I had a work trip to southern Florida last week, somewhere I’ve never been. I DESPERATELY wanted to get out and do a bit of birding. Specifically, I wanted to see the Everglades. In a busy week of being gone, I found several hours one afternoon to get away and explore the Everglades a bit.
What a blast! I’m always amazed at how some birding trips turn into seemingly lifeless trips, where few birds are seen or photographed. At other times and places, birds can be incredibly abundant. It seems like I get 90% of my photos in about 10% of my birding efforts, and this was one of those ultra-productive times. Birds were everywhere! Given that I’d never been in the area before, I ended up picking up photos of 10 species I didn’t have before…pretty darn good for a few hours of birding, when I’ve been taking photos of birds for about 12 years now.
The Everglades were great. Some mentioned to try Shark Valley, an area on the northern edge of the Everglades that was relatively close to where I was staying. It wasn’t yet the “prime” time of year for Shark Valley, I was told, as bird really would start to concentrate in another month or so. Despite that, there were water birds galore. White Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and more. The main path at Shark Valley is a 15-mile loop, with a 7-mile long canal of water along the west side of one half of the loop. After only about an hour of walking along that path, I picked up several new species, and many great photos. But, given it was my one afternoon to get out, I didn’t linger, and wanted to look around at other nearby locations.
Someone at Shark Valley had mentioned a couple of roads in the Big Cypress National Reserve that were just 10 miles or so west of Shark Valley. I next went to Loop Road in the reserve, a 22-mile loop that goes through the Big Cypress National Reserve, with cypress swamp on both sides of the road. What an INCREDIBLE birding location! The cypress swamp was pressed up against the road on both sides in most locations, making photography or spotting birds very difficult. However, there were many culverts and mini bridges, in some places, bridges spaced every 100 yards or so. On either side of the road near the mini-bridges were little openings in the cypress swamp. You’d drive through thick forest, come up on one of these openings, and it was like a series of little dioramas. You never knew what the next little opening might have! It seemed like EVERY opening had some birds (or alligators!) hanging out. There were many birds at Shark Valley in the Everglades, but the number of birds there was dwarfed by what I saw in the Big Cypress National Reserve. Wood Storks were downright common (another new species!), along with more of the wading bird species that were seen at Shark Valley. Red-shouldered Hawks were hanging out by the road in a few locations, and were incredibly tame, allowing very close photos. In the hour and a half I drove through the 22-mile loop, I ended up taking almost 500 photos! It was one of the most productive photography times I’ve ever had.
As the clock hit 4:00 and the sunlight started to fade, I tried one more road in the Big Cypress National Reserve, and if anything, this road on the north side of Highway 41 had even more birds than did the Loup Road. An absolutely fabulous way to end a great day of birding, seeing scores of wading birds and other birds flying in to their nighttime roosts.
It’s definitely a place I want to get back to some day, and spend more than just a few hours!