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Monday, March 27, 2006

Everglades...glades that go on, forever!

Waking up before sunrise on Friday morning, I had a choice to make—head to Miami to look for exotic Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Spot-breasted Orioles, which I’ve never seen, or head out to Everglades National Park, where I had less chance of seeing anything new. I took off my bird listing hat for a few hours, put on my conservationist hat, and headed out to the Everglades.

Just outside the park, I stopped to look for a Shiny Cowbird that was reported last week. No dice on the cowbird, though I did see a six foot long iguana sitting in a tree, and on a tip I drove down to the end of the road to look for Limpkin. No Limpkin at the end of the road, but as I was driving back, I saw a couple unusual birds on the power line. They flew down and landed near the car, hopped down onto the road, and started walking away. They were two Common Mynas—birds introduced to Florida and first noted there in 1983, but which don’t “count” for birdwatchers because nobody has done the study to determine exactly how well they are established.

As I pulled away from the mynas, a large bird flew up into a tree along the canal—finally, a Limpkin! I’ve seen these large brown wading birds in Central America, but this was the first one I’ve seen in North America—so it was a first for my ABA (American Birding Association) list.

Inside the park, I drove the 30 plus miles down to Flamingo, hiked a few trails, and scanned the trees around the ponds for White-crowned Pigeons. No dice on the pigeons, but did see lots of Wood Storks. At one point, I was staring into the eye of a Wood Stork only 50 feet from the car, when I realized that I have usually seen these birds in flight. This was the first time I’d actually been able to look one of these prehistoric-looking beasts in the eye—a very alien experience!

Two cottonmouths were additional highlights, while a low was seeing hundreds of exotic anole lizards on the Snake Bite Trail. South Florida is a veritable zoo, with dozens of exotic reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals taking over landscapes that are also changing due to large numbers of invasive exotic plants that crowd out the native vegetation. It’s a Disneyesque landscape—completely altered by humans. Even the Everglades, that endless “sea of grass,” thousands of square miles of sawgrass and water, are altered by the water control projects that have deprived the area of the water it needs to sustain its natural processes.

However, altered or not, the Everglades are still amazing. Even Great Blue Herons—birds commonly seen along waterways in even the most urban areas—take on a new majesty when seen in a marsh that stretches out of sight to the horizon.

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