This time we drove straight to Everglades National Park. We didn’t see the Swallow-tailed Kite again, but Doran noticed two large white birds in the grass next to the road. We slowed down until we were right next to them, giving me my first glimpse of two Cattle Egrets! There was no one behind us so I rolled down my window and took a few photos.
Cattle Egrets are more likely to be found in farm fields than along ponds or streams, feeding alongside grazing cattle or, in their native Africa, ostriches and rhinos. The insects and invertebrates stirred up by the passage of large animals or farm machines provide an abundant food source that the egrets are quick to capitalize upon. Cattle Egrets somehow crossed the Atlantic Ocean to northeastern South America in 1877 and quickly expanded northward, reaching North America in 1953. These birds are erratic wanderers and frequently turn up well to the north of their normal range – including Ottawa, Ontario.
This time when we reached the park we stopped and took a picture of the park sign.
We stopped at a lookout where the only wildlife of interest was the giant grasshoppers. Seriously, they are as large as my fist! Note the size of the grasshopper in proportion to the blades of grass. There’s no way it could sit on any of them!
Driving down the main road toward Flamingo we caught sight of this raptor perched atop an evergreen. Of course the sun was behind it, making it difficult to see any distinguishing features, but I was struck by its pale head.
Our first stop of the day was Paurotis Pond, a famous nesting spot for many wading birds including Great Egret, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, and Anhinga. It is also the nesting site of approximately 400 pairs of the federally endangered Wood Stork. Because of this, park visitors are not allowed to venture out onto the lake during nesting season. I saw my first confirmed Great Egret standing in the water just beyond the sign forbidding visitors from going out into the lake.
Paurotis Pond itself was quite large. The tree directly across from the parking area was filled with birds – mostly Wood Storks (the white blobs), though there were a few Roseate Spoonbills and a Black Vulture sitting in the tree as well. Both the Wood Storks and spoonbills were lifers for me.
Fortunately a couple of Wood Storks were sitting in the trees at the far end of the parking lot as well; I got some great looks at these strange-looking birds.
Wood Storks have featherless heads, perhaps because of their unusual feeding habits: they open their bills underwater and wait for small fish to swim by. When they feel the fish, they react quickly by snapping their bills shut in as little as 25 milliseconds. They also eat frogs, mollusks, snails, insects, and aquatic invertebrates. Wood Storks are closely related to vultures, and can be seen soaring the thermals to get to feeding grounds up to 130 kilometers away.
One of its close relatives dropped in for a visit while I was watching the storks.
When the Wood Storks flew off, I turned my attention to the insects flying about the edge of the water. There were quite a few dragonflies skimming over the lawn and the water, and almost immediately I spotted a new dragonfly perching on a stick a few feet away from the shore. It was a beautiful blue skimmer with black spots on its wings and bright white stigmas. This is a mature male Four-spotted Pennant, a common dragonfly in Florida. It has a very slender abdomen compared to other members of the skimmer family.
A brilliant red skimmer was also perching the vegetation close to the water, and this time I was positive it was a Needham’s Skimmer based on the red face and bi-coloured costal veins (the inner vein being much darker than the outer vein).
In this image you can just see a hint of the pale wolf’s snout marking on the thorax pointing toward the head.
A couple of butterflies were fluttering over the grass and perching in the shrubs, including a small crescent (likely a Pearl Crescent) and this White Peacock. This butterfly is a common and conspicuous year-round resident of Everglades National Park, and I’d seen them in a couple of places, including the Anhinga Trail. I also saw another one that had become the unfortunate victim of a dragonfly.
Another Cuban Brown Anole lurked in the vegetation along the shore. This is the last one that I saw during our trip.
Meanwhile, the birds were flying back and forth over the water to the large trees on the far shore. I saw a Roseate Spoonbill fly close by, and this Wood Stork carrying nesting material.
Finally, one of the Halloween Pennants landed on a reed above the water, making for a nice background. It was neat seeing this familiar insect so far from home.
In addition to the above-mentioned birds we saw several Black Vultures and Anhingas flying over, two American Crows calling from the trees of the parking lot, and a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds. Once again the bird diversity was very low, but as so many species were new to me, and there were so many other types of wildlife around, it didn’t really matter. We were having a blast, and couldn’t wait to see what was around the next corner.