Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Florida Trip, Day 4: May 13

A Day in the Everglades

The fourth day of our trip was devoted to birding the Florida Everglades. We spent nearly 12 hours in the National Park and racked up a good amount of birds, although we dipped on a couple I had hoped to see.

Our first stop was at Royal Palm , normally a great spot for waders, but not today. It was a great stop for gators, though, as I counted at least 18 individuals along the raised boardwalk.I did get a good photo of the Florida subspecies of Red-Shouldered Hawk (B. lineatus extimus) and an artsy-fartsy shot of a Black Vulture.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Black Vulture

American Alligator

We stopped along the road near Mahogany Hammock, a location in past years that was good for Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. We didn't see or hear the sparrow, but we had a fantastic fly-by from a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites, and got some close looks at Lubber Grasshoppers.

Swallow-tailed Kites

We then hit Mahogany Hammock, where we heard our first Black-whiskered Vireo (an ABA bird for me). On the way out from the hammock, one of our group pointed out a raptor and said "Snail Kite! No, I mean Swallow-tailed..." But I got my binoculars on it and said "No, it really IS a Snail Kite!!" We stopped the car and watched it hunt for a bit, then noticed another Snail Kite perched in a low tree. So we had a pair, male and female. Then another Snail Kite flew in, and another, and... In the end, we had THREE pairs of Snail Kites hunting the same field! A great life bird at 401!

Snail Kite

We stopped at the West Lake area to use the bathroom. In the lake, we noticed two crocodiles, which was pretty neat. As we were headed out of the parking lot, a Mangrove Cuckoo flew over, and began calling in the trees. A life bird for a few of us, but I had it in Puerto Rico a couple years ago. Still, great to get it on the ABA list!

Then, it was time for Snake Bight. The trail out to the bight is notorious among North American birders as being one of the most mosquito-infested places on the continent. Accordingly, we prepared by wearing long-sleeved shirts and even brought head nets. It turns out we barely needed them, as drought conditions and perhaps storm damage have resulted in lower numbers of skeeters. We didn't really need our head nets, but I wore mine anyway since it kept the skeeters that were there from buzzing my ears. At the end of the trail, we set up scopes and peered into the heat haze for something, anything pink. No luck. The Greater Flamingos weren't there at all. A bonus prize for me, however, was a Clapper Rail (lifer 402) and Wilson's Plover (lifer 403). Another treat was finding a Great "White" Heron on the way out - the white morph of Great Blue Heron that only occurs in Florida.

Having been disappointed on the flamingos, we then stopped at Flamingo for microwaved burgers and beer. While eating lunch, we enjoyed the company of a crow who was waiting for us to be careless with our food. We also added Laughing Gull and Northern Rough-winged Swallow to our trip list, and I spotted an American White Pelican soaring with a Turkey Vulture, a great trip bird! After lunch, we hit the visitor's center (unmanned) and noted a developing sand spit in the bay, making a note to stop back and check it out for shorebirds later. We then hit the campground in search of Shiny Cowbirds, and checked out Eco Pond, which before Hurricane Andrew was a great roost for waders, but had been pretty well damaged. Still, we got our only American Avocet of the trip here. We then headed back to the visitor's center to scope the sandbar, where I noticed a flock of cowbirds. We scanned them, and I found a Shiny Cowbird among them, and added another species to my ABA list. Then we spent some time scoping the now-well developed sandbar, which held a number of birds, including Osprey, Black-bellied Plover, Short- and Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Dunlin, Forster's Tern, Least Tern, and a pair of Royal Terns (yet another bird for the ABA list). We then headed out of the park, hoping for a White-tailed Kite, but no such luck.

Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet

Overall, a pretty good day. I gained three life birds and four ABA-area birds, but we dipped on Greater Flamingo, Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, and White-tailed Kite. Not too bad!

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