Everglades National Park – At the Visitor Center

Red-banded Hairstreak

Red-banded Hairstreak

By 10:45 we were on our way to Everglades National Park. Our route took us through a large agricultural area west of Homestead; I spotted some distant gulls with black heads in the fields, but couldn’t identify them as they were too far away. I kept an eye on the telephone wires for Loggerhead Shrikes and flycatchers, but saw only doves and grackles. Doran noticed a couple of small birds dive-bombing a larger bird in flight; when he asked what they were doing I said, “It looks like they are attacking some sort of raptor”. To our amazement the birds flew toward us, and passed right overhead, giving me fantastic views of my first Swallow-tailed Kite. It was a large, graceful bird with a white body, pointed white wings outlined in black, and a characteristic forked tail. I asked Doran to pull over but there was no shoulder and we had to drive a bit before we found a small pull-off by a farm road. By the time I got out of my car with my camera the bird was gone.

It wasn’t much further to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center where we found three relatively tame crows hanging out in the parking lot. They didn’t move an inch when I walked right by them, and as none of them called I couldn’t be sure whether they were American Crows or Fish Crows. I saw a male Northern Cardinal in one of the trees, a Turkey Vulture soaring overhead, and heard an Eastern Meadowlark singing in the distance…and that was it for the Visitor Center birds.

The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center

The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center

Although the birds might have been lacking, the other wildlife was not. I saw several butterflies fluttering around the flowers that surrounded the Visitor Center, including a couple of Zebra Heliconians which wouldn’t sit still. While following one around I startled a small dark butterfly out of the vegetation; fortunately it landed, and stayed put while I photographed it. The hairstreaks are one of my favourite groups of butterflies in Ottawa because they are so small and often difficult to find. I used the Butterfly Checklist for Everglades National Park to figure out which hairsteaks are present in the park, and my field guide (Butterflies through Binoculars: The East) to identify it as a Red-banded Hairstreak, a relatively common butterfly in the park.

Red-banded Hairstreak

Red-banded Hairstreak

A larger butterfly was also enjoying the flowers; I later identified it as a Gulf Fritillary. Although I had hoped to get a phone of the upper side of the wings, this was the only shot I was able to get.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

I saw my first lizard of the trip as it ran across a walkway and darted into the garden. I asked a blogger friend, Janson – who has a particular love for herptiles and writes about Florida wildlife on his blog Dust Tracks on the Web – about it, and he identified it as a Cuban Brown Anole, a common, highly variable species that is native to Cuba and the Bahamas. They arrived in southern Florida about 50 to 60 years ago, and although they are important predators of arthropods, there has been a significant decline in the native Green Anole population since the Cuban Brown Anole was introduced. The brown and green anoles share similar feeding habits and habitats; the Cuban Brown Anole probably displaces Green Anoles in the treetops, and it is thought that they may eat the Green Anoles’ hatchlings to reduce competition, a phenomenon known as intraguild predation.

Cuban Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Cuban Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

While I was photographing the lizard Doran pointed out a Zebra Heliconian that had landed on a flower.

Zebra Heliconian

Zebra Heliconian

We crossed a little bridge over a small ravine to get to the Visitor Center building; there was a little bit water at the bottom, and several dragonflies were flitting about the vegetation. I wasn’t able to get any photos because they were all perching among the tall grass and my camera wouldn’t focus on the insects.

There wasn’t much to see in the Visitor Center, but there was a deck leading to a good-sized pond, so I spent some time looking at the bugs there. I saw quite a few Halloween Pennants and a few more dragonflies I couldn’t identify. I also saw a pair of Anhingas perching in a dead tree next to the water! We left the Visitor Center to walk along the road for better views. Similar in structure and appearance to the cormorants, the Anhinga is also called the Snake-Bird for its habit of swimming with just its long head and neck sticking out of the water.

Anhinga

Anhinga

I saw a small white butterfly fluttering along the grass and stopped to get a better look. After checking the Everglades species list and my field guide, I am relatively sure this is a Barred Yellow. It would have been nice to get a picture of the upper side of its wings, but the yellow butterflies – such as the sulphurs – seldom perch with their wings open. You can see a little bit of yellow at the top of the forewing.

Probable Barred Yellow Butterfly

Probable Barred Yellow Butterfly

There was so much to look at in that small area that I could have spent another hour there; Doran had to coax me into the car so that we could drive to one of the trails. So far our trip to Everglades National Park was off to a great start; from there it was off to Anhinga Trail where we hoped to see some of the park’s wonderful water wildlife.

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2 thoughts on “Everglades National Park – At the Visitor Center

    • Yes, it was! I quite liked them, too. They look like our Double-crested Cormorants but with beautiful patterns on the wings. I would have liked to have seen them with the blue patch around the eye they develop in breeding season.

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