This is Report No. 2 of The Lutman's Tropics 2000 Trip. It is set entirely in Florida.
After the 6:30 am alarm shutoff, I go outside before sunup. Its cool but not too cool. I see maybe 30 birds flying towards me at about 30 feet. The audio portion of this report goes "silence silence whish whoosh WHOOSH whoosh whish silence silence," as the White Ibises fly over. I'm in awe of the sound, with each bird playing its part pefectly in the one-sound symphony.
We hear another bird singing "bzzipp bzzipp bzzipp bzzipp," rising in pitch, but we can't spot it. We store the sound for later. As we're leaving our $7 campsite, Sharon spots a ROSEATE SPOONBILL flyover and I see a Starling fly into its nest hole with food for the kids. We see two or three Cardinals and a Catbird.
At the first pond we come to, there is an elevated platform, with two rangers and two tourists. One of the rangers and the tourists are discussing microbiology so we go to the other one. He's English, but has been here a while. He says the "bzipp-y" bird is a Prairie Warbler. Sharon spots a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON trying not to look clumsy as it shifts positions in a tree. Nice try.
We find PIED-BILLED GREBE and a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds and move on to Nine Mile Pond. There we spot five Turkey Vultures, three having their wings spread out and their backs to the sun. One sits on a sign that says that it's illegal to feed any wildlife, the penalty being a $500 fine.
At 8:22 am, I see a pigeon fly over and I think I catch a glimpse of white on the head. I tell Sharon, and we turn around and check the tree from which the bird has flown. We see two White-Crowned Pigeons eating berries. Still a great bird.
We know from yesterday, that 3.1 miles past Perotis Pond is the imaginary center of Seaside Sparrow territory. We stop at 9:12 am, hoping to catch one. We have read that their song will be buzzy, like the Red-winged Blackbird, but we check our CD to get the sound in our mind.
Then we station ourselves outside to listen. We try three spots, and finally Sharon hears one, then I do too. A sparrow pops up a long way off, we're both on it, and we know that it must be the SEASIDE SPARROW*, since it's sitting right where the sound is coming from. I don't think we could have "accepted" the ID without hearing it buzz its song though.
We next back-track to Perotis Pond to get some photos and video of the Wood Stork colony we found last night, but now with the sun at our back. On the way, I catch sight of a white-bottomed bird with black wings, soaring above. I pull over immediately, but I'm a little afraid that it's not --, but it IS. Our first SWALLOW-TAILED KITE*. I get the scope out, but its so far away, that our look through binoculars was better. What a bird, with the contrasting black and white colors, plus the split tail. Two lifers before ten o'clock. Ahhh.
We continue on our way back to Perotis, where I get my fill of great Wood Stork Video and photos. We're happily buzzed from the kite sighting, as we resume our path headed out of the Everglades.
On the way out of the entrance, we pull off and stop so I can go back and take video and photos of the entrance sign, plus the panther sign. As I'm walking over to do this, Sharon spots another Swallow-tailed Kite sitting in a tree, then buzzing the top of the tree while two smaller birds harass it. They are defending a nest as it keeps buzzing the tree
It lands, and Sharon can see that it is zipping up its feathers, they having been ruffled by the smaller birds harassing it. I finish my photography and come back, then take more video of the kite. We hop into the RV and continue heading out of the Everglades.
I fill up with Chevron in Florida City, and it's like taking another vacation, because all the time the gas is pumping and the meter is ticking, I'm thinking how cheap it is relative to $1.89 in San Jose. And given that, think what the Germans must be thinking, since they pay about $5.00 per gallon there. They are in VunderHaben.
We will pass the site of a Snail Kite roost at about mid-day, and we're not happy about it. That's because these birds, whose diet consists mainly of apple snails (a very particular type of snail), leave the roost early in the morning, feed all day, then return to the roost late at night. They sleep at this roost for protection and cameraderie, or however you spell it. Also because that's what the National Geographic Field Guide says that's what they do.
We're going to be there about noon. Sharon sees that right across the road from this roost is the turnoff to Shark Valley Visitor Center, in the Everglades (northern part). And they are supposed to have another of our target birds. We drive in, park and get our gear ready to go.
Sharon's gear consists of
her Crooked New Zealand walking stick,
fanny pack with a bottle of water,
two bird ID books (Stokes Eastern and Audubon's Eastern),
plus mosquito repellent,
sunscreen and lip balm.
The mosquito "hawk" is actually a little miniature transmitter that mimics the sound of a dragonfly, which are supposed to eat mosquitoes. When Sharon turns it on, I like to imagine what the little farts are thinking.
My gear consists of
my incredibly dirty/nicely aged SF Giants baseball cap,
spotting scope on a tripod (carried over my shoulder when we walk),
my new super-light Sony Videocamera hung around my neck and one arm,
my fanny pack with one or two water bottles,
two more bird ID books (National Geographic and Peterson's Eastern),
a lens cleaning cloth, and
my microcasette recorder, where I record descriptions of happenings during the day.
People often ask if I take photos of the birds we see. To see and ID a bird takes perhaps ten seconds to two minutes, after you've located it. To take a good photo of a bird takes one or two hours. I don't want to take time for photos, partly because we have so much birding to do, and partly because that would leave Sharon sitting around MOST OF THE TIME. Some day, after we've seen all the birds of the earth, we'll think about going around again so we can get pictures.
In the meantime, I find that taking video is pretty easy, especially with my new light videocamera. I have to tell you about the birth story of this camera later. But now, back to the bird we are chasing.
There is a tram you can sign up for at $10 per person, and there is a minimum of a 30-minute wait for your turn. We decide to walk the path, because we don't know think the tram will stop often enough, or stay in one spot long enough to help us. We take off down the combination tramway/walkway.
We see lots of swampwater birds that we've already seen, plus lots of alligators. I spot a big turtle out of the water, on a knobby root of a mangrove tree and start to tell Sharon, as I'm looking at it through my binoculars. Suddenly our target bird walks RIGHT INTO MY BINOCULAR VIEW! It's a gorgeous PURPLE GALLINULE*. I point it out to Sharon, and she gets it right away. What a great bird, and what spectacular colors -- grreen and purple, with a red bill and a white button above the red, about where its forehead would be if it were human. It also has yellow legs, with incredibly long toes, for walking on water lily type plants. As we are enjoying it, a tram breezes by at about 15 miles per hour, without stopping, or seeing the bird.
On our way out of the Visitor Center, we talk with a tram driver, and decide that we probably won't see Snail Kites this time of day unless we sign up for one of the numerous 8-passenger Airboats (powered by a backwards-facing airplane propeller in a big cage) to take us out where the kites are likely to be feeding. We decide to have lunch at the Indian restaurant, where we saw a sign that they have Indian fry bread.
One of the top ten meals of my life was chili in a round, hollowed-out loaf of Indian fry bread in Glacier Park, Montana. We MUST try their version here. We go in and wait to be seated. Their tribe is called Miccosukee and I wonder how they pronounce it. There is a young waitress behind the counter, an older one at the cash register, and a 35-40 year old man talking with the cash register lady. All are obviously Indian. "How do you pronounce the name of this tribe?" I ask the younger waitress. "mee-ko-SUE-kee," responds the older waitress, then says something and nods at the young man. A chuckle is shared, but I can't tell what they said.
We are seated with binoculars around our necks, order our drinks and chili with Indian fry bread (what else?). I get up to use the rest room, and when I get back, Sharon says, "I saw one!" "Saw one what?" I ask, like an idiot. "One of those SNAIL KITES*," she says as she points straight out the window, across the channel. I look up and with the naked eye, I see one big bird harassing another. Binoculars up. I see a brown bird (must be the female) with a wide white band at the upper tail, with a wide brown band below that, and a narrow white terminal strip at the end of the tail. Sharon's Stokes ID book has only a photo, and it's not at the right angle to ID.
"I'll go out and get the National Geographic," I say, hoping it will show a painting from the proper angle, and that the painting will look exactly like what I just saw. I hustle out. As I near the RV, I see that the young Indian man, with his very long black hair, is just ahead of me. He hears me, turns around and starts talking, with a very slow, deliberate Indian accent. It's extremely pleasant to listen to.
"I just wanted to tell you that I have known that old lady at the cash register for a lot of years, and we are friends." I say, "I THOUGHT she was teasing you." He continues, "She's very severe. That's why I like here. The government named the Indians down here Seminole (SEMM-uh-nole), but the Spanish pronounced it right, SEMM-uh-no-lay. The Miccosukee pronounce it SEMM-uh-no-lay also. Miccosukee means "The People," and Semino-lay means 'Anything Wild'."
He tells me that story, so I bring him up to date on what we had just seen, and that we were about to go out on an airboat ride just to try to see one, but that we may have just seen one from the restaurant window. He says, "I have worked for sixteen years as an airboat driver, and I often see the Snail Kites out there. There are other birds too. One, called the Purple Gallinule, we just call Water Chicken."
"Thanks for that story," I say, "I'm Bob," and I put out my hand. He extends his hand past mine and clasps my wrist, so I do the same. We shake, and he says, "I'm Ernie Redwing." I notice a claw on a neckace around his neck, and wonder if it's from a panther, but by then he has turned and is headed to his car. Gotta check the bird!
I get the NGS Field Guide, look up Snail Kite, and it's our bird all right. I rush in to tell Sharon. She looks and is pleased as punch. We keep checking out the window, and it turns out that there is a pair of kites, defending what we believe to be their nest territory. The small bird I saw at first was a Snail Kite, and the large bird was a Turkey Vulture who happened to stray too close to the kite's nest I think.
We get about a half-dozen looks, and can't believe our good fortune. Plus the fry bread and chili are almost as good as that we had at Glacier. Well, you know that the luck of all the people in the world follows a bell distribution curve. That means that SOMEBODY has to be in the top ten percent -- the luckiest people in the world. And we think we're in their somewhere.
I get the scope out after we finish eating, and we watch them a little more. Then it's finally time to move on. Sharon found this neat snail shell in the parking lot at Shark Valley, and she believes it to be an apple snail shell. I can't disagree.
By this time, we decide to camp early so Sharon can do a laundry, I can get off my first email report, and we can catch up on rest -- even relax, like normal people do when they are on vacation.
Sharon buys a newspaper at a stand, and we understand something we saw yesterday. As we were driving into the Everglades, we began to see uniformed guards stationed at each road that lead away from the main highway. Each guard had a water cooler, like he had been there all day. Then occasionally, we'd see a group of perhaps 3 state patrol cars. And ever so often an officer with a bloodhound would be working the area.
Today's newspaper says "Dangerous Inmate Escapes Prison near Florida City," and there's a picture of him on the front page. The story says they believe he escaped in a delivery truck. I check under my seat.
We keep driving down the road, and Sharon spots a GLOSSY IBIS near a golf course. We want to take Florida Route 951 north, but it is blocked off because of a huge fire near the road. We continue west on 41, and that's how we finally choose our RV park for the night, north of Naples. It's $27, and we're right across from the laundry and email connection.
Sharon does our laundry, takes a swim and a shower, and then gets a footrub for her troubles. We decide not to set the alarm for tomorrow, so we will sleep in. You can't bird sunup to sundown every day without getting a little exhausted. We can't anyway.
Today's Lifers: Seaside Sparrow, Swallow-tailed Kite, Purple Gallinule, Snail
Totals: Today 4, Florida 12, Trip 12
Sent out Trip Report No. 1 at this RV Park. The weather is great. It's refreshingly cool, but not cold, with a tiny breeze, and no humidity at all. This is Florida?
By 8:21 am, we are beginning our walk into Corkscrew Sanctuary run by the National Audubon Society. Up in the air, we see a half-dozen wood storks soaring.
On our way into the park, a couple reports that they saw one of our target birds, a Limpkin. I immediately figure out the twelve ways they could mistake another bird for it, and Sharon says, "How could they mistake a Limpkin for that?"
We walk in, with me telling Sharon that I was just sayin'.
We meet a couple who look very European to me. Sharon asks them if they saw the Barred Owl that the first couple reported. They say yes, but I can tell where they're from by their accents. Sharon asks where it was, and they are silent. She can't figure out why they won't answer, and I ask, "Are you German?" "Yes," they say, with some animation. The girl is holding a nice 100-400 mm telephoto lens, and I congratulate her on it and say I'm thinking of getting one. "Do it," they say, "You'll love it," and they laugh. I think they laugh because they understood something they heard.
We walk the raised boardwalk for about a half mile and can see before we get too close, a large, brown BARRED OWL with its back to the boardwalk. This bid is the eastern equivalent of the western SPOTTED OWL, which we saw in Arizona a few years ago. But as we walk up, its head rotates around for some serious feather zipping. Great looks, and a visual upgrade. That refers to the fact that in Canada, we heard the bird, but this is our first look at one. And it's an excellent look. I run off some video tape.
We let the owl go, and continue around the boardwalk. Soon we come upon a group of youngsters being guided by a docent. They are looking at a Water Moccasin. Grandsons Josh and Sieren would love this part.
I have decided to solve the problem of how to make visual documentation of our trip. I have always preferred photographs, but I can't take the still camera, the videocamera and the spotting scope, all on a birding walk. I can take the scope with one or the other of the cameras. Because the videocamera is so light, and because it can adjust for backlight so well, and because it has a 25X optical magnification, I decide that it's the one.
I'll take very few photographs on this trip. I'm thinking of it as an experiment. I can lift video frames off to put on our web page. So we'll see how that turns out. I'll miss the photos, but you can't have everything.
We are down by Lettuce Lakes, a series of small, connected lakes, covered by water lettuce (Sharon says). There are all kinds of birds, alligators and turtles there. We see White-eyed Vireo, a pair of Northern Cardinals, and I try to get video of this little lizard, who can extend a red throat flap, to warn would-be enemies away.
I get wonderful video of Tri-colored Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, turtles, a racoon, baby alligators, big brother alligators and grandpa alligators. I also get shots of an Anhinga sticking its head up through space between lettuce plants with a fish in its beak. It flips it into the air, and catches it head first, and swallows it. I guess that's how I would do it too, with no hands.
On our way back out, we get a crying RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, and we are told that they are common around here. Almost back to our RV, we get one last Wood Stork flying over. They look like one of those slow, lumbering planes in the movie, Catch-22. Like they would never get off the ground.
The "Service Engine Soon" light comes on and stays on. I figure that's one of those lights that comes on exactly 3000 miles since you last reset it, so I'm not in a rush to call it in. Later will be ok.
We head out, for Ft. Myers Beach, hoping for Wilson's Plovers next.
We have been listening to a new Stephen King book-on-tape called Blood and Smoke. It is three short stories actually, each is about horror, but the common theme is cigarette smoking. Horror enough, I guess.
If you are familiar with this type of audio tape, you know that they come in a box, just big enough to hold the six or eight cassettes. And this one is a red-and-white, flip-top box, just like the old Winstons, when they were advertised on TV. Pretty clever.
We go behind the Holiday Inn on Estero Island, and get a Gray Catbird, with its cat-like mews and a GREATER CURLEW, with its incredible down-curved bill. But no Wilson's Plovers here. We saw some shorebirds about five miles down the island, so we backtrack to there, and check them out. Half-a-dozen Ruddy Turnstones, but no plovers. We have lunch in the parking lot, and say hello to a friendly lady who tells us to get the hell out of this private parking lot. We tell her we'll leave in about five minutes, after we finish our lunch, if that's OK. "If I didn't tell you to leave, someone else would," she says. We thank her in the friendliest way we can, which seems to upset her for some reason. I feel so bad that I have three Entemann's soft chocolate cookies instead of two.
Next, we head for Sanibel Island, but make one stop at Bunche Beach before going over the toll bridge. This beach is supposed to have Wilson's as residents, meaning that they are there year-round.
The word "plover" is an interesting one. We've heard it pronounced three ways. The first rhymes with hover, the second with rover, and I can't think of anything that rhymes with the third. In this last pronunciation, the first vowel rhymes with the "ah" that the doctor tells you to say. We say the "rover" rhymer one, but I'm starting to like the "hover" one.
We have trouble maneuvering the RV into the tiny parking lot, but finally get it. We go to the beach first with only binoculars, because we don't expect to see any shorebirds with all the people at the beach. We are surprised to find about 200 yards to the right an estimated 150 shorebirds of all sizes. I go back and get the scope and videocamera, return, and we go walking up the beach.
A friendly birder one time told us, when we were looking for Piping Plovers and Wilson's Plovers at the same time, that the Piping ones would be down on the water line, running up and back with the surf. The Wilson's ones would be up away from the water, maybe where the wet sand turned to dry -- where the recent tide had made the highest reach of the surf.
We see most of the birds down at the water's edge, and in fact out in the very shallow water, but quite a few are higher. One little fellow is running back and away, and looks like he'll topple forward because his bill seems so large relative to his body. The scope confirms our hopes, it's a WILSON'S PLOVER*, darting all around. Lots of Semi-palmated Plovers too, which make a nice contrast.
By 4:30 pm, we're in the Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area, where we discover the roads are as smooth as corrugated iron. We are looking for the RCW - the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Our RV is 10 feet 6 inches from the top of the roof air conditioner to the bottom of the tires. But driving down this rubber road, we couldn't pass under 10 feet 10 inches unless we slowed down to under 1 mph. Has anybody seen my teeth?
In and out through the trails/roads. We pass the shooting range to the sounds of pop, pop, pops. The birds don't seem to mind, as we see a NORTHERN HARRIER patrolling a meadow, several EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, a couple of Palm Warblers and an unidentified warbler. We finally nail it down as a PINE WARBLER. We watch a NORTHERN FLICKER, of the yellow-shafted (under-wings) variety fly over. Sharon spots the red mark on the back of its head, and I see the yellow under the wings. We also get a pair of EASTERN KINGBIRDS, in their tuxedo-like colors.
A Great Crested Flycatcher does its "reeeeeeep" call over and over. I see if he'll mimic me, but he doesn't seem to notice my whistles. A Red-bellied Woodpecker makes an appearance, and then we see a pair of the unlikeliest birds we can imagine in a forest -- two SANDHILL CRANES, with their handsome red caps.
We locate all the trees marked as RCW, but there are none of these birds anywhere to be seen or heard. We bump our way back out of the area.
Today's Lifers: Wilson's Plover.
Totals: Today 1, Florida 13, Trip 13
The alarm is off at six. The air conditioning has made for cozy sleeping for both of us. Outside, the air temperate is neutral, and a bit humid.
We drive up into St. Petersberg, and locate Freedom Lake Park. It is supposed to be the Number 1 place for Limpkins in Pinellas County. That could go either way.
It's 8:00 am. On the way in, we see Blue Jay and a Reddish Egret. There are big bunches of reeds on an island in the middle of this lake, with more up at the other end. I'm thinking, "Uh-oh, those Limpkins are going to be deep inside the reeds, and we should have been here an hour ago." Sharon later says she is thinking the same thing.
I start walking around the park, and find a mother Muscovy Duck with five babies, so I start video taping that, when Sharon says, "Bob, come here! I think I got one!" I know not to ask questions now, shut off the camera, leave the scope, hustle over and get my first glimpse of our lifer LIMPKIN*. We get closer and see that there are two. One is about a third larger than the other. The larger one walks with a pronounced limp, and the short one's right wing seems to tuck in a little lower than the left one. Maybe they have both been injured. As I am video taping the smaller one, Sharon watches the larger one fly across the moat to the center island, to the other side of the reeds and out of sight.
I get a couple of minutes of the small one walking around. We hear "eeee, eeee, eeee," from behond the reeds, like a scream. Sort of like a peacock. A lady jogger tells Sharon that they hate these birds because of the noise they make. How can you hate a Limpkin? Well, if one lived in my back yard, maybe.
Later, as I'm reading about Limpkins in our National Geographic Field Guide, I learn that this bird is named for its "unusual limping gait." Excuse me? I just cannot believe that the big bird's walk was a normal one. I would swear that it was injured. You learn something new every day.
We wind up the birding here, and drive down to Fort DeSoto, a sort of anchor-shaped island warbler trap, pointing south. Sharon gets a Gray Kingbird, but it's Swainson's Warbler we're after. This is the right time of year, the habitat is right here at East Beach, and we're hopeful. The problem is that the weather is gorgeous. Yesterday, there were eight Swainson's here, but the winds are out of the migration direction, the weather is beautiful, and they are gone. The next ones may not arrive till another big storm comes through. We strike out on the Swainson's Warblers. We see Kestrel and Great Blue Heron, plus a White-eyed Vireo, near the parking lot. Others saw an Ovenbird, but we didn't.
Coming into the park, Sharon saw a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, and it is still there on our way out. What a great bird. We go over to the Arrowhead Picnic Area, where some of the Swainson's were seen yesterday, but these are all gone too. We check a suggested area for Black-headed Parakeets, another for Monk Parakeets and still another for Ringed Turtle-doves, but we dip on all of them.
Next, we head for the Croom portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest (hoping to find Red-cockaded Woodpecker, finally) and run into more corrugated roads. Th-th-th-th-ese ar-ar-ar-are ter-ter-ter-ib-ib-ib-le. We stop at the first RCW spot, and hear another bird we were hoping for, but never see it. We can hear three separate and distinct BACHMAN'S SPARROWS*, proclaiming their space in the forest. We can't see them, but we are 100% positive of the audio ID, so we count them.
We spend several hours in the forest, and find one very promising cluster of trees with all the right markings. We stay about an hour and a half, but see no woodpeckers of the desired kind. We do see Pine Warblers, Palm Warblers, a CAROLINA CHICKADEE, a pair of TUFTED TITMOUSES, a Yellow-shafted Flicker and a Blue Jay.
We drive our way on through the forest, and find a Winn-Dixie grocery store, go in and load up with food and news of the world, via a newspaper. Holy Cow, the Jets traded Keyshawn Johnson to Tampa Bay! Unbelievable! Oh, excuse me. We continue on, hoping to get to Silver Springs, just before the entry to the Ocala National Forest. We will surely find Red-cockaded Woodpeckers tomorrow.
We locate the Lake Waldena RV Resort, about 8 miles past Ocala, and set up for the night. We will get up early tomorrow.
Today's Lifers: Limpkin, Bachman's Sparrow (heard only).
Totals: Today 2, Florida 15, Trip 15
The rest of Florida will be along soon, in Report No. 3.
We're having a great time. See ya,
Sharon & Bob
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