2 April 2015 - Everglades and Marco Island
Up at the crack of dawn, I went up to Route 41 to check out some scrapes by the roadside I had seen on the way back yesterday. Herons and egrets and c250 White Pelicans were pouring out of a huge roost in the distance and flying off in all directions - impressive stuff. A couple of Northern Harriers worked the marshes in the early morning light and my first Common Yellowthroats sang from the cattails. On the nearest scrape I got a pleasant surprise in the form of a Mottled Duck, making up for it's rather unimpressive, Mallard-like appearance with it's scarcity. Much more handsome Blue-winged Teals dabbled in the shallows with the American Coots, whilst Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilts waded in the water.
I headed next to the Fakahatchee Strand reserve. Here I had brief views of Lincoln's Sparrows which were very skulking on the edge of the lake, Northern Parula, Carolina Wren, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers etc.
After picking up the gang, we headed for Marco Island on the Gulf Coast. We popped into Port of the Islands a rather soul-less estate built around a marina, but was delighted that it paid off with our first sighting of a West Indian Manatee, which surfaced to breath every so often, Hardly inspiring views and the kids were not at all impressed, but it was a sighting nevertheless. Apparently, manatees winter here in good numbers, but they are starting to disperse now. Also here were plenty of Purple Martins.
Tigertail Beach, Marco Island
This sounded like a good bet to combine some birding with a reputedly cracking beach and it didn't disappoint. Arriving late morning it was already scorchio and the gorgeous white sand beach did not help, reflecting the blazing sun in our faces. We waded through the big lagoon and on to the beach, noting great views of Wilson's Plover, Willet, Reddish Egret and a Magnificent Frigatebird overhead as we went. Once the gang were enjoying the sea, I went for a walk to see if I could find some waders. This proved to be quite good, though I failed to find any Piping Plovers. There were loads of people around which is possibly why. More Wilson's Plovers plus small flocks of roosting waders were present, including Short-billed Dowitchers, Grey Plovers, Dunlins and more Willets. A few Fish Crows flew over. A few Sandwich (Cabot's) Terns went past out at sea along with some huge Royal Terns. Once we had had enough sun and fun, we took the ranger's advice and went three stop signs up the road and spotted the roped off area in a nearby grassy plot. There, atop a little wooden perch was a Florida Burrowing Owl! Great. We watched quietly from the car before an American family pulled up behind us, piled out and walked straight up to the rope. The owls - there were in fact a pair, were not in the least bit bothered by the people, so we jumped out and went for a closer look. Corking! The birds were very happy, presumably used to people stopping for a look. At one point a Loggerhead Shrike flew in and divebombed one of the owls, which was cool.
3 April - Fred C Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area and Casey Key
We checked out of Everglades City and headed west then north up the Gulf Coast. Mid-morning we arrived at Babcock/Webb a rather strange combo of hunting reserve and wildlife site, which is not particularly unusual in Florida. The site is a large area of wetland and slash pine forest with open grassy meadows. It is well-known as a good spot to look for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, though I was not really expecting much chance due to other birders failing to find them apart from at dawn and dusk. This species is rare and has a restricted range and lives in loose colonies in these open pine forests. It was worth a try as we were driving past, so we headed in to see what we could find.
There was quite a lot of singing going on, some of which I tracked down to the local Pine Warblers, plus another more elusive singer that was probably Bachman's Sparrows. Shortly, I picked up a woodpecker - Wow! a Red-cockaded! Well, that was easy I thought. The bird worked the pine trunks picking off bark and showing really well. It was still present ten minutes later when the kids turned up and we all managed good views. Nearby, a couple of dinky Brown-headed Nuthatches were bobbing around and a pair of absolutely belting Eastern Bluebirds gave great views but flew off every time I tried to get a photo. They were simply stunning. I realised quite a few trees had white rings painted round their trunks and these signified the RC Woodpeckers' nesting sites. We did a loop around the dirt tracks, saw a few Alligators, a pair of Wood Ducks and a couple of soaring Sharp-shinned Hawks.
Happy with our success, we headed up the highway to Casey Key, in time for an afternoon swim and for me to add American Oystercatcher to my life list!