Friday, April 23, 2010

Florida: the Keys

On Sunday morning, just before leaving the mainland to travel down the Keys, we stopped at Everglades National Park, just a short drive from our hotel in Homestead. Low, dark clouds covered the sky. Enroute it began to rain heavily. The purpose of our visit was to see one bird - the Smooth-billed Ani that has been being seen along the boardwalk trail beyond the Royal Palms visitor center. Upon our arrival it continued to rain heavily. A few other birding visitors also had the same objective. Alas, it continued to rain and the ani never did show for us.

The heavy rain did not deter any of the wading birds. Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are numerous anywhere with water in Florida. The Everglades habitat is perfect for them.

As we left the trail, not far from the Royal Palms visitor center building, Bill spotted a Barred Owl pair (Strix varia) trying to stay dry beneath a low canopy of leaves. This poor, wet and ruffled owl looks miserable.

Moving on we began our long drive down the Keys on Sunday, the 18th. For a Sunday drive down the Keys we may have been helped by the heavy rain. Traffic at the top of the Keys was light and we were able to make good progress. Our first stop was at a mature mangrove woods along Crocodile creek just beneath the highway to unsuccessfully call out the Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor).

Our next stop was at the Dagny Johnson Preserve along county road 905 in Key Largo. Here it continued to rain heavily. We saw flyover White-crowned Pigeons (Patagioenas leucocephala), a bird that I had seen in Cuba in January, 2006 but not in North America. When the rain would intermittently stop we heard, and then saw, none other than the Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus). The bird was only minimally cooperative, preferring to remain mostly high up and tucked amongst leaves. Finally, the rain did stop, the sun came out and just as we were leaving the vireo did briefly show itself well. The Black-whiskered Vireo was my third life bird for the trip.

The sun remained shining and the blue sky opened up. Our next stop was Long Key State Park where we again called, unsuccessfully, for the Mangrove Cuckoo. We saw some migrant warblers, but the best bird may have been long, open and satisfying looks at another Black-whiskered Vireo.

Black-whiskered Vireo

Cropped photo of Black-whiskered Vireo clearly showing the bird's "whisker."

One of the migrant warblers. Do you know which?

Arriving in Key West in the latter part of the afternoon we drove immediately to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for a couple of hours of some terrific migrant warbler finds - all birds that we will be seeing here in a couple of weeks with the exception of one. Well, perhaps two. We had good looks at Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorrum); though it can be found, usually annually, it is not a common warbler in Michigan.

Bill received a tip from another birding group of the location where they had watched a Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) for a half hour. This is the only eastern warbler I have not seen and despite many distractions to look at other birds elsewhere I tried to remain focused on finding this bird. I was unsuccessful and this was disappointing because I knew the bird was in the area. At one point I briefly caught sight of a pale, plain-breasted bird on a low limb. The bird would not reveal itself again even when Bill played it's song. Another miss.

We ended the night with dinner followed by an unsuccessful try for the Antillean Nighthawk (Chordeiles gundlachii) at the Key West Community College and at the Key West airport.

Coming next - Florida: the Dry Tortugas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What wonderful trips you take. I always have time to read your blog. I think you said England next and you also said you are not a history buff but... In London there is a photographic show of Queen Elizabeth. We saw a little of it on TV and she was so cute as a little one. Love, Aunt Doramae