Winter in Florida is our time to enjoy the outdoors, and drive with the windows down. Which is exactly why we headed out to the FREE Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.
Over the past year, we had been hearing great things about the Drive. Lots of our homeschool friends had been out there, so we finally took advantage of the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in Central Florida, and we were looking for something new and fun to do during winter break from school. We had so much fun, we got up early and went back the next morning in the hopes of seeing a bobcat.
I’ll be honest, I was very uninformed before going to the drive. I knew there would be lots of native birds, and gators, but I had no idea it is 11 miles long, and the maximum speed limit is 10 MPH. And most of the time you are driving much slower in order to lookout for the wildlife. So, do the math. You will be out there for several hours.
Therefore, here are some tips to be prepared:
- Bring water and snacks because you will be there a while.
- Be sure your camera is charged, and there is plenty of space on your memory card. We took almost 1000 pictures!!
- Bring binoculars, because the preserve is very big!!
- You can visit this website during your drive for an audio tour, plus a birding and butterfly checklist.
- Be smart about when and where you get out of your vehicle.
- Be patient, and keep your eyes open.
You can bring lunch with you, because there are a couple picnic tables at the water pump station. The park is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus major holidays. Hours of operation are sunrise to sunset. Fear not, portable restrooms can be found in the pump station parking lot, up by the pump station, and a couple places along the drive.
Now onto some of our highlights.
Right at the beginning, one of the first things we saw, was a couple turtles in the water. Sadly these were the only turtles we saw. Just their heads peeking out of the water.
The variety of native birds was quite spectacular. We enjoyed listening to the Common Moorhen, once knows as the Common Gallinule.
There were so many of them, and the call noises they make can sound pretty funny.
We also saw plenty of Egrets along the drive. Watching the Egrets in action, hunting their meals.
It was a quest to get some pictures of the Egrets flying too.
We were quite entertained by this Anhinga drying out his wings.
It was like he was rocking out to some heavy metal, because he was bouncing, and bobbing his head up and down, while looking forward and backward. We were giggling.
Plenty of Herons are found along the drive.
We were able to get some great photos of this Heron eating a fish.
The Purple Gallinule was a new bird for all of us to see. The colors are stunning.
I know Cardinals are pretty popular birds to come across, but we always enjoy seeing them.
Plenty of Male Blue-winged Teals could be found in the water.
They were tough to spot, but we saw a couple Pied-billed Grebes
This little Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher was hard to snap a picture of, but we got him!
I tried, but still had trouble identifying some of the birds we saw. Thank you to Apopka Ecotourism for helping us to identify the rest of our birds. Left clockwise: Anhinga, Cattle Egret, immature Black-crowned Night-Heron, female Boat-tailed Grackle and juvenile Little Blue Heron (white until second summer when it molts in the blue feathers)
I used A Field Guide to the Birds of North America, to help me identify most of the birds.
We were definitely excited to see some gators, but we had no idea we would see so many!! I said this in my tips, but I am going to say it again……PLEASE be smart about getting out of your vehicle. We were behind a car, and a woman got out to take pictures of a gator on the side of the road. She kept walking toward it to get closer. Not very smart, and not worth the risk, when you can get great pictures in the safety of your vehicle.
Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” The International Ecotourism Society
Our oldest was on a quest to see gators in different settings. She wanted to see one swimming in the water, which we got to see a couple of those.
She also wanted to see a gator with its’ mouth open.
We did not expect to see a gator family, like this mom watching her baby swim.
Trails and Roads
The first day, Friday, we went in the afternoon, and did not get out of our truck at all. It was fairly busy, but there are passing areas, so you don’t get stuck behind someone else if you are wanting to keep moving. Honestly, I was not so sure about getting out of our truck.
But when we went back on Saturday morning, as soon as we pulled into the entrance, there were lots of photographers outside their vehicles, taking photos and talking. We stopped to get out and take some pictures several times along the way. At this stop, you can see there is a walking trail on the far right in the picture. There are some roads that are now just walking trails.
We parked our truck in the parking lot at the pump station, where you can see some of the portable bathrooms too.
We walked up to and around the pump station.
There is a walking trail on both sides of the pump station. Behind the pump station is the northeast coast of Lake Apopka.
You can learn a little on the history of farming around Lake Apopka near the pump station too.
During our late afternoon Friday visit, the lighting was gorgeous. This is one of my favorite photos I got that day.
As you can see, no luck with spotting a bobcat. We look forward to heading back in spring for sure. They have a butterfly garden, and if you haven’t checked out our other butterfly encounter, you can find it HERE. I’m hoping to see some otters next time too.