A list of everything identified (at least to genus). What I liked about this trip was that we picked a few places to go (Eco Pond, the Anhinga Trail, Naples) and just went to see what was there, stopping along the way if something of interest caught our eye. I didn’t sign up for eBird reports and wasn’t chasing rare bird reports, which made for a more relaxing trip overall. If Doran were a serious birder I probably would have at least checked eBird to see what was around. However, it was much more enjoyable finding my own birds and not worrying about what birds were being reported nearby.
West Indian manatee
(I found it strange that I didn’t see a single squirrel on this trip. I was hoping to see opossum and armadillo as well.)
Cuban Brown Anole
(I really wanted to see some snakes. And seriously, no amphibians?)
After returning from Naples we cooled off in the pool, and then I spent some time photographing the birds and dragonflies around the property. The Common Grackles and Northern Mockingbirds were around, as usual, and when I walked over the marina I saw a few Purple Martins flying over the water. There are a couple of Purple Martin houses on the opposite shore of the marina where they nest; we saw them bringing food to their young.
I was quite taken with the pretty blue dragonflies perching on the vegetation. The Seaside Dragonlet is the only dragonfly in North America that breeds in salt water, spending the larval stage of its life in the tropical mangrove swamps, saltwater marshes, and some brackish areas further inland.
After leaving Corey Billie’s we drove west to Naples, where we easily found the beach. It was crowded with people, which wasn’t surprising given how hot it was. Even so, there were quite a few birds around, including a pair of Snowy Egrets foraging along the water’s edge and several immature Laughing Gulls looking for food scraps amongst the sunbathers. As the gulls were the closest to us, I spent the first couple of minutes watching them. All of them appeared to be immature gulls, as none had the black hood of breeding adults; as best as I can tell, they are second-winter gulls with a gray back, smudgy grayish wash along the sides of the breast, and a long, black, rectangular spot behind the eye.
The next morning Doran and I decided to look into taking a couple of boat rides. There was a boat tour right in the marina that guaranteed manatees; while not the same as the two-hour boat tour that had so enticed us at Flamingo, it seemed an interesting way to spend an hour and a half. Doran also wanted to go on an air boat ride, so we asked the lady at the front desk of our hotel for recommendations. She recommended Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides a couple of minutes down the highway. In the end we decided to do both, and walked down to the marina to see if we could book seats on a manatee tour that same morning. Fortunately there was a boat leaving in 20 minutes, so we made reservations.
We left Everglades National Park and the Homestead area to travel to our next destination, the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort located on the Tamiami Trail about 15 minutes east of Naples. Upon entering the Tamiami Trail we noticed a canal running parallel to the north side of the road bordered by a large dyke; because of the number of egrets, Anhingas and other waterbirds flying in and out of the area, we assumed there was a large wetland just out of view. Indeed, there is a large water conservation area to the north of the highway, which historically provided the Everglades with a steady supply of fresh water.
When the Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s, it created an enormous dam across the shallow, 70-mile-wide River of Grass and blocked the main corridor of fresh-flowing water into Everglades National Park. Although 19 culverts built beneath the Tamiami Trail permit some flow of water, the amount of water entering the Everglades is much diminished. Unnaturally low water levels for over 90 years have significantly damaged sawgrass marshes, tree islands, fish reproduction, wading-bird nesting sites, and the habitats of many endangered species unique to the Everglades. The southerly-flowing fresh water no longer counterbalances the seepage of salt water inland, upsetting the delicate balance of nature. In order to increase the water’s flow, one bridge has already been built to replace a mile of the old road, but it will take years for the remaining 5.5 miles’ worth of bridges to be built and assist in the restoration of the Everglades.
After leaving Paurotis Pond, our next stop was Nine Mile Pond, and the difference between the two couldn’t have been greater. As soon as we arrived we found about 20 Black Vultures sitting on the ground. I didn’t see a single heron or egret on the water – in fact, I don’t recall any other birds present. Then, when I got out of the car I was swarmed immediately by mosquitoes and some sort of mutant deer flies. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there very long. I got back in the car and we kept driving to our destination, the Flamingo Visitor Center and Eco Pond.
The following morning we headed back to Everglades National Park after getting a good night’s sleep. When we went out to the car we saw the Muscovy Duck hanging around the parking lot. It liked to drink from the puddles formed by the sprinklers, and snooze in the shade of the cars parked outside of the motel. However, it appeared that the main attraction was the food – some sort of cereal or cracked corn – that someone had left out in a parking space right outside one of the motel rooms. It was certainly neat to see the duck hanging around like an unofficial motel guest, and, as we weren’t returning to Florida City after our return trip to Everglades National Park, we said goodbye to the Muscovy Duck one last time before we left.
After leaving the Visitor Center we headed to the Anhinga Trail because I’d heard it was a great spot for both birds and alligators, and because it was close by – the other trails I wanted to see, such as Eco Pond, were an hour’s drive away. As we drove through the park the landscape appeared very flat and grassy; we were only a few feet above sea level. There were some trees scattered about, but overall we didn’t see much wildlife, unless you counted the giant grasshoppers on the road, and the crows and Red-winged Blackbirds foraging along the shoulder – presumably feasting on the road-killed grasshoppers.
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.
After Doran got up and ate some breakfast we headed out to spend some time in Everglades National Park. First, though, we needed to stock up on snacks and bottled water as I understood that there were no places to buy food or drinks in the park in the off-season. We headed over to the Wal-mart in Homestead to buy food and some other items we had forgotten, and as we were driving there, only about two blocks from the motel a bright white bird standing on a chain link fence caught my attention. I asked Doran to stop in the parking lot next to the fence so I could get a look, and to my amazement the bird was a pristine White Ibis (number 300 on my life list)!