Florida 2007 Trip Report

 

Florida – March 23 to April 1, 2007

(note:  I am trying this as a single post, I am hoping that most viewers have broadband internet by now but if you think I should break it up into smaller segments please email me and let me know!)

 

Well, my time to Florida finally came!  I have wanted to go to Florida since I was a kid reading about all of the great snakes and lizards and alligators and birds etc.  The Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Big Cyprus, etc.  And it took me until my 48th year to get there!  The trip would not exactly live up to my expectations but then, they seldom do, in particular when you have waited so long...  However there were plenty of highlights and some high points which I will attempt to share with you in chronological order along with my usual commentary and pictures so, here we go!

 

As I said, Florida has always been one of those desired destinations for me, sort of like Costa Rica or Australia or Madagascar… I got to Costa Rica and Australia a couple of times before I got to Florida but here I was!  Again, business was what finally got me here, the big CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industry Association) show was going to be held in Orlando and I needed to be there for a few days so what better time then to plan a trip around my business trip so we did!  I had to be in Orlando on March 27th, 28th and 29th so I took a day off on either side of that and mixed in two weekends to get as much time as possible in the field.  I will tell you right off that I was too aggressive in my planning!  We ended up driving nearly 2,000 miles on the trip and that was with two full days and part of another staying put in Orlando.

 

I think having dual interests in birds and herps is getting to be a bit of  a problem!  Not only is it hard to look up AND down at the same time but often the best areas or animals of interest are in quite different locals!  Anyway, on a whim, and after reading some literature on the Cornell University search for Ivory Billed Woodpecker’s in the area around the Chatahoochee River we decided that we should at least check out the area and see if we could get lucky… extremely lucky that is, if you get my drift…  Well, I’ll tell you up front that we didn’t however there were some interesting things, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 

We departed San Diego on Friday, March 23rd and flew into Jacksonville, Florida (NE part of the state).  The first two days of the trip were to be in and around the Chatahoochee River drainage system before heading down to Orlando for the business leg of the trip.  Unfortunately, there isn’t any real good way to get there from anywhere other than to drive.  Tallahassee would be the closest city but I couldn’t find an easy way to get there from San Diego without multiple plane trips and quite an additional expense.  I am sure there are plenty of ways TO get there but it really doesn’t matter now.  Anyway, we drove across the northern part of the state on Saturday morning, arriving at our destination in the early afternoon.  Unfortunately as well, my wife (Lynn) had developed a real bad cold/flu a day or so before we left on the trip and it was having full impact on her.  She was able to drift in and out of sleep most of the day and we did make some brief stops along the way but she was truly miserable and would remain so (in terms of her health) for most of the trip. 

 

Our first stop was one of the many rest areas along route 10.  One good thing about Florida is that they have top notch, grade A-1 rest areas, at least in the northern part of the state.  This one was complete with a one mile loop trail into some swamp and a small pond with Alligators and Turtles…

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker from a rest stop outside of Tallahassee

 

Yellow-belly Sliders and a Florida Cooter from another Rest Area

 

Closer look, Same Area

 

And what would be the most common herp encountered, the Brown Anole

 

As I stated earlier, we arrived at our destination in the early afternoon, a dirt access road that goes to an Oxbow lake along the Chatahoochee River, about 20 miles west of Ponce de Leon Florida.  We drove to the end of the road and then hiked a long trail that I had mapped out earlier looking at the area from the satellite imagery on Google Maps.  We hiked about 5 hours through a mixture of old-growth swamp and heavy mixed woodlands, tying to stay as close to the Cyprus swamp as possible.   First, let me tell you that this is hard going, the trail petered out and we spent some time walking around in the swamp, VERY easy to get lost in here so I was extra careful to stay aware of direction, etc.  The area was extremely inaccessible and also remote, I have no doubt after experiencing just a brief time in there that it is certainly feasible for a shy, rare animal such as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker to remain unseen, no doubt at all.  I also noted that even though the area was remote and certainly not very well traveled, there was not an over-abundance of wildlife, I would take this to mean that we were probably seen and heard long before we would be aware of anything although we did find a few animals as pictured below.  I’ll also state for the record that on three separate occasions we both heard distinctive double-rap sounds in the distance, the sounded just like the ones that are recorded on the Cornell University website on Ivory-billed Woodpeckers however I have no clue what the sounds actually were as we also noted that the swamp itself makes all sorts of sounds that are “unusual” AND they certainly could have been Pileated Woodpeckers or even made-made noises from a distant source, it  was exciting however!  In any event, as the sun started to get lower and the shadows longer, not to mention the insects hungrier, we retraced our steps back to our car and drove back to our hotel for the night in Ponce de Leon.  I was able to add a couple of herp lifers, a Southern Toad, a Florida Mud Turtle and we found a DOR (dead on road) Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake on the way back to the hotel.

 

Road leading into area around the Chatahoochee River

 

Found several interesting flowering plants in the area including this one which was very popular with the insects.

 

Southern Toads were foraging in the leaf litter which was THICK with small spiders which I assume the toads were dining on.

 

First Green Anole of the trip, trying to go unnoticed.

 

This Swainson's Thrush sat quietly for many minutes while we photographed.

 

Lynn looking out at the swamp that just about ate both of my hiking boots...

 

Another Southern Toad showing off how much he looks like a leaf...

 

Me, walking through a patch of open ground... thinking, did we come this way?

 

This Mud Turtle was in a small drainage culvert that ran along the access road to the river.

 

 

The next morning (Sunday, March 25) we had planned on revisiting the same area but now both of us were feeling a bit under the weather, Lynn much more so than me so we decided to slightly deviate from plan and take a more rural route toward Orland (where I had to be Tuesday morning) and make stops along the way.  Our destination tonight would be an area called “The Lakes” in central Florida, about an hour outside Orlando, so with 280 miles to go, we left the hotel around 8:00 AM and were on our way, slightly re-tracing our steps back to Tallahassee before veering southeast and crossing over into central Florida.  I will let the captions from the pictures below explain what you are seeing and where but in general, we made a lot of short stops during the day, Lynn slept quite a bit and the cold/flu was getting the best of her, I think this was her worst day.  Near the end of the day there was a sign pointing to the Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge so I decided to make that the last stop of the day as it was getting late.  We pulled off the road about a half hour later on a dirt road that led down to the famed Suwannee River.   I glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye right after turning down the road and was very pleasantly surprised when I stopped to find a live Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake!!! One of the highlights of the trip for sure for me, a species I have always wanted to see up close and in person and here it was and a nice specimen to boot!  It was also VERY feisty!  For such a tiny creature it sure was brave and boldly held it’s ground striking wildly at me as I approached.  I am not sure what purpose the rattle serves that’s attached to this tiny rattlesnakes tail!  You sure can’t hear it!  After a minute or two he settled down and let me take a multitude of pictures of him however.  Lynn was starting to feel better now after resting most of the day, I could tell as she found a small patch of wild Iris and asked me to dig up a few bulbs…  We searched the area until the sun was very low on the horizon and then back on the road, arriving at The Lakes, Florida well after dark.

 

In a small field directly behind our hotel in Ponce de Leon, Florida, a bit of dew made the spider webs quite interesting.

 

A bee busily going about his business...

 

Northern Mockingbirds were just about everywhere

 

A small tributary to the Suwanne river

 

An angry Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

 

I was actually quite glad that this guy was so small, he was quite agitated with my attempts to "wrangle" him into position for photography, repeatedly striking at me while his tiny rattles, barely audible were vigorously buzzing!  He was quite quick with the strike as well, but his range was minimal, all of 3-4 inches or so and I was able to get relatively close while still maintaining some degree of safety.  Even though they are small, a bite can still be quite painful albeit usually not life-threatening.

 

Quite a striking snake (pardon the pun), the color pattern of this species varies greatly, this one was, in my opinion a beautiful specimen!

 

You can see how they could blend in to the leaf litter quite well.  Certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me and a long-targeted species that I wanted to add to my life list!

 

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake Habitat

 

A view down the Suwannee River

 

Along the banks of the Suwannee River at dusk, thinking about all the driving left to do!

 

 Monday, March 26th was a day to explore the area between The Lakes and Orlando, about 80 miles away.  The area held several parks and areas of interest and we made the most of it by stopping at a multitude of different destinations.  I was able to add a couple of new herps to my life list early with a Five-lined Skink under a piece of plywood and a couple of Florida Scrub Lizards, sunning themselves on pine tree stumps.  Also added Bald Eagle to my bird life list when an immature Bald Eagle tried to mix it up with an Osprey that was returning to the nest with a fish in talons.  The Eagle lost the battle but I was able to observe it quite well in my binoculars.  The highlight of the day however was a Barred Owl that we flushed as it was eating a squirrel.  We were able to chase if from tree to tree for a short while but it was quite wary and we never got close enough to get any super good photos.  See highlights from the day below.  We arrived at our hotel in Orlando after dark and hit the sack, the next couple of days were going to be jam-packed business days for me so I had to shift gears, get the suits ready and back to work…

 

White Ibis in the Hotel parking lot!  Now things were getting more interesting...:o)

 

Lynn photographing one of her favorite subjects from the Darter family!

 

I loved the way this Anhinga turned out against the background of palms

 

You can see why they sometimes are called Snake-necks.  Anhingas were well represented everywhere we went in Florida.

 

We ran into a group of nesting Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles at one of our stops, they were quite interesting and photogenic!

 

This Grackle was trying to tell Lynn something... probably "BACK OFF!"

 

Osprey were very common, we saw over a dozen nesting pair over the course of the trip, several here in the Lakes region of Central Florida.

 

Female Red-winged Blackbird

 

Great Blue Heron

 

Another Red-winged Blackbird, striking a fairly threatening pose!

 

And, I promise, the last Red-winged Blackbird photo!

 

This quickly turned into a brawl as both of these girls decided that this piece of straw would be a great addition to their nest!

 

Nesting Osprey returning with some home improvements!

 

Back at the nest, which was on top of a microwave relay station.

 

Five-lined Skink, found under a piece of plywood.  He hung in there for me for several minutes making the photography easy!  One of several that were observed, several others were found in the open foraging in leaf litter and fallen bark.

 

 

Palm Warbler from "The Lakes" Florida.  These guys were extremely common in some areas however, in typical Warbler fashion they were difficult to photograph.  I literally threw away over 100 bad/blurred pictures of these guys!  The male is a very striking bird however!

 

Little Blue Heron trying to scare up some lunch!

 

Another Green Anole, this one from another area along the Suwannee River (which we seemed to keep finding on our way south and east.)

 

 

A view along the Suwannee River in East/Central Florida

 

Here's the Barred Owl that we chased for a while.  He never let us get too close and finally flew away, carrying with him a large grey squirrel in his talons!

 

Notice how well this member of the spiny lizard family blends in with it's surroundings!

 

This pair of Sandhill Cranes were walking around inside a closed plant nursery!  In California, I have tried to get a shot this close (around the Salton Sea) and never even gotten half as close as I was able to get with this pair.  We would see small groups of these cool birds throughout the remainder of the trip.

 

This is in a McDonald's parking lot, just outside Orlando.  This Great Egret attacked a Brown Anole that was foraging along the grass line and had a quick meal! 

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were fairly common and got more so the further south we went.

 

 

Me, wandering aimlessly looking for the next "lifer" bird or herp... As I said, it gets a little challenging when you are torn between looking up for birds and down for reptiles.  I tend to use my ears a great deal when I am out looking for stuff, more often than not that is how I discover my next subject, either from a rustling sound in the leaves or the chirp of a surprised bird.

 

 One bad-ass squirrel, telling me to back off or she will let me have it!  Actually, she was waiting for a sunflower seed...:o)

 

Nothing of note for the next couple of days other than two Wood Storks that I spotted early in the morning foraging around a pond that I could see in the distance from my hotel room, too far away for any sort of photos but I was able to get some later in the trip anyway and a few subjects from the hotel parking lot on the morning we were leaving.  As a side note.  The day we were leaving the show, George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton were the keynote speakers at the conference I was attending, they also stayed at the same hotel.  Imagine if you will for a moment what happens when secret service and hotel security see some dude, dressed in a bit of military-looking clothing  stalking around the hotel parking lot with a large, 400mm lens...  Lets just say that I was very happy to be allowed to leave, these guys are serious and had absolutely no sense of humor and even asked for the address to our website when it was explained what we were doing...  anyway, it was time to go, so after finishing up on some business early in the day on Thursday, March 29th, we were again on the road.    Here are a few shots from the hotel parking lot before getting kicked out.

 

These squirrels were all over the hotel parking lot in Orlando, foraging in the trees and quite acrobatic!

 

This Tri-colored Heron was busy foraging early in the morning in the swamp/pond next to our hotel.  I also was able to spot two Wood Storks working the same area but was not able to get any clear photographs of them, luckily later in the trip we would encounter many more!

 

Gray Catbird, again in the hotel parking lot.  I was photographing him when the hotel security/secret service folks decided that my behavior was suspicious enough to detain me for a few moments and then suggest that I leave as quickly as possible.

 

 

Today’s destination was one that I was waiting for with much anticipation as we were going to explore the fabled “Loop Road” in the Big Cyprus Swamp National Preserve.  The Big Cypress Swamp lies just north of the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress covers over 700,000 acres and differs from the Everglades in that it has a slightly raised terrain with standing water covering most of its swamp. The Everglades, on the other hand, is famous for its wetlands and constantly flowing ‘river of grass’. Together, the Big Cypress and the Everglades cover most of the area between Miami and Tampa and the tip of Florida.

 

We arrived at Loop road mid-afternoon and after driving through a small Indian reservation we were in the preserve.  Almost immediately wildlife started to be seen with a myriad of birds, turtles, alligators, etc.  I’ll let the pictures start to do the talking from here…

 

Many butterflies were seen taking advantage of the early spring bloom.

 

Note the leg, or lack thereof...  In the pond over which this White Ibis perched were about a dozed alligators, I would assume that at some point in the past, Mr. Ibis had been quite lucky to survive!

 

The aptly named Swallow-tailed Kite, an almost constant companion while we were on Loop Road in the Big Cyprus Swamp area.

 

Another White Ibis foraging in the swap.

 

Alligators were quite common, it was hard to find a section of water that did not hold at least one.  This one took special interest in my photography, swimming right up to the shore and watched me as I was photographing a Green Heron.

 

Green Herons were very common, I probably saw more in a few hours than I see in a year back in California.

 

Here's another one, trying to be stealthy!

 

Several miles of Loop Road follow habitat very similar to this.

 

Another cool life-list bird for me, this is a White-eyed Vireo that briefly posed for me before moving on.

 

Next to the Anhingas, Cormorants such as this beauty were probably to second most common bird in the swampy areas, perhaps Great Egrets would be a close second but there were many cormorants perched on branches like this one above.

 

There was also quite an array of bromeliads growing off the side of Cyprus trees and other hosts.

 

An American Alligator striking a pose for me on top of a slab of limestone.

 

And another one, showing off his dental work!

 

This Great-crested Flycatcher was found not by sight but by this very loud smacking sound I kept hearing.  He was really chomping down on the insects and you could hear his bill snapping from quite a distance as he would swoop down to flycatch his prey, a loud click if you will then he'd perch again in typical flycatcher fashion looking for his next meal.

 

Fish Crows such as this one were very common as well.  Mostly distinguishable from the American Crow by it's higher pitched call.

 

We saw several deer in the park foraging along mowed areas.

 

I thought these Grasshoppers that Lynn photographed were really cool looking, reminded me of a race car with their pinstripes...

 

I flipped a few rocks here and there, opportunistically as opposed to an real concerted effort and under probably the second or third rock I flipped I found this Brahminy Blind Snake.  The first Blind Snake I have ever found or seen in the wild! 

 

You can barely make out the vestigial eyes in this picture, they are covered by scales but can still detect the presence of light.   They spend their lives in subterranean habitats searching out ant and termite larvae which is their principal diet.  This particular species is actually introduced and can be found in a variety of locations around the world now.  Usually hitching a ride in commercial ornamental plants that are imported.  They have adapted quite well to the environment in Florida and have a sustaining, breeding population established.

 

This Yellow-shafted Flicker sat still just long enough for me to snap a couple of quick photos before moving on.

 

Another American Alligator resting along the bank of the swamp.

 

And yet a couple more!

 

Tufted Titmouse trying to be unnoticed

 

Another interesting plant...

 

I heard a lot of Northern Parula calling from the trees but this was the only one that let me get a shot at him.

 

A Pine Warbler from Big Cyprus Swamp

 

Basic habitat shot from Big Cyprus

 

You can actually make out a little red on this Red-bellied Woodpecker which is not always the case...

 

This Blue-headed Vireo allowed me to take a few shots (from very long distance) before moving on, probably on his way north as the only winder in Florida

 

Another habitat shot, there was a Pileated Woodpecker in the trees here which flew right after I took this shot.

 

Late afternoon looking down Loop Road.  If I recall correctly we saw a total of 4 cars on the road with us all afternoon which is  a little amazing considering the amount of traffic on highway 41 that is just a few miles to the south!

 

Although it doesn't show well here I was amazed at the clarity of the water, it was quite easy to see fish and other life even in fairly deep water. 

 

As soon as the sun had set we started seeing these little rockets jump across the road, typically in 2 hops!  Southern Leopard Frogs like this were very common.

 

A Southern Toad broke up the monotony of the endless stream of Leopard Frogs finally!

 

And, a few moments later, the first snake of the evening, a very docile Brown Water Snake.

 

I was expecting a quick flight or at least a bit of a fight but he didn't seem to be interested in us nor our prodding, only getting back to the small creek that paralleled the road.

 

A picture you won't often see with me holding a Nerodia (water snake) mid-body because usually the next thing you will see is a nice bite mark and blood streaming from your finger...  Shows how much temperament variation there is between individuals of a species even at the reptillian level.

 

Another animal with a story behind it.  This Green Tree Frog landed smack dab in the middle of my window while I was driving down loop road at about 20 Mph.  My wife and I looked at each other for a second or two and she said, "is that a frog?"  And I replied, no, it's gotta be a leaf!  Then it started to crawl across my windshield...:o)

 

We decided to forego the long drive back to Miami and stayed at a Indian Casino hotel right along the edge of the swamp so on Friday, March 30th I was able to get up early and take a quick drive back down to Loop Road while Lynn was getting a few extra Z’s and getting ready for our drive down to the Florida Keys.  I was able to get up close and personal with a Wood Stork and some of his cousins, Black and Turkey Vultures that were scavenging along the road for an early morning meal.  Got some more shots of Heron’s and Ibis but nothing real eventful and we were on the road by 10:00 AM.  Here are a few pictures from my morning excursion back to Loop Road.

 

Wood Stork was one of the target species that I wanted to photograph on this trip however they were proving quite elusive so far.  All I was seeing were brief glimpses from a long distance.  This Wood Stork on the other hand, just about took out my windshield on highway 41, swooping down, across the road and right in front of me before lighting on the other side of the highway.  Luckily it was a 5:30 AM and there was no traffic so I hung a quick U-turn and was able to get a close-up shot of this cool bird.

 

There were Great Blue Herons everywhere in the early morning hours, I was seeing at least 5 or 6 per mile traveled.

 

I ran into a small congregation of Vultures, both of the Turkey and Black variety, all cleaning up some fish scraps that were left over from some fishermen who had cleaned their catch on the side of the road.

 

Black Vulture standing sentinel above an abandoned building

 

Back on Loop Road, see the Anhinga in the picture?

 

Another Swamp Habitat Shot

 

A Tri-colored Heron looking for breakfast!

 

Likewise for this Green Heron

 

I was amazed at the density of lily pads in some areas, here were a few that were blooming, quite spectacular flowers, the picture doesn't do them justice!

 

  

After picking up Lynn at the hotel and heading south it started to become evident to me that my plans for the last leg of our trip may have been a bit too aggressive!  If I didn’t mention it earlier, we were down in Florida in the midst of spring break and with the traffic today it was quite evident!  I had planned on getting to Key West by early afternoon, it was 155 miles from our location and  I had figured on 4 hours or so to get there, the plan had been to spend the night and then slowly drive back up to Miami on Sunday stopping at our leisure at some of the multitude of parks and points of interest along the way.  Alas, it was not going to be that way, the traffic was horrendous, and it was evident by 5:00 PM with still 60 miles to go to Key West that we were going to be in for another long day!  There was one highlight which I will mention before continuing on the saga.  We did get to see one of the very endangered Key Deer, unfortunately, there was no where to pull off the road and I could not get a picture of it.  Anyway, we decided to bail on the Keys and spend the last full day back in the Everglades and Big Cyprus area so I turned around and we high-tailed it back to mainland florida and to Everglades National Park.  The local law enforcement was out it high numbers, we saw several folks in handcuffs on the way back and many folks pulled over from the multitude of speed traps so it was difficult to make any time!   It was around 10:00 PM when I pulled up to the gate to the main entrance to the Everglades, paid for my pass and headed in.  We decided to drive to the other end of the park and work our way back in the morning.  There was a DOR Eastern Garter Snake on the road a couple of miles in but other than that the drive was uneventful.  We parked and slept in our car at the Flamingo Visitors Center campground at the SW edge of Florida and the Everglades.  Following are the highlights from the long day of driving to and through the keys and back to the Everglades...

 

Gull identification is one of the last frontiers for me to discover!  I spend hours trying to determine what species I am looking at sometimes!  This is, I believe a Laughing Gull taken from the Key Largo area.

 

A Brown Pelican getting settled on some piling.

 

A Eurasian Collared Dove

 

One of thousands of tiny keys in the Florida Keys

 

A Snoozing Brown Pelican

 

Laughing Gull

 

A Brown Pelican in breeding plumage with a Double-crested Cormorant looking on.

 

Cormorant closer up...

 

This little Semipalmated Plover posed for a few pictures before scurrying on

 

Sunset along the Florida Keys

 

As stated above, we drove back up to the Florida Everglades, this time entering at the main entrance and driving to the end of the road and sleeping at the Flamingo Campsite late Friday evening.  Saturday morning, March 31, I was awakened at dawn by the cry of what turned out to be one of 5 nesting pairs of Osprey’s within walking distance of where we had stopped.  We spent an hour or so walking around and photographing the local residence before heading back toward the park entrance, stopping along the way at a variety of locations to photograph.  One of the highlights of the morning was seeing a group of nesting Wood Storks mixed in with Roseate Spoonbills at one of the lakes in the park.  Here are some photos from the morning.

 

This is a mixed flock of American Avocet and Black Skimmers, mostly Black Skimmers with a couple of Brown Pelicans in the mix.

 

One of 5 pairs of Ospreys within walking distance of one another, this one in a cell tower.

 

A Red-shouldered Hawk posing for a few photos.  I was quite surprised at how different they look here in Florida than at home.  I did not even recognize this as a Red-shoulder until getting back home and going through the various field guides.   As you will see below, they even get lighter colored than this one.

 

One of the Osprey's looking for breakfast

 

Vultures were very common in the Everglades, this Black Vulture let me approach very close before moving to another perch

 

Here's another Red-shouldered Hawk, a little upset at me and also more traditionally colored than some of the other ones observed in the Everglades.

 

Northern Cardinals were constant companions just about everywhere in Florida, quite numerous here in the Everglades

 

 

Another Northern Cardinal

 

Gray Catbird

 

The ubiquitious Brown Anole, which is actually an introduced species but quite well established across Florida.  They have taken a niche that their cousins the Green Anoles do not fill in that they are almost entirely ground dwellers while the Green Anoles are mostly tree dwellers.

 

A pair of Blue-winged Teal

 

I wasn't able to get any really good shots of these beautiful Roseate Spoonbills, there were several pair nesting on an island several hundred yards off shore of a lake.  They stayed their distance from us quite well.  I noted that they were every bit as shy as ones I have photographed in Texas as well.

 

 

A young American Alligator

 

There were several very interesting species of Dragonflies.  I will have to send this one and another over to Doug, the local dragonfly expert for ID!

 

As mentioned in the narrative, we ran into a flock of nesting Wood Storks, it's amazing how graceful they actually can be considering their size and appearance!

 

A Palm Warbler looking for a quick snack

 

A Great-crested Flycatcher, looking for his next victim!

 

A Wood Stork, coming in for a landing

 

A Pair of Roseate Spoonbills

 

Nesting pair of Roseate Spoonbills

 

Some variety of Swallowtail butterfly.  They sure do love Thistle!

 

Another new Warbler for my life list, this is a Prairie Warbler

 

Green Anole getting comfortable

 

They say that the Everglades is a "Sea of Grass"  You can see that in this and the next picture.  Miles and miles of sawgrass (which really isn't a grass) interspersed with these tree islands or hammocks as they are called.

 

Another habitat shot looking out over a large expanse of Sawgrass with a large Hammock in the distance.

 

After working our way through the Everglades, we drove back north to Big Cyprus Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and again along Loop Road for more pictures.  We were fortunate enough to run into many interesting critters, one of my highlights was a very nice juvenile Florida Cottonmouth that let me take a bunch of pictures.  Here are some photos from Big Cyprus on Saturday afternoon.

 

 

I believe these are some sort of Ciclids, they were quite common along the small creeks and swamps that paralleled Loop Road, large schools of them with an occasional Garfish coming along to spook them was an interesting thing to watch.

 

 

The ubiquitous Great Blue Heron

 

A Florida Red-belly Turtle getting some sun.  I had a very hard time photographing turtles on this trip, they seemed to be very skittish, much more so than some other areas I have been in like Texas and along the eastern seaboard.  Perhaps due to the amount of visitors they see.  We saw a lot of turtles on this trip but mostly from very far away which makes them very hard to ID!

 

A little Downy Woodpecker

 

Another really cool Dragonfly... Doug?

 

Here's a more lightly colored Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Here I am with a very brave little Florida Cottonmouth.  I really wanted to find one of these and I was not disappointed!  They are so much more strikingly patterned and colored than their cousins to the west and north!  This little guy was very feisty and brave and had not intentions of backing down despite the fact that I was a few hundred times his size!

 

Florida Cottonmouth - Coloration very similar to the Copperheads you find in other places.

 

In the classic Cottonmouth defense position.  Note the greenish tail found only in very young snakes

 

More Cottonmouth Pix

 

You can clearly see the heat sensing pits just below in from the eyes.  These pits give this class of snake their name as "Pit Vipers"  They are able to detect extremely small differences in temperature through these pits which helps them tremendously when they are hunting for their warm blooded prey at night.

 

 

He finally gave up and decided to go back into the dense cover along the side of the road.

 

Lynn looking for more Cottonmouths.  This is what the area looked like, again, Loop road, this time near the western end.

 

 

We drove around to a couple of other areas after leaving Loop Road and worked the area until dark here are a couple more photos from some other areas.

 

Peninsula Cooter from one of the myriad of lakes that dots the landscape here in the Everglades

 

This make Brown Anole was really going to town with his display!  They are quite spectacular!

 

Another Palm Warbler, they were very common just about everywhere we went.

 

This is an even lighter colored Red-shouldered Hawk

 

Red-shouldered Hawk from Big Cyprus Swamp

 

A Belted Kingfisher getting all riled up about something!

 

As I was driving back toward Miami on highway 41, I started to see snakes, quite a few of them actually, the looked to be mostly, if not all, water snakes but after passing by about 10 of them on the road or shoulder I told Lynn that I just had to stop for at least one.  The problem is that this highway is pretty well traveled and everybody seems to be in a great hurry here (and likes to tailgate as well!)  The shoulder is protected by a guardrail on either side in the area that I was seeing the snakes and was just barely wide enough to fit in a car without sticking out into the lanes of traffic.  So, I figured that what I would do is drive back up the road to where I could turn around and then wait for a big space between traffic and see if I could time it right to stop on a snake on the side of the road.  Well, the strategy worked, I guess…  I waited until I could not see any headlights approaching (the road is very straight so that’s one good thing, you can see something coming a long ways ahead).  I started off down the road and about a half mile later I spotted a snake on the side of the road.  I pulled over but under-estimated how far back the snake was, I finally spotted him, about 50 yards behind the car.  I put my light on him to make sure I wasn’t going to grab anything too dangerous, it was about a 2 foot Florida Green Water Snake.  I know how feisty these guys can be so I very carefully got in position to grab him behind the head and pounced.  Unfortunately I did not calculate him moving at precisely the same moment that I was grabbing and I missed my mark by a good 4 inches which was plenty of room for him to swing right around with his head and start viciously biting my hand while also emitting that wonderful musk out his other end.  And to make things more interesting, there were headlights fast approaching me.  So, with snake in hand, still chomping on my finger I raced back to the car in a mad 50 yard dash opened the door and jumped in, snake vigorously biting me and writhing about my forearm.  I started the car with my free hand and gave the car some gas and still had a quarter mile between me and the fast approaching string of cars.  Now imagine what this must look like to an observer… My wife made some comments about being nuts, obsessive, crazy and I think a few other choice statements about the general condition of my mind, sanity, etc. as I pulled into the parking lot of one of the air boat tour companies in the area that cater to the tourist crowds.  The snake was still biting me, blood was now pouring down my hand as I stepped out of the car, my wife just kind of glaring at me and shaking her head…  I was able to get the snake to calm down for a few seconds, get a few quick shots of him and send him on his way before getting some soap and water out of the back of the car to clean off a bit…  I looked at my wife who was still sitting in the car and said something about perhaps doing it again, needless to say, that didn’t happen…  I did find a sea food restaurant a while later to treat my wife to one last dinner in Florida before getting to our hotel and an early morning departure out of Miami International and eventually back to San Diego.

 

Here are a few shots of one of the most “difficult” snakes I have ever captured…

 

Florida Green Water Snake

 

Unlike the Brown Water Snake that allowed me to easily handle it, this guy wanted absolutely nothing more than to draw blood, which he did repeatedly!

 

Heading back to the swamp...

 

Florida Green Water Snake

 

We took off the next day, Sunday, April 1st and were back home that afternoon.  All in all a trip filled with a ton of memories, not anywhere near the amount of wildlife that I had expected but then again, we drove much more that I had expected as well.  Was a case probably of trying to fit too much in to too little time (which I will readily admit is a big flaw of mine!)

 

Thanks for looking!

 

Following are the lists of birds and herps observed during the trip, thanks for looking, hopefully we’ll run into you somewhere out there in the field!

 

-Brad

 

Florida Trip 2007

 

Bird List  (92 species - Highlighted are new life list species for me)

 

American Avocet

American Coot

American Crow

American Kestrel

American Robin

American White Pelican

Anhinga

Bald Eagle

Barred Owl

Belted Kingfisher

Black Skimmer

Black Vulture

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-necked Stilt

Blue Jay

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-winged Teal

Boat-tailed Grackle

Brewers Blackbird

Broad-winged Hawk

Brown Pelican

Brown Thrasher

Carolina Wren

Cattle Egret

Cedar Waxwing

Chuck-will’s-widow

Common Grackle

Common Moorhen

Double-crested Cormorant

Downy Woodpecker

Eastern Phoebe

Eurasian Collared Dove

European Starling

Fish Crow

Great Blue Heron

Great Cormorant

Great Egret

Great-crested Flycatcher

Greater Yellowlegs

Green Heron

Grey Catbird

House Finch

House Sparrow

Killdeer

Laughing Gull

Lesser Yellowlegs

Little Blue Heron

Mallard

Mourning Dove

Northern Cardinal

Northern Flicker

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Parula

Orchard Oriole

Osprey

Palm Warbler

Pine Warbler

Pied-billed Grebe

Pileated Woodpecker

Prairie Warbler

Purple Gallinule

Red-breasted Woodpecker

Reddish Egret

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-winged Blackbird

Ring-billed Gull

Rock Dove

Roseate Spoonbill

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Sandhill Crane

Semipalmated Plover

Snowy Egret

Swainson’s Thrush

Swallow-tailed Kite

Tri-colored Heron

Tufted Titmouse

Turkey Vulture

Whip-poor-will

White Ibis

White-crowned Pigeon

White-eyed Vireo

Wild Turkey

Willet

Wood Stork

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

 

Herp List (22)

 

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

Brown Water Snake

Florida Water Snake

Florida Green Water Snake

Eastern Garter Snake

Brahiminy Blind Snake

Florida Cottonmouth

Everglades Racer

 

 

Green Anole

Cuban Brown Anole

Five-lined Skink

Florida Scrub Lizard

 

Gopher Tortoise

Yellowbelly Slider

Florida Cooter

Florida Redbelly Turtle

Florida Mud Turtle

 

Southern Leopard Frog

Bullfrog

Green Treefrog

Southern Toad

 

American Alligator

 

- page last updated:  08-04-2007 



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