Palm Warbler at Chekika

The Chekika Area of Everglades National Park is only open from December through May, so there is one month left to get out there and enjoy it .  It closes to the public during the wet season.  This Eastern-side access to the Florida Everglades is the quickest to access for most Miami-Dade residents, and there is no admission fee charged.  If you are into birds, reptiles, flowers, butterflies or just nature in general you definitely want to check this one out.  I enjoy it because it is an easy thirty minute drive from my home and I always come back with some great photos and a story or two. Here is a little Palm Warbler I found hopping back and forth through the tall grass alongside the road leading up to the park.

Palm Warbler (Dendroica Palmarum)
Palm Warbler (Dendroica Palmarum)

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: Long Pine Key

The Main Entrance to Everglades National Park is just fifteen minutes west of Florida City, FL.  Just ten minutes inside the gate is Long Pine Key, a camping and hiking area that offers great bird watching opportunities.  I arrived this weekend for an afternoon of hiking and was welcomed by an enormous flock of Tree Swallows swarming in circles above the small pond.  There must have been ten thousand of them, moving in concert, reminiscent of a school of sardines stretching hundreds of feet up into the sky.

Tree Swallows – Can you guess how many?

Tree Swallows – Dipping and Sipping

A juvenile Little Blue Heron doing a little fishing.

A Palm Warbler clinging to the reeds.

A Yellow-throated Warbler peeking out from a Pine Tree.