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Two Cuckoos on a Quest at Lake Apopka

Last weekend two cuckoos loaded up into the Birdmobile and went on a quest to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.  My target was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  My dad’s target was the Pied-bied Grebe babies and another visit with Forky.  We both found our birds – and our lifer Mississippi Kite, too!

After photographing the Pied-billed Grebe family at their nest on the day before, I was hoping to find them in the same spot.  Unfortunately for my dad, they had moved out further into the water.  But at least we got to see them.  Such cute little orange spots on those baby faces!

Pied-billed Grebe with Baby

Pied-billed Grebe with Baby

Not far from the grebes we spotted a Common Gallinule nest.  It’s the first I’ve seen built up like this on open water.  Nest-watching is such fun.

Common Gallinule Nest

Common Gallinule Nest

I lost count of the Least Bitterns we saw that morning.  This ended up being my favorite Least Bittern shot because it shows the bird hard at work doing what he does best – surviving!  He’s stealthily stalking his food, moving nothing but his tail as he watches and waits…and them pounces! with a stretch of that long neck.

Least Bittern Stalk

Least Bittern Stalk

We found the Yellow-billed Cuckoo perched nicely on the top of a tree branch on Laughlin Road.  He had a small worm or something in his mouth.  Usually I see Yellow-billed Cuckoos during migration.  But they actually breed in Florida during the summer.  Maybe the worm was for his babies…maybe we’ll get to see the babies in the upcoming weeks…you can never have enough cuckoos! ;-)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The pond at the east end of Interceptor Road, which has so recently hosted rare birds such as the White-faced Ibis, American White Pelicans, and Red-breasted Merganser, was virtually empty.  I saw a few cormorants on it, and that was about it.  But one of the cormorants decided to take flight, and I caught the take-off action, which I edited together in Photoshop.  It takes a lot of work for that bird to get out of the water!

Double-crested Cormorant Take-off

Double-crested Cormorant Take-off

The Barn Swallows were in their usual places along Interceptor Road.  It’s such fun to get to photograph them sitting still.  When they are not taking care of juveniles, the swallows spend most of their time on the wing.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

We got out to the sod fields and began looking for the rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher that was still hanging around.  Then a few Swallow-tailed Kites flew overhead.  My dad spotted the one that didn’t look like the others – our lifer Mississippi Kite!  He flew pretty high but I got a few quick identification shots.  I can’t wait to get a better look at him.  That’s the best thing about the LAWD – it always leaves you wanting to go back!

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

My dad’s patience and persistence paid off…the Fork-tailed Flycatcher decided to come closer to pose for my dad’s camera!  It’s funny how I waited to share my Forked-tailed Flycatcher post, hoping for better shots.  Finally I published it, and then on the next visit, I got better shots.  So here’s a teaser for the next post…Forky was a real show-off for us and we had a blast with him! :)

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

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Baby Pied-billed Grebes! at Lake Apopka

I’ve wanted to see baby Pied-billed Grebes for years.  A friend posted some from Viera Wetlands about five years ago and I thought they were the cutest little babies ever.  Then I looked for them at Lake Apopka last year but couldn’t find them.  Well, I found some this year!  At their nest!  Such cuteness!

I first spotted this little family as they were returning to their nest mound.  Both babies promptly hopped under Mom’s wing.  Dad, however, had one more morsel to give out before letting the babies take their nap.  You can see one of the babies stick his little head out to finish his breakfast.

Pied-billed Grebe Babies at Nest with Both Parents

Pied-billed Grebe Babies at Nest with Both Parents

The next few minutes were kind of boring.  Dad went off by himself, leaving the babies to nap under Mom.  Mom sat there quietly while her feathers trembled periodically.  Baby bird naps always seem to last too long.  But then the older/stronger of the two chicks decided that he was tired of sleeping…

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Baby

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Baby

Look at his colors!  The dark stripes and orange accents are what made me want to see the babies so badly.  It’s amazing how different the babies are from their parents.  Whoever would have thought that bright orange spots are part of nature’s camouflage?

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Mom's Back

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Mom’s Back

Naptime over!  The second baby popped his head out through Mom’s wing.  How cool!  I love watching baby birds on the nest.  This nest was kind of far out, and I was parked behind some vegetation, so the birds didn’t notice me at all.  That’s the great thing about a Beast and a 2x teleconverter – you can join in on moments like these without bothering your subjects. :)

Pied-billed Grebe Babies

Baby Pied-billed Grebe eating…a feather?

You could tell that one baby was a little stronger than the second.  He stayed out longer, he begged for more attention, and he was more active.  Baby #2 settled back in under Mom while the older one wiggled over to the other side of the nest mound.  If you look carefully at the shot above, Mom was actually giving him a small feather to eat. Or play with.  I couldn’t quite tell which.

Mom, what big feet I have!

Mom, what big feet I have!

These babies have big feet! and they like to stretch them.  In the shot above, the right-most baby seems to be saying to Mom, “Look at what big feet I have!”

Pied-billed Grebe Mother Leaving the Nest

Pied-billed Grebe Mother Leaving the Nest

Mom has big feet, too, and she showed them to me as she left the nest to swim for a minute.  This was fine with me – it let me get a really good look at the babies!

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Nest

Pied-billed Grebe Babies on Nest

The babies didn’t mind being left alone.  The smaller one stretched his legs while the older one practiced some wing flaps.  It surprised me to see how much they lie on their tummies on the nest.  Their feet go behind them, not under them.  These birds are truly designed for underwater diving, not being on land.

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby Preening Together

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby Preening Together

Mom returned to the nest after a few minutes.  She proceeded to preen her feathers while her oldest offspring stretched his feet and tried to help.  Mom was so patient.  She didn’t seem to mind being poked and prodded.

Pied-billed Grebe Baby Yawn

Pied-billed Grebe Baby Yawn

The older baby was ready for a nap.  Look at that yawn!  But Mom had other plans.  She decided it was time to take the babies for a swim. She stepped into the water again, then urged them to follow her.  It didn’t take long for them to go beyond the range of my camera.  But they did stop to wave goodbye… :)

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Babies Out for a Swim

Pied-billed Grebe Mom and Babies Out for a Swim

I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the day.  It was so special to spend a few minutes with this family.  If you want to see more (and I know you do!), check out this little video.

A Morning of Possibilities at Lake Apopka

I got to make an unexpected trip to Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD) last Friday morning.  When the sunrise looks like this, you know it’s going to be a special day…

Sunrise at LAWD

Sunrise at LAWD.   HDR processing applied.  Photographed on Lust Road.

It was so nice to see the sun after so many days of rain!  The clouds were beautiful in the sky as the sun peeked through.  I loved seeing the reflections of the clouds in the canals that are becoming so familiar to me on the drive.

Sunrise at LAWD

Sunrise at LAWD.  HDR processing applied.  Photographed on Lust Road.

I thought I caught a glimpse of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in flight as I made my way down Lust Road.  I didn’t get the photo, but the possible-cuckoo was flying with food in its mouth, and it was being chased by a bunch of juvenile grackles.

Then I spotted a Northern Flicker on the power line above my head.  Northern Flickers do breed in Florida, but I don’t seem to see them much in summer.  Of course as I pointed my camera at him, he flew.  I followed him to a distant pole, where his mate was waiting.  Maybe we’ll have baby flickers to photograph soon!

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker (on left).  Photographed on Lust Road.

A Wood Stork was quietly patrolling the canal area.  He stopped and pulled out a giant fish, which he proceeded to display to all his friends.  All his friends got jealous.  They wanted the fish.  Sometimes it doesn’t pay to show off!

Wood Stork with Fish

Wood Stork with Fish.  Photographed on Lust Road.

I got out at the “Crazy U” to see if I could get closer to the flicker.  Of course he didn’t like that idea.  I spotted an Eastern Towhee in his usual spot, singing at the top of “his” tree.  Listening to his song made me thirsty.  “Drink!  Drink!  Drink your tea!”

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee. Photographed at the “Crazy U” on Lust Road.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker discovered a feast.  A nice clump of ripe berries was his for the taking.  The only catch?  The berries were hanging from a tree branch that didn’t offer easy access.  No problem.  The woodpecker caught ahold of the branch, dangled upside down, and gorged himself on the berries.  Yum!

Red-bellied Woodpecker Eating Berries

Red-bellied Woodpecker Eating Berries. Photographed at the “Crazy U” on Lust Road.

Welland Road is a great spot to look for Least Bitterns.  They like to hang out on the branches sticking out of the water.  An added bonus is the great morning light.  I found a beautiful male who came out and posed for my camera…

Least Bittern.  Photographed on Welland Road.

Least Bittern. Photographed on Welland Road.

Next I spotted a female Red-winged Blackbird making a nest.  She had bits of grass that she was tucking in to make it extra comfortable for her babies.  I would have liked to stay and watch her longer.  She was such an industrious little worker.

Red-winged Blackbird at Nest

Red-winged Blackbird at Nest. Photographed along Welland Road.

Along Interceptor Road were the usual Barn Swallows.  I just love these guys!  On this visit there weren’t really any baby feedings going on.  Some of the birds were just hanging out on a bush.  They were still a joy to photograph.

Barn Swallow.  Photographed along Laughlin Road.

Barn Swallow. Photographed along Laughlin Road by Interceptor.

Another Least Bittern poked his head out to say good morning.  I like the coloring in this image.  It shows how well the bittern can blend into his surroundings.  He’s just another stick when he wants to be!

Least Bittern.  Photographed along Roach Road.

Least Bittern. Photographed along Roach Road.

But the real highlight of the morning was the time I spent with the Pied-billed Grebe family.  Want to see more?  Come back to read my next post! :)

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby

Pied-billed Grebe Mother and Baby

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