The trip was led by Bill Sweetman of Grand Rapids, Michigan and there were five birders along. Including Bill, four are from the Grand Rapids area and my friend, Vee Bjornson, is from Lansing.
The trip was so birdy and covered such an extensive area of Florida, that I think the only way to write about it is to split it up into themes. In this first entry I share some in the beginning photos and a narrative shell. Honestly, the week was so busy that I'll need to do a retrospective review before I can piece together all the details.
(Click on any photo to enlarge the image. Double-click for full-screen image.)
On our first evening, we went to Lake Toho... in Chisholm County Park approximately 40 minutes from Orlando to look for Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis). We did not find Snail Kites, but did see this very cooperative Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). I hear bobwhite often but I've actually seen bobwhite a few times and they are always running away so this cooperative bird was a special treat.
The ubiquitious White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) - flying overhead, in fields, in ponds of all sizes, at the roadside and even in someone's residential front yard. The above photo was taken at Merritt Island. Apparently, this is Florida's most numerous wading bird.
This is not really my best photo of a Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) but I include it because it shows the bird doing what Reddish Egrets do so well and so entertainingly. In contrast to the White Ibis, we saw only two Reddish Egrets - this one above at Merritt Island and another on Marco Island.
Leaving Merritt Island we trolled slowly along a road in Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) habitat until three very cooperative birds were spotted. Two were close enough for photos and this is the best that I was able to get.
My heart goes pitter patter. After looking for Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) in Arizona, California, Texas, North Dakota and Montana ... finally, I saw these two in at Manatee Elementary school yard in a town named Boynton Beach. I had seen Burrowing Owls in Peru, but these were my first in North America. The story of our search for these small and charming owls is interesting and comical but too much to go into here.
We saw all of the wading birds and most in amazing numbers and many, because of the great settings where we viewed them, offered numerous photo opportunities. I had to be ruthless with the delete key when reviewing my photos for keepers. I thought this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) photo was completely comical. We arrived at Wakadohatchee Wastewater Treatment Facility - just one of several of Florida's beautiful wastewater treatment facilities (no kidding!) - just after a heavy rain had left this guy looking quite ruffled.
This Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) in the same wastewater treatment ponds was also just one of many seen, although most others were seen while driving by Florida's many flooded farm fields and roadsides.
In the Rallidae family we saw American Coot (Fulida americana) and Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - probably the most common - in all fresh water places. Several Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) were also seen at Wakadohatchee. Curiously, we neither saw nor heard any of the rails despite birding in excellent rail habitat. It is likely that the most common rails, Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola) and Sora (Porzana carolina), had already migrated north.
Of course, this female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is not a special bird but I love this photograph. It's also an excellent example of some of the photo opportunities I was offered.
Not to be excluded, her male counterpart was photographed the next morning at the same place.
One of my favorite shorebirds, there were two Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) at Wakadohatchee.
I love this Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) photo. It does not show the beautiful blue at the base of the bird's bill, but the bird's shadow and the circle in the water seem very nice to me. To take this photo, I was looking down at the bird from the boardwalk.
Can you spot the bird? This Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) was on her nest right along the boardwalk. As beautifully camouflaged as the nest was, I fear that her wide-open eye reveals she was receiving more attention than her comfort level could tolerate. Because of its extensive boardwalk design, the Wakadohatchee wastewater facility was also a popular spot for photographers and non-birding walking visitors.
Moving further south, we saw Common Ground Doves (Columbina passerina) in a few locations, but this bird perched on a low branch at Bill Baggs State Park in Biscayne Bay just long enough for me to snap this one shot. In this park we also saw a few warblers, but spent most of our time searching for a LaSagra's Flycatcher (Myiarchus sagrae) that has been being seen there. We ran into a birder from Calgary, Canada who had seen it the day before and he also reported that the park ranger had heard it at 10:30 am on the the day of our visit. Alas, we did not see the LaSagra's Flycatcher.
I saw my life Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) perched and chattering from a high utility wire on the University of Miami campus. This is the best I could do for a photo. Curiously, I saw only two other Gray Kingbirds, also perched on utility wires, as we drove through the Keys.
Finally, another life bird, also on the University of Miami campus (incidentally, a very impressive-appearing place), this Spot-breasted Oriole (Icterus pectoralis) was very cooperative. This was at approximately 5:00 pm when there was still a lot of activity on campus. Six birders dashing around the lawns and a parking lot attracted the attention of more than one person and a few came up to ask what we were looking at. True to its oriole heritage, the Spot-breasted is a stunning bird.
Coming next - Florida: the Keys.