Successful Failure

Yesterday’s birding adventure seemed particularly apt, given that my wife and I spent Friday at the Kennedy Space Center with our friends. Among the exhibits at the Saturn V Center are those honoring Apollo 13 as a “successful failure” in that the mission suffered a catastrophic failure, but the 3 astronauts were able to make it home safely, and much was learned.

I don’t know how much was learned today, except maybe a hard-earned “the early bird gets the worm,” or in this case, the Groove-billed Ani. There have been sightings of a pair of anis on the north end of Lake Apopka since last week (along with a male Vermilion Flycatcher!). I was not able to venture out there until Sunday. But as it takes over an hour and forty-five minutes to get there from here, I ended up 20-30 minutes too late for the anis.  Apparently, they went to their daytime roost, out of view of anyone. I should have just got up and out there early, but since some of the previous sighting times were after 11:00am, I didn’t exactly rush out the door. My loss.

But the outing was still a success. Firstly, I was out observing birds and other wildlife on a beautiful sunny day. Also, among the birds I also saw a rather large River Otter cross the path and had a brief but close encounter with a Bobcat.

The area I visited, the “Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area” looks much like this most of the way (with varying degrees of shrubbery buffering some swampy, marshy areas from the road).

photo road-to-nowhere.jpg
“We’re on a road to nowhere…”

The road to where the anis had been seen was well populated with Eastern Phoebes and Palm Warblers. Many of the phoebes were young birds, as I understand a slight yellow wash on their bellies means they are immatures.

photo young-phoebe.jpg
Young Eastern Phoebe.

I was surprised to see several Blue Grosbeaks soon after heading down the trail. I believe late November is a bit late for them to be hanging around, but if they’ve found a good wintering spot, who am I to judge? [edit: according to eBird, it looks like a handful stay the winter in FL and other parts of the southeast]

A rather dark Red-tailed hawk soared a distance away. It also had a good bit of white on the base of the tail – so much, that at first I thought it was a Bald eagle, until I had a good look in the binoculars and saw its underside. Red-tailed Hawks can have a wide variety of plumages. In fact, many subspecies were once considered as separate species.

I had a FOY Swamp Sparrow (actually several) and, thanks to a Bobcat stalking the tall grasses along the berm beside the road, a FOY Marsh Wren, who was too busy scolding the cat to notice me poking my binoculars into the brush. The House Wrens and Common Yellowthroats were also highly agitated, as you can imagine. The Bobcat only poked its head out at me for a second or two, before going back to stalking in the grass. I’m not sure how skilled a hunter it is, given the loud rustling and waving grass, but the birds weren’t taking any chances.

photo house-wren.jpg
This House Wren was warily watching a Bobcat while some Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats scolded the cat from nearby.

After my encounter with the Bobcat, I heard and felt a distinct growling sound. At first I thought it was a distant motor being started, but then it almost had a lion’s roar quality. As I passed an area of more open water, I could tell it was nearby. The roar came in one to two-second bursts, with a brief pause in between. It turns out it was an alligator call! I’d never heard one before. I don’t know exactly where it was calling from, but I moved along just to be safe.

I spoke a little with some other birders who had come specifically to see the Groove-billed Anis, but they had missed them as well. There were reports of Yellow-breasted Chats in the area, too, but I didn’t see or hear any evidence of them.

Here is the complete species list, roughly in order of first confirmed identification.

  • Blue Jay
  • European Starling
  • Common Grackle
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Gray Catbird (♫)
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Common Gallinule
  • Swamp Sparrow (FOY)
  • Palm Warbler
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • American Coot
  • Great Egret
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Osprey
  • Marsh Wren (FOY)
  • Anhinga
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • House Wren
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (dark)
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Common Ground Dove
  • American Kestrel
  • White Ibis
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Downy Woodpecker (♫)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (♫)

No anis or chats (or Vermillion Flycatchers!) were seen by me on Sunday, but I had a successful outing nonetheless.

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