Baby Green Herons on the Anhinga Trail

A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit the Anhinga Trail, one of my favorite spots to observe and photograph birds.  The Anhinga Trail is on of the first visitor areas you get to after entering the South side entrance to Everglades National Park in Miami-Dade County, Florida.  The trail features a boardwalk that allows you to get close to some pretty amazing birds, not to mention a bunch of alligators too.  That particular day I happened  to come across these two baby Green Herons, snuggling together on a low hanging tree branch.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

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.

Birding the Everglades: Chekika State Recreation Area

Chekika State Recreation Area is another great birding location just a few minutes from the suburban sprawl in southern Miami-Dade County, FL.  Until last weekend I never knew it existed, despite growing up less than thirty minutes away.  Chekika is part of Everglades National Park and is open to the public between December and May.  The Chekika facility includes a small pond, a hammock with a hiking trail and a large lawn suitable for picnics. It is surrounded by sprawling fields of sawgrass. My short visit there on Sunday yielded several different bird species, including some firsts for me.

A Killdeer, one of my new favorite birds.

“Hmmm, let’s see if there is anything to eat over here.”  (Little Blue Heron)

“Ummm, Maybe I’ll try somewhere else.” (Little Blue Heron)

I originally identified this as a Red-tailed Hawk, but stand corrected.  It’s a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

He watched me closely, but never left his post.

Green Heron, active as usual.

Great Crested Flycatcher

A pair of juvenile Common Moorhens stopped by for a drink.

Birding the Everglades: Anhinga Trail

I invited my dad to join me on my latest birding expedition. My dad is a great appreciator of nature, and is probably the biggest reason why I have grown to have such a love for birds and nature. During my childhood my dad would always stop to notice the little treasures that exist in nature. That sensibility somehow made through my thick-headed and distracted adolescence and now it is instilled in this adult version of me. The two of us had a wonderful time enjoying what nature had to offer.

We decided to venture down to the southern end of Everglades National Park.  We found ourselves tackling the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail, which are both just a couple miles inside the main park entrance in the Royal Palm State Park section. Every time I make out to the Everglades I find it incomprehensible that the sprawling suburbs of a major city are no more than a fifteen minute drive away. Once you get out there you are immersed into a completely different world. The “river of grass” dotted with hammocks and pinewoods extends farther than the eye can see. Birds and other wildlife that rarely or never venture into to the nearby neighborhoods thrive, although their continued existence is threatened by South Florida’s increasing growth.

Thanks to the recent generosity of a very good friend my ability to capture digital images of my birding experiences has been greatly upgraded. Here are a few of the many wonderful birds we saw. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Eastern Wood Pewee

Anhinga (Breeding Plumage)

Double-crested Cormorant

Red-shouldered Hawk

Purple Gallinule

Green Heron