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

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