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The Survivors

It’s been a week since Hurricane Irma charted a course across Florida, and I am still marveling at Nature’s resiliency. While Rich and I passed a long sleepless night during the heaviest winds, at least we had a sturdy house over our heads. I worried about the denizens of our backyard, the birds and rabbits and critters who were exposed to the cruel blasts of air. Thankfully, they must have found a safe place to pass the storm, for they showed up on Monday looking for bird seed like usual!

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Nature can be pretty amazing. Our house is missing shingles, and our neighbor’s fence is down, but our hedges provided shelter from the harsh winds and protected our bird-friendly backyard. The American Beautyberry bush, a fall favorite of mockingbirds and cardinals, is missing leaves but still has plenty of berries to feed hungry birds. (Assuming that the mockingbirds choose to share, that is!)

American Beautyberry Bush

American Beautyberry Bush

Most flower beds and other nectar plants are pretty well deprived of leaves and flowers, which isn’t a great story if you are a hummingbird that depends on nectar to survive. Protected by our hedge, my hummingbird bushes survived and are still covered in blooms.

Firebush "Hummingbird bush"

Firebush “Hummingbird bush”

Probably because of our two firebushes, we’ve had multiple hummingbirds visiting the yard this week. Both males and females come in regularly for a drink. I put out bird feeders as soon as the winds died down on Monday, but the hummers fly right past the feeders and go straight for the natural flowers. I hope they will stick around even as the rest of their habitat recovers.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Most local bird-watching places are closed after Irma. Parts of the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive are under water. So are parts of the Circle B Bar Reserve.  The turtle nests that Rich and I have been watching all summer are sadly destroyed by the high waves and storm surge.  It’s going to take a while for the area to recover and for regular bird-watching blog posts to resume.  But my first Painted Buntings are due to show up in the yard any day now, and the temperatures are starting to drop (a tiny bit), so fall backyard birding is definitely on the schedule! :)

Chasing Warblers at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

It may not feel like fall, but fall migration is upon us. It seems like yesterday that we celebrated the arrival of the spring migrants at Fort De Soto. Now we say goodbye to those birds as they head south for winter. I headed to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive on Monday to chase some warblers and wish them well on their journey.

It’s been a few weeks since I visited LAWD. It was quiet. Very quiet. I was at the gate at sunrise, like usual, but I didn’t hear the Blue Grosbeak and I didn’t hear any Red-winged Blackbirds. Before I had gotten far on Lust Road, though, I had my first migrant of the morning: an adult Prairie Warbler, whose dark stripes hadn’t faded too much (yet).

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

On Welland Road, I saw my first of several Belted Kingfishers.  She was perching in a clump of dead branches, eying the pond beneath her.  Occasionally she would fly out, grab a fish from the water, and bring it back to her perch to eat.  You know she’s a “she” because of the rusty patches on her tummy.  She flapped her wings as she returned to her perch and she made me think she was practicing to lead an orchestra!

Belted Kingfisher Landing

Belted Kingfisher Landing

Not far from the kingfisher, an adult Black-crowned Night Heron was also stalking his breakfast.  He stood motionless in the dead branches, watching and waiting.  No doubt he also found a fish in the pond.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Laughlin Road turned out to be my favorite stretch of the morning.  I often think of it as the “surprise” stretch – you never know what bird may hop up on the vegetation outside your window!

In the early summer, the Red-winged Blackbirds stand guard over their nests.  Now that the fledglings have gone, I saw significantly fewer blackbirds.  But a couple of juveniles remained, showing off their molting plumage, a mixture of juvenal brown-and-white with a hint of black and red stripe.

Juvenile Male Red-winged Blackbird

Juvenile Male Red-winged Blackbird

The high vegetation is dying back, and the water levels are the highest I’ve seen along Laughlin.  The combination gave me the eery impression that I had shrunk.  It also yielded better views of the perched birds, like this Little Blue Heron.  He stood on one leg as he preened, with his other foot sticking out in front of him.  Birds always impress me with their good balance!

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Laughlin turned out to be the “right place at the right time” for migrants. I heard a small chipping call and spotted a Yellow Warbler, the first of three that I saw that morning.  He played peek-a-boo with me through the leaves.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Next I heard the wheezy call of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and found several darting in and out of the vegetation.   The same bushes that the swallows posed on during my last visit are covered in seeds and bugs, perfect for tiny gnatcatchers.  These small birds can hover to eat and almost give the impression that they are hummingbirds.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The sound of a White-eyed Vireo came loud and clear from the bushes, and after a few minutes, I spotted the singer.  Finally!  These birds tormented me all summer.  I could hear their calls but could never seem to find them in the dense vegetation.  Now the leaves are starting to drop and I could peek in.  The bird’s call seemed to mock me: “You can hear me but you can’t see me!”

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

I spotted a few more Prairie Warblers, including this juvenile bird.  The juvie doesn’t have the pronounced black lines of the adult, and the juvie sports a white patch around his eye.  He hopped out to the top of a bush for just a second, then disappeared.

Juvenile Prairie Warbler

Juvenile Prairie Warbler

When I made it to Interceptor Road and saw the pond there, I was amazed.  The vegetation is dying back and it was a sea of brown.  Dozens of white wading birds congregated there.  Periodically one would fly over the pond, drag his feet in the water, and pull out a fish.  One closer to me just stared at me, daring me to take this photo that so strongly suggests the start of fall.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Painted Buntings are returning to Central Florida, and though I didn’t see one at LAWD, I look forward to welcoming them to my yard in about a month!  It won’t take me that long to return to the wildlife drive. :)

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Another Morning at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

You know it’s a slow summer morning at Lake Apopka when you end up photographing the Great Blue Heron at the lake!  The excitement of the pump house pond waned at last.  The pond was still full of gators, but they lazed quietly in the water.  The birds, too, flew over the pond without stopping to circle or swoop for fish.  So I drove on…

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

I did spot a coot by the pump house.  People laugh at me when I look forward to the arrival of the coots each fall.  To me their arrival signifies the beginning of fall migration.  This was just a lone coot, though, one of the few that spend the summer in the Florida heat.  He told me that he’s looking forward to the return of his friends.

American Coot

American Coot

An Anhinga was perched on some nearby branches, savoring a huge fish. He tossed it in the air, maneuvering it with his beak.  The fish seemed as big as the Anhinga’s body!  Finally the bird seemed to realize that he was fighting a losing battle.  He dropped the fish and went to find one that he could actually eat.

Anhinga with Fish

Anhinga with Fish

It was a slow morning.  I didn’t take many morning pictures until I was almost on Interceptor Road.  There I found the Barn Swallows around their usual spot.  It’s been such fun watching the babies grow up there this summer.  On this particular morning, instead of hungry mouths lined up to greet Mom, I found a flock of adults and juveniles perching in…<gasp!>…pretty vegetation instead of dead branches!

Preening Barn Swallow

Preening Barn Swallow

One swallow sat by himself, and a flash of wings made me realize that he was still being fed by Mom.  He seemed to be the only one.  It took 20-30 minutes of waiting, and several visits from Mom, before I got the feeding shot…and it was spectacular!

Barn Swallow Feeding Juvenile

Barn Swallow Feeding Juvenile

After the swallows left, I moved on.  The Interceptor pond these days is covered in vegetation.  It wasn’t so long ago that I spotted a late Red-breasted Merganser at the end of spring migration.  Now the juvenile wading birds gather there on a sea of green leaves.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The tiny Black-necked Stilts have grown up.  I spotted a family of five stilts flying over Interceptor.  It won’t be long before they leave Florida for the winter.

Black-necked Stilts in Flight

Black-necked Stilts in Flight

As I left, Forky was on the power lines by the sod fields.  I got a few pictures before he flew off.  He actually flew to the morning-light side of the road, but then he disappeared in a large tree.  I stood watching and waiting for some time, but he didn’t re-appear.  Maybe he was afraid of the Beast! ;-)

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

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