Friday, February 12, 2010

Goodbye Florida

The Naples Fishing Pier is a popular spot for fishing and for watching the sunset. It was originally built in 1888 as a freight and passenger dock. In 1912 it was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt. Now over a hundred years old, it stands under protection as a landmark.

While we waited for the sun to set, I took some pictures of the birds:

Here is a  juvenile Brown Penguin with a fishing line hanging from its beak. A weight appears to be attached ta the end of the line and is resting on its chest. It's a sad fact that many seabirds get entangled in fishing gear and often lose their lives to it.

A Snowy Egret walking along the beach

The brownish color gives this Laughing Gull away as a juvenile

There were many Laughing Gulls hanging our on the railing and flying about a wooden platform where a fisherman was filleting his fish, hoping that something to drop their way.

First cycle LG

People started arriving and crowding on the pier preparing to take pictures of the
setting sun to take place a few minutes after 6 PM

For the photos of the sun, the water and the people  further down on the pier I experimented with some filters since, if left  unaltered, all you could see were dark outlines against a bright sky.

Goodbye Florida. It was a pleasure to photograph your birds. They were so tame and unruffled by my presence. Probably owing to the absence of hunters and domestic predators, I could often walk right up to them, no need to stalk or use a bird hide for camouflage. We were  also very lucky with the weather, with temperatures mostly in the mid 70's and sunny with a slight breeze. And no snow storms to impede our travel back to Vermont. Our dogs greeted us with excited jumps, yelps and howls. It was good to be home,

... My last post in this series and now no more excuses to tackle my taxes!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Everglades much degraded but still wonderful

On Saturday morning we set off for the Everglades National Park. Some ten years ago we had stayed at the Flamingo Lodge deep within the park, an old-fashioned white clapboard building with a restaurant overlooking the bay, but when we tried to make reservations we learned that it had been destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. Instead we registered at another motel in Florida City which turned out to be a dump. (Warning: gives misleading information and charges substantial services fees for making a reservation for you!)

Driving along the Tamiami Trail  we saw many Anhingas. With their wings spread to dry they look like ancient royalty.

The Tamiami Trail, opened to traffic in 1928, cuts through the Everglades. Ever since it has been choking off the flow from Lake Okeechobee further north through a slow-flowing shallow 100 mile wide  "River of Grass", depriving animals and plants of  the fresh water vital for their survival. The park has been further degraded by the damage done by hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Wilma and Katrina in 2005, breaking many tropical hardwood trees, destroying  royal palms and pine trees. Also, the damage done to the mangrove forest protecting the coast allowed saltwater to flood into local ponds wiping out the vegetation sustaining the birds.

Finally some of it is being rectified.   I just read in the Miami Harold about a long bridge to be built on low pylons:

"The recent groundbreaking for a one-mile bridge over Tamiami Trail paves the way to recovering the abundant colonies of roseate spoonbills, other wading birds and healthy wildlife populations that once flourished in the Everglades"

"When complete in 2013, the one-mile bridge along Tamiami Trail will reconnect freshwater flows through Northeast Shark River Slough into Everglades."

We reached the park driving past miles and miles of flat industrialized farm land that too used to be part of the Everglades. I remember the park as being fairly lush with low bushes and trees lining the road and scattered hammocks of tall trees. It looks much less impressive now.

Driving into the visitors' center we were greeted by a committee of Black Vultures congregating on the lawn around the parking lot.

These birds have very strange shoulder epaulets

We continued to Flamingo. The only structure of the former lodge still standing was the concrete building that once held the restaurant and now serves as visitor center. There was also still a general store by the harbor selling sandwiches. People eating at the picnic tables were assiduously watched by a crowd of  Laughing Gulls. Feeding was prohibited.

The air rang with strange bird cries which I finally localized to a couple of osprey nests. I just saw the adults, no chicks. The tide was out and in the distancce in the bay shorebirds were flocking on exposed mudflats.  I  also saw a couple of White Pelicans, the only ones I would see during the entire trip.

A sightseeing boat was just leaving the harbor, depriving me of the only opportunity to get closer to these birds.

At my last visit I had walked to a pond which held wading birds. I remember the miraculous sight of a line of Roseate Spoonbills flying high overhead, lit up by the morning sun. Degraded by saltwater this pond  was no longer worth a visit.  

In the harbor visitors were leaning over the railing watching a manatee whose pales shape could be made out just below the surface. It would occasionally lift its nose above the water. A stone gray saltwater crocodile was resting on the  opposite bank.

Brown Pelicans were floating in the harbor, resting on the mangroves and fishing out in the bay..

Adult BP

Juvenile BP

Adult resting in a mangrove bush

Taking off from the water ...

... and diving for fish

Mid afternoon we left the park with no further stops except at a  roadside pond which held the usual couple of Pied-billed Grebes. This one is in breeding plumage with the black band around the beak:

The next morning we headed out to the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the tip of Key Biscayne. We had stopped at the same beach years ago. I remembered it as being almost empty, but was crowded now. This time the area was devoid of wild life - no gulls or other seabirds  - except around the parking lot where I found a flock of immature White Ibises, varying in color from a protective brown to almost white.

After a brief visit there we decided to drive back to Naples skipping visiting a friend in Miami because of traffic congestion - many roads had been sealed off for a marathon run.

We headed back to the Tamiami Trail. Traffic was moderate. Suddenly ahead of us a  Little Blue Heron were standing by a dead heron that apparently had just been struck by a car. The Little Blue Heron flew off as we approached. It was sad. I wondered, what had been the bond between them, parent, mate....?

To be continued with a final post about a sunset visit to the old pier in Naples

Monday, February 8, 2010

Terns, Gulls, Sanderlings, Willet, Northern Gannet on the shores of Sanibel Island

Our next stop was Bowman's Beach. We sat on the sand and watched the procession of birds before us.

Adult non breeding Sandwich Tern with the characteristic yellow-tipped black bill

Bad hair day for these Royal Terns

Adult non-breeding Royal Tern

Sandwich Tern and Royal Tern

For size comparison, Sandwich Tern and Royal Tern

Adult non-breeding and first cycle Laughing Gulls - these are the most common gulls in the Gulf


A Sanderling found a juice morsel  and is taking off running, hotly pursued by another Sanderling. Note the shells on the beach for which Sanibel is famous.

A Western Willet working the surf; it looks like it's mollting

Notice the clear drop hanging of the bird's bill. This is concentrated salt water produced by the nasal glands, a common way of salt excretion in sea birds

Lastly a big surprise: a huge white and black bird came flying low over the water and dove in for prey. Only after looking at the photo did I realize it was a Northern Gannet that was spending the winter months here.

.... to be continued

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Roseate Spoonbill and more on Sanibel Island

On Friday morning we left early to drive from Naples to Sanibel Island. We arrived at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge at about 8:30 AM and were surprised to find the gate locked, then read a big sign: CLOSED ON FRIDAYS. What a disappointment, my only chance this trip to see the refuge! Why close on a Friday? Why not on a Monday like  restaurants that also cater to tourists ? I could have slapped myself for not reading my Birding Florida guide more carefully.

A volunteer in blue uniform came out with a board indicating that the 2 mile Indigo Trail was open. After a brief discussion with my husband I started walking toward the trail, leaving him to his own devices.As I passed the gate to the refuge road I noticed in the distance a person in light blue walking down that road. Entering the Indigo Trail I ran into a guy who drew my attention to  a partially submerged alligator in the ditch by the trail, saying that he had walked the entire trail without seeing anything else of interest. No birds!

A Northern Mockingbird, the state bird of Florida, was perched on a bush near by. I had seen plenty of those at home.

Anyway, I backtracked and looked down the road into the sanctuary. The person in a light blue outfit was receding in the distance. Well, I am sorry, I too had to find a way in, and soon discovered a spot with foot tracks where I could easily squeeze past the gate. I did so and soon was walking down the warm smooth empty blacktop road. After a few minutes I arrived at at large lake or pond on the east side of the road. A Roseate Spoonbill and a Reddish Egret (changed label from Little Blue Heron; see comment below) were feeding companionably side by side in the shadow near the opposite shore and were slowly making their way across to my side. I was jubilant: the bird I had come to see! The sun was coming from the wrong angle for a good shot, but no matter what...

Closer to shore a single duck was walking along the water's edge, a Mottled Duck, a species threatened by extinction through hybridization with mallards. 

.Finally a good view of the Roseate Spoonbill 

A pair of Pied-billed Grebes were floating on the lake on the other side of the road. This species of Grebes seems to be the most common pond bird in Florida.

Finishing with my camera I turned back to the road, when I saw the person in light blue come toward me: the volunteer who I had thought I had left behind at the visitors center! In the meantime another person had walked up from the gate. The volunteer kindly directed us back to center explaining that the animals needed a day of rest from visitors. Embarrassed as I was, I was also very happy that I had gotten the photos.

Back at the center we drove to the Bailey Tract, the only part of the sanctuary that was open.  It was an area of ponds connected by paths. The only birds I saw there was a male Anhinga in breeding plumage

and several Common Moorhens

 and an American Coot

along with several Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons, and many Yellow-rumped Warblers, flitting through the bushes and trees.

To be continued ... withTerns and  Gulls on Bowman Beach, a trip to the Everglades, and finally a walk down the old pier in Naples at sunset

Friday, February 5, 2010

Red-shouldered Hawks, Great Crested Flycatcher and more at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

On Thursday morning we had wanted to travel to Sanibel Island and visit the "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, but got off to a late start, and I therefore decided to explore the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, leaving "Ding Darling" for the next day - big mistake as I would later find out. But the Corkscrew Sanctuary turned it into another exciting day.

The first half of the walk did not yield very many new birds. There were many Yellow-rumped Warblers along the path, also a Blue-headed Vireo.

Finally in open country seen from an observation platform the first Red-tailed Hawk presented itself sitting on top of tree close by. Throughout the walk I would count three more, although I couldn't rule out duplicates.

After a few minutes it flew off,

....circled once and disappeared in the woods.

Later on further down the path two hawks were flying through the trees above and settled on a couple of trees.

The land became more swampy. A Great Crested Flycatcher was sitting on branch just above the water.

A Blue-crowned Night-Heron was resting in a tree half hidden by thick vegetation.

The path opened to a patch of water lettuce, in which an immature Little Blue Heron and a Tricolored Heron were hunting for prey.

A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was feeding on a fruit tree.

Throughout the walk the drumming of various woodpeckers and the check-check-check of the Red-bellied Woodpecker were ringing through the forest.
Returning to the visitor center I checked out the feeders. They were occupied by Boat-tailed Grackles to the exclusion of all others.This female manages to crouch into the small trough of a hanging feeder meant for smaller birds.

To be continued.....