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Monday, February 22, 2016

Florida Trip - Day 8

Little Blue Heron
         We started our final day of birding with our second visit to Wakodahatchee Wetlands and traversed the boardwalk once again. Roseate Spoonbills were present this time around as were a pair of Egyptian Geese.

Egyptian Geese
           We were able to watch an Anhinga hunting for fish and bringing the food to the nest.
Anhinga with a speared fish

Anhinga on nest with young bird(hard to make out young bird)

          We moved on to visit Green Cay Wetlands from Wakodahatchee. From the parking lot, we stopped and looked around in the tree covered entrance area. We were able to find Black-and-White Warbler, Pine Warbler, Painted Bunting, and Parula, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
              We were getting hungry at his point and decided to skip the walk around the boardwalk and go to lunch. We always make it a point to ask the locals to recommend a good restaurant. Sharon met a woman on the trail and got four recommendations. After looking on Yelp she decided on Dune Deck Mimosa Cafe which was close by. It was tucked in the corner of a shopping center. When we arrived it was very crowded and the customers kept coming and coming. Obviously the locals love it there. The service and food were great. 
              Afterwards we made a direct path back to Loxahatchee NWR. At the parking lot we heard a Barred Owl calling from deep in the Cypress Swamps. We headed for the dikes to walk around the pools and met up with a guy named Hamilton who we teamed up with for company. At one point up ahead of us we spotted some birds in the Swamp Ferns. They turned out to be Boat-tailed Grackles but in the bushes next to them I spotted something different. The bird quickly disappeared back into the bush but I knew it was a Smooth-billed Ani. So the three of us waited a minute or two and sure enough, not one, but a pair of Smooth-billed Anis popped into view. And to confirm the ID they started calling. How cool is that?
Notice the bulge on top of bill

Smooth-billed Ani (no horizontal grooves on bill)
            After finding the Ani everything after that would be anti-climatic. At least that's what I thought. Then we heard a flock of incoming parakeets and not being too familiar with the calls I thought they would be more Monk Parakeets, but they turned out to be Nanday Parakeets. Another nice bird to find. 
Nanday Parakeets
             With all that excitement behind us, now we headed a little farther south to a small pond behind the Staples in the town of Sunrise. We knew what to expect here but we came anyway. We found Mute Swans, White-cheeked Pintails, Common Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, and Common Pochard. This was a pond in a development and apparently someone brought in all these exotic waterfowl. Not only that but if you looked into one of the fenced in backyards they had a peacock and totally white Rhea. I think I would hate having to live next to them.
               We spent our last night at a Best Western at the Fort Lauderdale airport and had a celebration dinner with piƱa coladas at Bahama Breeze.
               So that concluded our trip to Florida and we weren't looking forward to coming north to the snow but were looking forward to coming home to our own bed. 

Florida Trip - Day 6 & 7

Sharon and her new Boyfriend
           Sunday morning we arose and ate breakfast at the hotel and drove back up to Merritt Island NWR. Unfortunately the winds today were about 30-35 mph and that had a really bad affect on birding. We drove the loop called Peacock Pockets which seemed to take forever and it was a one lane road but two way traffic. It was a real treat when someone was coming from the opposite direction. Anyway, like I said before the birding was really slow. We did add Surf Scoter, Common Loon and saw Common Ground-Doves again.
Winter plumaged Common Loon

Common Ground-Doves through the windshield

           Once again we drove the wildlife loop and didn't really add anything new, so we headed Canaveral National Seashore.

           If we thought the wind was bad in the refuge when we got to the shoreline it was wicked. I couldn't hold the scope steady to see much of anything. I managed to find some Royal Terns and a few distant Gannets out over the ocean but that was about it. There were also some Willets on the beach along with Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings. 
Hard to tell but the waves were about 8 feet

Trying to sturdy myself against the wind
           When we got to the northern section of the Canaveral Seashore the places that we visited were a little more out of the wind. We visited the Turtle Mound Archaeological Site which is the largest shell midden on the mainland United States, with an approximate height of 50 feet. The mound extends for over 600 feet along the Indian River shoreline and contains over 35,000 cubic yards of shells. The turtle-shaped mound contains oysters and refuse from the prehistoric Timucuan people. Archaeologists believe that these people may have used this site as a high-ground refuge during hurricanes. It was basically a place where the Indians dumped their empty shells after use.

           On the drive in we managed to finally see an Armadillo .

Mangrove Trees growing around the Turtle Mound

           After this we headed inland to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. We arrived around an hour before sunset and did a quick walk through and the only new bird we added were Sandhill Cranes. So we called it a night after a tough day in the winds.
Sandhill Cranes going to roost
          Monday morning found us at DeLeon Springs State Park for breakfast. We tried several years ago to visit this restaurant in the state park but it was too crowded so this time we arrived early. 
Sugar Mill Pancake House

           We were the first ones there and got a seat right next to the fireplace. That was a good thing since there was no heat in the building and it was quite chilly.

          Sharon choose this restaurant because you get to make you own pancakes right at the table. As you can see in the photo the grill is built right into the table. This also help with the chill as you could use the grill as a hand warmer.

          From the photo of the restaurant you can see the small waterfall next to the bridge. There was actually a few manatees hanging around there but staying a little too deep for a photo. Next stop was at Blue Springs State Park. If you ever want to see manatees this is the one spot in Florida that you must go. We arrived there and after a little hike we got to the river and the viewing platform. 
Viewing platform
           Taking a peek over the edge there must have been 30 manatees swimming around the dock.

One of about 200 manatees along this section of river

           They park service says that there are approximately 300 manatees that come into the warmer waters of the river from the ocean at this time of year. Florida manatees are found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal water ecosystems of the southeastern United States. They can live in fresh, brackish or salt water. Along with the manatees we could see the large fish known as Gars swimming around and sometimes breaking the surface.
             It was now around noon and we headed back to the coast to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and jetty. We drove down the long peninsula along the coast and arrived at the lighthouse park. 

            We had lunch at a great restaurant on the water called Down The Hatch. It looked like a shack on the outside but was very nice inside. After lunch we went into Lighthouse Point Park to visit the jetty.

           There were a few birds I needed for Florida and hopefully I could find them here. One was the Lesser Black-backed Gull which we could not find and the other was a Purple Sandpiper. A short walk out to the jetty produced Ruddy Turnstone and finally one Purple Sandpiper.

Ruddy Turnstone

Purple Sandpiper
           After finding the Purple Sandpiper we had to drive about 300 miles south to get back close to Fort Lauderdale airport. We chose Boynton Beach again as our stopover point. We would be leaving in two days so tomorrow would be the last day of birding and we didn't want to waste time driving around.  Tomorrow we would do some repeat visits of spots we went previously.
Sunset on drive south

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Florida Trip - Day 5

Enjoying the Florida Sun before birding
           Saturday, and we are off to St Sebastian River Preserve State Park. After a relaxing morning and getting a later than normal start we reached the preserve. The rare Florida Scrub-Jay makes its home here, as does the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman’s Sparrows, Eastern indigo snakes, and gopher tortoises. And then there is the occasional rattlesnake and the ubiquitous frog.
           But in reality, we came to watch the Manatees in the canal. After stopping in at the HQ we drove the four miles along the dirt road to the viewing area and without much difficulty we found three or four feeding manatees chomping down on the water plants that sustain the manatee. 
Nose and head of one of the Manatees (facing right)
           In that same canal with the manatees were cormorants, Anhingas and both pelican species.
American White Pelican

Brown Pelican

           Later we walked in the Saw Palmettos and Pine forest and were treated to about a dozen Pine Warblers feeding alongside many Brown-headed Nuthatches. In this same area were the breeding grounds of a few Red-cockaded Woodpeckers but after talking to a few locals we found out that you had to walk in about four miles to find them and the mosquitoes were already getting annoying (think Zika virus). But we did manage to pull out one Bachman's Sparrow along with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler.
              By now it was time for lunch and we had passed a nice looking restaurant on the way in and decided to try it out. It was call the Marsh Landing Restaurant and the food was great. I was tempted to try the Alligator but played it safe instead and got the Frog legs. Just kidding!

          After lunch we made another quick stop at a different section of the park in search of the Florida Scrub-Jay but missed them again. So it was on to Merritt Island which was still some distance north. We decided to stopped in at our hotel first since it was south of the refuge and then go to the refuge later on around dusk. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites at Port Canaveral and could see the cruise ships from our hotel along with the Kennedy Space Center.
Royal Caribbean - our favorite line

Disney Lines - not for us

           After a brief stop we headed up to Merritt Island NWR.

          We chose to do the wildlife drive since it was getting dark and raining.  Up to this point we had only seen one flyby Roseate Spoonbill which Sharon spotted at Wakodahatchee as we were driving away. Well we got our fill of them at Merritt Island.

Roseate Spoonbill

          We made a quick pass through the wildlife drive as we had plans to come back in the morning and do it again along with other parts of the sanctuary. Many species were added tonight such as American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Black Scoter, Great, Snowy and Reddish Egrets, Sora, Black-bellied Plovers, American Avocets, Ruddy Turnstones, and Short-billed Dowitchers.
           So we were looking forward to dinner and ate at the Cracker Barrel in Port Canaveral. Tomorrow we will explore the other parts of Merritt Island NWR and Cape Canaveral National Seashore (both northern and southern sections) and Lake Woodruff NWR

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Florida Trip - Day 4

Gray-headed Swamphen
            We started this day with an encore visit to Markham Park one last time exploring the area for the Western Spindalis. Yet again we found a flock of Spot-breasted Orioles but no Spindalis.

             The Monk Parakeets were seen and heard again making their raucous calls. Painted and Indigo buntings added more color to the day but we finally gave up on the Western Spindalis and regulated ourselves in a northerly direction to Green Cay Wetlands and Nature Center in Boynton Beach. 
            We had visited this place in 2013 and found the LaSagra's Flycatcher. But back then, we did not see one Gray-headed Swamphen. The swamphen is an introduced species that is quickly expanding its range and on this visit to Green Cay we found 11 of them and probably missed a lot more. In the nature center was an Eastern Screech-Owl named Oliver that the kids just love.

             Green Cay Nature Center is the Broward County's newest nature center that overlooks 100 acres of constructed wetland habitat. The wetland features 1.5 miles of elevated boardwalk. The boardwalk provides great viewing and photo opportunities.
Tricolored Heron

American Coot

Common Gallinule
          We also found Mottled Ducks and most of the herons (no Bitterns). A reported Chuck-Wills-Widow was in the area but we dipped on that one.
Mottled Ducks - notice the black gape

Wood storks were also in large numbers and a few Purple Gallinules
Wood Stork
Wood Stork wearing his black hoodie
Young Purple Gallinule
          And here is a photo quiz for all you duck lovers.
Quiz Bird

Green Heron
             We then choose to go to lunch at Panera which motivated us to press on and journey to Loxahatchee NWR.

          Loxahatchee is a great spot to find Snail Kites and this year was no exception. The Everglade Snail Kite is a bird of prey with a very particular appetite: it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, a freshwater mollusk that occurs in Central and South Florida wetlands including the Loxahatchee NWR. The bird's curved beak is slightly off-center to allow it to easily extract the snail from its spiraled shell.
           Well it didn't take too long to find one of these kites. Take a look at that hooked bill.
Snail Kite - 1st year - notice the band on the leg

Same individual as above

Close up of White Ibis

I believe this is a Swamp Lily
           Another great bird to see at the refuge is the Limpkin which we did in fact spot.


After a satisfying visit to Loxahatchee we moved on to Wakodahatchee Wetlands preserve.

          This is similar to Green Cay Wetlands in that was created on 50 acres of unused utility land and transformed into a recreation wetlands open to the public with a three-quarter mile boardwalk that crosses between open water pond areas, emergent marsh areas, shallow shelves, and islands with shrubs and snags to foster nesting and roosting. It is a photographers dream. You can get really close to nesting Cormorants, Herons and Anhingas.
Double-crested Cormorant with two young in nest
White Ibis, Cormorants, Great Blues and Anhingas plus a 4 foot long iguana not visible

Immature White Ibis
          At this point we called it a day and headed north and stayed at the Best Western in Palm Beach Lakes. Tomorrow we head even further north up the eastern coast to St Sebastian Preserve State Park and Merritt Island NWR.