In the fall of 2006, I assigned myself the task of photographing all the birds in the heron family, over 60 species of birds. I look forward to the travels in the coming years to achieve my goal. I chose southern Florida as my first stop since it is home to about a dozen species of herons, and they're pretty accessible. Plus, southern Florida boasts two morphs of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron.
(...continued from Part Four.)
On Monday, March 26, it was time for Carol and I to start working our way toward the Keys. We'd had a great time on the Gulf Coast side near Fort Myers, visiting Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. We checked out of our motel around a little after 9am and headed south down the Tamiami Trail.
There really wasn't a whole lot to see on our way down toward Naples. But as we waited at a stop light in the middle of town, a Cattle Egrets was wandering around some bushes near a mini mall. I wasn't really expecting to see one at a location such as this, and it turned out to be the only one during the entire trip!Heading east on Tamiami Trail, we took the advice of people we'd met at Corkscrew and made a stop at Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. (Virtual tour.) We arrived at 11:45am, a little later than we'd expected due to traffic. It was around 80 degrees, humid, and windy. The sky was clear. Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk leads about a mile or so into the the swamp and cypress trees that make up the preserve. Since it was the dry season, there wasn't much of a swamp. The trail begins as a graveled walkway with a small ditch parallelling the path. Here, we noticed two small otters and one of their parents playing the water, but as we approached, they got more serious and disappeared into a hole in the side of the bank. The path soon turns into a boardwalk lined on both sides with bushes and trees. We caught sight of a Red-breasted Woodpecker as it finished knocking and took off. We heard another set of drumming and as we were able to see where it was coming from, a Pileated Woodpecker made flight. A Bald Eagle made a landing approach overhead, and as we found the nest where it sat perched, it tended to two young chicks.
The path ends at a small deck overlooking a small bit of open swamp. Here there was a Great Egret sharing the water with a resting alligator. On our way back we added Gray Catbird, Turkey Vulture, and Common Grackle. There really wasn't a whole lot going on. It could have been that we were there during the time of day when things are usually slow.Janes Scenic Drive was just a minute or two away. We didn't know much about it, but it sounded good so we headed that way. The drive stars out in the small community of Copeland and on through a couple of small ponds, where a flight of Double-crested Cormorants were gathered. A Red-shouldered Hawk sat perched on a water tower. As we continued, the drive turned quickly into a path lined with dense trees and into the heart of Fakahatchee Preserve. It was hard to get a good view through the trees to see what lied beyond, and the other view, straight up, wasn't providing any hints either. We continued up the road a couple more miles without seeing any signs of birds or other animals, and it was almost 2:30pm, so we found a place to turn around. We made a brief stop at the ponds to watch the circling Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures and then continued on down Tamiami Trail toward the east side of the Everglades National Park.
After hitting a bit of traffic in Homestead, Carol and I finally made it to Anhinga Trail in the Everglades around 4:45pm. It was around 80 degrees with a strong breeze. The sun drifted in and out of the clouds, but the chance of rain looked unlikely. Common Grackles were...well...common in the parking lot. A small pond lined with sawgrass welcomes visitors as they pass by the visitor's center. It looked inviting, but there weren't any birds present. Along the walk is a low wooden rail only a foot or two high, apparently to keep the youngsters from wandering into the small canal runs beside the walk. Double-crested Cormorants were catching some Zs in the little shade that the barrier provided, seemingly undisturbed by the people that were walking only a foot or two away from them. I'd never been this close to them.
To the left, a boarwalk crossed the canal and led into the sawgrass. At the bridge, a Great Blue Heron sat in ambush mode waiting for a passing fish. As we walked out of the sawgrass and onto the open water overlook, a Double-crested Cormorant flew in and landed on the hand rail. We approached closer...and closer...and closer until you could almost smell that fish breath. It wasn't going to budge from it's perch. This was an even better view than the ones we got when we first walked in. As it looked directly at us, we were able to get a good look at those amazing emerald eyes!
Continuing along the boardwalk that led over the water, we were able to get close-up views of some napping alligators. As one of them yawned. I raised my camera, but was a little too slow on the draw. But just then, another one yawned and since my lens was already up, I was able to capture those gaping jaws.
Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures intermittently circled and Anhingas hung out in the trees. At a small platform where the boardwalk meets the end of the main trail, a few White Ibises and a Snowy Egret poked around, keeping their distance from the resting gators. A Common Moorhen flew in and stood on a small rock that protruded out of the water. Heading back toward the visitor's center, Carol spotted a Green Heron in hunting mode. We watched as it remained completely still, and poised like a spring ready for any unsuspecting fish to wander by. After a few minutes, a Purple Gallinule flew in to some nearby bushes. It was about a half hour before sunset, a perfect magic hour for pictures, and few photographers took advantage of cooperation of both the Purple Gallinule and Green Heron. The gallinule was a little difficult to get good shots of as it stayed in the leafy branches of the bush. It wasn't long until the sun peeked behind the trees and disappeared for the evening.
(Continue to Part Six)
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