Herons have more muted striping than the adults plus gray instead of white heads.
The Great Blue Heron looks like a brute, especially at the bill. Tricolored Herons are petite by comparison. Now that mating season is almost here, look for Tricolored Herons to undergo a cool transformation. They will have a bright blue patch at the base of the bill, pinkish legs and very dark eyes.
We’ve seen the Bog White Violet but I have yet to get decent photos. This is the year!
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Love this series and is of a place I have visited once before. One of my sons lives in Apopka on the lake.I look forward to the wildlife trail again in late March this year while visiting there. I knew the lake was recovering but getting more information from your post was very helpful. The other time I was there we did see a dead alligator which I took a distant picture of. I wondered the cause of his demise, don’t know if age, sickness, pollution? Hopefully not any kind of contamination. That was a little over a year ago.
It’s a wonderful experience now, Judy.
A reminder, the Wildlife Drive that begins at the Lust Road entrance is only open Friday-Sunday.
Since you saw the deceased alligator fairly recently, it’s highly unlikely it expired from any contamination. Could be from a disagreement with a meaner ‘gator.
Hope you have a great adventure!
Thanks for that information. We will be there Friday – Sunday as it happens 🙂 Lots on the agenda for a couple days like my son showing me how he does the AI art. Would like to see what it looks like as the engine builds the picture. Maybe another AI bird? Never enough time on a short visit in that area.
I did wonder if the deceased gator got into a fight of some sort. it was big though and just surprising to see really.
I do agree about not harming those gentle alligators. One made our newspapers yesterday. The harmless creature was shot dead because it attacked a man and his dog. The man received nasty gashes on his leg and managed to break free. Meanwhile the gator swallowed the dog and it was later found in the belly of the beast! I am sure this story cannot be a true one about the harmless creatures you describe? Meanwhile 10/10 for the residents of Apopka and the authorities for giving us a good news story.
Today I must cut our British lawn that is already sprouting large in anticipation of Spring. I will be careful where I tread. You must do the same Wally and Gini, you don’t want to end up in the belly of an alligator.
That is a tragic news report.
We hope your anticipated Spring weather arrives and provides plenty of opportunities for birding and ringing. And lawn cutting.
Your photos are stunning, Wally. How lovely that you are seeing signs of spring. Your public service announcement made me laugh. If ever I make it to Florida, I will take great care not to avoid these tender creatures.😊
It seems all of a sudden that flowers and bugs are all over the place! Must be Florida.
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Thank you for all of the flora and fauna posts. How close was that alligator?
Thank you very much, Brad!
Both the alligator in the header and the one in the last image were less than 100 feet distant. The important thing is, there was a canal between them and me!
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As always, Wally, you are offering us a very informative, entertaining, and inspiring insight into your encounters with nature. I particularly appreciated the ‘action’ shots, with the Peregrine, Great Blue Heron and Anhinga shots being outstanding.
Your warning about the Alligators makes me curious to know how fast they can be on land. Are they likely to be able to out-run the average human?
My very best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard
Good Morning, Sir Richard!
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is eleven miles long with many places to pull over and explore. Also, several hiking trails link with the area. This vast wetland and lake habitat is perfect for those of us with a camera and offers many opportunities for those “action shots”.
Alligators are mainly aquatic animals. On land, they are usually at rest or move slowly. HOWEVER — if they are within striking distance of potential prey, they have been clocked moving at 30 mph (48 kmh) for a very short distance. So, keep your distance!
There is a very old joke (the only kind I know) which can be modified for alligator encounters. You don’t have to be able to outrun an attacking alligator. You just need to be able to run faster than your companions!
The Peregrine shot is amazing, almost like a painting!
Thanks, Brian. He was horribly backlit but just being able to observe one of these raptors was an awesome experience. They don’t breed in Florida so we only get to see a couple each winter.
Great post with excellent images and info. I agree with your recommendation to show nature to children and teach them not to abuse it. Have a great weekend! 🌈
Thank you so much for the words of support! We really appreciate your visits.
The weekend is already off to a wonderful start!
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