Monday, June 30, 2014

Southern Florida

Saturday, June 21: On the last morning of Jen's conference, I stayed closer to Orlando and hit a couple local spots. I didn't get a single year bird, but it was a fun morning of birding nonetheless, and I did find a few new state birds. The first was Hal Scott Park, where I failed to find a Brown-headed Nuthatch, but did have good numbers of Bachman's Sparrows. I almost stepped on this brightly colored grasshopper, which was the first of many.

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper
Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park, Orange Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Next it was on to Orlando Wetlands, which I wish I had discovered earlier in the trip because it was a rather impressive location. I finally got to see a Purple Gallinule here, and it didn't take long to pick up a Least Bittern calling. This big allgator was on the bank, looking like he was having a good chuckle about something. Who knows what kinds of jokes gators tell themselves to pass the time.

American Alligator
Orlando Wetlands, Orange Co, FL
June 21, 2014

This was the highest concentration of Anhingas I saw all trip.

Orlando Wetlands, Orange Co, FL
June 21, 2014

I liked the following pairing of birds because they represent local breeders, but also two of the rarer birds I've been happy to see in Illinois this year.

Glossy Ibis and Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Orlando Wetlands, Orange Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Orlando Wetlands, Orange Co, FL
June 21, 2014

And I got a nice look at a pretty good sized softshell that had meandered out onto the trail
Florida Softshell Turtle
Orlando Wetlands, Orange Co, FL
June 21, 2014

I drove back into town, picked Jen up, and we hit the Florida Turnpike to head south. On the way we stopped by Juno Dunes Natural Area to try to relocate the Bananaquit from a couple days prior, but apparently it was just a one day wonder. There were frigatebirds overhead though, and a nice Gray Kingbird along the way. And we found a big Gopher Tortoise ambling along.

Gray Kingbird
Juno Dunes Natural Area, Palm Beach Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Gopher Tortoise
Juno Dunes Natural Area, Palm Beach Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Then we popped over the dunes to get our first look at the Atlantic Ocean. We had each only seen it looking out the window of a plane flying over, so it was cool to actually look out across it from a warm, white sand beach.

But the moment was short lived, as we still had a long drive to get to Key Largo. We didn't realize just how far it was beforehand, and it ended up being a heck of a haul roundtrip to be down there less than 24 hours. Not as big of a fan of long road trips as I am, Jen was really a trooper.

We eventually arrived in the keys, and I was amazed at the numbers of Gray Kingbirds along the power lines. Loggerhead Shrikes began increasing in numbers too. And then lifers started happening - White-crowned Pigeons were flying over in considerable numbers, their stark white caps set off from their dark bodies. Then I saw a starling sized bird hop up from the road, but its flight and wing pattern were foreign to me. When it landed on a line, I saw yellow around the eye extending to the bill - Common Myna. Another exotic, but hey, it counts.

After checking in to our little cottage at the quaint Seafarer Resort and Beach, we headed west and had a nice seafood dinner at Robbie's in Islamorada. We left there in time to catch a beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico as we drove further west out Highway 1 to Marathon, where we arrived just in time for a couple more birds. A drive around the Sombrero Golf Club got us to a flock of Least Terns, and as I picked through them a larger tern with a black bill and a relatively longer, forked tail emerged - Roseate Tern! The bird was diving in and out behind some trees over a pond, and that combined with the constantly decreasing daylight made it frustratingly impossible to photograph. But it was an awesome lifer to snag just in the nick of time!

On the way back we stopped by the Marathon airport. I found a spot to park near the airstrip, stopped the car, and began listening. First came the "bzeeewww" of a Common Nighthawk, which seemed promising. Sure enough, just moments later came the "piti-pit-pit, piti-pit-pit" of an Antillean Nighthawk! I was a little surprised at just how raspy the call was. Jen, who earned her Wife of the Century badge on this long day of travel, also got to hear it.

Sunday, June 22: While Jen got ready the next morning, I made a quick Starbucks run to get us some breakfast. On the way I pulled down to the Key Largo Kampground to turn around, and much to my delight I had a pair of Black-whiskered Vireos singing away! I got out, and in the process of tracking them down, a Mangrove Cuckoo sounded off! I stood there absolutely shocked that these two specialties had cooperated so nicely in the tiny sliver of time I had this morning. I had to get moving so I only saw the vireo briefly and had to leave the cuckoo as a heard only bird, but I was still thrilled about my fifth and sixth lifers in the keys.

Jen and I had a leisurely rest of the morning, enjoying our breakfast on the beach at Seafarer. Our stay included free kayak rentals, so we grabbed a couple and paddled around the bay for a little bit. Jen spotted a big iguana on another section of beach, so we paddled over to investigate and found two others with it. A Prairie Warbler sounded off here. The ever present frigatebirds of the keys were gliding overhead, and we got to kayak right up to some Least Terns sitting on buoys. The morning sun, warm water, and breeze off the Gulf made for a refreshing morning in between long drives. But we still had one more bit of fun on the docket before the trip back to Orlando - Everglades National Park.

On the way, I saw a funny looking cowbird on a line and was able to pull over real quick to look at it. I was hoping for a lifer, but found an equally as good bird for the region - Bronzed Cowbird. I didn't expect to have this guy in both Arizona and Florida this year.

Bronzed Cowbird
Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 22, 2014

In Everglades National Park, we began at the Anhinga trail, where its namesake greeted us at the front pond. The short trail had a really nice assortment of birds and wildlife, considering the muggy midmorning conditions, and less than ideal time of year for the region. People were complaining about the bugs, but compared to my southern Illinois experience a week prior (which wasn't as bad as I had anticipated, actually), I didn't think it was bad at all.

Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

American Alligator
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Yellow-bellied Slider
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Green Heron
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Florida Softshell Turtle
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Florida Gar
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Florida Red-bellied Cooter
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

White Peacock Butterfly
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Double-crested Cormorant
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Further down the main road, a bunch of Wood Storks started flying over, and it turned out there was a nearby roost.

Wood Stork
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Wood Storks and Great Egret
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Black Vulture
Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade Co, FL
June 21, 2014

Down at the Flamingo Visitor center, a flock of cowbirds greeted us at the parking lot. One of the first birds I laid eyes on was really glossy and all black - Shiny Cowbird! This was a lifer for me and meant that I had a clean sweep of the three cowbird species for the day, which is cool, though not something I'm super eager to repeat. Unfortunately, with all seven of my lifers in southern Florida, the timing and situation just didn't work out for me to get a picture. Having sufficient encounters with each of them was still incredibly satisfactory though! Oh, and did I mention the place was silly with Gray Kingbirds? Like the Gray Hawk in Arizona earlier this Summer, the Gray Kingbird was the token bird of the trip for me just because of the sheer density of its population, and its propensity to show up when it was least expected.

Gray Kingbird
Everglades National Park, Monroe Co, FL
June 21, 2014

And with that, a final jaunt back to Orland concluded our trip. We'll hopefully be back someday, but just in case we don't get the chance, we saw enough of the state to last us! Take my Mob Rule map as Exhibit A:

Even with all the cool birds, totaling 126 species and 17 lifers, I still have to say that the nighttime kayak trip out to see the bioluminescence is one of the most amazing things the state has to offer. Who knew you didn't have to waste time and money at Disney in order to experience the magic of Florida? People who have an inkling to go outside and have an appreciation for nature. That's who.

Here's the final list. Also of note, I hit 13 counties and racked up over 400 county ticks; not bad for less than a week. Perhaps most notably, the trip also brought my ABA year list up to 451.

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  2. Fulvous Whistling-Duck
  3. Mute Swan
  4. Muscovy Duck
  5. Wood Duck
  6. Mottled Duck
  7. Northern Bobwhite
  8. Pied-billed Grebe
  9. Wood Stork
  10. Magnificent Frigatebird
  11. Double-crested Cormorant
  12. Anhinga
  13. American White Pelican
  14. Brown Pelican
  15. Least Bittern
  16. Great Blue Heron
  17. Great Egret
  18. Snowy Egret
  19. Little Blue Heron
  20. Tricolored Heron
  21. Reddish Egret
  22. Cattle Egret
  23. Green Heron
  24. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  25. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  26. White Ibis
  27. Glossy Ibis
  28. Roseate Spoonbill
  29. Black Vulture
  30. Turkey Vulture
  31. Osprey
  32. Swallow-tailed Kite
  33. Snail Kite
  34. Bald Eagle
  35. Red-shouldered Hawk
  36. Red-tailed Hawk
  37. Clapper Rail
  38. Purple Gallinule
  39. Common Gallinule
  40. American Coot
  41. Limpkin
  42. Sandhill Crane
  43. Black-necked Stilt
  44. American Oystercatcher
  45. Black-bellied Plover
  46. Wilson's Plover
  47. Semipalmated Plover
  48. Killdeer
  49. Greater Yellowlegs
  50. Willet
  51. Lesser Yellowlegs
  52. Marbled Godwit
  53. Ruddy Turnstone
  54. Sanderling
  55. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  56. Short-billed Dowitcher
  57. Laughing Gull
  58. Ring-billed Gull
  59. Least Tern
  60. Caspian Tern
  61. Roseate Tern
  62. Forster's Tern
  63. Royal Tern
  64. Sandwich Tern
  65. Black Skimmer
  66. Rock Pigeon
  67. White-crowned Pigeon
  68. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  69. White-winged Dove
  70. Mourning Dove
  71. Common Ground-Dove
  72. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  73. Mangrove Cuckoo
  74. Common Nighthawk
  75. Antillean Nighthawk
  76. Chimney Swift
  77. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  78. Red-headed Woodpecker
  79. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  80. Downy Woodpecker
  81. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  82. Northern Flicker
  83. American Kestrel
  84. Nanday Parakeet
  85. Great Crested Flycatcher
  86. Gray Kingbird
  87. Loggerhead Shrike
  88. White-eyed Vireo
  89. Yellow-throated Vireo
  90. Red-eyed Vireo
  91. Black-whiskered Vireo
  92. Blue Jay
  93. Florida Scrub-Jay
  94. American Crow
  95. Fish Crow
  96. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  97. Purple Martin
  98. Barn Swallow
  99. Carolina Chickadee
  100. Tufted Titmouse
  101. Marsh Wren
  102. Carolina Wren
  103. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  104. Eastern Bluebird
  105. Brown Thrasher
  106. Northern Mockingbird
  107. Common Myna
  108. European Starling
  109. Common Yellowthroat
  110. Northern Parula
  111. Pine Warbler
  112. Prairie Warbler
  113. Eastern Towhee
  114. Bachman's Sparrow
  115. Seaside Sparrow
  116. Summer Tanager
  117. Northern Cardinal
  118. Red-winged Blackbird
  119. Eastern Meadowlark
  120. Common Grackle
  121. Boat-tailed Grackle
  122. Shiny Cowbird
  123. Bronzed Cowbird
  124. Brown-headed Cowbird
  125. House Finch
  126. House Sparrow