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.

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.

Trespassing and Birding at Black Point Marina

I made a quick trip to Black Point Marina in Southern Miami-Dade County this weekend. I have been to this marina many times in the past to go boating with friends or to eat at the little restaurant there, but I have never been there to bird. I was armed with a DSLR camera and an assortment of lenses that a good friend had kindly let me borrow. He advised that I try going to the back side of Black Point where the shrimp boats dock, so that is where I headed first.
To get there I had to ignore the sign that read “No Trespassing – Only Commercial Fisherman Beyond This Point.” I certainly did not look like a fisherman in my Toyota Camry, but I decided to press forward anyway and use the I know what I am doing strategy, with an I’m sorry I didn’t notice the sign excuse as a back up. I drove down the narrow road to the docks and made it there, with only one dirty look to potentially block my way.
I pulled up to the cul-de-sac at the end of the road to find a Snowy Egret watching me from a nearby rock. The Snowy Egret is very similar to the Great Egret, which I see everywhere in South Florida.  The Snowy Egret, however, has a dark-gray or black bill, while the Great Egret has a bright yellow bill.  I parked the car and began to fumble with the sophisticated camera equipment. By the time I got the lens on and was ready to pop off a few photos, I discovered the bird had flown, probably laughing to himself thinking, that guy’s got to do better if he’s going to get a shot of me. I stayed for a little while hoping he would return. Then a couple of the fishermen seemed to be getting annoyed with my presence there so I decided to pack up and try my luck on the other side of the marina, where I have often noticed people fishing along the channel the pleasure boaters use to go out to the bay.
As I drove I noticed that there were many White Ibises overhead. They were traveling in flocks of ten to twenty, and some of them in “V” patterns, At first I thought they were geese or ducks, but their distinctive curved beaks gave them away. I found a clump of bushes that had about fifty of them resting in the branches, so I decided to pull over and enjoy them for a few minutes.
White Ibises resting in some bushes.

I arrived at the other side of the marina and parked next to a wooden walkway that cut through some mangroves. I grabbed my borrowed camera, chose the medium sized lens and followed the little walkway through the mangroves and was deposited on to the north side of the channel. I walked along the bank, passing clumps of people fishing and the occasional bicyclist or dog-walker. After progressing a little ways I happened upon a couple of ladies and a gentleman with binoculars hanging from their necks. They were squinting and pointing into the mangroves. As I approached the man was calling out names of butterfly types, telling the ladies what they were seeing. When he noticed that I had stopped to listen he was quick to begin explaining the butterflies to me.
I asked them if they were butterfly watching and they explained that they were appreciating all types of nature but they were mainly birding. I was thrilled to find other birders out on the trail. I excitedly told them that I was birding too, and found out that they were finishing up a day-long bird trek that had started in Florida City. They were from the Tropical Audubon Society and I was happy to find out that they have nature walks and birding field trips almost every weekend, and they are free.
I decided to tag along with them for a few minutes and they didn’t seem to mind. Bob, the gentleman who was leading the expedition was extremely knowledgeable about the local birds and he quickly filled me in on all the birds they had seen so far that day. As we were walking he also pointed out different spots at out present location and the different species that I might see there. Spotted Sandpipers might be on the rocks in the morning or Red-bellied Woodpeckers could sometime be seen in the tall trees across the channel.
We heard a bird begin to chirp from somewhere deep in the mangroves to our left and everyone but me quickly identified it as a Grey Catbird. We listened to it for a moment and then another one began to call from some trees behind us. Bob began to mimic the sound, trying to draw them out, but we never did see either one.
I thoroughly enjoyed the short time I was able to spend with Bob and the gang, and plan to join up with them again in the very near future. As I left the marina I noticed some Turkey Vultures circling high overhead. They are a very common sight in South Florida, but since I had such a nice camera with me I decided to take some pictures.
Turkey Vulture hovering overhead.

Like last week, this short birding outing showed me how much I still need to learn, but I also got a taste of how willing experienced birders are to show newbies like me the ropes. I was happy to learn that I have picked the perfect time of year to take up birding. According to my new friends Fall is when many migrating birds arrive in South Florida.
Until Next Time,
The Trespassing Birder

Here are some links to more information about:

Tropical Audubon Society
Black Point Marina