2015 FLORIDA TRIP
Great birds, herps, and videos

Bat's Bytes           2015 Florida Trip        Lists:  Birds, Mammals, Herps, and Butterflies          BirdsongID.com

National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, etc (below)                                   Day by Day Summary

TRIP SUMMARY

We traveled 6,083 miles through 10 states for almost 6 weeks on a spectacular trip!  We went to 6 National Parks, 3 National Wildlife Refuges, 2 National Recreation Areas, 1 National Forest, 1 National Preserve, 18 state parks, 4 county parks, and 1 research station.  We camped on 31 nights, 26 at public campgrounds.  We were in Florida for 26 nights, with 3 nights in the Merritt Island region, 5 nights in the Keys, 3 nights in the Everglades/ Big Cypress region, 7 nights along the Gulf coast, and 6 nights in the central region.    We took 2 boat trips:  one to the protected coral reef in Key Largo and one to the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West.   Traveling to Florida, we camped in 3 states (Delaware, S. Carolina, and N. Carolina) and stopped at the Okefenokee NWR in Georgia for a couple of nights.  We returned in 9 days, enjoying the Smoky Mountains  in N. Carolina, the Shanendoahs in Virginia, and Hickory Run State Park in Pennsylvania.

Never having birded Florida before, we had many targeted bird species and a few targeted reptiles.   We were looking for Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Limpkin, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Wilsons and Snowy Plovers, Smooth-billed Ani, and several more birds, as well as alligators and crocodiles. We missed the Ani and Antillean Nighthawk, cottonmouth and introduced pythons, but had good looks at all other targets and decent photos of some. 

Of the 208 bird species that we saw, 20 were lifers for Trudy and 16 for Drew.  The most notable was the Snail Kite.  We drove the Tamiami Trail looking for the best place to watch for the Snail Kite while having lunch.  Drew picked the spot, and didnt even get the emergency brake on when we saw the Kite.  What a gorgeous sight!  We were thrilled to watch the Kite slowly glide over the habitat looking for snails a bit of a distance away, but easily seen with binocs.  Video.

The Wilsons Plover was much more difficult to find.  We looked everywhere we went from Merritt Island down to the Keys and back up the Gulf coast and we finally found two on May 14 at the end of a 3.5 mile long hike in hot temperatures at Stump Path Beach SP.  We did not see any nesting evidence, but it may have been too early.  The ghost crabs and gopher tortoises along the way added to the fun.

One of our favorite spots this trip was the Dry Tortugas, where we saw 3 lifers - Masked Booby, Brown Noddy, and Sooty Tern along with the Magnificent Frigatebird (which we had seen all along the Keys), and many land migrants inside the fort.  What a special place!  The Noddys and Terns were flying over the vegetation outside the fort where they were nesting.  The Booby was only seen from the ferry.  Inside the fort was a fall-out of thrushes Gray-cheeked, Swainsons, Veery, and Wood Thrush.  And there were warblers, Dicksissel, Common Nighthawks, Cattle Egrets, Merlins, and more. 

Two of the 12 mammal species were lifers manatees and Key deer, though the Key deer are actually a sub species of WT deer.  And we had a river otter splashing through the tropical hardwoods on the Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, Shark Valley, in the Everglades. 

Of the 24 herp species, 9 were lifers. The most notable was the beautiful, big E. diamondback rattlesnake as we left the Long Pine Key campground in the Everglades.  Video.  We saw alligators in almost every fresh water body that we encountered, but only saw one crocodile - at Flamingo, in the Everglades.   We saw gopher tortoises in many places with dry sandy uplands, including Marco Island, where Burrowing Owls use their burrows. 

Of the 23 butterfly species, the most common were Zebra, Gulf Fritillary, and Queen.  We also saw 5 other insect species, and 124 plants species (most in bloom).  The plants were amazing, from palms to mangroves to scrubland.

In addition to those mentioned above, several experiences stand out:

  Prairie Warbler alarm clock at Jones Lake State Park in NC got us up early so we could enjoy the beauty and song of the Yellow-throated Warblers at the campground.

  Great looks at the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Okefenokee NWR at dawn, too early for photos.  Habitat looks like Dr. Seuzz truffela trees in The Lorax.

  Bachman Sparrows in Red-cockaded habitat at Okefenokee and elsewhere in full song, but only occasionally visible.

  Our first alligators, at Okefenokee:  four 1-yr olds, one 4-yr old, and 2 large adults.

  Swallow-tailed Kite flying within 20 feet as we watched from the top of the tower at Okefenokee.

  Great-crested Flycatchers and White-eyed Vireos amazingly abundant everywhere.  American Robins and Canada Geese absent.

  Anoles, starting at Okefenokee and then throughout Florida - many more brown than green.  At Fakahatchee Strand Preserve SP, 28 brown anoles to 1 green anole on a boardwalk trail.  At Myakka River SP, a green anole started a fight with a brown anole on his way down a tree trunk, and then turned brown before reaching the ground.

  Broad-headed Skink inside the screened porch of the utility building at Stephen Foster SP.

  A submarine refueling across the channel from our campground at Jetty Park on Cape Canaveral.

  Cheap gas.

  Our first Florida Scrub Jays at Merritt Island.  A wonderful day with manatees, a gopher tortoise, Reddish Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills.

  Loggerhead Shrike in the suburbs west of Miami.

  A Magnificent Frigatebird greeted us as we crossed the bridge to the Florida Keys.

  Black-whiskered Vireo singing along Rte 905 on Key Largo.

  Wonderful wake up calls from the Gray Kingbirds at our campground in Key Largo.  Also seen throughout the Keys.

  Healthy coral in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef SP includes specimens of 1000+ yr-old brain coral and elk horn coral.

  Mangrove Cuckoos calling at dawn at Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Site and a family seen at John Pennekamp later in the day.

  Anhinga and a nesting Green Heron at Blue Hole on Big Pine Key. (We missed a gator eating an Anhinga the day before.)

  White-crowned Pigeon and Red Junglefowl meandering through streets and homes at Key West.

  Barred Owl at dawn in parking lot trees at Anhinga Trail, Everglades.  Wonderful calls heard on many nights of trip.

  Black Vultures attacked weather stripping on car in parking lot at Anhinga Trail.

  Swallow-tailed Kites all day at Everglades.

  Red-shouldered Hawks everywhere, but especially at the Shark Valley in the Everglades, where juveniles were very vocal while searching for food.

  Habitat at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve SP looks like a savannah.

  A kettle of Magnificent Frigatebirds as we approached Marco Island.

  Burrowing Owls in vacant lots on Marco Island.

  3 sharks at the edge of shallow water at Bunche Beach Preserve while we searched for and did not find Wilsons Plover.

  Fun drive with Elsie to FL Scrub Jay SP and Lake June-in-Winter.  Saw 1 Scrub Jay and Sandhill Cranes.

  Crested Caracara on prey near Archbold Biological Research Station.  Green buildings conserve water and have minimal ecological impact on Scrub Jay habitat.

  Land that is flatter and sandier than Long Island.

  Spectacular sunset views of Snowy Plover and Brown Pelican at Siesta Beach.

  Black-necked Stilt chasing alongside an alligator at Myakka River SP - ? food kicked up from mud?.

  Limpkin vocalizing in tree at Sarasota Celery Fields.

  Walt's Fish Market - an instant favorite.

  Wild Short-tailed-Hawk Chase at Oscar Scherer SP (ebird report of nest with young ended up being Bald Eagles) produced a beautiful scene of Yellow-crowned Night-heron in the stream, Bobwhite singing from a tree in the field, 2 Pileated Woodpeckers in the campground, and Common Nighthawks flying overhead.

  Brown Pelicans, Loggershrike Shrike and and Osprey at Fort de Soto NP.

  Least Bittern and King Rail at Crew Lake County Park.

  Absolutely spectacular views at Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountains at 6643 ft elevation.  Pinxter flowers in bloom on an 8 turkey day.

  Vesper Sparrow at Big Meadow, Shenandoah NP

  A 2 porcupine day at Hickory Run SP, PA

SUMMARY by DAY

 
DAY DATE STOPS LOCATION, PM COMMENTS Bird of the Day Herp/Mammal of the Day
1 17-Apr Drew's - left fruit home Lums Pond SP, DE left: 6:00 pm finally on our way; NJ,DE; peepers, F. toad night Red-shouldered Hawk Spring Peeper, American Toad
2 18-Apr rest stops Jones Lake SP, NC mostly driving, but had some birds and butts at rest stops Summer Tanager Southern Cricket Frog, Fowler's Toad
3 19-Apr morning at Jones Lake, rain during drive> heavy thunderstorms, tornado warnings Manning, SC - Days Inn to get out of storm great herps and wonderful dawn song; much needed sleep Yellow-throated W, Praiirie W-alarm clock Southern Cricket Frog, Southern Leopard Frog
4 20-Apr travel to Okefenokee NWR Trader's Hill CG near Okefenokee GA Carolina Chickadee nest hole at rest stop, amazing RCWO habitat; CONI at sunset Bachman's Sparrow   
5 21-Apr Okefenokee NWR: eastern drive and boardwalk, then drive around to west side Steven Foster SP inside Okefenokee GA Red-cockaded WPs: good looks no pix; boardwalk super: in-your-face Swallowtail Kite, 1st gators, eye level Cape May Red-cockded WP, Swallowtail Kite, Bachman's Sparrow Alligator: 4 1-yr olds, 1 4-yr old, 2 large adults, green anole, Broadhead Skink-bathroom
6 22-Apr Okefenokee NWR: western section;  then travel to Cape Canaveral region Jetty Park CG, Port Canaveral FL OKE: more gators + Anhinga + Protho along canal; JP CG: submarine opp Barred Owl ornate chorus frog-Oke
7 23-Apr Merritt Island: Rte 3, Black Pt. Wildlife Drive, Bairs Cove, Bio Lab Rd Cocoa Beach FL (no campgrd) recorded alligator call, wonderful waders, 62 spec, 29 trip birds, 2 nests-GRHE, COGR Florida Scrub Jay, Reddish Egret manatee courtship (6-8); Florida gopher tortoise
8 24-Apr Merritt Island: National Seashore, Bio Lab Rd, brief Black Pt. Drive Jetty Park CG, Port Canaveral National Seashore-many Barn Sw-north ; Bio Lab Rd - great before traffic - good Roseate Spoonbills in morning light Roseate Spoonbill  
9 25-Apr travel towards the Keys Penny & Larry Thompson CG Thompson-county park-good habitat for suburbs,mangroves;air cond.rec.rm,wifi Sandhill Crane, Common Nighthawk brown anole on van tire
10 26-Apr drive residential rds near Thompson CG-LOSH, travel to the Keys, Card Sound Road, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Captain Jax, Key Largo FL surprise Loggerhead Shrike on rooftop of residence near Thompson CG, Magnif. Frigatebird as crossed bridge to Keys Loggerhead Shrike, Black-whskered Vireo FL box turtle,giant centipede
11 27-Apr John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: glass bottom boat & trail near parking, Marathon Airport Captain Jax, Key Largo FL reef healthy: good fish, brain coral aged 1,000s yrs, elk orn coral; Mangrove Cuckoo family along trail; no Antellian NH Mangrove Cuckoo barracuda
12 28-Apr Deer Key, Blue Hole, No name Key, Key West, Cocoa Chico Beach, beach at Bahia Honda Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key, FL Key Deer small (6), heavy afternoon rain; beaches had shorebirds, substantial rack; Blue Hole at night; heard Limpkin, no Antill.NH Limpkin, White-crowned Pigeon ghost crab
13 29-Apr heavy rains all day - no trip to Tortugas; Fisherman's Campground had wfi- catch up on email Fisherman's Campground rain stopped briefly in evening - Royal Terns from campground.  Key Deer at campgrounds. Royal Tern Key Deer
14 30-Apr Dry Tortugas:  all day trip 2.5 hrs 1 way, round trip 140 miles Fisherman's Campground wonderful nesting birds:  Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy; also migration fallout; CAEG flock stays on Tortugas eventually dies-lack nutrients for next flight Sooty Tern  
15 1-May Deer Key, Blue Hole, Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological SP, travel to Everglades Long Pine Key CG, Everglades NP 1.5 hr tour of mine used for RR Ranger Bob-fossilized reef> calcified rock, trees: black ironwood, W.Indian Mahogany, buttonwood, wild tamarind Green Heron Key Deer, Fl cooter, gator
16 2-May Long Pine Key CG, Anhinga Trail, near Mohagony Hammock, Paurotis Pond, West Lake, Flamingo Midway Campground, Big Cypress National Preserve Pig Frogs and BD started the day; STKI from morning till night, nesting WOST and ROSP, croc at Flamingo 12 Swallow-tails Kites! Am. Crocodile, E. Diamondback Rattlesnake
17 3-May Shark Valley, Tamiami Trail drive & stop thatched gazebo, Midway CG Midway Campground, Big Cypress National Preserve River Otter splashing under boardwalk below tropical forest vegetation; exotic snails too large for SNKI at 1st now adaptng, OK for LIMP Snail Kite, Limpkin River Otter
18 4-May Fakahatchee Strand Preserve SP - dirt road drive (Rte.___) & boardwalk (Tamiami Tr.) KOA s of Naples FL Fakahatchee drive mixed habitats-grasses w.isolated palms>like savannah; brdwlk hammock w,cypress & mangrove w.red maple-28 brown anole:1 green on walk back Bald Eagle green anole, gators
19 5-May Rookery Preserve Shell Island Rd, Tigertail Beach CP, Marco Island, Koreshan State Historic Site Koreshan State Historic Site both young and adult Little Blue Herons; Burrowing Owls in vacant lots-sites roped off w.wooden perches, young peeking out of burrows, use gopher tortoise burrows. Burrowing Owl FL Gopher Tortoise, Southern Toad
20 6-May Koreshan, Litle Estero Lagoon, Bunche Beach, Ding Darling NWR Koreshan State Historic Site 3 sharks beyond shallow water-excitement when 2 swerved into shallow water for prey; 1st oystercatcher nearby Reddish Egret sharks
21 7-May Lake Okeechobee: Harney Pond Recreation Area & Canal (NW); Scrub Jay SP & Lake June-in-Winter Elsie's many waders at Okeechobee; Scrub Jay SP late in day - 1 Jay seen BlackSkimmer Gopher Tortoise, gators
22 8-May Archbold Biological Research Station, drive through Lake Placid area  Elsie's scrub habitat lost> Florida Scrub Jay threatened; long term studies>ecology understood; 'green':bldgs, water conserv; CRCA on prey Crested Caracara  
23 9-May Highland Hammock SP - trail, scouted roads near Walk-in-water Road, Frostproof for STHA (book) Highland Hammock SP, FL German pancakes; 1000+ year old oaks in hammock, broke roof of van in dark (mosquitos) Carolina Wren poked head into van while Drew napped Tree frogs - 2 types
24 10-May Walk-in-water Road, Frostproof and vicinity Highland Hammock SP, FL contacted Classic RV Repair (ad) re: van roof  Sandhill Crane Gopher Tortoise
25 11-May walked Highland Hammock Road-dawn, Walk-in-water Road in AM, then van, then sleep Highland Hammock SP, FL HH:good Pileated calls; WW:fewer vulture kettles; Anhinga in 1 kettle; van roof fixed, T sick-slept 15 hrs Wood Stork 2 pigs
26 12-May Myakka River State Park Myakka River SP large flocks:  50+ BV on prey in distance, 40+ Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in lagoon in rain; family of 5 Limpkins; gators in River Black-bellied Whistling Ducks! (dozons), Limpkin WT deer, gators (3+)
27 13-May Myakka River State Park, Walt's Fish Market, Siesta Beach SP Day's Inn dawn at N end of Myakka Lake- Spoonbills and BN stilt chasing alongside an alligator in shallow mud-stirred up food?; sunset at Siesta Beach beautiful with BR pelicans, Bl Skimmers, and a peeping Snowy Plover Snowy Plover after sunset, BRPE at sunset WT deer, gator
28 14-May Stump Path Beach State Park, Walt's Fish Market Day's Inn 3 hour walk, ~3.5 miles: good views of Wilson's Plover and gopher tortoise; quick look at Black Racer; fiddler & ghost crabs Wilson's Plover  Black Racer, Gopher Tortoise
29 15-May Sarasota Celery Field, Fruitville Rd >NE Myakka River bridge,Oscar Scherer SP Myakka River SP CF:Limpkin in tree-vocalizations recorded; MR:good roost tree(CRCA,OS); No STHA; Oscar Scherer-Bobwhite sang fr tree, Yellow-crowned watched 2 canoes pass; fight: brown anole vs. green-Drew video Yellow-crowned Night-heron anole fight; 3 possum night
30 16-May Myakka River hawk watch, auto parts-wipers, Fort de Soto NP, St. Petersburg for parakeets, Crew Lake County Park Slver Springs SP in Ocala National Forest, FL Fort deSoto too crowded, but easy to see birds-BRPE,OSnest,Shrike; Crews Lake nice-Least Bittern&King Rail calling; windshield wipers replaced Least Bittern anoles
31 17-May Silver Springs SP, FL Ocala National Forest; Alexamder Springs Recr. Area, travel Reed Binghaam SP, GA dawn chorus- rich Cardinal and Mockingbird songs; watched for Short-tailed Hawk in Alexander Spr. Area-brief look;  skink-bright blue tail Short-tailed Hawk, Red-headed Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal 5-lined skink
32 18-May Reed Bingham SP, GA CG and dam Cornelia, GA 1st CanGoose in weeks! Heavy rains, many accdents, heavy traffic e of Atlanta Belted Kingfisher  
33 19-May travel, Great Smokey Mountains, Cherokee- new mocassins Smokemount, Great Smokey Mts NP, NC beautiful streams, many E.Tiger Swtl, great birds: LOWA, ACFL, CHSW in chimney at visitors center Field Sparrow, Chimney Swifts elk
34 20-May Clingman's Dome, overlooks along Blue Ridge Parkway Mount Pisgah, Blue Ridge Pkwy, NC 8 Turkey Day, Clingman's Dome-330 above pkg 6643 ft elevation; pinxter flower in bloom Least Flycatcher, E. Screech-owl: heard tremelo as leaving site at dawn elk
35 21-May Blue Ridge Pkwy to Asheville NC > highways > Skyline Drive, Shenandoah NP, Loft Mt. Loft Mt, Shenandoah NP, VA very heavy rains, dense fog in mountains; black locust in full bloom Saw-whet Owl heard during night W.T. deer in fog
36 22-May Skyline Drive continued from Loft Mountain to Big Meadow Big Meadow, Shenandoah NP, VA cold night 40F; mile-a-minute at Loft Mt.; recorded House Wren and Scarlet Tanager Scarlet Tanager wild geranium, rock crouchng knee biter
37 23-May Big Meadow, Skyline Drive Carlisle, PA hawthorne in bloom, fewer pinxter flowers than at Smokeys, squawroot Vesper Sparrow deer plentiful, finally gr. Squirrels, no bear
38 24-May drive, Hickory Run SP in PA, Boulder Road (dirt) Hckory Run PA rich woodland diversity-multiple warblers Black-throated Blue Warbler Painted Trillium
39 25-May Boulder Road (dirt) + Hckory Run PA 13 species of warblers, many Canadas Canada Warbler, Scarlet Tanager Star Flower
40 26-May Boulder Road (dirt), drive home 2 porcupine day! Only 1 Canada song (earlier than prev day) Scarlet Tanager, Sharp-shinned Hawk Porcupines

Parks and Facilities Visited during this trip

2015 FLORIDA TRIP Public campgrounds: http://www.uscampgrounds.info/
6 National Parks, 3 National Wildlife Refuges, 2 National Recreation Areas, 1 National Forest, 1 National Preserve
18 State Parks, 4 County Parks, 1 Research Station
National Parks (6) National Forest (1) National Recreation Areas (2)
Dry Tortugas NP, FL Ocala National Forest Lake Okeechobee: Harney Pond RA & Canal
Everglades NP, FL Alexander Springs Recr. Area
Fort de Soto NP, FL
Great Smokey Mountains NP, NC National Wildlife Refuges (3) National Preserves (1)
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Okefenokee NWR, GA Big Cypress National Preserve
Shenandoah NP, VA Merritt Island NWR, FL
National Key Deer NWR, FL

State Parks (18) County Parks (4) Research Station (1)
Lums Pond SP, DE Penny&Larry Thompson CG,FL  Archbold Biological Research Station
Jones Lake SP, NC Tigertail Beach CP, FL
Steven Foster SP, GA Sarasota Celery Field, FL
Reed Bingham SP, GA Crew Lake County Park, FL
Hickory Run SP, PA
   Florida:
Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Site 
John Pennekamp Coral Reef SP
Bahia Honda SP
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological SP
Koreshan State Historic Site
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve SP
Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area
Highland Hammock SP non-public CGs
Myakka River SP Trader's Hill CG, GA near Okefenokee
Oscar Scherer SP Jetty Park CG, Port Canaveral FL
Siesta Beach SP Captain Jax, Key Largo FL
Stump Path Beach SP Fisherman's Campground(wifi), BigPineKey, FL
Silver Springs SP KOA s of Naples FL