Friday, February 7, 2014

South Florida, Part 1 : Alligators, Palm Trees and Purple Gallinule.

A White Ibis searches for food at the edge of a parking lot in Boca Raton, Florida. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
After trudging around in the cold and snow all winter, it was nice to get away for a few days and explore south Florida. This was a great trip, from a birding perspective, because I not only managed to pick up a number of new life birds but also had a chance to see a number of species, such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Osprey, which I'm unlikely to see in New England for another couple of months.Over the 5 days I spent in Florida I had the opportunity to see some amazing wildlife, starting off with a trip to the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, where we had the opportunity to see a variety of sea turtle species up close, learn about the important conservation work going on at the center and check out some very cool spiders spinning enormous, elaborate webs, along the boardwalk.

A Green Sea Turtle swims in a large tank at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton Florida. This particular turtle was badly injured by a motor boat and was sent to the nature center for medical care. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

A Crab Spider sits patiently on its web along the boardwalk at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
Although we didn't see any birds as we walked along the boardwalk, we did hear a few calling from within the thick tangle of trees that surrounded the path.  There were also several Crab Spiders, such as the one in the photo above - truly intriguing creatures which at first glance really do resemble crabs. There was also a beautiful butterfly garden to explore and a nice variety of plant life to enjoy, from the Gumbo Limbo trees to Mangroves.

A lizard at the4 Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
An Atala butterfly perches on a plant in the butterfly garden at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
One of the most interesting animals we saw during our visit to Gumbo Limbo was an Atala butterfly (shown in the photo above). This butterfly was in serious trouble during the 1970's as the the species of plant they rely on for food was declining. Fortuately, through the dedicated work of conservationists, this butterfly has made something of a comeback in south Florida, the only place in the US where it can be seen in the wild.

The Florida Everglades are an amazing place to observe all kinds of wildlife, from Purple Gallinule to American Alligators. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
As we drove around this part of Florida we continually saw  a variety of birds along the sides of the highways, in little pockets of wetland and small ponds and in virtually every parking lot, including Cattle Egret, Double-Crested Cormorant, White Ibis and Common Gallinule. The skies overhead were also filled with vultures and practially everywhere we went there were large groups of Boat-tailed Grackles.

The next day we got a taste of the Florida Everglades on a air boat tour from the Everglades Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale. Before embarking on our tour we had some time to watch the many Boat-tailed Grackles around the parking lot and the Turkey Vultures wheeling in the sky overhead.

A Boat-tailed Grackle perches on a railing outside the store at the Everglades Holiday Oark in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Image copyright Daniel E. levenson 2014. 

A Black Vulture sits close to the water's edge in the Everglades. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.
This year I am trying to focus on improving my field ID skills, so it was great to have the chance to get a really good look at a group of Black Vultures in a tree and along the shore during our boat ride. I've had the opportunity in the past to get close to Turkey Vultures, but these Black Vultures were a new life bird for me and I was very happy to be able to see how different they really are from Turkey Vultures. I also had the chance to observe them in flight a few other times, often sharing a patch of sky with Turkey Vultures, which afforded me the opportunity to compare the differences in flight style, shape  and coloration, essentially side-by-side. Next to the Turkey Vultures the more compact tale and wing pattern of the Black Vultures were easy to see.

A Purple Gallinule comes out of the vegetation along the water in the Everglades. These colorful birds feed on insects they find in and around aquatic vegetation. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

In the next part of this two-part post I will share observations and photos from  an outing to the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, where we had amazing, up-close views of an incredible variety of bird life, not to mention several American Alligators and a feral Iguana. Be sure to check back soon for part two of my Florida birding experience.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.