Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Real Florida

After I chased down the Red-headed Woodpecker in the on Thursday morning I had to work, but in the evening, I went birding in Possum Branch.  I was going to go to Honeymoon Island, but I only had an hour of sunlight left.  However, the day did end on a good note.  I finally found one of the two sparrows that have been hanging out with the Green-tailed Towhee, the Swamp Sparrow.  The last one on my to-bird list is the Clay-colored.  I also saw the Killdeer that seems to have taken up residence, nesting in the grass, and out in the swamp, a Long-billed Dowitcher.  Not a bad evening of birding.  Even the Red-winged Blackbirds were kind of quiet.

These types of places are what the Florida Board of Tourism refer to as The Real Florida. Now, I do love the theme parks and love a day at Epcott, but too many Florida tourists only see that part of Florida, and miss out on the nature preserves and wildlife areas.

One of them being Orlando Wetlands Park.  It is a massive Wildlife Sanctuary just east of Orlando in Christmas, Florida.  And I pretty much had the entire park to myself as I went out on the trail in search of the Vermillion Flycatcher.  And the only sounds I heard for the next 4 hours, were those of birds, and, I think frogs.  It was very cool.

 Of course, I did not follow directions or the map very well and I took the wrong path and the very long route to the location of the bird.  In the ensuing two hours I was lost, found, lost again.  So, here I am, lost in an empty park, not another human in sight, and no clue as to where on the map I am.  And just as in Young Frankenstein, when Igor says to the good doctor, as they are digging up a corpse, "Could be worse, could be raining," it started to rain.  Big, heavy drops.  I was getting wetter and wetter.  I couldn't remember whether the Mythbusters had said you stay dryer running or walking.  I walked, stopped, looked at some birds, tried to keep my camera dry, and got a pretty good soaking.

I found a shelter eventually, and waited until the rain slackened a bit.  I discovered I was about 2 miles out of my way from one of the few maps in the park.  I continued on, hoping I was going the right way, but doubtful, and it rained again.  Another mile later, under another shelter was a guy waiting out the rain, having gone out on bicycle.  So there were other humans left on the planet.  He was lost too.  But together we studied the map and eventually I figured out where we were, and it was not too far from where I was headed.  We headed off in opposite directions and about a half hour later, as the sun came out and I started to dry off, I found the location of the Flycatcher.  I also found a Purple Gallinule as I was searching for the elusive Flycatcher

There were actually two of the Vermillion Flycatchers and after a lot of scanning through my binoculars,  I was able to spot them across the swamp doing their little flycatcher thing.  I got out my scope and actually got some good looks at them, but they were too far for my SLR lens and wouldn't sit still long enough for me to get a photo through my scope.  I stayed about half an hour and saw an Eastern Phoebe, along with Turkey and Black Vultures and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, to name just a few.

So after 2 hours of walking and about 20 other species of birds, I got the bird I had come for. I  I think I will return next week for more species and hopefully a good picture of the Vermillion.  As I made my way to the parking lot, I picked up a Caspian Tern and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  I even ran into a group of birders coming into the park.  I was heading out as the thunder started rumbling.  I suspect the birders I left behind got even more soaked than I did.

The Whistling Duck was my favourite of the day, as I remember seeing a crazy looking hybrid duck in Niagara Falls that kind of looked like one.   I was also quite proud of myself for identifying most of the birds on my own, including a Blue-winged Teal I saw right near the end of my 4 hour walk.

The day netted 29 species in total, including 4 Year and Lifers, giving me a grand total of 220 Big Year Birds, and 10 for the Month of March.

Oh, and aside from birds there were the alligators.  And another first for me, actually seeing an alligator walking on land.  Very cool, and a little scary, as it was right behind me, taking a walk with a Limpkin.  I'd love to see the hybrid beast that comes from that mixed marriage.


  1. Whoa!! There's a gator in the road! (Great photo.)

    Madison, Florida (located in the north-central part of the state) is also a great birding location. Madison County is the home of two rivers, numerous lakes and swamps, and cool, natural springs for all to enjoy.

    Madison has a low population density and virtually no industrial development. Home to numerous bird species, the Lidell Brothers Nature Center is "ground central" for birders. The center is located on the campus of NFCC and is open to all visitors.

  2. Thanks Rick. I hope I can get a day to get up there. It might be a long shot this month, as my birding time is limited and I am already scheduled to go to The Dry Tortugas and Merritt Island. But I am back in June and October, so there are still opportunities to pick up some good birds there later in the year