Florida East Coast Birding April 2016

My Spring 2016 birding trip to the East Coast of Florida was a combination RV trip and photography trip. We were joined by Bob and Sandy Amory, knowledgeable birders and veteran RVers. Bob wanted to kayak in Florida Bay and I wanted to survey the lower Everglades National Park venues and find the elusive Purple Gallinule. I had not visited places such as Shark Valley and the Anhinga Trail, renown as birding hotspots. Our trip down US 41 led us to our first stop at Shark Valley which was a bust. No birds. Hard to believe, but the 13 inches of rain we got in January really changed the dynamics of birding this winter. Way too much water in the usual bird hotspots On to Flamingo, Florida, about the loneliest and farthest spot in Florida, 38 miles down a road deep into the Everglades on Florida Bay. The only thing living there permanently are huge hordes of mosquitoes. While Bob kayaked and the wives swatted mosquitoes, I ventured off to Eco Pond near the campground bathed in DEET.

Swallowtail Kite hunting at Flamingo

Juvenile Hawk

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Surveying their kingdom

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Eco Pond

A walk around Eco Pond at Flamingo revealed several hawks including the newly fledged hawk above and the usual ospreys in abundance. The biggest treat however was a Swallowtail Kite hunting at treetop level for over an hour.

Eating on the Run - Swallowtail Kite with prey

Anhinga Trail

Upon leaving Flamingo we stopped at the Anhinga Trail. My one goal for the trip was finding a Purple Moorhen or Gallinule. There were few if any birds again at the Trail similar to Shark Valley but after 15 minutes of scanning the mangroves and lily pads, Bob finally spotted our quarry. Only one good picture of only one bird.

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From the depths of the Everglades to the bustle of Orlando, we slogged up I-95 to Kissimmee and a campground called Sherwood Forest near Disney World. Bob and Sandy had never been to Gatorland and I had convinced my wife to try out her photo skills on birds prior to her trip to Cuba. Gatorland is an old 50's style attraction maintained in great shape featuring hundreds of gators. The attraction to birders is the marvelous rookery that exists around the gator ponds and the boardwalk that allows photographers access to incredibly close photo opportunies of nesting egrets, storks and herons. It is one of my favorite spots and opens exclusively to photographers early on certain days for great access.

Snowy Egret Displaying

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Great Egret Landing at Sunset

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In-Flight Wood Stork

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Tri-color Heron Displaying

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Tri-Color Heron in breeding plumage

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Wood Stork Preening

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Can you hear me now Mom!

Great Egret Mother and chick with chick insisting on getting some food

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Great Egrets Mating

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Merritt Island NWR

Our journey took us first to Jetty Park near Cape Canaveral and finally 18 miles up to Manatee Hammock Park for our visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Rfugee and the famed Blackpoint Drive. We were not dissapointed. Although there are other times of the year where the birds are more abundant, April was filled with great opportunities. With Bob, Sandy and Judy acting as extra eyes, we prowled the roads in the refugee sort of like this Green Heron, one of many in the refuge

Green Heron Hunting along Blackpoint Road

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Eastern Kingbird

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Our Special Treat

Bob and I were sitting on the campsite at Manatee Hammock one afternoon while the wives rested (napped). A hawk kept coming around amidst the heavily wooded site filled with large old live oak. Finally we sighted a hawk no more than 25 feet above us sitting on a branch. The hawk would return at frequent intervals. Bob and I had been focused on finding the pair of elusive Pileated Woodpeckers but here right above us was the mother hawk returning to feed her chicks in a nest high up in the oaks.

Hawk with treat

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Interestingly, the hawk would find a gecko and bring it to this branch and bash it prior to delivering the treat to the chicks. Also interesting was that the hawk ignored the many squirrels in the same tree. They seemed to co-exist, at least for now.

Waiting fo Momma

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The chicks were very hard to photograph as the nest was high up in the trees with a heavy canopy. Occasionally one chick would venture out and I was able to get this shot. The nest had three chicks in it and provided us with great entertainment for the afternoon. All in all the trip was a great success. Can't wait until next year!

Black Necked Stilt - Merritt Island NWR

Canon 7d Mkii Sigma 150-600 @ 600mm 1/1600 @ f 6.3 iso 400

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