Tuesday, February 17, 2015

January Getaway - Part 2

After we left Loxahatchee NWR, we headed south past West Palm Beach and Miami. The plan was to stop at some likely looking places for two of our target birds, Egyptian Goose and Purple Swamphen. According to eBird, there were dozens of places to find them in this area. Unfortunately, the terrible traffic slowed us down a lot, and a couple places we did check, with small ponds, did not have any geese nor any habitat for the swamphens. We ended up at a motel just west of Miami Airport well after dark. This changed our plans, which had been to get to Homestead and head into the Keys tomorrow.

Instead, on January 21 we headed to the Dolphin Mall, which although only a few miles from the motel, took over an hour to get to because of the horrific gridlock that seems to plague all of south Florida in winter. There had been a recent report in eBird of 5 or 6 Purple Swamphens (an introduced exotic) in the two ponds at this mall, and when we got there it was great to see a number of other birds, as well as at least 13 swamphens. We'd bagged our first target bird of the trip; ABA species number 689.
Purple Swamphen at Dolphin Mall, Miami, Florida.

At this point, it was getting late in the morning, so we decided to get down to Homestead, and go into Everglades NP instead, which was on the itinerary for the next day, but our target bird in the Keys was being seen most consistently at 8 a.m., so we needed to get there at that time. We did have a good time in the Everglades, and it gave us a couple more chances to try for Black Rail in the evening.
Everglades National Park, Florida

First, we went to Anhinga Trail, where we saw the usual wonderful array of birds and wildlife. Just before the turnout, there was a nice Red-shouldered Hawk right next the road. It was one of the pale Florida subspecies.
Red-shouldered Hawk. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

Red-shouldered Hawk. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

Of course, the namesake of the trail was numerous, though there seemed to be no nests right next to the boardwalk as had been the case a few years ago when we were last here.
Anhinga. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

Anhinga. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

Double-crested Cormorants were extremely approachable...to within 3 feet, and even that didn't wake them up from snoozing. I've seen it before, but always enjoy seeing their emerald green eyes.
Double-crested Cormorant. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

At the far end of the trail there was a pile of American Alligators. Literally...
American Alligators. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

Other closely approachable waterbirds here included Tricolored Herons and a single Wood Stork.
Tricolored Heron. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

Wood Stork. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

And a nice adult Purple Gallinule put on a good show as it swam from water lily to water lily,
Purple Gallinule. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

What initially appeared like stumbling around on the lilies may have actually been a strategy to flip up the edges to uncover aquatic invertebrates clinging to the undersides of the leaves.
Purple Gallinule. Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP, FL

On the way to the southern portion of the park, at Flamingo, we stopped at a few more pullouts but didn't see too much except a few coots, Green-winged Teal, and a few more Red-shouldered Hawks.
Red-shouldered Hawk. Everglades NP, FL

At the visitor's center at Flamingo, we checked to see if the American Flamingo was out in Florida Bay. It was not. There had not been an eBird report in a couple of days. So now there were only 5 more possible ABA target birds possible to find. We had two places in the park to check for Black Rail. one was the Coastal Prairie Trail at the west end of the Flamingo campground. We were going to walk this trail out perhaps 1/2 mile, where rails had been reported in recent days. But it was still early afternoon, so we drove all the way back to Homestead and got our motel, then headed all the way back down. At Flamingo, we checked out a report of an American Crocodile, which was loafing rather close to a trail near the marina.
American Crocodile. Everglades NP, FL

Then, a second crocodile was seen swimming in the channel.
American Crocodile. Everglades NP, FL

And then a big surprise; it swam over to one of the fishing boats that had just come in, and just sat there right at our feet! The captain said that they seem to like the fresh water that they dump out of the ice chests. Back in 1978, the first time we went to Florida, American Crocodiles were critically endangered and it was impossible to see one. In 1988, we got information about a crocodile that was hanging around on Key Largo, and we felt honored to see it from a distance. But this experience was amazing!
American Crocodile. Everglades NP, FL

Our walk along the Coastal Prairie Trail was full of mosquitos, but unfortunately no Black Rails. The park naturalists told us that using tapes were absolutely NOT allowed on this trail, but it appears that some entering their sightings in eBird have done so anyway. On the long drive out of the park, we had been told that Black Rails were sometimes heard at Mahogony Hammock, about 3/4 of the way back to the park entrance. The only bird we had here was a nice Barred Owl sitting on a snag next to the road, in the dark, and about a zillion more mosquitoes than on the previous trail. A consolation was getting a nice look at Comet Lovejoy, which was visible to the naked eye in the amazing darkness of the Everglades sky, and a fuzzy green blob with a very short tail in binoculars.

We left early in the morning on January 22, heading for Long Key State Park, slightly less than half way to Key West from Homestead. Once the sun came up, we saw an occasional Magnificent Frigatebird, and on the wires were tons of Eurasian Collared-Doves. When we arrived at 7:50 a.m. the park gate was closed, and we were the 6th car in line to get in. All birders. The Key West Quail-Dove was still being seen daily, along the first few yards of the Golden Orb Trail, but with almost no reports after 9 a.m. We got organized and started out on the trail. Several others had raced down the trail ahead of us, but we crept along quietly, checking anything moving in the leaf litter. Hermit Crabs were making distracting rustling sounds, but about 50 yards in on the trail, at about 8:15, there he/she was! Walking in the leaf litter, in dense undergrowth, about 50 feet away. It was in view for only about 30 seconds, so it was not possible to get a photo. But we had ABA bird #690, and this one was also a lifer! We ran into a nice gentleman who missed the bird when we'd just seen it (a handful of others had seen it walking away a bit farther up the trail), and he'd tried to see the bird 13 times. So we were quite lucky. The only bird photo taken in the Keys was a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk that was circling over the Walgreens parking lot on Upper Metacumbe Key.
Short-tailed Hawk. Upper Metacumbe Key, FL

We headed back north, planning to stop briefly at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to check for Black-whiskered Vireos and possibly a lingering White-crowned Pigeon or Mangrove Cuckoo. But the entry fee was $10, and the $8 entry fee we'd just paid at Long Key State Park a couple hours before would not get us into this park. What a racket! So, we passed on that and headed to our next stakeout, a small lake (Kendall Lakes) in the town of Kendall, north of Homestead, where there had been a report of a couple dozen Egyptian Geese. But first, we stopped to get gas in Homestead, and noticed some strange starling-like birds walking around the parking lot. They were Common Mynas, an ABA "countable" species, and introduced exotic, that we'd seen in Florida before (and in Nepal).
Common Myna. Homestead, FL

Common Myna. Homestead, FL

Within a minute of arriving at Kendall Lakes, we had our target bird (ABA #691), a single Egyptian Goose sitting casually on the lawn. Here, and in the adjacent residential area, we found more than two-dozen of them.
Egyptian Goose. Kendall Lakes, FL

There were other birds here as well, including quite a few Muscovy Ducks, another introduced exotic which is apparently now ABA "countable" in Florida, but not a new one for us as we'd seen a wild one along the Rio Grande in Texas many years ago. Most of them were quite patchy with white, and only a couple approached the "wild" appearance, including this one.
Muscovy Duck. Kendall Lakes, FL

Other tame, and native, species that were here included some Fish Crows, and a bunch of begging White Ibises that allowed very close approach.
Fish Crow. Kendall Lakes, FL.

Note the very short legs on the Fish Crow above, a character distinguishing it from American Crow. And, you've gotta love those pale blue eyes on the pink face of the White Ibis below.
White Ibis. Kendall Lakes, FL

The video below shows how tame these birds were here.

Next, we headed west along the Tamiami Trail, stopping at the traditional spot near Shark Valley (parking was full so we didn't stop as planned), where we saw a Snail Kite.
Snail Kite. Shark Valley, FL

And at the visitor's center for the Big Cypress Reserve, a nice volunteer naturalist pointed out a Florida Softshell Turtle to us.
Florida Softshell Turtle. Big Cypress Reserve, FL

Near Naples, we decided to go south to Marco Island to check out waterbirds and shorebirds. We navigated through the heavy construction on the island to Tigertail Beach, where there was a parking fee of $8, and the lot appeared full, with lots of beach walkers and no birders. It didn't look like our kind of place, so we drove around a bit, and found a few Burrowing Owls, which were using vacant lots in the residential areas to nest; a very strange situation.
Burrowing Owl. Marco Island, FL

Out east of town, we saw a hawk on a wire that turned out to be a Broad-winged Hawk, a species that is quite rare anywhere in the U.S. in winter. So it is good I took a photo!
Broad-winged Hawk. Marco Island, FL

We stopped in the Naples area for the night, with plans to work up the Gulf Coast of Florida tomorrow. That will be where we start in Part 3 when I post in a couple days.

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