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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Photos from Florida Trip - February 2020

Sunrise on Merritt Island
           Sharon and I decided to make a trip to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina this winter for a winter getaway. Sharon wanted to visit a plantation in South Carolina and to the town of Helen, Ga which was redesigned to replicate a German village. So we then decided to add Florida to the itinerary. We flew into Fort Lauderdale and then worked our way north.
           After picking up our Hyundai Santa Fe and going to Subway for a picnic lunch we drove to Brian Piccolo Park. As we were sitting at the picnic table we heard a bunch of parakeets squawking in the distance and then flying over towards our table. They landed about 100 feet from us and we discovered they were Monk Parakeets.
One of several Monk Parakeets
          Other species seen in the park were Boat-tailed Grackles, Kestrel and many White Ibis. But the highlight of the park and the reason we came here was to find a Burrowing Owl. The park didn't let us down.
Burrowing Owl at Brian Piccolo Park
White Ibis

           After leaving Brian Piccolo Park we headed to another park named George Snow in search of an Orange-crowned Warbler. We were fortunate enough to find it but getting a photo just wasn't going to happen. That evening we stayed in the Springhill Suites in Boynton Beach. 

            The next morning we were heading to Loxahatchee NWR but before we left the hotel we walked the El Rio Trail just across the street from the hotel. We found Brown Thrasher, more White Ibis, and Common Gallinule.

          On the drive to Loxahatchee NWR, I spotted two parakeets flying overhead. They turned out to be Nanday Parakeets. This was the same area where I saw my first ones on our last visit to Florida a few years back. Loxahatchee is a great place to go birding. Loxahatchee NWR is 145,189 acres of northern Everglades and cypress swamp. It helps protect the integrity of the remaining Everglades ecosystem by allowing the free flow of water from north to south Florida.

          On our walk around the refuge, we managed to find many birds but the best was the Snail Kite and Limpkin. 

Poor photos of a Snail Kite avoiding my camera



          Most of the refuge has to be seen by walking around many lagoons, but the walk is well worth the effort. Although I was hoping to find a Smooth-billed Ani like on our last visit, it didn't happen. However, we got Purple Gallinule, Mottled Ducks, Sandhill Crane, Anhinga and most of the herons.

Mottled Duck - notice the black gape


Purple Gallinule

Florida subspecies of Red-shouldered Hawk on the nest

Common flower throughout the refuge
         By the time we finished up at Loxahatchee we headed for lunch at a nice little eatery named Dune Deck's Mimosa Cafe in Boynton Beach. We had been here before and enjoyed it both times. From there we went to Wakadohatchee Wetlands Preserve to walk the boardwalk trail. This is a very popular spot for photographers as the boardwalk allows easy access and close up views of the birds.
View from the boardwalk - Wood Storks galore

Displaying Great Egret

The invasive Iguana
          Looking right into the nest. I'll let you guess what species these young birds will grow up to be.

          One of everyone's favorite species and an iconic species of Florida is the Roseate Spoonbill. Well, not only did we see them but also Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

          Wakadohatchee also had other critters besides birds.

An eleven-foot Alligator

Basilisk Lizard - has the amazing ability to run on water thus giving this species its most recognizable moniker: the Jesus Christ lizard.

Iguanas are everywhere in southern Florida

         Here are a few more birds seen at Wakadohatchee Wetlands.

Tricolored Heron

Palm Warbler

Blue-winged Teal

Pied-billed Grebe

Another Tricolored Heron

Wood Stork
          After enjoying a great stay at the wetlands we moved on to the town of Lake Worth and stopped at the Lake Worth State Park beach and pier. We found some Forster's & Royal Terns, Sanderlings running on the beach and Gannets over the ocean. Brown Pelicans were sitting on the pier waiting to grab some unsuspecting fisherman's catch of the day.

The ever-vigilant Brown Pelican

           Before we even arrived in Florida I was watching eBird reports of a Heermann's Gull in Lake Worth and this was the real reason that we made it a point to visit here. I figured it was a long shot to find one gull among all the other gulls on a beach jammed with beachgoers. But we tried anyway. 

Here I am with high hopes searching for the gull

Wait a minute. There it is!

Heermann's Gull (Immature)

This bird should be in California, not Florida
           With luck on our side and the afternoon sun beating down on us we started driving north again heading to the Viera Wetlands. This is a place that Bob Kelly keeps telling me that he always visits when he is in Florida. It was about 5PM when we arrived and I was hoping that we could still get into the reserve before it closed. Fortunately, we were able to drive the loop with plenty of time to spare.

      As we approached the entrance along the main street there were a couple of Sandhill Cranes feeding alongside of the roadway.

Inside the refuge, one Sandhill Crane was attending to the nest with 2 eggs

          But before going to the refuge Sharon and I headed to a place called Dixie's Park that I saw on eBird. When we drove into the place I was a little nervous. It appeared to have been a park at one time but it was run down and overgrown. One of the gates to enter was closed so I wasn't sure we should be going in there to bird. When we got out of the car and started walking around we came across two older women birders walking the roads. We asked if it was ok to be here and they said sure. The park was scheduled to be reopened soon but no repairs had been made yet. 

          After talking with the women, we drove further in the park to where the ladies told us to bird. At that spot, we found two very good species for Florida. In one treetop there were two Western Kingbirds and a few minutes later we came across an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Western Kingbird

Ash-throated Flycatcher

           Leaving Dixie Park we headed to Merritt Island NWR. That morning Holly Merker texted me and asked if I was near Merritt Island. I thought that was a strange question, but then she explained that she noticed my eBird posts from the area and that she was also on Merritt Island and was going to the refuge that morning. Although we never managed to connect up at the refuge we kept in touch with sighting we were observing. 
         I always enjoy this place because you can drive through the refuge like you can at Bombay Hook. We stopped at the visitor center and were walking to the building when we saw this Cardinal attacking his reflection while sitting on the door of a pickup truck. 

            At the center, we tried to find the Painted Bunting that was coming to the feeder, but no luck with that guy. Walking out back of the center I happened to look up in the sky and saw a soaring buteo that I just couldn't ID. It took a while before I realized I was staring at a light morph Short-tailed Hawk. I texted Holly to be on the lookout for it and about 45 minutes later I received a text from her that she found it inside the refuge and managed to get a photo.
            On the loop road, we found the walking trail that was supposed to house the rare bird that I came here hoping to find. In with a large group of Blue-winged Teal was a stunning Cinnamon Teal.


Cinnamon Teal
          There were plenty of other birds we saw like more Roseate Spoonbills, most herons except the night herons, and lots of ducks. Another bird that was reported there was a Great White Pelican. After searching through several hundred American White Pelicans we couldn't come up with that individual.

American White Pelican

Roseate Spoonbills
            Connected to the Merritt Island NWR is the Canaveral National Seashore. We made a quick drive through there to check the beach accesses and found lots of Gannets over the ocean and Sanderlings on the beach. As we were just getting onto one of the boardwalks to walk over the dunes to the beach Sharon yelled out "I found a Painted Bunting". Then she said there were three of them. 

Male Painted Bunting

           This was basically the end of the birding trip and we started driving north to Jacksonville. The other part of the trip included visiting some national monuments, some old Spanish forts around Jacksonville and St  Augustine and the Chinese Lantern Festival at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. From there we headed to the Congaree National Park and then to Georgia to visit the small town of Helen and the MLK Historic Site in Atlanta.

          We left from the Atlanta airport where I flew home and Sharon went to Denver to stay with my son Chris and his family, visit with Bryan and his family and also (mainly) to go to see the 2020 Oprah Winfrey Tour at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Seeing Oprah has been on her bucket list forever and exceeded her expectations. By the way the quiz with the baby birds; they will grow into Anhingas.

          It was an unusual trip but we got to see so many birds and visit National Parks and National Monuments that we had not visited before. When I returned I had five days to go birding in PA and DE with no restrictions while Sharon was in CO. All this worked out, right before the Coronavirus hit the US.
           Stay tuned for our next Guarente adventure.

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