My entire body is one giant mosquito bite. I have been in Everglades National Park for three nights now and have hidden in my tent for a larger part of that time than I’m willing to admit. After my last blog update, I of course ate a full meal having been tortured by McDonalds fumes for about an hour. I foolishly did not realize that the famous Robert Is Here milkshake shack was right around the corner, and therefore was full to bursting upon arrival. I still got a Key Lime Shake, however, and thought I might vomit when I was done (which took an inordinate amount of time….but in this round of man vs. food, man conquered). I spent my first two nights at Long Pine Key campground, which I did not realize would not have showers. The first morning I hiked the Snake Bight trail, hoping against hope for a Mangrove Cuckoo to appear in front of my eyes. I got out there pretty early, but stopped constantly to look above me at rustling leaves, bringing me back to the trail head right around peak mosquito time. In a classic rookie move, I wore leggings and a thin long-sleeved shirt, making me an easy target for the tiny vampires that are so famous on this trail. By the time I got to the boardwalk at the end of the trail, I was so fed up with being bitten that I booked it the nearly 2 miles back to my car without stopping to look at anything. I did get my first White-Crowned Pigeons, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Worm-Eating Warbler, along with some other typical warblers in the early, pre-mosquito hours. I was going to post a picture of my mosquito-ridden leg, but looking at it on my computer is super gross so I have decided otherwise. I have to admit, that afternoon was probably the worst of the trip, and I spent most of it sulking around wishing I was home. I tried to turn it around by going to Lucky Hammock in late afternoon, which I had heard from everyone was a magical place full of rarities and splendor. All I found was an extremely friendly kitty friend who decided he wanted to go birding with me (and is probably the reason I saw no birds there). I waited until it got dark to see if any Lesser Nighthawks would show up, and even though another birding couple soon joined me and said they’d seen them there every other time they’d visited, it was not in the cards that night.
When it was dark, I drove over to Research Road to listen for Eastern Whip-poor-wills and owls, and was rewarded with a gigantic black bear right on the side of the road as your turn from the main park road towards Royal Palm Hammock. I illuminated it momentarily with my headlights before it sauntered into the bushes. I was completely shocked and did not have the presence of mind to snap a photo before it took off. I did see a Great-Horned Owl and two Barred Owls after that, however. I then escaped to the relatively mosquito-free safety of my tent and awoke with a much better attitude and a renewed birding drive. I walked the Anhinga Trail right around dawn, which was full of the usual suspects and my first good looks at giant gators. Most of the trails have tarps in the parking lots to put over your car in order to fend off unfortunately inquisitive Black Vultures. For some reason, they are intrigued by cars and will perch all over them, spattering them with white streamers and ripping off your windshield wipers if given enough time. I got out there right before dawn, turning onto the road towards Royal Palm Hammock and seeing what I can only assume was the SAME black bear! Not many people see black bears in the Everglades, and I’m quite certain there are a few people who will not believe this tale. I’ve already encountered a birder here with whom I spent a large part of yesterday who I’m fairly sure thought I was deranged after I told him this. I ran back over to Robert Is Here for a fresh mango breakfast before secluding myself in Flamingo, and it was probably the best choice I’ve made all trip. I would highly recommend getting one if you’re ever there. They cut up a perfectly ripe mango for you on the spot and it’s better than any ice cream or candy I’ve ever had.
After the Anhinga Trail and a quick camp shower, I packed up my belongings and shifted them 30 miles down the road to the Flamingo campsite. I had reserved three nights there with two left to go as I write this. I set up camp and headed over to the marina to see if I could find any manatees. I saw another dark morph Short-Tailed Hawk right over my campsite, and a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers decided my specific campsite was the perfect place to hang out all morning. I meandered around the marina for awhile and looked over the water behind the visitor’s center, finding my first Wilson’s Plover, a Semipalmated Plover, lots of Dowitchers (Long-Billed I’m pretty sure), some Spotted Sandpipers, and Willets. Finally I saw someone walking around with a scope hitched over his shoulder and couldn’t resist the temptation to ask whether he’d seen any Flamingos. He went off on a tangent about how rare they were in Flamingo and I’m fairly sure I destroyed any credibility with that very first question. We got to talking and it turns out he studied manatees in grad school and led nature tours for the majority of his career. He was down in Flamingo for a few days birding, and helpfully showed me my first baby manatee and my first crocodile. We scoped the mudflats behind the visitor’s center, adding Caspian and Royal Terns to my Flamingo list, along with my 2nd and 3rd “Great White” Heron, a Reddish Egret, and some other shorebirds. He was astonished to hear that I’d seen a Wilson’s Plover and said that he hadn’t seen them in years, so we went back to re-find it, which we did with ease much to his delight. After changing into more mosquito-proof clothing, I went to Eco Pond to try again for Lesser Nighthawks. I saw two nighthawks way out over the trees on the horizon and watched them for quite some time, but I have absolutely no way of knowing whether they were Lesser or Common. If I run into my new friend Woody again, I’ll ask him whether there is any possibility that they could be Common. I slept last night without a rain fly on my tent, looking up at the Milky Way through the mesh and listening to the sounds of other campers. There have been very few times on this trip when I have wished for a companion, but last night was definitely one of those times as I listened to the laughter of a father-son trio next door and creeped myself out in the primitive darkness of the Flamingo campground. This morning as I returned for a second go-round with Snake Bight, I flushed two goatsuckers from the road in the pre-dawn gloom. I didn’t get very good looks at either of them, but can only assume they were either Chucks or Whip-poor-wills. Not good enough to count, unfortunately. I stayed by the trail head of Snake Bight for about an hour, not wanting to wander too far into the creepy darkness of the mangrove swamp. Right when I was getting ready to leave, I heard my second WHOOSH of the trip, followed by a scuffle of breaking branches and panicked honking. I walked over to the road to see a huge adult female Peregrine with a dead Snowy Egret, the breast muscles already exposed. She must have caught it no more than 10 feet away in some dense vegetation, but as soon as she saw me she took off, leaving the egret behind. I waited in the bushes for a solid half hour, and she circled a few times but did not come back. Feeling the pull of my electronic devices, I left the park and got a real breakfast (I’m so sick of canned food and PB&J I might die) and checked my phone. I’m about to head back into the park after I get my oil changed, hopefully to see if I can check in with Woody and scope out the marina again. I am on the waiting list for a guided canoe trip tomorrow, so we’ll see if that pans out. I’m getting antsy to get home, especially with all of these new graduate school obligations popping up, but I’m trying to make myself enjoy my time here while I can. I’ll update again soon. Happy birding!