I awoke on the last day of our short Florida adventure to feeling quite unwell, a strain which progressed and worsened throughout the day. It was only upon returning to New York that I learned I had Influenza A, exactly a year after having it the first time. However, I persisted through the discomfort, chills and stuffiness in order to make it to one of my favorite birding locations: Everglades National Park.
This was my fourth visit to the park, and my third to the “Flamingo Entrance” or Southern Entrance to the park, which accesses the famous outpost of Flamingo as well as the Anhinga Trail and Snake Bight Trail. My last opportunity to visit this fine location had been December 2011, and before that, April 2010, while on a fantastic trip through Southern Florida.
On this visit, we would not have the entire day to bird the park, thanks to our scheduled flight in the late afternoon. Instead, we were restricted to the morning hours after the park opens at 9am. Thus, we were never able to make it down to the famous Flamingo and environs, and instead restricted ourselves to the Anhinga Trail and Mahogany Hammock, and the road in between.
Our first stop upon entering the park was the fabled Anhinga Trail. Here, wildlife has become quite accustomed to the human presence, allowing a visitor to get point-blank views of herons, egrets, Anhingas, Alligators, and others.
After tying up our car with a tarp to keep the mischievous Black Vultures from eating the rubber off of our windshield wipes and sunroof, we started making our way to the trail and visitors center.
I had been obsessively scanning the vultures on this trip, as I do every time I come to Florida. However, I’ve never had the kettles play dividends in the form of one of the vultures’ rarer friends. But that was all about to change.
While scanning the vultures soaring low over the Anhinga Trail parking lot, I picked up on a buteo-type raptor, which soon revealed itself to be an awesome dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, my first ever in Florida! After days devoted to finding this crazy bird in this state, I had finally hit the jackpot, which seemed to me beforehand just as likely as winning the lottery.
The hawk soared unmoving for a few minutes, directly above us, before slowly drifting off to the east. For me, this was likely the bird of the trip. The thrill of finally catching up with this bird in the state of Florida (following years of trying) was terrific, and washed away my discomfort from being sick for a good while.
I was able to obtain a couple of images or this fantastic bird as it soared above, but unfortunately, my exposure compensation setting were a little “messed up” and thus my photos were a tad altered when compared to the legitimate experience. Photo below:
Moving on to the trail, I found it oddly quiet, both in human and avian traffic. Our highlights here included Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Common Gallinule, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, Gray Catbird, Palm Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird. Wood Stork, Purple Gallinule and other common Anhinga Trail species were oddly absent.
From the Anhinga Trail, we headed off to Mahogany Hammock, some sixteen miles down the main park road. We found the roadsides to be mostly birdless as well, save for an impressive flock of around 900 Tree Swallows.
Upon arrival, I decided to hang back at the car, both because I was really starting to feel pretty crummy, and because I didn’t want to add a second element of discomfort by bringing Mahogany’s less-than-friendly mosquitoes into the mix.
The guys emerged around twenty minutes later, with lots of bites to show for their efforts. “We’ve been here three times, and I’ve never seen a single bird here,” my dad noted. His statement was right-on, as I have never found Mahogany to be very birdy. In fact, the only species I recorded during my parking lot vigil was a calling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Although a cool spot, I think I’ll be skipping Mahogany on my next birding venture to the ‘Glades. It never pays dividends for the amount of bites we earn in there.
After Mahogany, we departed the Everglades, but ended up making one last stop at the Burger King in Homestead, a place I had visited three and a half years before. I was hoping to get my second look at Common Myna, another one of Florida’s established exotics. It didn’t take us long to find the mynas, six of which were present in the vicinity of the BK parking lot, with another three down the road at the restaurant that we had lunch at.
After that, we headed north towards the airport. I slept most of the way feeling pretty sickly. We made one last stop at a park near the airport to kill time, but other than giving a local directions in Spanish, I didn’t emerge out of my backseat lair for any last-minute birding.
Overall, our short birding stops on this brief trip proved incredibly worthwhile, with both locations (Kendall Baptist Hospital and Everglades National Park) yielding something new and exciting. Although my target birds in this area have been nearly exhausted (with the exceptions being Antillean Nighthawk and a possible West Indian vagrant like Western Spindalis), I look forward to returning to the Miami area shortly in order to practice my Spanish, savor the good food, and of course, enjoy Florida’s magnificent avifauna, which played a large role in spurring my birding to new heights while it was still in its infancy, ten years ago.