Lakeland Lakes, Part 2: Swan Lake

Hello, readers, and thank you for your patience in my getting Part 2 of my Lakeland adventure out to you.

Whereas the focus on  Part 1, at Lake Mirror, was on ducks, this part we’re going to talk mostly about the swans on Lake Morton [map].

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Lake Morton, as the overcast started to break up.

There have been swans in Lakeland since at least the 19th century. While local histories call these birds “native”, it’s important to state that North America’s only two indigenous swan species, the Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, do not have historic ranges in the southern United States. But swans (probably Mute Swans) had been around since at least the early 1920s. Their numbers dwindled until the last swans were gone (probably by alligators) in the 1950s. When a former Lakeland resident living in England heard about this, she asked Queen Elizabeth II (so the story goes) to help. A pair of “royal swans” (Mute Swans descended from Richard the Lion-Hearted’s flock) were eventually sent, and the city’s swans were restored. Through the years, other swan species have been introduced to Lake Merton, including at least one pair of Coscoroba Swans and Black-necked Swans. Both Mute and Black Swans remain the most numerous.

There’s a concerted effort to keep the birds in and around Lake Morton and other city lakes, and the birds are “rounded up” each year for health checks and to have their wings clipped, in an effort to keep the swans in and around the city from spreading into the area. Swans are an invasive species in Florida, so keeping the birds contained is an important (but probably, ultimately, futile) task.

But there’s no denying the birds are beautiful to look at. Here are some photos from Lake Morton and it’s iconic swans.

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Black Swan on the lake.
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Mated pair of Black Swans. They were doing some kind of courtship/bonding dance.
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This is a pair of Coscoroba Swans.
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Most of the Mute Swans were sitting in the grass, sleeping or preening.
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One of two aptly named Black-necked Swans.
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Although quite beautiful, Mute Swans (as with most swans) can be very territorial and aggressive. This one was sizing me up as I took the photo.
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One of several Mute Swan cygnets.

Another bird of interest on Lake Morton is the Swan Goose. It looks very much like a Greylag Goose, but with a dark nape and a knob on the bill.

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Swan Goose.
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Close-up of a Swan Goose head.
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Greylag Goose for comparison.

Of course there were also a good representation of native birds on the lake. With the sun out, the colors of the Wood Ducks were easier to see.

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Wood Duck drake, better lit.

One side of the lake had a small flock of Wood Storks, mostly resting. One bird was standing apart from the rest, with its wings outstretched, slowly walking and turning about. Storks don’t normally forage in the grass, and it was a warm morning, so I am not sure what this posture was indicating.

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Wood Storks are large birds, with wingspans of up to 1.8 meters (6 feet).

Various wading birds were present, including a few Limpkins (some with nearly fledged chicks).

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Limpkin.

Lastly, I wanted to leave you with a couple of photos of domestic or Pekin Ducks. I’m quite partial to ducks, and since these guys are certainly never considered in official birding lists or eBird, I like to give them at least a little space in my blog when I can.

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Pekin Ducks are the prototypical white duck. Think Donald Duck.
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Cute quackers.

The total eBird list for Lake Morton:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30492445

With another adventure in the books, it was time to head toward home. With its swans in good hands, Lakeland will continue to be a unique and beautiful Florida destination for years to come.

Lakeland Lakes, Part 1: Lake Mirror

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Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Two weekends ago, before the U.S. Independence day holiday, I had the opportunity to visit the city of Lakeland, Florida. Lakeland is home to many lakes. Obviously. I visited two of them – Lake Mirror and Lake Morton – with Camille to get a look at some introduced waterfowl, along with local birds.

Lake Mirror is known to have at least 2 species of “exotic” ducks, which I’ll get into a bit later in the post. These are either escapees from somewhere or were deliberately introduced to the lake.

The vast majority of the duck population on Lake Mirror are various mixes of Mallards and Mottled Ducks. These tend to fall into two broad categories: Mallard/Mottled Duck hybrids and Mallard/domestic crosses.

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Lake Mirror shortly after dawn.

The first group tend to superficially look very similar to one another and have a typical Mottled Duck/Mallard body and coloration.

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Three “muddled” ducks. They look pretty similar, but note the 3 different looking speculums (the color band of feathers in the wing).

Various individuals in this group had bill and speculum colors of Mallards and Mottled Ducks, as well as slight differences in body feathers, making it impossible to assign any definitive species to them. (I know speculum colors are iridescent, so they don’t always appear the same, but to the unaided eye, these three definitely looked different at almost every angle). A large part of the reason is due to the intentional release of domestic-type Mallards in Florida. You can read more about this issue in this article on the 10,000 Birds site: Mallards are a Threat to Mottled Ducks in Florida. More and more ducks are hybrids of one type or another. It takes a very keen eye (and sometimes a genetic test) to really know the identity of an individual.

The second large population of ducks are of the Mallard/domestic cross variety. These ducks have a lot of white in their plumage, and many have dusky or cinnamon feathers. They also tend to be a bit larger than the other Mallard types.

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A resting pair of ducks, showing quite a bit of chocolate brown and cinnamon.
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I noticed most of the ducks with this type of plumage tended to walk with this upright posture.
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Another domestic cross pair, with more white about their heads.

Lake Mirror (as well as Lake Morton) also have a number of Wood Ducks. The first ones we noticed were immature males. They were just getting their facial markings, but had not developed crests and their coloring was still subdued.

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An immature Wood Duck among the lily pads.
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Another immature Wood Duck drake.

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A distinguished Wood Duck drake.
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Another Wood Duck drake.
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Female Wood Duck on her nest box.

But the main reason for coming to Lakeland at all was for the chance to see more out-of-the-ordinary birds. Lake Mirror is home to two species of introduced exotic duck species. One, the Common Shelduck, is native to Eurasia. Sightings of vagrant birds are rare in North America. I’m not sure of the origin of the 3 birds at Lake Mirror, but I would lean towards thinking they were deliberately introduced.

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Common Shelduck!

The other rare species of duck at Lake Mirror is the Mandarin Duck. As it’s name might suggest, this duck’s native range includes parts of northern and eastern China, but the largest concentration of breeding birds is found in Japan. Mandarin Ducks are closely related to Wood Ducks, as you might tell from their appearance. The single male (or drake) we saw was in “eclipse plumage”, and thus more drab in appearance than he would be when breeding. The females look very much like Wood Duck females. Like the shelducks, it’s a safe bet these birds were introduced as “ornamental” ducks.

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Male Mandarin Duck (eclipse plumage)!

 

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The male Mandarin Duck (on the left) and one of two females.

Both of these exotic species have only been reported, via eBird, in Lakeland since 2013. They do not appear to be successfully breeding yet, but perhaps time will tell if they can become established.

The complete eBird list includes all of the species seen on, around, and over the lake:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30491436

The morning overcast began to clear as we made a complete circuit around the lake, and it was time to head to Lake Morton and the swans! Stay tuned for part 2…

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Farewell Lake Mirror.