We are Tony, Mark and Steve, three wildlife enthusiasts who met up whilst serving in the Royal Navy. This Blog will be a record of our collective birding and wildlife watching exploits. Mainly in and around the county of Hampshire, but occasionally farther afield.
The next port of call was Lake Edna on Grassy Key.The book calls it a lake but I would say it is more of a gravel pit left to its own devices after extraction had finished.Either way it was full of water so I was hopeful as I pulled up and parked.Straight away I could see a small party of Least Terns loafing on some rough ground to the side of the main pool.As I approached nearer I could also see three small plovers.After looking through the Sibley guide I am reasonably happy that these were Semi-palmated Plovers, usually present in small numbers during the summer.As I walked to a different viewing area I could see and hear another plover putting on a distraction display.It led me quickly away from where I was heading and I assume away from its nest or chicks.It had a huge bill compared to the Semi-palmated and again after consultation with Sibley, I am happy that is was a Wilson’s Plover, a year round resident of the Keys.
Least Tern, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11
Semi-palmated Plover, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11
Wilson’s Plover, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11
A small party of Black-bellied Plovers was next on the list.We know them as Grey Plovers, but when in America.Eight birds were together on a shallow pool just off the main lake.Not quite sure if these were early returning, late leaving or just over summering birds.The last wader of the visit was a Black-necked Stilt; the bird flying in from a small island in the middle of the main lake.
Black-bellied Plovers, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11
Black-necked Stilt, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11
After I left Grassy Key I headed to Marathon to check out a couple of Burrowing Owl locations mentioned in the guide book.Unfortunately it seemed like they had long gone from Key Colony Golf Course and sombrero Beach.
After a good breakfast at Mangrove Mike’s Diner I headed towards Long Key.The guide book stated that a nature trail there was worth a visit as it passed through a Mangrove area on a boardwalk and then out into a more scrubby area.I was still after the Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo so it seemed a good place to head for.Before driving away from the motel I had a single Grey Kingbird on the wires outside my room.
Grey Kingbird, Upper Matecumbe Key – 15 Jun 11
After arriving at Long Key State Park, I started along the boardwalk and I could hear several Red-winged Blackbirds in the mangroves, but that was pretty much it, other than a few Vultures overhead.The walk into the scrub was more successful and I immediately came across Common Ground-doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and my first Great-crested Flycatcher of the visit.Like the Kingbird another summer migrant to Florida.The only other bird of note was a single Reddish Egret.In winter I am sure the area would be full of wintering Warblers and waders but as with most places in Florida it is not at its best in high summer for birds.
I was up bright and early on Wednesday morning and before I popped over to the diner for breakfast I spent an hour or two working along some of the quieter keys nearby.I had already seen the two Ospreys at the Blue Pool and several more perched on the bridges and roadside pylons.However, as I was driving back to the motel on Indian Key, I could see an individual perched on a telegraph pole through the trees; that had recently been on a successful hunt. I parked up nearby and made my way over.The Osprey was aware of my presence but made no attempt to fly off as I took a few snaps.
I arrived back on the Keys with an hour or so of daylight left so I called in at the Florida Wild Bird Centre.This is basically a rehabilitation centre on Key Largo and while it was interesting to see what was in the rehab cages, I knew from the guide book that after a short walk away from the cages you come across an open saltwater pool surrounded by Mangroves.The owners of the centre had erected a platform and screen from which to view the pool.I could immediately see several Great and Snowy Egrets.At least a dozen White Ibis were loitering at the back of the pond and several Black-necked Stilts were wading around in the shallows.Better still was a single Roseate Spoonbill perched up in the scrub which after about twenty minutes dropped down to the main pool to preen.
Reddish and Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11
White Ibis, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11
Black-necked Stilt, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11
Roseate Spoonbill, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11
As I watched for about 45 minutes a Great White Heron dropped in, closely followed by a Reddish Egret and two Tri-coloured Herons.At least one Green Heron was working its way through the branches of the Mangroves overhanging the shallows.All together a fine collection of birds and if you are ever passing well worth a visit.When it came to leave the place I found a rather confiding Great Egret perched on my hire car.
Birds were a little thin on the ground in the heat of the day but there were other creatures to be seen.The American Alligator is pretty difficult to miss on any trip to Florida and this was no exception.I had already seen a couple at the Blue Pool on Big Pine Key but here in the Everglades they were rather more common.Without really trying I came across 10 or so in a short space of time.The population is doing very well in recent years after a period of over hunting.
Alligator, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Alligator, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
I also came across a few species of Turtles, the Florida Softshell and the Florida Red-bellied.I am pretty happy with the id’s but as ever they could be wrong.
Florida Softshell Turtle, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Florida Red-bellied Turtle, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Two species of butterflies were seen, actually quite a few more were seen but these were the only two photographed.I am reasonably happy with the Viceroy but the ragged looking Blue; I’m assuming it is some species of Blue will have to remain a mystery.I am pretty sure the fish is a Gar.Not sure how many species of these there are in the Everglades, but I seem to remember from some programme or other that they can get pretty large.I guess they fill the niche of the British Pike.Absolutely no idea with the Grasshopper/Cricket species but it was quite a size.
Viceroy Butterfly, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Butterfly sp., Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Gar (?), Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Grasshopper / Cricket sp., Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11
Later on Tuesday afternoon I drove off the Florida Keys and onto the mainland.The intention was to spend the evening and the following morning in the Everglades National Park.Unfortunately my guide book to finding the birds of Florida (printed 1996) had forgot to tell me that in the year 2000 the motel I was going to stay in had been demolished due to a Hurricane.So in the end I just spent the afternoon in the park and then drove back onto the Keys.To be fair most of the birds in the park occurred on the Keys as well.Even with the short visit I picked up some good trip birds and a life bird in the form of Great White Heron.This is basically the white morph of the Great Blue Heron and is quite common in a limited range around the Everglades and the Keys.Not sure if it has been split into a full species as yet.
Great White Heron, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11
I also came across my third Kingbird species for the trip; Eastern Kingbird is one of the few summer visitors to Florida, so I was not too surprised to pick one up.Both Turkey and Black Vultures were common over the park but I was pleased to find a small flock of Black Vultures sheltering from the scorching sun not far from the main path.The odd bird was out in the sun but most seemed sensible.The only other birds of note were a few American Crows, Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.However I did have two Common Nighthawks over-fly the car as I drove back towards the Keys.
Eastern Kingbird, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11
Black Vulture, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11
Black Vulture, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11
I spent Tuesday morning on Big Pine Key, an excellent area for birding with several good areas to work.I was up early and drove back up towards Watson Hammock Reserve and the Blue Pool.It was around Big Pine Key that I encountered the endemic sub-species of the White-tailed Deer the Key Deer.These are smaller that the nominate race and I would say they are roughly the size of a Roe Deer, possibly a little larger and chunkier.
Key Deer, Big Pine Key – 15 Jun 11
Key Deer, Big Pine Key – 15 Jun 11
The early mornings were a good time to see the species before the traffic hit the roads in force and the sun got too strong.I believe it was only sixty or so years ago that the Key Deer was down to the last twenty or so individuals but I am glad to report that now the population stands at around the 600 mark.Collisions with vehicles are still the number 1 killer of the Deer.All around Big Pine are warning signs about the species.They roam principally in among the dry pine flatwoods but I also came across several down on the beach feeding on washed up seaweed.A very young Key Deer was also photographed just behind the beach as I was looking for Mangrove Cuckoo’s.I never did find the Cuckoo!!
HMS York arrived off Key West very early in the morning on the 13th June, so early in fact that we had chance to watch the sunrise as we sailed into the naval base.As we sailed in we had numerous Least and a few Common Terns out hunting for breakfast.Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds were also to be seen.
Key West sunrise – 13 Jun 11
Once work was over I headed to the airport and picked up a hire car and headed up the Keys.I had not driven for a few months and I was on the right side of the road so I took it easy for the first few hours. Over the first evening and following morning, I picked up the commoner birds of the Keys.Double-crested Cormorants were perched on every bridge.Grackles, Cardinals and Red-winged Blackbirds were in every patch of scrub.I popped in quickly to the Blue Hole on Big Pine Key before finding a motel for the evening.
Northern Cardinal, Big Pine Key – 14 Jun 11
Red-winged Blackbird, Florida – 14 Jun 11
Red-bellied Woodpecker, Big Pine Key – 16 Jun 11
Turkey Vultures were pretty much a constant overhead and a couple of Ospreys perched nearby were a bonus.One problem soon encountered was steamed up optics.Either when leaving the air-conditioned motel room or the hire car and stepping out into 90 degree heat with high humidity caused the camera and bins to fog.The only solution was to drive around with the windows open as I did some early mornings.It was never an option to turn off the chiller in the motel room!!
The ship paid a brief visit to the Caribbean Island of Jamaica on passage to Key West.I managed to spend the afternoon in the company of the ship’s golfers as they played a round at the Caymanas Country Club.The weather was scorching and as the golfers played I just meandered around the course exploring the nooks and Crannies.I was rewarded with 15 new species for the trip list of which eight were ‘life’ birds including one endemic.Common Ground Doves and Zenaida Doves were common around the course as were Greater Antillean Grackles.However the most conspicuous species was Grey Kingbird as they chased each other as well as the Grackles and Mockingbirds being very vocal with it.
Common Ground-dove, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11
Grey Kingbird, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11
Two Olive-throated Parakeets and several White-crowned Pigeons also found their way into the notebook.A family of American Kestrels also caught the eye as they zipped around the course.I was very pleased to come across a Purple Gallinule with three well grown youngsters walking around feeding from large lily pads on one of the course ponds.Another well grown immature was seen later on another pond.I also came across several large Toads by the ponds sheltering in the welcome shade.
American Kestrel, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11
Purple Gallinule, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11
Toad Sp., Jamaica – 10 Jun 11
After a few hours I decided to cool off in the clubhouse pool with a beer.Just before I slipped into the cooling waters I heard the tapping of a woodpecker. After a few minutes search I came across the endemic Jamaican Woodpecker doing its best to take out a telegraph pole.I watched it for a few minutes but by then the pool and another Jamaican endemic, a bottle of ‘Red Stripe’ was calling louder.
Unfortunately HMS YORK transited the Panama Canal overnight, so all the hoped for Toucans and Macaws will have to wait for another day.I did manage to pick a few species up before darkness fell and they were; White Ibis, Tropical Mockingbird, Large-tailed Grackle and Yellow-crowned Night-heron. The latter was a new life bird for me so at least a bit of good news, even if the photo is dreadful, but a life bird is always worth a shot.
White Ibis, Panama – 6 Jun 11
Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Panama – 6 Jun 11
Whilst waiting to take our turn to transit we anchored just off Panama City and I have to say it looked good.The majority of the ship’s company hoped we would call in but alas we did not.The odd storm passed through while we waited and the city still looked good under the dark skies.At anchor I did pick up a few new seabirds in the form of Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant and Brown Pelican.