Monday, May 28, 2007

A Visit to The Great Florida Birding Trail - South

The Great Florida Birding Trail (check out it's website) is an amazing compilation of birding sites in Florida. I had an opportunity to visit more than a dozen of the sites in the South Florida section during a trip down that way. I thought it would be worth sharing a thought and photo or two from each site I visited.

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was very cool. The staff and a lot of regular visitors are happy to share tips there. The highlights for me were Great Horned Owl fledglings (click), a baby limpkin (click) and her mother (click), and a mama gator covered with her babies, but there was much much more.

Green Cay Wetlands is not far away. It's a new water reclamation facility, beautifully done - a wading bird's heaven (click) - and popular people too. There were seas of flowers (click), ducklings (click), water fowl (click), and waders... well, this wader was flying (click).

Wakodahatchee Wetlands, also very nearby, is another reclamation facility. Loaded with birds and strolling visitors, I was able to view Great Blue Herons (click) and Anhingas (click) nesting from close range.

Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach is known for the its Snail Kites (click). Though I didn't capture any great images, it was wonderful to watch one hunting and catching apple snails.

Spanish River Park was undergoing restoration, but still cost $16 to get in! Nice beach and some serpentine gumbo limbo trees (click), but overall unimpressive. Nearby Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, on the other hand, was free and fascinating - helpful staff and cool educational trails (click) and displays .

Crossing the old Alligator Alley, now I-75, was disappointing. The Everglades Wildlife Management Area is virtually inaccessible (unless you bring your airboat). On the west side of the interstate, I first visited Rookery Bay Reserve. Looked like it would be great to explore by kayak (click). Also, a long boardwalk traversed several habitats (click). I found a large expanse of dried mud in which many birds had left tracks (click), so many that they crackled together into a geometric mosaic (click). One lone Reddish Egret fished beside a red mangrove (click).

Next stop was Eagle Lakes Park, a city park in Naples. Was I surprised! Behind the ballfields and playgrounds were huge wetlands ringed by paved trails, great for bicycling and bird watching. The birds must have thought it was great people watching too, for they were bountiful (click). Cormorants are usually solitary fishermen... not at Eagle Lakes (click).

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, a small barrier island park was more a beach place - for sunbathers and fishermen - than a birding place. However, there were some waders along the beach (click) and 3 pelicans waiting patiently near a fisherman (click).

Conservancy Nature Center in downtown Naples is a jewel. An oasis for wildlife in the urban jungle, I saw various warblers (click) and other critters on the trails (click), and nesting Yellow-crowned Night Herons and a Bald eagle from the boat ride (that is included in the $9 admission). There were also some good educational exhibits of animals in rehabilitation, like this loggerhead sea turtle (click).

Moving north to Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, I was impressed by the extensive boardwalks, excellent staff, and plenty of wildlife. (click)

But the next day, I visited Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, one of the birding trails Gateway sites, and was really blown away. The boardwalks take you through various habitats, mostly cypress forest. It was quite dry at the time, so the water was concentrated in a few shallow pools where the wading birds (click) and alligators (click) were feasting on bowfin catfish in a mad feeding frenzy. (click). It was hard to leave these pools for all the action and antics. Near the visitor's center, I saw my first Painted Buntings (click).

On my way back to Tallahassee, I stopped at Celery Fields, a flood mitigation area loaded with birds - Roseate Spoonbills in full mating plumage to mating Black-necked Stilts (click). The whistling ducks were gone, but it was still a great stop. I saw a Great Blue with a big mouthful (click), and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs showing off their namesakes (click).

This was my second trip focused on the Great Florida Birding Trail. There are hundreds of sites scattered throughout the state... I look forward to the next chance I get to explore another part of the trail.