Feathers of Florida: Part Six
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 Five.)
After spending the night in Homestead, it was time for another great day. On March 27 (my birthday!), Carol and I headed out around 6:45am. When I first told people we were going to Florida and planning on stopping in the Everglades, many of them said that we had to make sure and visit Flamingo. And so we did. We arrived as the sun came up; it was 65 degrees, mostly cloudy, breezy, and humid.The first bird of note was Osprey...actually a pair of them. There was a nest in a large bare tree on the side of the road. One of the birds (presumably the female) tended to the nest, turning circles as it moved sticks around. It often called and the other bird playing lookout in a neighboring tree returned the squeals. After a few minutes, both birds were in the nest. As both of them called, we heard their neighbors reciporcate.
Flamingo took quite a hit from Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, and the damage was quite apparent. The Flamingo Lodge used to provide rooms to those without tents or RVs. It was now in shambles. Many of the trees looked like the aftermath of a dominoes tournament. And I could see where once Eco Pond must have been a great freshwater haven with cattails, an island with trees, and observation decks to get viewpoints of all the wildlife, but after the hurricanes and especially dry season, only dissheveled trees and small pools of mucky water remained. The National Park Service has expedited a Commercial Services Plan/Environmental Assessment to determine how best to restore the area. See how you can get involved.The only birds we saw at Eco Pond were a few Greater Yellowlegs and a Great Egret. It was threatening to rain, so we headed back to the car to get the rain gear for my camera. As we approached, we noticed some grackles and European Starlings pecked around in the grass. After putting on the rain sleeve for the camera, we headed toward the water near the visitor's center. It was low tide, and about a hundred yards out were thousands of birds, such as Snowy Egret, Black Skimmer, American White Pelican, White Ibis, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, and Whimbrel. Along the trees on the shore were a Northern Cardinal and a Northen Mockingbird. A Laughing Gull flew over and landed on a pier where it rested for a short while. A Red-shouldered Hawk called as it flew over. It circled a few times before it disappeared, but the calls continued from afar. It was 9:45am, so we figured we'd start inland and see what else we could see. As we drove down the road, a Turkey Vulture flew low and just a foot or two right over our car. A Swallow-tailed Kite flew over the road and diappeared behind the trees. We pulled over at Mrazek Pond. Most of the birds here were perched in the trees that lined the small pond. Here there were Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, a juvenile Brown Pelican, American Coot (finallly!), Common Moorhen, Wood Stork, and Anhinga. We stopped briefly at West Lake and scanned the water line, but there wasn't much happening except for a few people out in canoes. As we started to leave, an Osprey approached and circled a few times. The sky started dripping again, but not for long. At Nine Mile Pond, we counted Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Vulture, Great Egret, and more Osprey. Next, we pulled into the turnout for Paurotis Pond. We were the only ones in the lot, except for a wandering Wood Stork. I got out of the car as quietly as I could in hopes of getting a couple of shots, but it decided we were too close and took off. In the trees across the pond, there were a group of twenty or so Wood Storks, apparently nesting. As I set up the scope a car pulled in and a couple got out. They live in the Keys and were up visiting the Everglades for the day. As we chatted, a Roseate Spoonbill flew past and landed in the trees near the Wood Storks. Carol and I had hoped to see more Roseate Spoonbills during the trip, but we found ourselves in the midst of nesting season, and most of them were tucked away in the trees. During the hour we were there, we were able to see a few more spoonbills, as well as Belted Kingfisher, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Tricolored Heron, Brown Pelican, Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Moorhen, American Coot and Black Vulture.
About 12:30pm, we stopped at Pa-hay-okee Overlook, a quarter-mile boarwalk that overlooks a "river of grass".It was starting to get windy and really humid, still threatening to rain some more. Not sure if it was because of the time of day or the weather, but there was next to nothing going on. The only birds we saw were Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, and Swallow-tailed Kite in the air, and a crow hanging around in the parking lot.Carol and I made our way back to Anhinga Trail, arriving just after 1pm. The sky was cloudy, and the wind was really picking up. Many of the fine birds we'd seen the previous evening were all tucked away out of sight. We did, however manage to see Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, and Palm Warbler. We heard a Barred Owl, but after several scans of the trees, weren't able to make it out. On the main path, we were able to watch a Green Heron perch feeding and a Little Blue Heron walking and stalking along the channel. Around 2:30pm, we decided it was time to head down toward the Keys. But first, I needed a few photos of some Everglades signs. I hopped out at one of the intersections and started to cross the road. A weed was poking my foot, so I reached down to pull it out. It wasn't a weed, though, it was a little red ant. Yeeooow! Suddenly, my foot was on fire. Somehow I got the shot I wanted and raced back to the car to take my Keen shoes off and brush off all these ants. We pulled in to the visitor's center, and after talking to one of the rangers there, I found myself lucky. I had stepped on a fire ant nest, and thanks to the rubber bands around my pant legs, I only suffered about a dozen bites. That was plenty for me! Carol and I said goodbye to the Everglades. We made a quick stop at Robert is Here to grab a Key Lime milk shake and see the "Southern Most Purple Martin House in the Continental USA", but the only residents there were sparrows. If you're ever in the area, definitely make the stop...the smoothies are worth it!
We arrived at our lodging in Little Torch Key around 5:30pm. The drive had been incredible. The aqua-green color of the ocean was amazing...not like what we see in California. We checked in and dropped our stuff off. Carol treated me to Parrotdise restaurant just down the road. It was a nice walk, windy, but a refreshing windy. We enjoyed conch fritters for an appetizer, a delicious main course of coconut lime Pink Tiger Shrimp with mango peanut sauce, and a perfect Key Lime pie for dessert. A great way to end an awesome birthday!
(Continue to Part Seven)