The Everglades

Bald Eagle On the 9 May we hit the Everglades, which to be perfectly honest I found quite disappointing. Probably because it took me so long to pin down Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow at the recommended area close to Mahogany Hammock whilst being severely bitten by the biggest horse flies I've ever seen in my life, it was too hot elsewhere for the birds. We firstly tried Eco Pond where there were a few Herons and flyovers from Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kite.

Working back northwards we took a quick look at the visitors centre at Flamingo where a small flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds were feeding in the car park and two large American Crocodiles were spotted in the canal at the back of the marina.

Mrazek Pond and Coot Bay pond contained mainly just coots and a couple of Great Blue Herons were fishing on West Lake.

Brown-headed Cowbird I made the trip down Snake Bight Trail alone as Sarah is a little more prone to the mossies than I am. I covered myself in DEET put on my jeans and left only my lower arms and face bare. I don't normally get bitten by mossies. The rumours of the trail are certainly no exaggeration. I was bitten 20 to 30 times whilst I virtually jogged down the trail to the relative safety of the bight at the end. The only birds I saw were American Redstart and Ovenbird along the trail. However, I didn,t really look that well as I was concentrating on preventing myself becoming mosquito lunch.

Out on the bight were a few birds like Herons and Ibis and in the far distance through the heat haze were a couple of large pink blobs which I can only assume were Greater Flamingos.
Some smaller waders fed on the mud closer to the trail including Wilson's Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet and Spotted Sandpiper.

I was greatly releived to get back to the car which was a mossie free zone as Sarah had a personal vendetter against any that were unwary enough to enter the car. I wouldn't do the trail again unless someone guaranteed me a Mangrove Cuckoo part way down, preferably near the top of the trail.

Florida Soft-shelled Turtle Marsh Rabbit Paurotis Pond had looked good for birds on the drive down to Flamingo but on the way back we had only distant views of Wood Storks and three or four Roseate Spoonbills. Mahogany Hammock was completely dead bird wise but was a pleasant walk through the Palms and ferns in the hammock. We didn't bother with Pa-hay-okee lookout tower or Gumbo Limbo Trail but had a quick look round the visitors centre before heading for a late afternoon walk along the Anhinga Trail.
There were no surprises on the trail but extremely close views of most of the birds including Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Green Heron and Red-shouldered Hawk.
The alligators here were big and close up and Florida Red-bellied and Soft-shelled Turtles were amusing as they sunbathed on rocks resting on their bellys with all four legs stretched out. One Soft-shelled Turtle was found digging out a nest right alongside the path. At the car park I was asked by a photographer I had met earlier whether I was interested in seeing some Owls. Yes was my answer. He said he would call them in at 8:15, so I waited. Sure enough he made a strange screaming noise (not much like the owls) and two beautiful Barred Owls appeared in a large tree beside the car park. With a spotlight on them I was even able to the video the two birds. Whilst watching the owls several Chuck-wills Widows and a late in the year Whip-poor Will were seen and heard flying around the car park.
Double-crested Cormorant Caspian Tern The 10 May saw another morning in the Everglades with an early morning walk round the Anhinga Trail. More close views of the same birds but nothing different. Paurotis Pond was quite good with close views of Wood Storks collecting nesting material from trees in the car park and a Caspian Tern was found sitting at the edge of West Lake. I bumped into the leader of a birding tour group who gave me some information on where to find Smooth-billed Anis as their young had recently fledged in the area. I passed on information on where I had seen Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow the previous day.

Black and White Warbler Right then, next stop Green Belt Park next to Fort Lauderdale Airport. On reaching the park we parked up and just after parking the car a large flycatcher landed on the parking sign right next to the car. This was the biggest stroke of luck we had all holiday. We came to look for Anis and found a La Sagra's Flycatcher. The trip had been worthwhile even if the Anis didn't show. I walked along the path through the park to the point where I was told they had last been seen. No Anis just lots of Grackles and a Black and White Warbler. I wandered on and eventually decided to look across the airport service road at the back of the park. Was that a Grackle on the fence. No it was a young Smooth-billed Ani shortly to be joined by both of its parents.
From Green Belt Park we headed west along the Tamiami Trail to the Miccosukee Indian Restaurant. We stopped at Shark Valley and asked a couple of rangers where the best spots for Snail Kites were. They hadn't seen any but suggested looking north from the indian restaurant or from a disused airboat station further up the road.
We tried the latter first but saw only gators, Vultures, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and herons in over an hour or so. Next we tried the Indian Restaurant. After spotting a Wurdemanns Heron out in the marsh I noticed a large brown bird quite close to it. My initial reaction was that it was a Short-eared Owl but on closer inspection with the scope it turned out to be a female Snail Kite.
Barred Owl We were now fed up with the Everglades so we decided to to check out Big Cypress Preserve on May 11. The first and furthest stop was Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The mossies were a bit fierce here so I left Miss mossie bait in the car and headed down the boardwalk. After the initial hundred yards there were very few mossies. Along the boardwalk were Carolina Wren, Red-bellied and Hairy Woodpecker, calling Barred Owl, Tufted Titmouse and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. At the viewing platform at the end of the walk were two massive alligators in the only bit of water remaining, with twenty or so youngsters. The adults were busy grabbing some of the fish stranded in the pool. There were a few birds in the trees surrounding the pool including American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat.
Next was a visit to Janes Scenic Drive. However, it wasn't very scenic and the area was completely dried up and thus a waste of time. We turned round after a couple of miles and headed for the 24 mile loop drive shown on the map available from the Everglades Visitors centres which is worth getting hold of. The loop drive is signposted off the Tamiami Trail.

Female Slaty Skimmer              Male Slaty Skimmer

Female Needhams Skimmer              Male Needhams Skimmer

The drive began in a similar vein to Janes Scenic Drive but after a couple of miles the road ran alongside water under the trees which was full of fish including large catfish and Sailfin Mollies. The fish were being fed on by Brown Water Snakes and some large Gators. At one point where we parked to photograph and video the numerous dragonflies Sarah spotted a couple of dark brown animals loping across the road. Through my binoculars I could see they were River Otters. We moved the car to getter a better view but could not relocate them. However, another couple of otters appeared and as we stood watching one of them loped down the road right towards us veering off just before where the car was parked.
There were quite a few bird species along the drive and I saw my first Prothonotary Warbler at one stopping point early on the drive.

Viceroy            Brown Water Snake            White Peacock

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