Birding in south Florida
The final leg of my trip was in south Florida, the third time I had visited there, but the first time since the 1980s. Soon after arriving in Miami on the afternoon of March 5, I noticed the first of many Boat-tailed Grackles and Eurasian Collared Doves along the telephone wires. No sooner had I checked into my motel in Florida City than I saw a big bird landing in a canal nearby. So, I ran across the street and quickly got photos of a Tricolored Heron!** Entering the Everglades National Park, about ten miles west, I stopped at the Coe Visitor Center, where many birds were flitting about: Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Phoebes, and best of all, a Yellow-throated Warbler, the first one I had seen in years! I took that as a good omen, and it turned out to be very accurate. Then I drove to Royal Palm, a marshy lagoon with a boardwalk located a few miles to the southwest. There I was amazed to see dozens of Anhingas**, including many juveniles, as well as White Ibises, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and many others. I was excited to see an alligator, but that was nothing compared to the next day...
** Double asterisks denote "life birds" -- those I saw for the very first time.
Mar. 6: The Everglades
I got going early the next morning, but other than more White Ibises, and various egrets and herons, there weren't many birds of note at first. Around Pahayokee Overlook, I saw a distant hawk (probably Red-shouldered), some Boat-tailed Grackles, White Ibises, Great Egrets, and Little Blue Herons. At Mahogany Hammock, I heard some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireos, and caught a glimpse of a Swallow-tailed Kite.** Things got busy as I arrived at Paurotis Pond, which is where the park ranger at the visitor center had told me Wood Storks** and Roseate Spoonbills can be seen. She was quite correct! (Until checking my records, I had forgotten that I had seen a Roseate Spoonbill in Stuarts Draft a few years ago, so that wasn't a life bird.) Both of those species were flying around the pond, often landing in tree tops where many of them were building nests. I spent a lot of time trying to get good photos of both, but they rarely approached to within 50 yards or so, and it was rather frustrating. After a while, I resumed heading south, and arrived at the community of Flamingo, at the very southern tip of Florida. There I saw about 200 American White Pelicans, various egrets, and some Ospreys, two of which were sitting on nests! I was told that Painted Buntings have been seen at an abandoned portion of the Flamingo campground, but I gave up looking after ten minutes or so. While in that area, however, I did get a nice view of a Red-shouldered Hawk.
Heading back north, I did see a few additional birds such as Green Herons, Black-necked Stilts, and Blue-winged Teals -- the latter two of which I had seen in Peru. Time was short, and I had a tough choice to make: either go back to the Royal Palm area, or hurry to take a tour of Marlins Park in Miami, scheduled for 2:00. I chose the first option, and it paid off. This time I did the entire boardwalk circuit, and saw many Anhingas once again, as well as a Palm Warbler, Double-crested Cormorants (very close, with their crests displayed!), a Black-crowned Night Heron, Tricolored Herons, a Great Egret with breeding plumes, and a total of about 18 alligators! Back at the Coe Visitor Center on the way out, I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, and a Great Crested Flycatcher. Just outside the park was an American Kestrel. At a farmer's market on the way back to Florida City, I was amused to see a sign that read: "Southernmost Purple Martin house in the Continental U.S.A."
Mar. 7: Loxahatchee NWR
The next morning found me at a motel in Pompano Beach, midway between Miami and Palm Beach. The plan was to visit the renowned bird sanctuary at Wakodahatchee, recommended to me by my brother John. Passing by many wealthy neighborhoods, I approached with eager anticipation, and then was utterly crestfallen when I saw the sign "Closed Mar. 6 - 17" in front of the gate. No explanation, no nothing. Fortunately, I had a good backup plan: the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, only about five miles away. I bought a duck stamp ($25) to cover the $10 entry fee, and it was worth it. Soon after parking at the trail head, I saw a Wood Stork very close by, and made up for the lack of good closeup photos of that species at the Everglades. I had great views of Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Purple Gallinules, Common Moorhens (a.k.a. Gallinules), and many Glossy Ibises. I was hoping to see a Limpkin which other birders there had observed, but no such luck. (I did see two alligators, however.) Then I went to see a Washington Nationals spring training baseball game in West Palm Beach, about 15 miles away. (Multi-tasking!)
Mar. 8: Corkscrew Swamp
On my final day in Florida, I woke up before the crack of dawn, not wanting to waste a single precious minute. Outside the motel in the town of Immokalee (located about 75 west-southwest of Palm Beach), I noticed an odd bird perched on a wire. Out of curiousity, I took a look with my binoculars and was stunned to realize that it was a Loggerhead Shrike! Then I drove south and then west to Corkscrew Swamp, which owned and operated by the Audubon Society. (As an Audubon member, I received a four-dollar discount on admission: $10 rather than $14.) Corkscrew consists of several distinct ecological habitats, similar to the Everglades.
As soon as I arrived at Corkscrew (about 7:15 -- I was one of the first), I saw a Northern Parula and some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers next to the visitor center. I also heard several White-throated Vireos, and eventually saw one at very close range. I also saw a Common Yellowthroat, which is a species of warbler, but is not the same species as a Yellow-throated Warbler. (Got that?) Walking along the boardwalk, the transitions from open grassland to dense forest, etc. are very abrupt. Soon after reaching the swamps, I had wonderful closeup views of Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Blue Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and more. The bright morning sunlight beaming through the trees created a sharp visual contrast with the dark, muddy waters. There were also Pileated Woodpecker, Anhingas, Purple Gallinule, and Great Blue Herons. Also, at least one more alligator. Back in the woods, I saw Northern Parulas and Palm Warblers. Then I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk screaming, and got some good photos of it.
But the best part of the day was back at the visitor center, where I was told that Painted Buntings habitually feed. I waited about 15 minutes, and was almost out of time (I had a plane to catch in Orlando), when a dark bluish bird showed up. Alas, it was "just" an Indigo Bunting. But a few more minutes of waiting paid off, as a gorgeous male Painted Bunting showed up and had himself a big meal just 15 feet from where I was standing. Wonderful photo op! It was my second-ever Painted Bunting; the first was in Verona in the winter of 2007-2008 -- one of those weird cases when a bird gets lost and winds up hundreds of miles where it is supposed to be.
But that's not all! As soon as I left Corkscrew Swamp, I saw a small group (about five) of Sandhill Cranes along the road, and quickly took some photos. (I'm pretty sure I had seen a couple Wild Turkeys in that same area earlier in the morning.) While driving north near the town of Immokalee about a half hour later, I spotted an odd large bird in a tree top, and soon realized that it was a Crested Caracara -- the first one I had seen since 2005 (Costa Rica)! Soon thereafter I saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a wire -- even more amazing birds! (I had seen Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in Joplin, Missouri, and western Texas while traveling with my father in June 2014, but they are relatively uncommon in Florida, so I was lucky.) And to top it off, I had my third view of a Swallow-tailed Kite flying overhead, and this time, I managed to get a photo of it. Yes! All those exotic birds in such a short time span left me somewhat bedazzled. It was a great way to end a wonderful trip.
A complete set of photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page. (More photos may be added there later.)
Life birds in Florida
In contrast to my visits to South America (Peru and Colombia), my visit to Florida was a big success in terms of birds. There weren't that many life birds (just four), but I had great photo opportunities and saw many bird species that I hadn't seen for many years or even decades. Hopefully I will get to Wakodahatchee, Ding Darling NWR, and perhaps other special birding places next time I visit Florida. Here is my provisional list of birds that I saw for the first time while in Florida.
- Tricolored Heron
- Wood Stork
- Swallow-tailed Kite
It just so happens that those four new bird species put me over the "500" mark, at long last. Including the 22 new species seen in Peru, and the 13 new species seen in Colombia, my lifetime list now stands at 503! My Life bird list page has been updated accordingly.