Saturday, April 27, 2013

North along Florida's Gulf Coast

An early morning stop at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp gave us two surprises - the brand new Nature Education Center and the extremely dry conditions from the several years of drought.  Most of the birds were concentrated in the two remaining "gator holes".  It was sad to see so little water around the knees of the Bald Cypress and the Pond Cypress trees.  This Roseate Spoonbill was one of only a few birds in the ponds.  Only two Wood Storks were seen.  When we visited here many years ago this was the main nesting area for them.

We drove to Fort Myers Beach and camped a week at the Red Coconut RV Resort - right on the snow-white sands.  The gulf water was warm - suitable for salty swimming, shell collecting and bird watching.  This Snowy Egret was feeding in the surf along with Willets, Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones.  Magnificent Frigatebirds soared over the condo towers along this barrier island.

We took a day to visit Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.  Along the four mile auto tour, we stopped numerous times to hike and explore this gem of Florida.  We observed this Yellow-crowned Night-heron catching a crab for breakfast.  He carefully clipped off the claws then swallowed the rest whole.

This lively River Otter was too busy securing his own breakfast to pay attention to the camera.  He was diving for oysters and crabs.

We reported a fishline tangled Black-crowned Night-heron to the local rehab center (CROWS) and they rescued the bird from being tied to a tree branch.

This Black Racer was sunning along the edge of the nature trail, the sun felt good on this cool morning.

Adjacent to the Red Coconut was the Matanza Pass Preserve - a nature conservancy with extensive hiking trails and boardwalks through the mangroves.  This young raccoon got separated from his family - mama was calling and he kept playing "peek-a-boo" with us as he tried to get across the boardwalk.

We spent 4 days at Myakka River State Park in their new RV campground.  Bobwhite quail were quite abundant in the area.  They whistled their presence and scooted here and there.  This female quickly darted across our site followed shortly by the male.

Who says only birds respond to "pishing"?  This 9-Banded Armadillo sat up and took notice to the sounds, (as he is a little near sighted)  taking a break from hunting for grubs.  This South American import is fond of digging up lawns and not appreciated by homeowners.

There is lots to see at Myakka and one treat was seeing these young Barred Owls, found high in a live oak tree.

We walked the canopy walk, an elevated suspension bridge between two towers.  A beautiful walk in the tree tops.

We also took the "Gator Gal" (the  largest air boat in Florida - and very quiet too) on a tour of Lake Myakka.  Lots of alligators, wild hogs, Black-necked Stilts, Ospreys fishing and many herons and egrets.

This is a Black-hooded Parakeet (Nanday) that we found a flock of on our way out to Ft. DeSoto County Park just south of St. Petersburg.  We spent a day and a half on this Key and found great shorebirds, terns, and added Am. Oystercatchers to our list.

It's getting to feel a lot like summer here and we will keep heading north.

Blessings to all,   Ty & Ida Baumann

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fron the Atlantic to the Gulf

After a quick trip back to Port St. Lucie on Easter to pick up forwarded mail at Daryl & Vicki's. we spent two days at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. On the way south we found a nesting colony of Monk Parakeets.  We were alerted to their presence by their loud, continuous chattering.

At the park we walked the trails mainly for this beautiful Florida Scrub Jay - notice all the bling on this one.  Then we added the Bachman's Sparrow, several singing in the Pine/Saw- Palmetto habitat.   Also seeing the rare for Florida Red-headed Woodpecker.

We zigzagged across the North Everglades and Big Cypress Preserve finding several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and  Swallow-tailed Kites.

 We settled into a nice RV park on Chokoloskee Island south of Everglades City on the SW gulf coast of Florida.  This abundant gecko is only found on this island according to the locals.  Added a life bird here too - The Shiny Cowbird. Also found Summer Tanager, Painted Buntings plus Gray, Western and Eastern Kingbirds.

From our base here we drove up to explore the Big Cypress Swamp, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve.  Hatching in large numbers were these large colorful Lubber Grasshoppers.

These areas also produced large numbers of wading birds such as these Black-necked Stilts.  There were Reddish, Snowy, and Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Tri-colored, Little Blue, Green and Great Blue Herons feeding in the ponds.  Also spotted a few more Manatees.

Next stop was a few days at Collier-Seminole State Park.  Birding highlights on our own campsite were this Red-Shouldered Hawk, a Worm-eating Warbler, a number of Black-Whiskered Vireos, Orchard Orioles and during the night, several Barred Owls serenaded us.

At least three pairs of Pileated Woodpeckers were near the campground, always fun to hear and see.

Daily walks on the Royal Palm Trail yielded a Yellow-breasted Chat, and a fleeting glimpse of the secretive Mangrove Cuckoo - one of our target birds.

As we bid farewell to this area, we made a short stop at Marco Island.  We were blessed with two sightings of Antillean Nighthawks - a life bird; great looks at Least Terns and these very cute Burrowing Owls tucked in the shadow of condos on "postage-stamp" lots.

Heading north along the gulf!
Blessings to all!
Love, Ty & Ida

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Florida Keys

 A trip to Southern Florida would not be complete without exploring the Keys.  We were anxious to see what changes took place from our trip of 30 years ago.  Despite all the development, heavy traffic and fast paced life there is still the wild "real Florida" if you take time to find it.

Our first encampment was at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and Campground in the heart of the Key Deer Refuge and yes, we found the small Key Deer:  The wild as seen above, and the not so wild like this fawn to the right checking out our neighbors RV site.

This area is also part of the Great White Heron Refuge and we found our first bird on No Name Key.

One of our birding goals has been to take the boat trip to the Dry Tortugas.  This day long adventure took us 70 miles west of Key West to Fort Jefferson (pictured above) and the birding mecca of the National Park.  This massive hexagon shaped fort was built in 1836 but never finished.

This Brown Noddy was one of hundreds nesting here along with Sooty Terns.  A few Bridled Terns and a Black Noddy were seen along with Sandwich, Royal and Roseate Terns while scoping the coral spit.

Dozens of Magnificent Frigatebirds were harassing the other birds, carrying nesting material and were soaring in circles over the fort most of the day.

While exploring the key, we found a Gray Kingbird, a Thick-billed Vireo (a lifer), Cave Swallows, and Black Skimmers.  Two other life birds were found on the way: Masked & Brown Boobies that rounded out our 30 species for the boat trip.

A mile walk from Boyd's RV park to the Key West Botanical Garden yielded a rich floral and fauna diversity.  Flowers, trees, insects and lizards plus interesting birds including another lifer: the Western Spindalis made for a very interesting day.  We couldn't always hear the birds because the "Blue Angels" were practicing low overhead for upcoming air shows (possibly their last - per sequester).

No problem getting up early, or for that matter being able to sleep during the night.  This dandy bird was roosting right above our RV and decided wake-up calls were at 1:30 AM, 3:00 AM, and 5:30 AM.  After three disrupted nights, we were happy to be on our way.  Ty threatened that bird with a call Colonel Sanders.

Next stop was the "Jolly Roger" on Grassy Key with a site right on the sea wall on the gulf side of the key.  In the evening Spiny Lobsters emerged from beneath the wall.  Other interesting sea life included rock crabs, horseshoe crabs, parrot fish, barracuda, damselfish, and needlefish.

Spent a half day at Long Key State Park with our largest key bird list of 44 species.  This Piping Plover was a great find and even surprised the park naturalist.  We also added Black-necked Stilts and Hooded Warbler to our year list.

Last stop was Key Largo Kampground, just a mile from the John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park.  We walked there and took the glass-bottom boat to the coral reef.  Great to see live, but hard to get photos of.

This green anole is waving his throat patch at us as we say good-bye to the Keys.  As we crossed the causeway to the Mainland, a Magnificent Frigatebird soared overhead and a White-Crowned Pigeon bid us farewell.

Our best to all.
 Ty & Ida Baumann