Pit Stop

I’m at a random McDonald’s off of the turnpike on my way down to Long Pine Key and I’m not sure if I’ll have internet access down there so I figured I had better update now just in case.  The last couple of days have been so incredible I can’t gush enough about them.  After my Bachman’s/RCW dip, I was feeling pretty tired and cranky…not exactly in the mood to be waking up at the ass crack of dawn to get out and miss more birds. Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Wetlands cured me of my dour countenance, however, and afforded me some beautiful close-up looks at some of Florida’s finest.  I hung around the parking lot of Wakodahatchee for longer than necessary because I had read that it was often a good spot to find Spot-Breasted Orioles, but it’s looking like I’m going to have to go creeping through peoples’ backyards if I want to see one of them.  I did find some of my first warblers for the trip in the parking lot though, including Prairie, Yellow-Throated, Northern Parula, and Black & White.  I got there before most of the crowds, so I got some quality time with the birds before people started whistling at them and doing the other odd acts people do around wildlife.  I got my first good look at a Sora and was super excited to get an actual picture of one before heading over to Green Cay and seeing other peoples’ perfect, textbook-worthy photos of them with their ridiculously long lenses.  Apparently there had been a Yellow-Headed Blackbird hanging around Wakodahatchee for the last few days, and while I did have a dream that I saw it last night, no one seemed to be able to relocate it the morning I was there.  I did have an interesting chat with a couple from New Jersey about birders and travelling.  It was very clear that they were unbelievably wealthy, and they had just returned from a trip to the UAE with plans to go to Madagascar in the Fall.  They had some funny anecdotes about people on their trips who just about fainted when seeing certain birds for the first time.  I would have told them I knew how those birders felt, but I was trying to become friends with them so they would take me with them to Madagascar.

When I got to Green Cay there were about 20 people lined up along the boardwalk next to the main entrance with about a million dollars of photography equipment between them.  Apparently I had missed incredibly close views of Bobcat kittens by about 20 minutes and everyone was hoping they’d return shortly.  While Bobcats are amazing, the Painted Buntings at the nearby feeder grabbed my attention and pulled me away from the crowd without so much as a glimpse of kittens.  A White-winged Dove soon joined the buntings at the feeder and I clicked away with my amateur camera next to some seriously blinged-out photographers.  I think the number of lifers I got is only exceeded by the number of Porsches I saw around Palm Beach.  I did get some even better pictures of a Sora at Green Cay, however, and some close-up looks at both American and Least Bitterns.  After being tipped off about the nesting Neotropic Cormorants at Wakodahatchee, I ran back there to take some pictures of what I had blatantly overlooked before and by that point the afternoon sun was starting to wane.  I read that Hugh Taylor State Park is a good place to spot Short-Tailed Hawks, so I went there with the hopes of seeing one before it got too late for me to get over to the nesting Burrowing Owls at Brian Piccolo Park.  By the time I got there my energy was all but shot and I crankily walked around a hammock before deciding to just bail and go for the owls instead.  Ever more depressing was the sign accompanying the hammock, which stated that it was one of the most endangered ecosystems and had been all but destroyed by modern development.  It basically said, “while there are no more animals (bear, deer, panthers) anymore, enjoy this tiny scrap of forest we decided to leave for you.”  Hating humanity, I fully expected to miss the Burrowing Owls, especially when I pulled up to see some dilapidated ropes hanging from bent poles around the sites I assumed were the owls’ nests.  After about 20 minutes of my pity party, I looked over to see a tiny gray floof sticking up from the overgrown vegetation.  An owl! I got a bit closer to snap a picture, the owl seemingly unphased.  It looked around for about two minutes, realized there were no insects to hawk on that chilly evening and decided better of this whole hunting thing, returning to his underground lair.  He didn’t surface in the 20 or so more minutes I waited, so I went back to my campsite to prepare for the busiest day of the trip yet.

I awoke early the next morning to drive the two hours over to STA5, the famed Stormwater Treatment Area near Clewiston, FL.  Ever since I started telling people about going to Florida, they have been telling me to make STA5 a top priority.  Since they only have escorted trips on Saturdays, I basically planned my itinerary around when I could be in the relative vicinity of the site on a Saturday.  With about 15-20 other birders, we drove around the complex in what was one of my best birding experience to date.  I took barely any photos because I was too busy enjoying the extensive number of lifers I gained.  We saw my first Snail Kites, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Short-tailed Hawk (a dark morph!), and white morph Great Blue Heron.  It was great fun and the leaders were equally as excited for anyone getting lifers as we were.  I had agreed to meet someone at Zoo Miami at 3:00 PM thinking that the STA5 trip would end by noon, so at 1 I was starting to panic and flew down the dirt roads as quickly as I could, making it to the zoo right at 3.  I was meeting a girl whose blog I’ve been following for several years and who is a keeper in the Zoo Miami aviary, but who I have never actually met in person.  It ended up being a fantastic experience.  I got a private tour of the aviary, got to feed some Victorian Crowned Pigeons, Turacos, and the cutest African Pygmy Geese I’ve ever seen, and came away with a new friend!  After an exhausting couple of days, I slept in until a luxurious 7:30 this morning and spent a couple of hours editing/uploading pictures and submitting my eBird checklists.  It was nice to have a bit of a lazy morning, and to top it off I got the Swainson’s Warbler that’s been hanging out with an Ovenbird at the Enchanted Forest Park in Miami.  I was so excited about the warbler that I stopped at this McDonald’s to upload my terrible pictures of it because I knew I’d be devastated if Long Pine Key did not have internet access.

Anywho, the smell of burgers is becoming too much and I must leave this place of despair before succumbing to the fast food devil.  If I have internet access down in the glades I’ll update again soon. Until next time, mi amigos.

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