Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Corkscrew Swamp

Black-and-white Warbler
In my penultimate post from Florida, I take you on a journey through the gorgeous Corkscrew Swamp south of Ft. Myers. 

As with everything on this Florida trip, my time was limited.  This is definitely a place I need to visit again.  I kind of knew this would happen so I tried my hardest to observe as much as I could.  And at my best, I only scratched the surface. 

There's a beautiful boardwalk that is surrounded by epic vegetation.  The further one gets into the swamp; the more there is to see.  For wildlife aficionados, this is well worth the hefty 12 dollar fee(covers two days).  For Audubon members, it's only 6 dollars. 

Great Egret in breeding plumage
I knew the birds calling but I didn't count them in my records as I wasn't able to get any observations of them. Plus several would have been life birds for me. My rule is that I have to get a decent observation of the life bird before I can count them....even if I know their calls. I do make notations in my logs that I did hear the birds. Several that sneaked(snuck) past me visually were the Carolina Wrens, Painted and Indigo Buntings and many many more. So I did the best I could.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Sometimes there was "bird overload".  Or too many birds flying around me. I couldn't get my eyes on them quick enough before they flew off.  There were rumors of birds seen in the park.  There were records of birds seen in the park.  But the question was, "Could I find them?" 

I did hit my targets and then some.  Plus I really had great observations of nesting Anhingas, Red-shouldered Hawks, Barred Owls, Warblers and a Purple Gallinule.

It was incredibly overwhelming.  I had the biggest adrenaline rush that day as I was able to watch roosting Wood Storks from a scope on the observation tower.  

Red-shouldered Hawk
And then, there was a Purple Gallinule!  I hadn't seen one of these colorful numbers since my trip to Panama!  My friend Sydney was great at spotting the birds.  She pointed this beauty out to me from the boardwalk as we watched it search for food from the still water. 

Juvenile Purple Gallinule
And probably the greatest gift of the day was an observation of this parent Barred Owl preening its feathers on an open branch. 
Barred Owl
I sat by the feeders eagerly awaiting the Painted Buntings at the Audubon center while my friend Sydney crashed on their couch.  They never did show up, but it was okay. We had an incredible day out in the field that I won't forget anytime soon.  If you are interested in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp, click here.
Next week, we explore Bunche Beach.  Until next time.... 
I'm linking today with Wild Bird Wednesday where I'm constantly discovering new birds around our world!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Our Inner Universe

They believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere.  Like some humans of the past and present, they worshiped a deity. And they followed a man by the name 'Koresh' (or 'shepherd' in Hebrew). 

Koresh was the chosen one and had a godly vision. After his dream, he went forth and created his utopian city of "New Jerusalem". His real name was Dr. Cyrus Teed and led this group of 200 colonists to settle along the Estero River in Florida. And there they prospered for many years until his death in 1908. 

The Koreshan believed that their God was biune, or one that was both male and female. This belief led to the equality of men and women in their settlement. To the outside world, this was scandalous. Women should not think.  Women should be wives, cook and raise children. Therefore, the town leaders would not speak to the female leaders of their community.  A designated man became the "voice" of the Koreshan when dealing with business matters. The Koreshans built and operated a printing facility, boat works, cement works, sawmill, bakery, store and hostelry. They were also farmers selling some of the best vegetables and fruits to the outside community.  

But after Koresh's death, the membership began to decline and by 1961, the 4 remaining members deeded the property to Florida. Today it is a safe haven for many Gopher Turtles.  This endangered turtle is listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss and the human need to eat them or keep them as pets. 

Snap back to the present and here is what I had observed about the Koreshan Historic State Site. There are campsites, kayaking opportunities down the beautiful Esteros river, picnic areas, and wonderful historical and wildlife opportunities.  Most of all, the volunteers who work at this park are very kind and helpful. 

Humanity is a curious one.  We may judge this group as quirky or strange.  Some may have even called it a cult. I wonder if we took a closer look at our own inner worlds, how many people would judge us as strange?  Or perhaps even dismiss our beliefs as nonsense?  I have come to the conclusion that in this world there is no right or wrong.  There just is.  And somehow I have to learn how to navigate through it all. I kinda like it:)  

This is what I remember (in case I ever lose my marbles down the road:)

  1. It was a beautiful day outside with my friend.  
  2. I'm glad these Gopher Turtles have a place to live where they will be protected from the ever expanding human population. We observed several on this day around the park.  
  3. This park demonstrated a peaceful coexistence between humans, history and the wildlife.  
  4. And most importantly, I'll remember that lovely picnic with my friend Sydney under the shady tropical trees. 

And through it all, the mother and grandmother of all the Gopher Tortoises at this park sat in her burrow.  Her stories, like those of the Koreshan, will be shared for future generations to come. 

PS.  Dogs are loved here.  They had water bowls out on the porches for them. If you are dog aficionados looking for a place that smiles instead of frowns at your pooches then this State Park is the place. It was remarkable how many people stopped to talk. Living in Arizona, I forget how nice the outside world can be.  In Tucson, we lock our doors, don't say "hi" to people unless we know them, etc.  So it was refreshing to meet so many happy people again out on the trails.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Dog's Day Out

Florida is home to some of the best beaches in North America.  Believe it or not, I did take a day off from birding to enjoy some of the Spring Break atmosphere.  However we didn't go to the packed coastlines where most tourists went. Instead, we headed out to "Dog Beach".  Not only was it a paradise for dogs....but for dog owners as well.
We headed out near to Lover's Keep State Park where there was a small sign declaring a "Dog Beach" somewhere behind the mangroves.  The beach was beautiful and everyone was having fun.  Annie, Sydney's friend above, came along with us for the ride on that day and had a blast catching the ball with the other dogs. 

I couldn't get over how everyone got along, but I also enjoyed seeing people with their furry friends all together.  Everyone really loved interacting with the pooches.  I couldn't tell you what kind of dogs they were; only that they came in all shapes and colors.  

These happy dogs jumped and played around together.  While I am a cat person, I do love dogs as well.  I imagined my cats on this beach horrified and terrorized by all the dogs....and had a good laugh.  Their idea of fun is getting together on the bed with me and sleeping:)

Dogs need and crave attention and they love their human friends very much.  The bottom picture below just made me smile.  

I took an overall picture of the area so that you all could get a sense of how beautiful and hidden this spot is.  Dogs and humans alike played in the warm turquoise waters. I can see why people are attracted to these areas. 

It didn't matter who had the ball or if the dog was yours or not.....

....because everyone was there to have fun.....together.  And that was pretty special. After Annie had her exercise, she had a good night sleep. 

But eventually I had boardwalks through mangrove forests to explore.  There were still Painted Buntings, Limpkins, Purple Swamphens, Purple Gallinules and loads of other birds to find. My journeys from Florida continue......

Monday, April 7, 2014

Captiva Island

During this journey, we escaped into the mesmerizing turquoise waters of the warm gulf. I had read about this place in so many birder books and it exceeded my expectations. Captiva Island is one of the most desired locations for tourists.  We went on a weekday and left early before everyone woke up in Florida to find a parking spot.  And thanks to great planning on our parts, we had a fantastic trip into the unknown.  

Brown Pelican
My quest on this adventure was to search for the Northern Gannet, Magnificent Frigatebird and Swallowtail Kite. I had a schedule to keep, but I also wanted to do it in a fun way so that my friend Sydney could join along in the birding experience.  

A great place to start your day for breakfast or afternoon lunch

We grabbed breakfast and I ran to the beaches before the thousands of people arrived to chase all the birds away.  A sip of coffee and a quick run to the beach turned out to be a great idea as I was able to find several birds up close.

But we were heading away from Captiva Island to Cayo Costa State Park where we would be secluded and not have to deal with the tourist crowd.  So we brought our cooler of veggies and water along with beach chairs and umbrellas.....

Cayo Costa State Park

And from there I explored the beaches alone away from noisy crowds.  Sydney enjoyed the sun and water while I tracked Ruddy Turnstones. I was able to observe them close from the water while they foraged around vegetation left on the beach.  Several hung out on piers and others were strolling around on the beaches. 

Ruddy Turnstones
I had never seen Sanderlings before but I knew these birds right away when I saw them run on the beach.  They were tiny and spastic little birds.  


It was also here that I found my first US Anhinga!  I had only seen them in the dark rainy forests of Panama a couple years ago. When I saw this bird again, I smiled.  This bird moves like a snake through water or a needle pulling thread.  Cue Sound of Music:)

Laughing Gulls lived up to their names as they made their "laughing" type calls on the beach.  But this time, I was REALLY able to observe them up close.  The last time I had seen that bird was in Guatemala.  And before that it was in the middle of the desert!  Both of those sightings were far far away.  It was here in Florida I could watch them up close as they walked around me. 

Laughing Gull
Of course, any desert rat goes through "green shock" outside of our rocky canyons and cactus covered landscapes of browns and yellows. 

It wasn't my Shire(Wisconsin) nor was it the mystical Central America.  But it was tropical with too many birds all around me. I was in my own country birding and it felt safe. Granted, we had to seriously navigate around the Spring breakers and the Northerners who have had to endure a most painful winter. So in a sense, I'm glad I live in Arizona because I didn't feel the need to tan or soak in the sun all day on the beach......

We sat on the boat to and from Cayo Costa.  I remember wishing that time didn't exist.  Being with my friend and being in Florida around so many new birds made me wish I had a month to spend there. But life does not wait nor does it care what you do with it. So we made the most of it.  

Watching a Double-crested Cormorant tackle a large fish and then swallow it whole was fascinating.  

Double-crested Cormorant gets his meal
The Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins were life mammals for me.  I did take pics but a fin doesn't make an exciting pic:)

But a Horseshoe crab does!  I'm glad I was paying attention to the beach.  I'd hate to step on that one!

Horseshoe Crab
And along the way on my private little walk in paradise, I found the Swallowtail Kites and Magnificent Frigatebirds. 

Swallowtail Kite
As with everything in this life, it all flew by so quickly.  I met an older birder who recently told me while sitting at a hummingbird feeder that he needed to pay more attention to the history and stories of the places he visits.  I knew what he meant.  I could be in Russia, Thailand, Peru, or any place looking at a new and amazing bird..... and not really notice all the other little things around me. I do try.   

Magnificent Frigatebird

So no Northern Gannets.  They will have to wait until next time.  We had a wonderful day at Captiva and Cayo Costa State Park.  Stay tuned for more!  Next week we'll discover a religious sect ruled by women and Gopher Turtles......
For more on our world's birds check out Wild Bird Wednesday!