Monday, September 29, 2008

South Florida in March

Last spring I made a trip to south Florida with my brother Eric and my dad. We went to all of the great birding spots in the area including, Ding Darling NWR, Little Estero Lagoon, Corkscrew Swamp and Everglades NP. Although we have been to the area many times before, there were still quite a few of the local specialties that we had not seen before.

On our way down I-75 from Indianapolis, we stopped in Ocala, Florida and had the opportunity to bird at Ocala National Forest. We had never birded in the area and were able to find a few Florida Scrub-Jays. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a Red-cockaded Woodpecker or a Brown-headed Nuthatch. We also found a very cooperative Snapping Turtle that we were able to photograph. Later in the afternoon we continued on down to Captiva Island near Sanibel. We spent a few days in the area mainly focusing on photographing the wonderful birds at Ding Darling NWR, in Fort Myers Beach, and on the property around our hotel. We also decided to go to Cape Coral and try to find the Burrowing Owls that reside there. We were able to find one of the nesting locations and found one owl at the entrance to one of the burrows. This was a life bird for all of us and we were very excited to have seen such a beautiful owl. It does worry me that the area with the burrows is listed for sale and already surrounded by houses. I hope that the habitat for these special owls is not destroyed in the future. As always, we had many great birds and enjoyed 2 days of amazing birding.

Snapping Turtle at Ocala National Forest

As we headed for Homestead and the Miami entrance to the Everglades, we made 2 stops. First, we stopped at Little Estero Lagoon in Fort Myers Beach. This is an excellent spot to photograph herons, egret, and shorebirds. We observed and photographed many birds here including Wilson’s Plover, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, and all of the normal herons and egrets. Continuing on, we stopped at Corkscrew Swamp. The water levels in the area were really low due to the ongoing drought. Even with the water being low, we saw many of the expected birds and got to see the Painted Bunting that resides at the sanctuary during the winter months. From there we drove straight over to Homestead and prepared for an early morning trip into the Everglades National Park.

Great Blue Heron at Little Estero Lagoon

The next morning we were up early and on our way into the Everglades. We had never been there before and were excited to see the area and find some new birds. Our first stop was at the famous Anhinga Trail. We saw many birds at very close range and were able to take many great pictures. There were also many alligators in the area and it was very interesting to watch them. It is amazing to watch Purple Gallinules, Anhingas, and so many other beautiful birds at such a close range.

We then went back to the Visitor Center to look around and to get some maps of the area. It is a great visitor center with a very helpful and informative staff to help you with any questions you may have. We were very interested in seeing a Snail Kite but we were told that there had not been any reported in the area due to the drought. While we were slightly disappointed that Snail Kites had not been seen recently we knew that there was still a chance for us to find one.

From the visitor center we drove the main park road and stopped at another famous trail. Snake Bight trail is famous among birders and is something we felt we had to do during our trip. It was a great hike and we were able to see our only Great White Heron of the trip. Unfortunately, there were no Flamingos in the bight. We continued on to Flamingo and found some very interesting things there. We found an American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, and a Black Skimmer. While going into the store to get lunch, we noticed a large crocodile resting on the shore across from some docks.

From there we headed back towards Homestead and decided to drive through another area of the Everglades just to the north to search for a Snail Kite. Although we drove back roads for almost 3 hours, there was no Snail Kite to be found.

On our last day in south Florida, we decided to drive south through some of the Keys and see if we could find anything interesting down there. While there were very few birds, we were able to find a Key Deer on Big Pine Key, which is an endangered sub-species of the very common White-tailed Deer. They are only the size of a medium-sized dog and it is amazing how small these deer really are. After seeing the Key Deer, we headed back to the Everglades to walk Anhinga Trial one more time.

Anhinga Trail Visitor Center

We got there just before sunset and had just enough time to walk the boardwalk one more time. As we walked around we saw many of the birds that we had seen during our first walk the day before. As we rounded the corner near the end of our walk a large Kite flew over. We knew immediately that the bird was the Snail Kite that we had been searching for. We watched it till it was out of sight and then ran back along the boardwalk to try to relocate the Kite. When we got to one of the observation areas, there were already a few people watching the bird. It had landed only 50 feet from the boardwalk and was looking right at us. We were able to observe this bird for about 30 minutes until it was to dark and we had to head back to our car. It was great to find our target bird just minutes before the end of our trip.

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