Lake Hancock

Lake Hancock is a large lake in Polk County that is surrounded by thousands of acres of protected land. The Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands is a Southwest Florida Water Management District (commonly called SWIFTMUD) property that is generally not open to the public. A few times a year, the Polk Audubon society conducts tours of the wetlands for a limited number of people. These tours are strictly regulated, but provide an opportunity to see thousands of birds. The birds don’t see many humans since the property is restricted, so they are very skittish. Still, there are ample opportunities for photography, but mainly flight photography.

The morning started with a beautiful sunrise, but over the course of the morning, the skies turned increasingly cloudy. Finally it began to rain well in advance of when the local weather forecasters predicted. This put an early end to my outing, but not before I got a few images. Click the images to view larger.

Lake Hancock Sunrise
Lake Hancock Sunrise (iPhone photo)

There were plenty of flight opportunities including this flyby of a Wood Stork.

Wood Stork
Wood Stork – Lake Hancock

The reeds were full of Fulvous Whistling Ducks, but they weren’t the least bit cooperative. You couldn’t get within 100 yards of them and they would take flight. Still I managed to get a few flight shots for my first ever images of this species.

Fulvous Whistling Ducks
Fulvous Whistling Ducks – Lake Hancock

There were also dozens of Hooded Mergansers in the waters. They are almost as skittish as the whistling ducks. I was able to get a shot of a pair of “hoodies” as they swam by.

Hooded Mergansers
Hooded Mergansers – Lake Hancock

Another pair gave me just enough time to fire off a couple of shots as they flew past.

Hooded Mergansers - Lake Hancock
Hooded Mergansers – Lake Hancock

I was also lucky to grab a quick shot of a flock of Green-winged Teal that had popped up out of the reeds.

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal – Lake Hancock

A pair of Eastern Meadowlarks took a moment to check me out as I was walking down the trail.

Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark – Lake Hancock

In years past we were enthralled by the hundreds, if not thousands, of American White Pelicans that roosted at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. However, they haven’t been seen as much at Circle B as they had in the past. Looks like they now roost at the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands as we saw thousands of them this morning.

American White Pelican
American White Pelican – Lake Hancock

The highlight of the morning for me was a particular female Snail Kite. I saw 3 different Snail Kites during the morning, but this particular one was quite cooperative.

Snail Kite
Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

A bit later after I captured the image above, she made another pass along the waterway where I was walking. I was fortunate enough to catch a few frames of her as she glided along, then suddenly banked and swooped down on an unsuspecting snail.

Snail Kite
Snail Kite – Lake Hancock
Snail Kite
Snail Kite – Lake Hancock
Snail Kite
Snail Kite – Lake Hancock

Although the sun didn’t cooperate and the rain cut short the morning by an hour or so, I still had a great time. I clearly need more practice on my bird in flight photography and the Lake Hancock Outfall Wetlands is a great place to practice.


  • Don Weesner

    January 12, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Really great shots.
    I didn’t know FLA had so many birds. Of course I left for AZ when I was 14 & had no chance to know FL.
    Uncle Don

  • Margaret Kelly

    January 13, 2015 at 12:04 am

    A delightful collection. My favorite was the Snail Kite. Thanks for sharing.