Adventure in the Everglades

“Let’s go birding,” I suggested to my seven-year-old. Her reply, “No way!” I countered with, “How about we go on an adventure?” “Okay, fine.” So we packed up our supplies and headed off for the Everglades. I was excited about sharing more of my passion for nature with my daughter. She was a little bit intrigued, but adamant that it wouldn’t be too long or too far away. I prevaricated, “Its not far at all.” After an hour drive of my constant reassurance that it was just a little farther, we arrived at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center at the southern end of Everglades National Park.  Our first stop inside the Main Gate, was the Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook, a short boardwalk leading to a lookout tower offering a breathtaking view of the expansive River of Grass. Aided by our binoculars, we watched a lone Great Egret that was foraging in the distance.


Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Beautiful curves!
My daughter used the binoculars from her Jr. Birdwatcher’s Kit to study everything, from the distant birds to flowers to insects on the boardwalk.  She got a chance to use one of her bird call whistles to try to attract a little warbler that we saw under some bushes, but then stopped when she realized that she might draw it out to where it could be spotted by a hovering hawk. On the way back to the car we were watched by a trio of Turkey Vultures lurking in a nearby tree.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Once back in the car I asked my daughter if she wanted to make the long drive down to Flamingo or if she wanted to head back home. Although she was still worried about it taking too long, I could see the spirit of adventure welling up inside of her. A part of her wanted to check it out. I told her it was her call, and she left it up to Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe. Flamingo won, so we turned right and began the forty-mile trek through pinelands and sawgrass. Along the way I reminisced about the last time I had gone that far down fifteen or twenty years ago with one of my brothers and a friend. I told my daughter about canoing and being chased by mosquitoes, and about my brother almost capsizing our canoe trying to get away from a large insect. β€œThe gators in the water will bite harder than any of these insects,” I had said.
We made it to Flamingo and top on my list was the Eco Pond, where I had seen Flamingos and Roseate Spoonbills on my last visit all those years ago. There was a light drizzle so we donned our raincoats and set off on the path around the pond. Two minutes into our walk we were attacked. Our insect repellent was no match for the swarm. According to my daughter there were 4,000 mosquitoes on each of my legs. The Flamingo area was teeming with these flying bloodsuckers so we left.

On the way out of the park we made a quick stop at the Anhinga Trail, which thankfully was mosquito free. Again we put on our raincoats and headed out on the boardwalk. We saw four large alligators. We saw Anhingas, Black Vultures, American Crows, Green Herons, a little Palm Warbler another Great Egret and a beautiful Tricolored Heron.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
The excursion ended up taking most of the day, and it was a blast.  We drove for hours, dodged raindrops, ran from mosquitoes, told each other jokes, sang silly songs and swapped stories. It certainly was an Everglades adventure.

Backyard Birding – Egrets

“Daddy! Daddy!  Come quick!”

My six-year-old daughter bounced up and down, beckoning me to the sliding glass door at the back of the house.  This is what she saw.  I told her she is becoming a very good birder.

Two Western Cattle Egrets soaring over the pond.

Western Cattle Egrets

Great Egret and Cattle Egrets and a third coming in for a landing.

Great Egret and Western Cattle Egrets

Great Egret

First Bird of 2011

What was your first bird this year?  For me it was a Turkey Vulture hovering overhead as part of a group of Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures.  That is not very surprising as Turkey Vultures are a very common sight in Florida.  I am writing this post on the second morning of the new year, and so far this year I have identified five different bird species.  In addition to the two vultures I saw a Great Egret, Western Cattle Egrets and a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  I am still waiting to see what my first new species will be.

I set a goal for myself to see and identify 200 different bird species in 2011.  I started birding in late 2010 and was able to identify 45 different birds.  So if I am going to reach my goal I’ll need to see 155 new types of birds.  Even in a place like South Florida, I think this will be quite a challenge.  I’ll be tracking my progress here on this blog on the Year List page.

So how about you?  What was your first bird?  Perhaps you haven’t identified one yet.  Do you have any birding goals for 2011?  Perhaps you are also tracking your 2011 birds on your blog?  Or maybe you have some tips for us novice birders.  Let us know in the comments below.

Birding the Point – Great Egret

One of my favorite birding spots in southern Miami-Dade County is Biscayne National Park at Black Point Marina. I like this spot because there are shore birds, wading birds, raptors and songbirds. I also like it because it is only a five minute drive from my home. The north side of the marina is part of Biscayne National Park and features a nice walking path that varies in length depending on the tide. This post will be one of a series of posts of photos from Black Point. Enjoy these photos of a beautiful Great Egret I had a chance to observe on a recent visit.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

This magnificent Great Egret was fishing the shallows.

Long-legged Beauty

Tracking the Fish.

Strike!

Drying off to try again.

Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Last weekend I loaded up the family and set off for Shark Valley, at the north end of Everglades National Park.  It was an overcast day and we drove through a couple of rain showers to get there, but once we had parked and bought our tram tour tickets the sun peeked out and the remainder of the day was beautiful.

Shark Valley is a great place to observe exotic birds and other wildlife in their natural habitat, because it is really nothing more than two paths running out to an observation tower eight miles deep into the swamp.  Once you’re out there it is wilderness as far as the eye can see.  I’ve been out there several times in the past with my bicycle, but this time we opted for the tram tour, because an eight mile bike trek would probably be too much for my five-year-old to handle.   The tour was narrated by Ranger Mel.  He did an excellent job pointing out animals and educating us about the Everglades’ history, natural features and the challenges it faces.  As a novice birder, I was especially grateful for Mel, because he identified the bird species we saw.

Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga

Anhingas perched on the trees hanging over the deep water areas drying their wings in the sun.  It is easy to distinguish the females from the males, because they have a sandy-white head and crown.  The male Anhingas are almost completely black.

Red-shouldered Hawk

A Red-shouldered Hawk watched us from the high branches of a distant tree, making me wish I had a better camera.

Great Egret

Great Egrets perched atop the little Cypress trees that dot the “River of Grass.”

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron stalking new hatched alligators, begrudgingly yielded the road as we approached.

In addition to the birds I was able to photograph we also saw Black Vultures hovering overhead ready to perform Nature’s clean up duties.  American Crows as big as ducks observed us closely on our ride in and on our ride out.  Northern Mockingbird flew in hopping and skipping patterns from bush to bush and a lonely Western Osprey hovered high above everything.

My wife and daughter, who were initially somewhat skeptical at the idea of spending an afternoon in the wilderness, ended having a wonderful time.  My daughter said her favorite bird of the day was “the fat one.”  Later, I discovered that she wasn’t referring to me, but the Red-shouldered Hawk, which coincidentally was my favorite bird of the day as well.

Until Next Time,

The Fat One

The Broken Foot Birder

I have been fascinated by birds for most of my life, and during the last few years I have flirted with the idea of taking up birding (bird watching) as a hobby. But, like most of my bright ideas, this one remained an idea that stuck in my head but never turned into any real action. Then one day as I was rescuing a small child from the jaws of a rabid alligator, I broke the fifth metatarsal in my left foot. Actually that is a bit of an exaggeration; alligators don’t get rabies. Now back to the story. I broke my foot. Okay. Fine. I was moving a bed downstairs and I missed the last step. The way that my foot was broken isn’t really the point of this post, but it was very painful and I was heroic as I bravely fought back the tears and asked my wife to drive me to the emergency room.

So why am I talking about my broken foot on the first post of my bird blog? The reason is my broken foot was the catalyst that moved the idea of birding from the back of my mind into action. The broken foot kept me still and grounded and forced me out of the fast-paced, “what’s next?” tempo that my life had become. For several weekends all I could do is watch the little slice of the world that was available to be viewed through the sliding glass door in my living room.

My back yard runs into a man-made pond that was carved in between two rows of town houses, but, as I was to find out, just a little bit of water will attract all kinds of life. When you have nothing else to do but sit and watch you really begin to notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. During those few weeks of watching that pond I saw several species of birds. A King Rail perched on the concrete rim of a drainage pipe scanning the water for fish. Small groups of juvenile White Ibises combed the grassy slopes in search of insects. Muscovy Ducks patrolled yards surrounding the pond, some with ducklings in tow, and some leaving little dropping on my back porch. A Great Egret waded in the shallow waters and then stretched is large white wings and glided away. Chimney Swifts buzzed all around one evening feeding on flying ants, but unfortunately not getting all of them. I also discovered that a lonely American Coot has burrowed a home base in to a grassy hill just yards from my back yard. Altogether I counted nine different species of birds, viewable just outside my window.

The last few weeks have been refreshing and eye-opening and have inspired me to get off the couch and out into nature. If I can see nine different types of birds from my living room just imagine what I will find when I go out looking for more. I have a couple more weeks of until I can walk again, but I already have plans to begin exploring all of the wonderful venues for observing nature that South Florida has to offer. I plan to take pictures and to write about my adventures here. I also hope to get my soon-to-be-six-year-old daughter interested in birding too, but that might be pushing it.

Until Next Time,

The Broken Foot Birder