Monday, 22 February 2016

Florida final day

I'm writing this on Monday night, still scratching away at those mosquito bites from Saturday morning - my last day in Florida. Right up until the last morning I'd got away without a single bite, but heading out early on into the mangroves in shorts and a t-shirt was a mistake in one respect. However, the birding compensated with my final real target for the trip seen easily - White-crowned Pigeon. Half a dozen of these pretty timid birds went crashing through the vegetation as I walked about Dagny Johnson Hammock State Park on Key Largo early morning. There were a few Blue-grey Gnatcatchers about too as well as the odd White-eyed Vireo and a fair number of Grey Catbirds.
White-crowned Pigeon Key Largo, Florida 20th Feb 2016
Then all of a sudden there was that five minutes that flew by - it was like being back on High Island! Well, not really but it was good for mid-February in Florida. Firstly, there was an Ovenbird bobbing about in the leaf litter, and then a couple of 'wood warbler calls' focused my eyes up to firstly a Worm-eating Warbler (a nice surprise), then a cracking Yellow-throated Warbler before a Yellow-throated Vireo appeared. All quality species that were on the margins of being expected on this trip.
Yellow-throated Warbler Key Largo, Florida 20th Feb 2016
Back at where we were staying on Tavernier, the Atlantic Bay Resort, a Killdeer landed briefly in front of me calling as it did so while a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker enjoyed the local palm trees.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Tavernier, Florida 20th Feb 2016
After an hour or so of canoeing, where an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was the highlight, it was time to head back towards Miami where I'd saved the best til last...
Common Myna Florida City, Florida 20th Feb 2016
After pulling into the petrol station in Florida City and seeing three Common Mynas, time was running out and so Miami's oriole, bulbul and assortment of parrots will have to wait til I return at some stage in the future (probably for Black-whiskered Vireo and reacquainting with Grey Kingbird and Mangrove Cuckoo). Anyway, for a non-birding holiday, I managed to see a fair few birds and had a nice time doing so. Back to the greyness of Britain and the manicness that is work.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Key West (and its chickens)

We had a drive down to Key West today. Scenic in the main, with low-lying mangrove islands backed by turquoise sea. It was a bit blowy all day, but pretty sunny. We spent most of the day in Key West itself, which I can imagine is pretty decent in migration. Today inevitably was quiet, but a walk about town and Fort Zachery Taylor State Park provided a few bits and bobs.
Spotted Sandpiper Key West, Florida 19th Feb 2016
A walk about the fort, along with some Iguanas, produced a female Ring-necked Duck along with a dozen or so Blue-winged Teals and Pied-billed Grebes. Grey Catbirds and Palm Warblers were both fairly common, while the beach held Laughing Gulls, a first-winter American Herring Gull, a couple of Cabot's Terns and a showy Spotted Sandpiper. Meanwhile, a Magnificent Frigatebird soared over late morning.

Prairie Warbler Key West, Florida 19th Feb 2016
After walking around town, where a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk cruised over near Mallory Square, I headed back to the state park while Karen had a look around Hemingway's house. A Northern Parula was my first of the trip, while another showy Prairie Warbler did its best to get papped.
1st-winter Cabot's Tern Key West, Florida 19th Feb 2016
Early evening, we headed off and onto Higgs Beach. Loads of Laughing Gulls here, as well as some showy Cabot's and Royal Terns.
Red Junglefowl Key West, Florida 19th Feb 2016
And now onto Key West and its chickens. Apparently present for a couple of hundred years (I didn't know America itself had that long a history), these guys are fairly common in the town and look pretty untainted. If you can have those Swamphens by that Miami mall (that supposedly only escaped after Hurricane Andrew in 1992), then the ABA is doing a disservice to these chickens!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Everglades outing

I got up pretty early this morning and headed back up north for an hour or so to The Everglades National Park (accessed west at Homestead). Loads has been written and documented about this 'wilderness area', so I was quite keen to give it a go. Just after dawn, I spent an hour or so seeking out Cape Sable Seaside Sparrows - I knew I was early and with a lack of Ebird reports, it wasn't surprising that my quest failed. Pileated Woodpecker and a few Savannah Sparrows were of some consolation. Continuing to bird the area around Mahogany Hammock, by the road junction I lucked out on a rather dull looking Magnolia Warbler alongside White-eyed Vireo and Pine Warbler. Mahogany Hammock itself was pretty pants, bar a Great Crested Flycatcher, though the car park had a really showy Prairie Warbler and a Black-and-white Warbler (along with the usual Palm and Myrtle Warblers).

Prairie Warbler Everglades NP, Florida 18th Feb 2016
This 'wilderness area' of The Everglades is great if you like Great White Egrets, Turkey and Black Vultures. Or so that is what I decided. Pretty underwhelming in the main part if I'm honest, and this view was reinforced by a visit to the Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail; offensively loud tourists and guides meant that most the wildlife had scarpered pretty quickly. I scanned for a while looking for Short-tailed Hawk among the vultures, but this didn't come. On the ground, it was Palm Warblers galore supplemented by a Black-and-white Warbler and an Alligator (plus loads of aforementioned loud yanks).
Palm Warbler Everglades NP, Florida 18th Feb 2016
So I sought peace and tranquility by leaving (!) the national park, heading back towards Homestead and visiting Frog Pond/Lucky Hammock. This area of of arable fields and fencelines next to the water treatment works was decent in the midday heat - a fair number of Cave Swallows zipping by among the more common Tree Swallows, while a Western Kingbird showed well and so did a handful of quality Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and an American Kestrel.
Western Kingbird Homestead, Florida 18th Feb 2016
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Homestead, Florida 18th Feb 2016
Just east of here, I stopped the car as there were tons of raptors kettling above the road and careful scanning through produced what I'd been after, a nice dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. There were also a couple of Broad-winged Hawks in the mix too; all set against a cloudless sky. Birding in the afternoon back on Tavernier and Key Largo was poor. In the grounds of our cabin was a Little Blue Heron and a nice Osprey nest. John Pennekamp State Park was very slow - Laughing Gulls, White Ibises and that sort of thing. And that was it for another day.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Shopping malls and Swamphens

Traveled a fair bit today, heading south through The Everglades and ending up on the Keys in the evening. Much of today, however, was devoted to stuff where birds took a backseat. However, with a bit of ingenuity a few things were seen. A boat ride in the Everglades got the token gators that each and every big fat loud yank was after, as well a handful of Racoons. Bird life was very limited though, with a Black Vulture sticking its head up a mummified roadkill being the highlight.
Black Vulture Everglades City, Florida 17th Feb 2016
A few miles east of Everglades City along the Tamiami Trail (Route 41) was a boardwalk where more Alligators were found, as well as a few roadside birds - Great Crested Flycatcher, Painted Bunting and a Pine Warbler among the more numerous Palm and Myrtle Warblers.
Pine Warbler Tamiami Trail, Florida 17th Feb 2016
The afternoon was devoted to shopping; admittedly one of my least favourite pastimes. However, I'd managed to save the day slightly at the eleventh hour by plucking out the Dolphin Mall for Karen - armed with a couple of lakes and adjacent vegetation by its entrance. After getting a couple of pairs of Levi's for just over £50 and a new pair of Cons, I was out of there and onto the lakes. Pride of place were the abundant (and invasive) Grey-headed Swamphens that pecked away at whatever was in front of them. A couple of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jays joined the many Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Myrtle and Palm Warblers by the lakeside, while Green and Tricoloured Herons, White Ibises and a couple of Wood Storks stalked the lake sides. Just under four hours later, Karen arrived armed with bags of purchases. Think I've earned some birding in the morning!

Grey-headed Swamphen Dolphin Mall, Miami, Florida 17th Feb 2016
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Dolphin Mall, Miami, Florida 17th Feb 2016

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Florida sunshine birding

Florida was the first place I ever went to when I was a kid that I felt was exotic. My memory recalls loads of herons and egrets feeding away in the sunshine - pinks, whites and blues. And this morning switched me back into that mode. There'd been some rain overnight but the first couple of hours of light today were perfect - warm, blue Florida light. I headed to a place called Harns Marsh just east of Fort Myers; not in the Florida bird book surprisingly, but plenty of sightings to enjoy.
Sandhill Crane Harns Marsh, Florida 16th Feb 2016
Here are the highlights - male Snail Kite, 8 Sandhill Cranes, ringtail Northern Harrier, several Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, 15+ Limpkins, loads of Great Egrets, Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons, Blue-winged Teals and Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, Common Gallinules, Savannah Sparrows, Palm and Myrtle Warblers plus Common Yellowthroat. All standard stuff, but nice enough and good value for a bird starved Brit.
Limpkin Harns Marsh, Florida 16th Feb 2016
Blue-winged Teal Harns Marsh, Florida 16th Feb 2016
Tricoloured Heron Harns Marsh, Florida 16th Feb 2016
I got back to the hotel in Cape Coral mid morning, and after a bite to eat, headed out on bikes round the local area. Undoubted highlight of this was a Yellow-throated Warbler in Rotary Park which had duly disappeared when I went back later with my camera! Other stuff locally included a couple of nice Loggerhead Shrikes, showy Anhingas and Wood Storks plus nice views of loads of Palm and Myrtle Warblers.
Anhinga Cape Coral, Florida 16th Feb 2016
Loggerhead Shrike Cape Coral, Florida 16th Feb 2016
Myrtle Warbler Cape Coral, Florida 16th Feb 2016
Palm Warbler Cape Coral, Florida 16th Feb 2016
The last hour or so of light were spent with the Burrowing Owls - yesterday's bird in the same place but with an attendant youth today, plus a couple of others in the traditional site behind Cape Coral library. Another decent day on this 'non-birding' holiday.

Burrowing Owls Cape Coral, Florida 16th Feb 2016 (adult, top and juvenile, below)

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Florida Scrub Jays, Snail Kites and more showy birds

Where we're staying in Cape Coral, by fortune, seems to be the southernmost reliable site for the endemic and enigmatic Florida Scrub Jay. Listed as vulnerable, it was a new species for me - as early on this morning, I managed to see three birds at a regular site in the north of the city (east of Chiquita Boulevard north and Kismet Parkway West by the intersections of NW14th Avenue and NW26th Street). The birds were pretty inquisitive, with one deciding to perch on the car wing mirror and see what was up!

Florida Scrub Jay Cape Coral, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Lots of Eastern Meadowlarks here too, as well as a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrels, American Robins, Palm Warblers, an Eastern Phoebe and a flyover adult Bald Eagle. Not bad before breakfast. And shortly after that, and picking Karen up at the hotel, we were onto a nice showy juvenile Snail Kite frequenting an urban canal to the north of Fort Myers Beach at the intersection of John Morris Road and Summerlin Road. A really good bird, making the most of its surroundings and plucking out water snails from nowhere!

1st-winter Snail Kite near Fort Myers Beach, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Having driven through the overdevelopment and grimness that is Fort Myers Beach, it was onto Lovers Key State Park which was a great contrast. White sandy beaches and showy birds galore - a couple of Bonaparte's Gulls were a nice surprise among the large numbers of Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls while Snowy Plovers, Sanderlings, Willets, Royal Terns, Snowy Egret and Great Blue Herons were pretty common too. All totally unafraid of the beachgoers too! Reddish Egret and Tricoloured Herons showed well in the mangrove channel on the way back as well. Some roadside Black and Turkey Vultures were also good value, though they did stink a bit.
Great Blue Heron Lovers Key, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Snowy Plover Lovers Key, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Double-crested Cormorant Lovers Key, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Royal Tern Lovers Key, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Bonaparte's Gull Lovers Key, Florida 15th Feb 2016
Black Vulture Lovers Key, Florida 15th Feb 2016
A visit to a shopping mall late afternoon was a surprise in the birding stakes, with a small area of pools providing Glossy Ibises, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron and Common Gallinules as well as some decent Roseate Spoonbills and Little Blue Herons; just a shame the light was going when I discovered it! Getting back to Cape Coral at dusk meant that one of its resident Burrowing Owls was active. This one was perched on the roadside by Pelican Boulevard and SW 47th Street.
Burrowing Owl Cape Coral, Florida 15th Feb 2016

Monday, 15 February 2016

Sunshine and (some) birding - Flamingo and Florida intro

I'm in Florida for a week this half-term; a far cry from the usual gull haunts that draw me normally at this time of year. To be honest though, this British winter has been pretty hideous so the pure blue skies today (having arrived in Miami last night) were a joy.

A walk about near the place we're staying in Cape Coral (on the Gulf Coast) early this morning was a really pleasant introduction - nice to get the Palm Warbler count up straightaway along with Red-shouldered Hawk, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Grey Catbird, Myrtle Warbler and four Wood Storks. American birding like this is easy and a pleasure - and back before breakfast.
Red-shouldered Hawk Cape Coral, Florida 14th Feb 2016
Palm Warbler Cape Coral, Florida 14th Feb 2016
Wood Stork Cape Coral, Florida 14th Feb 2016
Anyway, as always, there was a target bird today. An American Flamingo turned up in January at Bunche Beach and has frequented from there to along the causeway to Sanibel Island. Turning up mid morning, it didn't take me long to locate this bright pink bird, an ABA code 3 bird - despite being a mile or so away, Karen was able to verify the sighting (and I got a grim phonescoped image that I'll keep to myself!). The showy Laughing Gulls nearby were a bit closer.
1st-winter Laughing Gull Sanibel Causeway, Florida 14th Feb 2016
One of the places I have the best birding memories of as a child was the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. This extensive area of mangroves, from what I remember, was just full of birds - loads of Roseate Spoonbills and stuff like that (plus a lucky sighting of a Mangrove Cuckoo). Today, though, the cuckoos weren't about due to the time of year and for some reason it was free entry so there were loads of people around. Not to worry though, as this place was still teeming with your 'standard' southern Florida birdlife - Reddish and Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Tricoloured, Little Blue and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a couple of Bald Eagles and loads of Ospreys, White Ibis, Wood Stork plus Brown and White Pelicans, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets and a Belted Kingfisher. Throw in a showy Alligator too and that was the wildlife drive.
Little Blue Heron Ding Darling WR, Sanibel, Florida 14th Feb 2016
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Ding Darling WR, Sanibel, Florida 14th Feb 2016
Alligator Ding Darling WR, Sanibel, Florida 14th Feb 2016
A quick walk along the beach at the north end of Sanibel was pleasant too, and back in the car park the birding wasn't too bad - Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cardinal and Myrtle Warblers. On the way back off the island, Royal Terns and Ospreys kept us company. A Muscovy Duck flew over McGregor Boulevard in Harlem Heights; shamefully I'll have this as an ABA tick given they're countable here in Florida (having dipped the genuine articles on the Rio Grande in Texas a couple of years ago).
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Sanibel, Florida 14th Feb 2016