Saturday, January 24, 2009

Alligator Lake

Ready to eat: A Loggerhead Shrike contemplates lunch near Alligator Lake

This morning's Alachua Audubon field trip was to the Alligator Lake Recreation Area, and I almost didn't go. First, I wasn't sure I felt like getting up early enough to drive the 50 miles to the lake. Second, I almost didn't go because Alligator Lake is such a dumb name: north-central Florida is covered with lakes, and almost all of them house alligators. Calling a body of water "Alligator Lake" around here is practically tautological. With a name like that, what could possibly be there that wasn't everywhere else in the area?

Well, there was the female Masked Duck that had been reported there, and seen regularly, over the past week and a half. Masked Ducks are usually found in Mexico and the West Indies, and the Alligator Lake visitor was the first (or maybe second) record of the species in the area. Seeking it out, I was advised, would be well worth the trouble.

Our trip was to be a leisurely walk through a wooded area, through a marshy region, then to the lake itself. The area in which the Masked Duck was seen was to be roughly the halfway point of our trip. But there was a lot to see and hear, and nobody felt like rushing.

In the marsh, we saw large flocks of White and Glossy Ibises, as well as a rather bold American Bittern and several huge White Pelicans. We also got a good look at a perching Anhinga:

We also got several birds I had not yet seen in Florida: a Canvasback, several Ruddy Ducks (I didn't know these occurred here at all, though they're common back in California), and several Ring-necked Ducks (which everyone kept accidentally calling "Ring-billed Ducks"--which would actually be a better name for them!)

As we approached the lair of the Masked Duck, someone spotted a handkerchief tied to a branch: one of the guys said that it had been left there to note the location of the duck. And after sorting through dozens of American Coots swimming in and out of the reeds, we found it. (This photo is admittedly miserable and for documentary purposes only):

The bird was quite sedate, and had apparently been quite happy to stay in more or less the same spot for about a week. I wondered what wayward migrant birds think in such situations. Does she know she's lost? Does she care? We all managed to get good looks at it through spotting scopes, then we moved on. Not soon after, I got my second lifer of the morning: a Purple Martin, the first of the season for most of the people on the trip.

We also had a sighting of an interesting exotic:

The reserve abuts a private parcel of land where ostriches are farmed. This guy and his companions were not far from the water's edge, apparently unconcerned about the alligators that were no doubt in there and looking for food.

Two lifers and three new birds on my state list--not bad for a morning at Lake Generic (or whatever it's called....)

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