Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter Sun Day 1 - Anhinga Trail area

This one, on reflection, was probably always a little too mad and a little too ambitious. We’d known prior to our India trip that I had another fortnight scheduled in the US for work. We also know that they have proper winters in New England, so where to meet-up for the weekend to get some birding in? We settled on Florida and The Everglades… which it turns out isn’t straight forward to get to from Boston and is a nine-and-a-half hour flight from the UK too… still we had enough air miles to make it reasonably economical so decided to go ahead and book it.

My flight down was an hour late and Helen had fun at Miami airport (they were overwhelmed by passenger numbers as the scheduled flights arrived promptly… so after frantic texting we ended up meeting in Fort Lauderdale Airport luggage reclaim (how?).

Saturday morning we made a reasonably prompt start, driving from our motel just outside of the park to our first destination, the Anhinga Trail. As always the park fees were remarkably (too?) cheap at $10 for seven days access. The chap we followed in had a hunting rifle prominently on display in his truck and even though firearms are prohibited, the lady at the gate just wasn’t interested… and the Everglades is supposed to be a in a state of ‘rescue’!

The first thing you notice heading into the park is the numbers of vultures circling about. I photographed this Turkey Vulture flying low over the car park of a play area outside of the park:

I've read quite a bit about the Anhinga trail during my research into and reading about birding in the US and bid photography, including in Arthur Morris - The Art of Bird Photography, which is an excellent book for someone like me who is starting in both fields at once :) The photography in his second book is even more impressive.

Well it started well and just got better. Out from the car and through the visitor centre area there’s a pond, which is the start of the boardwalk (it’s actually a really limited walk) but the trees around the pond were populated by both Double-Crested Cormorants, who seem oblivious to the presence of lots of people carrying pointy technology and stopping close by to photograph them:

You can get really quite close:

really close in fact:

And they fall asleep right in front of you:

Flying overhead a Red-shouldered Hawk:

I’ve included a couple of flight shots to illustrate the plumage:

Alongside the boardwalk is a mad-made canal. We saw Loggerhead Turtles swimming underneath the water, watched in this instance by a Tri-coloured Heron:

And ‘gators. Lots of Alligators in fact:

and Anhingas. Anhingas are beautiful birds and we were fortunate to visit the park at the start of the breeding season, as birds were in full breeding plumage, moulting to breeding plumage, displaying, etc. This is a male in breeding plumage, at rest:

Here another male, drying its wings in the pose typical of Cormorants, Darters and other such birds world-wide. Note the eye-colour and plumage:

Here a male is on a nest with two nestlings, begging for food:

I don't normally go anywhere near bird nests but this one is clearly visible from the boardwalk. Another path-side bird, a Green Heron:

With so many birds it’s worth remembering you see all of this in a space covered in five minutes at a brisk walk. At one end of the boardwalk we watched this Little Blue Heron (in adult plumage), mooching around looking for food:

An alligator slid silently into view:

The Heron wisely decided another spot looked really promising for food:

As we walked back along the boardwalk, very impressed with the first stop of the day, we spotted an Eastern Phoebe perched in the shade:

Back at the visitor centre, the Red-shouldered Hawk was perched in a Palm Tree, they are very vociferous birds in flight:

The walk was so short that we decided to also have a wander around the ‘Gumbo Limbo’ trail. Good decision. We didn’t see much on the way around, some warblers flitting in the trees, however we spotted one bird that whilst we were watching some local birders joined us and got very excited. It turns out the bird was a Brown-crested Flycatcher, which is a very unusual bird in Florida and indeed the park:

They were delighted we saw the bird as they’d heard that there might be one in the park :)
I have had to split the days' sightings across multiple posts as i've been wrestling with a single post for over 2 hours... so had to start again... grrrrr....

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