THE LUTMANS' TROPICS 2000 TRIP.

This is the beginning of Sharon and Bob's Five-Course, 20th Anniversary, grateful-to-be-alive, most-ambitious-so-far, maybe-too-big-a-piece-to-have-bitten-off, possibly-overwhelming, first-time-in-the-tropics Vacation.

From one aspect, this trip is like the three-hour, five course meal I had in a countryside winery and restaurant in north-central Italy in December of 1978. And I'll ask you to forgive my parallel while I outline what's coming, as the waiter did for us in perfect Italian (I assume) back then.

The appetizer will be Florida for 9 days, including a trip down to the end of the keys and back up. Then a clockwise loop around Florida, whose six o'clock is the Everglades, nine o'clock is St. Petersberg, noon is Gainesville (if we can get there before cousin John and wife Bea leave), three o'clock is Vero Beach, winding up in Miami, located at about 4:30.

The soup will be Trinidad, a spicy 8 days, lodging at the Asa Wright Nature Center of north central Trinidad, looking for such wonders as Scarlet Ibis, White Hawk, Common Potoo, the Tufted Coquette (Hummingbirtd), Blue-crowned Motmot and Gray-throated Leaftosser. Not to mention Blue Dacnis and Silver-beaked Tanager.

The salad will be 4 days on Tobago, the smaller island of this two-island country called Trinidad & Tobago. There we will continue our first tropical birding, looking for the likes of Variable Seedeater, Blue-backed Manakin and Striped Owl.

After these beginnings, one doesn't need a large main course, and ours will be 5 days on the Windward Caribbean (aka Lesser Antillean) island of St. Lucia, called by some the most beautiful of the Caribbean. There we hope to search out Gray Trembler, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, St. Lucia Parrot and others.

Finally, dessert will be 8 magnificent days at a wonderful lodge named Chan Chich, in Belize, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Central America. We will sleep in one of twelve separate cabanas set in the midst of a hundred thousand acres of private nature reserve. We will visit Mayan ruins and walk and re-walk nine miles of trails through tropical rainforest. There we hope to be one of those lucky enough to see a Jaguar, but will be looking specifically for as many of the 350 kinds of birds as we can find, including birds with such names as White-collared Manakin, Keel-billed Toucan, Rose-throated Becard, Plain Xenops (as if anything down there can be plain) and Yellow-throated Euphonia.

We will rent an RV for Florida and 4WD [turned out that we didn't rent ANY 4WD vehicles, and didn't need to] vehicles for Trinidad & Tobago and St. Lucia, but we will be on foot in Belize. Javier's Flying Service will ferry us from and back to Belize City (in its three-passenger airliner), where we first arrive in-country.

Why these particular islands? A common, no-accident thread is that English is the major language of all of them. Birding in these tropical surroundings will be hard enough right now, without having to deal with Spanish, Portuguese and whatever-else is spoken down there.

When we see a bird for the first time on the trip, but it's not a life bird, it will be in CAPITALS. If it is also a life bird, it will have an asterisk after it, as in CAPITALS*.

PART 1. The Appetizer: FLORIDA.

Friday, April 7, 2000. Week 1 Day 1. Travel day, San Jose, California to Miami, Florida. Sleep in the "Miami International Airport" Days Inn in Miami.

Bad weather in LA (doubt it) holds up our San Jose departure time by over an hour. We get into Los Angeles twenty minutes after our Miami flight left, so American books us on the 3:15pm flight. Very smooth, see "Stuart Little," the semi-animated white mouse movie. Entertaining in the Disney sense. I fill Sharon in on the part she slept through. She fills me in on the part I did.

Choose weight watcher lasagna over the barbecued chicken on the plane. Take two bites of lasagna, then trade it back to the stewardess for a chicken. Sharon isn't so bold, and stays with hers

Get into Miami International, finally exit the plane at 11:30 pm EDT. Pick up luggage while Sharon starts calling the five different Miami "Days Inns" till she gets ours. They give you a free pick-up. The driver picks us up about 12:15, along with five others, and all our luggage.

Bery heaby Spanish accent and I can't understand him. I am so tired. He keeps saying something, and I keep yelling "Miami International Airport Days Inn." I'm afraid if I say anything else, he'll misinterpret it. Like "Oh, they want me to let them off here," or something. He finally shrugs his shoulders, says OK, and loads up our luggage. Then in the van, he starts asking other people questions, and I figure out he is asking if we have reserbations. Only before I get "calibrated" on his accent, it had sounded like drbxlshns to me. I say yes, and he asks our name. "Lutman," I say. He finds us and says OK.

So it turns out that I do speak Spanish.

We get to the hotel about 12:45 am, and we are into our room about 1 am. The TV is on and the door is open when we get to the room, but nobody is around and the room is spotless. It turns out that you can't turn the TV off without pulling the plug.

No birding today.

Saturday, April 8, 2000. Week 1, Day 2. Miami to Florida City, Florida. Let the Birding Begin.

We get up about 9 AM, and call a Lenscrafters to see if they can replace Sharon's reading glasses in about an hour, "seeing" as how she lost her new Walmart Vision Center ones somewhere in the airport. At 11 AM, she arranges for Walmart to fax the prescription to Lenscrafters in an upscale shopping center called "The Falls," south of Miami

I looked at Sprint PCS's nationwide map, and it turns out that Florida is one of the most-covered states. Our cell phone works just fine from our room.

I call Cruise America, and they say come after 12:30 pm, and that they will send somebody for us. We pack all our gear back into its five bags, go out in front, and wait, picking up our first lifer for the trip, a EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE*. We also see BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES. EUROPEAN STARLINGS and ROCK DOVES (regular pigeons) fly over. We talk with a couple from LA who are headed on a six day cruise through part of the Caribbean, they ask what we are doing, and we swap them our story for theirs.

The driver eventually picks us up and delivers us to the Cruise America place, and we meet Richard, the manager. He is all friendly, competent and helpful. Everything is in order. He gives us the key and a form to make an 'X' wherever we see a ding in the RV. We are eager to see the interior of our 25-foot, self-contained rig.

The front looks like a Ford Van. Two bucket seats divide the entryway back to the living quarters. Directly above the driver and passenger seat is an over-the-cab loft with a three-inch thick mattress, which I have been told would be our bed. But in the back on the left is a surprise (to me) double bed. In the right rear corner is the bathroom, with toilet, shower, sink and some storage space. There is a vent fan, a light and a water pump switch.

Just this side of the bed, on the left is the kitchen unit, with double sink, counter space, a microwave over a gas, three-burner stove, with an oven. There are three drawers and lots of storage space under the sink. Four doors lead to more storage space above the sink and the double bed. On the left, just this side of the stove is the main RV entry door, with a screen. And just this side of the door is a cushioned chair.

This side of the bathroom is a closet and two drawers below. Closer is a freezer and refrigerator. And just this side of the refrigerator is the kitchen table, with seating for four. There are two plastic lined holes in the table to hold drinks so they won't spill when you're travelling. There are four more storage cabinets over the cushiony chair and the kitchen table. There are five windows, each with venetian blinds for privacy and to keep unwanted sun out. The lockable windows slide open for fresh air, and each is screened.

When I was just out of college, I used to day-dream about trailer floor plans, and this fulfills those dreams and more.

The gas-powered engine gets about 11 mpg and gas prices in Florida are $1.42 to $1.65 or so, a bit more reasonable than the $1.89 we have left in San Jose. It has about a 50-gallon tank.

There is a normal automobile air conditioner in the driver/passenger area, and another rooftop one in the RV living area. This one works on 110V AC, as does the microwave. An on-board generator, at $9 per hour of usage extra, awaits your button-press to turn on if you are not anchored to AC in an RV park. The water-heater also fires up at the press of a button.

We eagerly begin stuffing all our gear into nooks, crannies, cupboards, closets, drawers and gradually fill up all the available storage space. Well just about.

We go over all the details of the rental and sign the papers. Details such as:

$990 for one week, with 1000 free miles included, $0.32 per mile after. $145 for the extra day, with no miles included. I ball park in my mind that we might do 1500 miles, so that might be another $150 or $200. One kitchen pack at $85 plus two individual packs for $35 each (towels, sheets, sleeping bags, spoons, pots, pans, stuff like that, which we rent also). Another $20 for CAB, and I've forgotten what that is. After tax, and not counting the $750 security deposit, the total will be about $1600 for 8 nights. Plus gas: say 1500 miles at 10 mpg = 150 gallons at $1.50 = $225. So $1825 for 8 nights, or $228 per night.

As we are finishing, it begins to rain, and we drive out of Cruise America and into our vacation. We make our way to the freeway and head south for The Falls and a new set of reading glasses for Sharon.

I successfully negotiate the RV to The Falls and stay in the RV, making plans for where to sleep tonight as Sharon puts in her order at Lenscrafters. She comes back out to wait, and we drive across Highway 1 to a Checkers hamburger joint for lunch.

We discuss what to do the rest of the day, and decide even though we are tired, that we want to bird some in South Miami, then head down to Florida City and stay there the first night. During our meal we see MOURNING DOVES, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS and COMMON MYNAS.

After going back and picking up Sharon's fine-looking new reading glasses, we make our way over to Matheson Hammock County Park. A "hammock" is an island of something in a sea of something else. Like an Indian Hardwood stand in the midst of sawgrass. It comes from an Indian word meaning "sleeping place."

At Matheson, we have to escape from a fellow who wants to give us his life history in the park, minute by minute apparently, but he does have some useful information. We thank him and cruise off with our binoculars and scope, to immediately find our second lifer of the trip, a WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON*, actually perched in Fairchild Tropical Gardens, a private, adjacent park. We also spot a pair of RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS which we mistakenly call Golden-fronted Woodpeckers for a day or so till we realize that they are in the Southwest and aren't possible here.

It's 5:20 pm, and we get several pairs of PRAIRIE WARBLERS, and a pair of NORTHERN CARDINALS near Fairchild also. Later, we get BROWN PELICAN and GREEN HERON, RING-BILLED GULL and a striking WHITE IBIS, the second-most beautiful Ibis (after Scarlet) -- all these are down by the marina.

We make our way to Fuchs City Park, where we see tame Muscovy Ducks, a GREEN HERON and Boat-tailed Grackles everywhere. A young man is washing his car, and I ask him if I may ask him a question. "Sure," he says with a Spanish accent. We have read that parrots and parrakeets roost here at night, and I ask him if that's true. "Every night," he says. "They munch the flowers. Some sleep over there, across the street and some here behind our house. Sometimes it's almost so dark, that you can't see them when they come, though." This is great news, and it's 6:45 pm, so sundown will be along at 7:30 or so.

We wait till dark, but only a single unidentified parrot flies over without stopping. An OSPREY flies over, chased by a grackle. We take off, headed south again on Highway 1, looking for our RV park. We see a Walmart Supercenter on the way, and we are exhausted, it's 10:00 pm or so, but what the hey, we pull in for some shopping.

Later, it's Saturday night, near midnight, the store is still packed, and we have just spent $163, loading up with extra touches for the RV plus lots of food for the refrigerator and freezer. I had estimated $240 at the checkout stand and Sharon $180. Love the Walmart.

We check into our $28 per night park, full hookups, less 10% discount for being members of AAA. Don says that they had lots of rain today, but tomorrow is expected to be cool and breezy. "You have your jackets, don't you?" I have talked Sharon out of taking anything warm because I assure her it will be hot and muggy everywhere we go, every second that we are there. "Dohp!" I say to Homer Simpson. Sharon has a sweat shirt and sweat pants, and I have a shirt Sharon's mom Gretchen has made for me. Will these be warm enough? How cold is it going to get anyway? And what's "cold" to somebody who lives in south Florida?

I do the changing of the belt ceremony as I discard my old belt, with its broken loop and try on my new Walmart one. Perfect fit, unfortunately, with its 42-inch length. We get everything put away and hit the sack about 1:30 am.

Life Birds: Eurasian Collared-Dove, White-crowned Pigeon.
Totals: Two for the day. Two for Florida. Two for the trip. All the same "two."

Sunday, April 9, 2000. Week 1, Day 3. Driving the Entire Length of the Florida Keys.

The Florida Keys are loosely and unofficially divided into four parts: Upper Keys, Middle Keys, Lower Keys, and Key West, which is in reality also the last lower key.

Guess what. It's cool and breezy outside. Maybe 60 degrees, maybe 30 mile per hour breezes, sunny though. There is a nice WHITE-WINGED DOVE in camp, who accompanied our wakeup with its coo coo cooing. We take off for Card Sound Road and at 757 am, we get a BELTED KINGFISHER up on a wire. Earlier DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT flew over. We pay the 1 dollar for the toll bridge. Lots of Brown Pelicans.

We get TURKEY VULTURE, which Sharon first thought was a Black Vulture, but the angle of light was deceiving. As we pass the toll bridge and pull over, we get lots of LAUGHING GULLS, with their black heads, laughing.

We meet Julie Graves, driving a small green rental sedan. She's from Michigan and her sister lives in Florida. She was in the Everglades yesterday and saw Swallow-tailed Kites, a nice Wood Stork Colony -- she is describing heaven to me.

We pull over to explore a trail and Sharon is the first to spot a you-left-your-lights-on bird. We hear several vireos, which we hope are Black-whiskered, but we have bumped into Julie again, and she says that they are WHITE-EYED VIREOS, and that Black-whiskered have an entirely different song. A two- or three-note song.

By 11:10 am, we are at Pennicot State Park, where it costs $5 to get in. We walk the Tamarind Trail, hoping for Black-whiskered Vireos. A ranger says that he heard one there a couple of days ago. They are hard to find.

Before the trail starts, we get GREAT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER, with its ascending "Reeeeeeeeep" call. Then we get a beautiful male AMERICAN REDSTART and a NORTHERN PARULA. I spot the redstart first, but Sharon gets the parula. We go completely around the trail loop, but get no more birds in there. Sharon's theory of parking lot birds is holding up.

We drive further into the park and walk the Mangrove Trail. We see Turkey Vultures, but nothing else. At 12:30 pm, we bump into Julie again. She says she's been here an hour, and that she put a note on our windshield. She asks if we saw the Black-whiskered Vireo on the way in. No. She asks if we saw the Black-and-White Warblers across the trail. No. She says none of the warblers are singing. She just heard their little bills snapping as they ate. I tell her she has a fine ear, and she says, "I have a confession to make. I'm a professional ornithologist." I ask what she does, and she says, "I head a bird center for the University of Michigan at Dearborn, and I also write a column for [I hear "Wild Bird," but Sharon hears "Bird something," so we're not sure which] magazine.

"Most people look up for birds, but I look down. I'm a ticker. I like to listen for ticks, then identify the birds as they are feeding, down low." We head back to where she saw the Black-whiskered Vireo, but it's not there any more.

We are seeing lots of BARN SWALLOWS, with their split tails. We take off again, down the keys. We spot GREAT EGRET, and at 1:30 pm, we stop for lunch near a rookery island. It's about 30-40 feet high and thick with trees. Cormorants are nesting at the tops of the trees, with Brown Pelicans down low, and a few Great Egrets are sprinkled around.

I see two white birds with black wing-tips, and Sharon IDs them as AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS. We are on Lower Matecumbe Key. Sharon reads that Brown Pelicans with white on the back of their necks are sub-adults. Breeding adults have brown down the back of the neck.

We are enjoying our lunch when at 2:00 pm, there is a knock on the trailer door. It's a PALM WARBLER. I didn't have my glasses on, and just saw movement out the screen door. I thought it was a plastic wrapper blowing around, but told Sharon. We studied it a while, then we made the ID. Sharon read more in her Stokes Eastern field guide and it turns out that Western Birds have yellow underneath while Eastern birds have yellow throat but non-yellow chest and belly. This one is western colored, and what's up with that?

She further reads that western Palm Warblers winter in Florida and eastern Palm Warblers winter down on the Gulf Coast. Go figure. So we are seeing a western Palm Warbler in Florida.

Sharon closes up the potato chip (large) bag and says that potato chips are one thing that she could eat, one at a time, until the whole bag was gone. Then she told me the story of the potato chip invention.

There was a very particular man who was eating in a New York restaurant about 1910 or so. He ordered fried potatoes, but sent the first batch back because they weren't crispy enough. The chef redid them, and this happened two more times. Finally, to piss the guy off, he sliced them as thin as he could with his slicer, then cooked them till they were almost burned, then served them. And now we have chips. Anyway, that's her story, and she's sticking to it.

We are sleepy and take a nap in our cozy motorhome. At 3:50 pm, we are back up and headed south again. We stop at Lake Edna, on Grassy Key, hoping for Wilson's Plovers. But Lake Edna is birdless. Sharon spotted another little lake on the way over to Edna with birds, so we maneuver back over there.

No life birds, but plenty of action. Green Herons, CATTLE EGRETS, beautiful White Ibises, including first year birds, with lots of black splotches on their otherwise white bodies. A REDDISH EGRET is darting around randomly in the water, chasing fish. There are also several TRI-COLORED HERONS. BLUE-WINGED TEALS and COOT round out the cast.

We cross Seven Mile Bridge, the longest stretch over water in the keys, and get our first ever MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD* on the way, flying over and looking very regal. I see the forked tail, and Sharon gets her binoculars on it, even as the RV is speeding along at 45. It has a white head and therefore is a juvenile, or sub-adult. It takes five years for a newly hatched bird to become an adult and lose the white head markings.

As we leave the bridge, we enter the top of the Lower Keys, pull over, and investigate the shore on the side of the road opposite an RV campground, hoping for Piping Plovers. None are present, but we see RUDDY TURNSTONE, SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS, lots of sandpipers we aren't very good at, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD and a MYRTLE'S WARBLER.

The highway down the keys is interesting. Much more dry land that I was expecting, and not as much over-water roadways. I had a picture of a 30-mile stretch, just over the water. Also, there is an abandoned railroad bridge that parallels the highway bridges much of the way, and I wasn't expecting that.

On Big Pine Key, we try for both Mangrove Cuckoos and Black-whiskered Vireos in Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge. We spot a small (their normal size) Key Deer driving in to the parking area. As we are walking in from there, toward the water, a dark bird with a long tail surprises us and flies out so fast, we have no chance at an ID, but I suspect it was a cuckoo. We wander all around, encountering a type of weird spider by the dozen, each one suspended from a tree, but all of them are over our heads. Since we don't have to duck the spiders, and they are all over our heads, we hike on. Next we see a bird I've been hoping for -- a white morph of the Great Blue Heron. It is called a GREAT WHITE HERON, and is officially a sub-species of the Great Blue, so it is not a new species for us. Just a very exciting bird. Great Egrets are large and white with a yellow bill also, but they have black legs, whereas the Great White Heron has yellow legs. We also see a couple of Cormorants and a White Ibis, near the water.

We head back to the RV, and further down Big Pine Key, to a small lake or big pond called Blue Hole. It is shallow and has fresh water. There are a few gators and a huge snapping turtle. Masked Ducks have been found here, and Least Grebe, but neither of them are here now.

On our way back to Highway 1, I see a very vivid red colored -- something, in the mangroves. We drive by and I look to the right just in time to realize that it is a red bird with a black wing. I make a careful U-turn and come back, then pull over to the side of the road. He is remarkably tolerant of our presence, and I try to get a video of him. It is a SCARLET TANAGER, obviously in migration, but it has a very thick black bill, not the pale bill in the field guides. We nevertheless believe it's a Scarlet Tanager. It moves on and so do we.

On Sugarloaf Key, we take a county road to the end, then walk down a trail supposed to be great for Mangrove Cuckoos for the first 300-400 yards. We get only a Great Crested Flycatcher.

Johnny Carson used to have this guy on his show occasionally who had the most remarkable talent. Johnny would start talking, and the man could copy exactly Johnny's words almost before Johnny said them. It was like a perfect echo, a perfect xerox copy, an audio shadow. It was amazing, and when they were doing their thing, it was hilarious.

Like your little sister who can't keep up with you, but has the power to do the one thing that is hard for you to escape. She can SAY EVERYTHING YOU SAY until it drives you nuts. Only this guy said everything you said like a REVERB setting of a musical tape

I began to whistle the "Reeeeeep," of the Great Crested Flycatcher, and before I could get out the first 25% of the duration of the whistle, he would interrupt me by joining in. I tried to "shake" him off several times by changing the whistle duration, the pauses between, and so forth. But for about two minutes, he just sat there, waiting for me to whistle -- then jumping in.

It was the coolest thing.

But no Mangrove Cuckoos, so we go back to the RV, just as it is getting dark. We begin to see nighthawks overhead, and carefully check the white stripe on the bottom of each wing to see if it goes straight back (Common) or goes back at a swept angle (Antillean). The one Sharon did get a good look at is a COMMON NIGHTHAWK.

We make it all the way to our campground for the night -- Boyd's Key West Campground, or something like that. $51 a night after taxes. This is the most expensive RV campground we've EVER stayed at, but I'm so tired, I don't care. It's in the town of Key West, but it's not ON Key West. Rather, it's on Stock Island, the last island before Key West.

I keep singing the Jimmy Buffet tune to myself: "Down in Jamaica, They Got Pretty Women There, and ...". The funny thing is that Sharon says she keeps singing the same song to herself, but she substitutes "Key Largo" for "Jamaica." We're definitely feeling tropical, and the comfortable weather is great, especially because it keeps mosquitoes away.

We set up camp, set the alarm for 6:30 am, and drop off.

Life Birds Today: Magnificent Frigatebird
Totals: Today 1, Florida 3, Trip 3.

Monday, April 10, 2000. Birding From Key West Up to the Everglades.

I knock the alarm onto the floor trying to shut it off at 6:30, and the battery pops out, flying across the RV. I'm afraid I've broken it, but I'm able to put it back in, surprisingly, and it works again, JES' FINE, as Bug used to say in Pogo.

We are out in traffic, and headed for our first birding spot when we see a huge fellow, maybe 240 pounds, on a little yellow motor scooter. The tires look like toys, and the rear one is wobbling like it won't last five more minutes. The dude has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and he zips past us.

We make it to Keywest Botanical Garden, park just outside, stroll into the free garden, and start birding. This is a migration "trap," meaning to a tired, overflying, migrating bird, it is a perfect bed, in a perfect Holiday Inn, with perfect security and all the food you could want. It "traps" the bird with its features.

We hear a strong three-note song repeated several times. I get the bird and say, "It's a vireo, but it doesn't have whiskers." Sharon locates it too. "Yes it does," she says. I blink my eyes, look again, and sure enough, it does. It's one of our two highest target birds for the keys, a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO*. We bird for about an hour, and we can hear him the whole time. Be in the right place at the right time.

After the vireo, we start concentrating on the other birds. We get about five INDIGO BUNTINGS, Sharon sees a female American Redstart, then we see some kind of female tanager -- probably Scarlet. Then we get a RED-EYED VIREO and a couple of GRAY CATBIRDS. Sharon says, "I've got a great warbler here, I think it's a Magnolia." I locate it just before it changes trees, and say I think it's not. I show her the picture, and she agrees. It's another lifer for us -- a CAPE MAY WARBLER*. What a great surprise.

Next we get BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS in some dead branches over the small pond there. There is another bird tagged as female Hooded Warbler by a visiting Brit, but Sharon thinks it's a female WILSON'S WARBLER. I don't get a good enough look to call it. She says the dark cap doesn't connect with the dark back of the bird, and so that would make it a Wilson's.

We see a swallow over the area, and we believe it's a NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW.

We decide to move on to Little Hamaka City Park in Key West, where we get a Palm Warbler pair and a for-sure gorgeous male HOODED WARBLER.

Our final stop in Key West is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. We are hoping to see Roseate Terns offshore, but don't. While I'm having a bathroom break, Sharon gets more Black-and-White Warblers, Palm Warblers and a bird like an Ovenbird only bigger.

We can see two enormous cruise ships from the park, and we see a swift overhead, in that direction, but we're not skilled enough to ID it. A forced guess would get White-throated from me.

Sharon wants to head on up the keys to our next stop, but I want to try two more places for the Mangrove Cuckoo. The first one is at the Sugarloaf Key we tried earlier. We listen to a CD I have in order to get the call of the cuckoo in mind. Then we head down the trail.

We go in about 100 yards when we hear what sounds like cats purring. P-d-d-d-d-d-d-r-r. We look into the mangroves and both spot movement at about the same time. We spot a pair of MANGROVE CUCKOOS* in some sort of mating behavior. This is NOT the sound we heard on the CD. One is on the ground fluttering its wings while looking up at the other. The mangroves are so thick that we never get a clear view, but I see the black mask, dark back and light chest. Sharon manages to see the buffier lower front and the spotted under-tail. Spectacular luck!

We high five after they leave hearing distance, and we go back to the RV. On the way out we pass a couple of English birders. We trade our Mangrove Cuckoo location for their Gray Kingbird on-a-wire location. We drive almost all the way back out to Highway 1, but slow way down to examine wires. Then we spot the GRAY KINGBIRD*.

We are higher than a kite as we drive up the keys, catching another Magnificent Frigatebird on the way. We have lunch at Curry Hammock State Park and see more Red-bellied Woodpeckers, one carving out a hole in a palm tree.

It's 3:32 pm, and we are headed for the Everglades, hoping to camp in there tonight. We hit the entrance station at 5:30 pm and there's plenty of light to bird our way in. We are headed for Flamingo, the camp at the end of the road and about 36 miles in.

We stop to check out Anhinga Trail. There are lots of crocodiles and ANHINGAS. There are also Great Blue Herons, a flock of White Ibises, a Tricolored Heron and another Great White Heron.

We stop 1.2 miles past Mahogany Hammock Turnoff, hoping for Seaside Sparrows, but have no luck here. We will try again in the morning, when they are supposed to do their singing. We continue on to Perotis Pond, looking for a very special bird which has nested here prior to 1995. We're not sure of its status at this location right now.

We pull in, park by the huge pond and I set up the scope. We see a big island with lots of trees and nesting birds. There are White Ibises, egrets, cormorants and perhaps 20-30 WOOD STORKS*, our target bird. They are so ugly they are beautiful. One young one is jumping up and down, flapping its wings. It will fledge soon, I think.

We come to the end of the road at Flamingo. It's dark, and a sign says pick any spot that's open in Loop A or Loop T. None of the sites has water, electricity or sewer hookups. We pick one near a restroom and set up. Sharon fixes us macaroni and cheese, plus corn for a vegetable, and food never tasted so good. We are enjoying this birders' migrant trap.

Today's Lifers: Black-whiskered Vireo, Cape May Warbler, Mangrove Cuckoo, Gray Kingbird, Wood Stork.
Totals: Today 5, Florida 8, Trip 8

======

That's it for Report No. 1.

Hope things are well with you. Sharon didn't get time to review this, and she says, "Tell everybody 'hi' for me."

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