Bilbo Baggins and Coastal Kayaking

For spring break this year, my family is going on vacation to south Florida. This is an awesome location to bird with the great spots like the Everglades, the Dry Tortugas, J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR, and many others. I have been once before two years ago and absolutely fell in love with the area.
On Wednesday night we arrived in the Miami airport where we drove to the hotel we would be staying the night at. I must say it was a bit of a shock being able to walk outside in short sleeves as a few hours before we were in 32 degree weather.
The next day was a bit of a slow start but it was finally decided that we would spend the day in Bill Baggs Cape Florida SP (sadly not Bilbo Baggins Cape Florida SP despite how much I wish it was). This is a fairly small state park on Key Biscayne. The main reason for going there was that there had been a thick-billed vireo hanging around for the past couple of weeks. There had also been a western spindalis seen but it hadn’t been seen since leading me to believe it was a one-day wonder.
The first spot we stopped at was where the vireo had been seen. There was another birder there who said he had been waiting for the past hour for the vireo which didn’t do much to lift our hopes of seeing the bird. But I needed to try so I waited for a while to see if it would show. Half an hour later we still hadn’t seen it though we had seen a northern parula and the Florida subspecies of prairie warbler.

Blurry Shot of a Prairie Warbler
We decided to move on as we didn’t think that the vireo would show up and we wanted to see some more of the park (we talked to the same birder later who confirmed that the vireo had not made an appearance). We next decided to walk the nature trail that runs through the park. It ended up being a great walk where we saw many cool things. The bird highlights included a handful of prairie warblers, a flock of black-necked stilts, and a single yellow-rumped warblers (I still haven’t quite gotten over the fact that I’m seeing tons of warblers and it’s the middle of March). However, we also saw an iguana and a handful of snakes.

Small Iguana
By the time we had walked the trail, it was getting to the time where we had to head down to Key Largo where we would be spending the next few days.

For the next day, we were planning to go through the Everglades with the tour company Garl’s Coastal Kayaking. This is a tour company that runs kayaking and slogging (hiking in the muddy cypress hammocks, so in other words, awesome) through the Everglades. I was hoping to see some birds along the way too.
It was probably one of the coolest things I have ever done. Garl was very knowledgable about the wildlife (though I did notice he wasn’t quite as knowledgable on some of the passerine species) and knew a lot about the Everglades in general.
We started out by slogging through two of the cypress hammocks the dot the Everglades ecosystem. I was really cool. We ended up seeing ibis, great crested flycatchers, a alligator pair, a brown water snake, and three cottonmouths. It was awesome!

American Alligator Along a Gator Hole

Cottonmouth Getting Ready to Shed
We then moved on the Nine Mile Pond where we kayaked through the mangroves. Just as we were leaving, we saw a swallow-tailed kite flying around the edges of the pond. These are awesome birds and one of my personal favorites. They were also a species I was hoping for on this trip. The mangroves were spectacular and we saw many awesome species such as a great white heron (a bird I have wanted to see for a while), many gators (some of them quite close), a beautiful American crocodile, green herons, little blue herons, tricolored herons, black-crowned night-herons, and a clapper rail calling in the reeds.

American Crocodile

Great White Heron

Juvenile Brown Pelican
Next we headed down to Flamingo for a bathroom break. We were planning to do some saltwater kayaking there but the wind was to strong. As a backup plan, we decided to walk around the Flamingo Eco Pond and then walk through some of the coastal prairie in the Everglades. At the Eco pond, we were greeted by a large flock of stilts along with an avocet and a pair of greater yellowlegs. We then turned off the trail and headed into some of the coastal prairie. It was beautiful walking through the prairie grasses. It kind of looked like something from Lord of the Rings or some other fantasy book. It was also very cool because when we turned around, a pair of barred owls began to call in the distance. By the time we had returned to Flamingo, the wind had died down so we decided to try kayaking out into the Snake Bight area. As we left the marina, we started to see many herons, osprey, night-herons, a black-bellied plover, and an American white pelican. The paddling was hard though so we didn’t have much time to stop and look around us. As we go t further out into the channel, we started to see huge flocks of black skimmers flying to their roosts for the night. Paddling on, we turned a corner around the mangroves and got our first good look at Snake Bight. The main thing I was looking for were reddish egrets. However, it was clear that there were no reddish egrets out in the Bight and that the winds were keeping the birds in more sheltered spots. So, we turned around and watched the sun go down behind the mangroves as skimmers coasted by and a pair of peregrines jetted past. As we headed back we saw two lemon sharks swimming along which was quite cool.
The last thing planned for the day was a night walk along Anhinga Trail. Apparently the alligators are quite active and you can see them moving around a lot more then in the day time. Of course, I was looking for nocturnal bird too (once a birder, always a birder). However, I was not prepare for the sheer awesomeness of what was to come. Using a flashlight to look for eye shine, you could see huge numbers of alligators moving around and looking for food. And I mean huge numbers. At one point near the end of the trail, a huge group of maybe three dozen alligators had rounded up a school of fish against the shore of a pond and were preceding to pick them off one by one. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Apparently, the gators working in teams like this to round up fish is a fairly recent adaption to man made ponds which makes it cool to think that I saw a newly developed behavior. Bird wise we heard an eastern schreech-owl and a lesser nighthawk (!) calling both of which were quite cool.
So if you’re ever in south Florida, a completely recommend that you do a tour with Garl’s Coastal Kayaking. I recommend it if you are a birder and I recommend it evermore if you are interested in herps.

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4 Responses to Bilbo Baggins and Coastal Kayaking

  1. Phil Lanoue says:

    Always love seeing the alligators!

  2. weareallkosh says:

    Did you see the “gallinippers” while you were there?

  3. Pingback: Yearly Roundup 2013 | PA Birding

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