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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

FLORIDA (JAN 2000),

Alec Chaney

My wife Irene and I are two over sixties paying our second visit to Florida with primary reason to enjoy the birds again. We did not expect to see as many new species as last April but hoped that we would see some species we missed out on last time. Last year we were based on Sanibel Island Nr Fort Myer's and because of the excellent birding sites there and on Captiva Island we did not venture onto the mainland more than four times in the whole fortnight. This time we stayed at the Vanderbilt Beach south of Fort Myer's and at the North end of Naples.  This enabled us to get to the Northern part of the Everglades (Shark valley approx 1.30 hrs drive), which we did not visit last time.

Sites visited

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Disappointing overall compared to last April, but I should put this in perspective. Within 5 mins. of being on the boardwalk we had seen a Red Shouldered Hawk perched 30 ft away and nearby a Pileated Woodpecker even closer!  We also saw Yellow-and black -crowned Night Herons, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Carolina Wren, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher , Yellow-throated/ Pine/ Palm Warblers  I suppose we were missing a painted bunting which was said to visit the feeders in winter.

Vanderbilt beach & Delnor Wiggins Pass State park

This was outside our hotel and excellent for early and late walks.  The usual birds were on the beach Willet / Sanderling / Turnstones / Black-bellied Plover / Brown Pelican / White Ibis / Snowy Egret / Great Egret / Royal Tern / Sandwich Tern / Forster's Tern / Ring-billed Gull / Laughing Gull / Black Skimmer. On the reserve, which ran alongside the beach, we had Cardinal / Red-eyed Vireo / Osprey (very close view of it sitting in a bare tree eating a fish). However the highlight of the first day was finding a man hand feeding a Yellow-crowned Night Heron with a little blue Heron looking on! He explained he had started doing this last year when it was a Juvenile and it had come back to him when he returned for his winter vacation. We had male & female Magnificent Frigatebirds flying overhead, which was a pleasant surprise because we had expected them all to be further south in the winter

Briggs Nature Centre Nr Marco Island

Our first visit and we were helped by 3 very friendly and capable guides (they were all of our age group and appeared to be volunteers) From the raised platform above the lagoons we had excellent views of feeding Wood Storks, a Belted Kingfisher was perched in a tree right in front of us. Also a Caspian Tern was fishing nearby. The omnipresent Red Shouldered Hawk was perched in a tree and we had distant views of our first (this trip) Roseate Spoonbill. On the water we had a raft of 30/40 American Coot (a bird we hadn't previously seen) and two Pied-billed Grebe.  An Osprey flew past carrying fish. We were told of a Burrowing Owl on Marco Island. We found the site but not the birds! Which was disappointing but we had managed to see them in Fort Meyers last April .

Lovers Key State Recreation Area (Carl E Johnson)

We made several visits to this area, which contained several good birding spots. At last we saw our first ever Bald Eagle! Good views of a bird flying with Vultures (mainly Red some Black) and Osprey, which seemed to resent the eagles presence and constantly dived on it. Later we had close views of two Eagles flying low overhead (presumably a pair) A local guide explained that down there the Eagles normally feed on carrion like the vultures. We made a return visit next day at low tide when a lot of the sand banks in the inner lagoon were exposed which provided rich feeding areas for large quantities of Herons & Waders. We had 5 White Pelican, 2 Roseate Spoonbill and 5 Reddish Egrets all fishing in the shallows in front of our wooden stage, which extended out partly across the lagoon. We also saw numerous Double -Crested Cormorants and close views of Anhinga's during our walk around and there was a Racoon and baby digging for clams at the waters edge.

Fort Myers beach (behind Holiday Inn and south to the lagoons)

American Oystercatcher / Short-billed Dowitcher / Least Sandpiper / Western Sandpiper / Piping Sandpiper / Turnstones / Sanderling / Knot / Whimbrel / Willet / Black-bellied Plover / Tri-coloured Heron / White Ibis / American Herring Gull / Ring-bill Gull / Laughing Gull / Royal, Sandwich, Forsters, Caspian Terns. There were 5 Dolphins in a feeding frenzy just off shore. There is no easy beach access between Bonita Springs and the Holiday Inn so we found it necessary to park Nr the hotel and walk back. Although it is about half mile to the lagoons it is worthwhile and a lovely beach walk with all kinds of possibilities on the way.

Bunche beach (end of John Morris Drive between Ft Myers & Sanibel Island

Mixed flock of Waders close by on high tide: Marbled Godwits / Short -billed Dowitchers / Willet / Dunlin / Sanderling / Turnstones plus all the usual Gulls& Terns

Ding Darling Reserve on Sanibel Island

This is our favourite site because of large numbers of birds, ease of access (drive through stop whenever you like, friendly guides, lots of different habitats lagoons, tidal flats, roosting trees, open waters, sluices etc. This time we encountered first a mixed flock of 60+ Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs all close with all kinds of Herons/Ibis/Roseate Spoonbill in the background (many in full glorious breeding plumage) There were hundreds of Herons (little Blue, Tricolored, etc and thousands of Egrets (Great White, Snowy, Reddish, Cattle, plus lots of White Ibis, Turkey Vultures, Wood Storks. Ospreys were numerous, many already on nests. On the tidal flat were numerous waders including Dowitchers, Willet, Western Sandpiper, Yellowlegs, Semi-Palmated Plover, Only Eastern Phoebe and Black-whiskered Vireo were noted but Three Yellow -Crowned Night Herons were skulking under the Mangroves. Last April we only saw one White Pelican. This time there were 50+ in one raft and many more around the reserve. Water birds included Mottled Duck, Blue-Winged Teal 20+ , Pied-Billed Grebe 30+ and many Female Red-Breasted Mergansers

Shark Valley (Everglades National Park)

Trolley ride to Observation Tower : Snail Kite (good views of flying and perched birds) / Limpkin (brief view of flying bird) / Great White Heron (morph of Gt. blue) standing in the sawgrass. Purple Gallinule (2M2F) On the boardwalk close views of nesting Wood Stork & numerous alligators including "the Big one" a 19 ft monster.

The whole area from Naples (route41 Tamiami trail ) to the Everglades was full of Egrets, Herons, White Ibis, Belted Kingfishers perched at roadside every half mile, Red Shouldered Hawks also omnipresent. Returning to Naples we visited the Big Cypress Bend reserve. Along the boardwalk there was nothing really new but we some baby alligators on a log close by. Also there was a Bald Eagles nest with a sitting bird.

On our last day we stayed local and in addition to the usual shore birds we saw Black & White Warbler, White-Eyed Vireo , Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker , Downy/Hairy Woodpeckers , American Kestrel , Belted Kingfisher and finally a Rough-legged Hawk chasing the Kestrels! (Most of these birds were seen in the car park of local shopping centre or in the Cemetery)

Conclusion

Last two weeks January 2000 compared to last two weeks April '99

Pros:  

Although we had some cool days (60) and some cold nights (35/40) we found on the whole the weather better for bird watching. Most days I was wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirt. In April we found that temp after about 11.00am became too hot and we had to retire to our hotel for a siesta. The amount of birds was much greater because presumably by late April many of the winter visitors have already left. Flocks of Vultures, Ibis, Egrets, Wood Storks etc were much larger.

Cons:

We obviously did not get the amount of migrants we saw last year. From that point of view Late April/early May is ideal. Consequently we did not meet up with as many American birdwatchers as last time when they were looking for migrants. Even in the bird reserves the average American is not a bird watcher and many times people thought my scope/bins were photographic equipment! On our many beach walks it was rare to find anybody carrying binoculars.

We can highly recommend these sites for very enjoyable and hassle free  birdwatching

Alec and Irene Cheney

Rainford ,   Merseyside      

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