Southwest Florida - January 2013

All photos are © Marshall Faintich

Alice and I spent the entire month in Naples, Florida, and I did a lot of birding in that area. After logging 84 species there in January 2012, I bought a couple of Florida birding books, and spent the last 11 months planning my target species and where to see them. I compiled a priority list of 22 avian species that included potential new life birds, birds for which I wanted better photos, and birds that I had previously seen or heard but not photographed.

I was fortunate to meet Andy Morffew last year while birding on Marco Island, and Andy checked out some my potential birding locations prior to my arrival, and recommended other birding sites. Some of my birding trips were alone, a few with Alice, some with Andy. I soon learned that not all the birding sites listed in the references were very productive, either because of recent habitat changes, or more often because the rare birds seen at those sites were also rare to be there.

After one month I had taken about 7,000 wildlife photos, including 124 avian species. Of these species, 12 were new life birds (some target birds and some I had not planned to see), and all but one of my "get a better photo" birds were successful. After lots of post-processing, I decided to post 350 of the photos that are comprised of new life birds, interesting birds, and good photos that I want to share. I did not post photos of many common shorebirds and inland birds, as they can be seen on my Florida or Virginia photo pages taken prior to this year's trip.

I debated how to best show the photos, and decided to group the photos by areas where they were taken rather than by species. I grouped birding sites into 11 areas, and the table at the end of this report shows avian species seen at each of these areas.

There were alligators everywhere I went, and I soon lost any apprehension I had about them, but continued to respect them. There seemed to be Palm Warblers everywhere I went, and Red-shouldered Hawks (Florida subspecies) were abundant. I was amazed to see warblers that were already in, or in the process of obtaining, breeding plumage. All the wildlife in high traffic areas were unafraid of people, and could be approached to a very close distance. Did I mention that there were a lot of alligators ?!!


Photographing some birds (Andy's photos of me). This little gator couldn't care less that I was nearby.

Naples Area

This area includes the greater Naples city and beaches, but excludes the Eagle Lakes Mitigation Site that I describe below as a separate birding site. We were staying in the northern part of Naples. There were Palm Warblers everywhere, and I saw Loggerhead Shrikes almost every day. Most of the ponds and canals had a small number of wading birds and an occasional alligator. The Northern Naples Water Treatment Facility had several flocks of ducks, some gulls and terns, and a few wading birds, but I had to observe them from a bridge outside of the facility as birders are no longer allowed to enter the facility. The only Naples area beach we visited was at Delnor-Wiggins State Park. photos

Marco Island

I went to Marco Island three times. The first time was to try to get better photos of one of the Burrowing Owls that reside there. The owl burrows are protected and shown on local maps. Last year, I only got a head shot of one of the little owls as it poked its head out of the burrow. My second trip there was with Andy, as he said that there were at least two White-morph Reddish Egrets that could be seen and approached from the peninsula across from Tigertail Beach. It was a two mile walk each way on sand, and the return trip included walking through mid-calf high water in my tennis shoes as the tide came in, but was well worth the hike. The third time there was with Alice, and I got a new life bird, and another bird species that I had previously seen in the Caribbean but it was a new North American species for me. photos

Eagle Lakes

Eagle Lakes in Naples was so productive for me that I wanted to separate this site from the general Naples area. This park is turning out to be a local hotspot, and is often overlooked by traveling birders. Behind the ball fields, track, and eutrophic holding pond, there is a berm system around two very productive water reclamation ponds which host wading birds, bitterns, gallinules, swallows, terns and gulls, and many ducks during winter. Native plantings surrounding these ponds encourage the presence of everything from blackbirds to warblers to sparrows. Andy is a frequent visitor to Eagle Lakes and showed me where to look for a Sora, another new life bird. [update: thanks to Beth L., VA, for pointing out that the Tern I had labeled as a Forster's was actually a Caspian, and another new life bird for me] photos

Immokalee Area

Immokalee is a small farming community located in the northwestern Everglades. Some of the bird guides recommend following a 65-mile loop that begins and ends in the town. My target bird for this loop was a Crested Caracara, but all I saw were mostly Americal Kestrels and Red-shouldered Hawks, a small number of wading birds, and a few distant Sandhill Cranes. I tried most or part of this loop three times going different directions and then taking short-cuts back, and was ready to give up. Andy said that he had seen Caracaras there on multiple trips there, but had not seen any recently. He recommended going to Dinner Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA), which was the only part of this loop I had not visited, and I went there near the end of our stay. Within a mile of the entrance to the WMA, I got photos of a Caracara eating breakfast on the shoulder of the road, but saw very little within the WMA. However, I had limited time and did not explore the entire WMA. The best site for me in the Immokalee area was Lake Trafford Park north on SR-29 of the town. The canal along the road near the entrance to the parking area offered some close-up shots of some interesting birds. I also hiked at CREW Marsh, but only saw eight species, the best of which was a female Painted Bunting. photos

Bird Rookery Swamp

The Bird Rookery Swamp has 12 miles of trails, including an 1800-ft. boardwalk near the parking lot. The South Florida Water Management District completed the parking lot and entry trail in July 2011, allowing public access to this great birding area. It is located only 2 miles from where I was staying, but that is a straight line distance through dense swamp, so I decided to take the 12 mile drive there several times. Bird Rookery Swamp is adjacent to Audubonís Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The trails are actually old tram roads used when the area was logged for cypress trees many years ago. Just past the end of the boardwalk is a small open area where a large alligator likes to warm itself in the sun, and from what I was told, the gator completely covers the trail between swamp on both sides. As this trail is the only way in and out, it is better to encounter this alligator on the way in rather than on the way out. I only hiked about two miles each way on three occasions, and on other visits did not go much past the boardwalk. I did see five warbler species here. A small pond next to the parking lot hosts a few wading birds, a large alligator, and lots of little gators. photos

Corkscrew Swamp

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a 13,000 acre preserve and contains the largest remaining stand of old growth bald cypress in North America. A 2.25 mile boardwalk trail is open to the public, but is often crowded with casual visitors who are unaware of good birding practices (such as being quiet). I have been there a few times in the past, and made three visits there this trip. My target bird there was a Barred Owl, a bird that I have heard many times, but had never seen. I was successful on my last trip there, although the owl was deep in the trees, and really only wanted to sleep rather than show off to visitors. photos

Harns Marsh

Harns Marsh is located in the eastern portion of Lee County in Lehigh Acres. In the late 1980ís, the East County Water Control District transformed the 578-acre farmland into an active stormwater facility helping to filter water and reduce flooding to the Orange River. This marsh was a secondary birding site for me, but one of my target birds was a Snail Kite (a new life bird), and an Audubon volunteer guide at Corkscrew Swamp said that Harns Marsh was a good place to find them. It was raining all the way there on my first visit. Fifteen minutes after I arrived the rain stopped, but it remained heavily overcast, I still saw a lot of species there, but no Snail Kites. It was sunny the next day, and I went there again, this time walking about four miles each way around part of the marsh. I got some great photos, but no Snail Kites. Afterwards, a Naples resident told me that Lehigh Acres was a fairly high crime area, and he cautioned me about being careful there. I decided not to go back again. However, I talked with Andy about it - I had been looking for Snail Kites in the wrong place - there was a smaller marshy area behind the Harns Marsh Elementary School where the Snail Kites were commonly seen. So we went went back there and saw eight of them. photos

Babcock-Webb WMA

After a success at Harns Marsh,andy and I went to the Babcock-Webb WMA. This WMA contains a recreation area (11,000 acres) at the west entrance, and offers about 15 miles of unpaved roads that are usually passable in regular vehicles. Three large Red-cockaded Woodpecker clusters occur there along with another 24 small clusters, and tree cavities are marked. Some of the less traveled roads are supposed to be non-hunting, but we found spent shotgun shells on parts of them. Although we saw 36 avian species there, most of them were seen in small flocks, and we drove lots of the WMA without seeing any birds. It wasn't until we were about to leave when we saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, another new life bird for me. photos

Tamiami Everglades

This area includes the Tamiami Trail (US Highway 41) from Florida State Road 951 (Collier) at the west end to all the way east through the Everglades to Miami. There are lots of unpaved and a few paved roads off of US41 that are supposed to have good birding. I did a few trips near the west end to Everglades City, Ten Thousand Islands, and some of the minor roads without much success. Collier-Seminole State Park wasn't worth the entry fee I paid for birding purposes, the marshy area along Oil Pad Road into Ten Thousand Islands was very wet and I walked the entire trail there without much success, and the other areas reported in some of the birding guides were equally poor. However, I really wanted to go to Shark Valley at the east end, and a few spots farther east and closer to Miami. The birding guides said to look out for Marsh and Sedge Wrens, King Rails, Snail Kites, and a variety of other neat and hard to locate species. Andy and I headed out along US 41, and stopped at some of the remote, unpaved roads along the way. We saw lots of alligators, some wading birds, a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, some warblers, and a few other species. At one point, an American Bittern flew out of the reeds right in front of us, but I was only able to get two poor photos of it. Along the way, we saw signs that there was a controlled burn going on ahead of us, and for about ten miles we saw flames in the distance that started about a quarter to a half mile from the highway.

After having only a little success, we headed past Shark Valley to the more eastern birding sites, but we didn't see much. We thought we saw a couple of wrens, but couldn't be sure, and we did see a river otter. We also saw three guys who were out hunting for Burmese Pythons right where we were hiking! Our stop at Shark Valley was great. The birds and other wildlife are so used to tourists that we could get really close. Highlights included a couple of Purple Gallinules (new life bird), one of which was eating flowers that were growing in the canal, a nest of four Anhinga chicks, and we spotted a light-morph, juvenile Short-tailed Hawk (new life bird) being chased away by a Red-shouldered Hawk. The ST Hawks are in that area between December and February, and the dark-morph variety outnumbers the light-morph variety by a factor of three or four to one. So, we were lucky to see it. On the return trip, the controlled burn had spread all the way to US41, and there were large palm trees engulfed in flames right next to the small road shoulder. Glad we were driving in the other direction and had a lane width separation from the flames. The sky was filled with bright orange smoke, and I didn't see any fire trucks there in case the fire jumped the highway. We stopped at one of Andy's favorite birding areas that was about 3 miles along unpaved road, but the entire area had already been burned and there was no vegetation or birds to see. photos

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is home to the Ding Darling WMA, and Alice and I had been there in 2008 and really enjoyed it. The birding guides also report on the nearby Bailey Tract and a few other birding locations. Alice and went there again this year, but it was getting close to high tide, and we didn't see very much. I walked a bit at the Bailey tract, and didn't see much there either. However, a few days later I was searching on the Internet and found a link to a SW Florida birding listserver that I began to read each day. A few days later there were reports of a Clapper Rail, Sora, and Wilson's Snipe at the Bailey Tract and some other rare birds off the Sanibel coastal areas. Andy and I decided to go there to look for them. I had already seen a Sora at Eagle Lakes, and numerous Wilson's Snipes here in Virginia and Missouri, but the Clapper Rail would be another new life bird for me. The Clapper Rail and the Wilson's Snipe would have been new life birds for Andy. As soon as we arrived at the Bailey Tract, we saw lots of birders with cameras and knew what they had to be photographing. Sure enough, a Clapper Rail was at the edge of a slough, but deep in shadow, and soon a Sora appeared a few feet away from the Rail. we didn't see the Snipe, but Andy e-mailed me a day after I returned to Virginia with a photo of a Wilson's Snipe he had photographed at Eagle Lakes.

After success at the Bailey Tract, we hiked the entire four mile loop at Ding Darling, along Wildife Drive and returning on the Indigo Trail. The entire area smelled bad, and we didn't see many birds - there was a red tide and lots of dead fish. We did see a large flock of American White Pelicans, a small flock of Roseate Spoonbills, a reddish-brown snake that crossed the Indigo trail right in front of us, and a few other birds. When I got home and started processing my photos, I saw that one of the photos I took there when Alice and I visited Ding Darling appears to be another banded Red Knot. photos

Sarasota Area

I drove up to Longboat Key to visit my Aunt Margie. Margie and her late husband, Bob, used to be the Florida representatives for the Audubon Society, and are the first Audubon honorary life members. Margie doesn't do birding anymore, but she still enjoys talking about birding and looking at her international prize-winning wildlife photographs. On the way to her place I saw a Cooper's Hawk sitting on a mailbox, and then after paying her a visit, I did some birding in the Sarasota area. Ackerman Park and the Celery Fields had a few birds to see, but very few of them were close to me. I had better luck at the Myakka River State Park where I got some good close-ups of an immature Roseate Spoonbill, and at Oscar Scherer State Park where I saw Florida Scrub Jays (another new life bird) and a small covey of Northern Bobwhites. photos

[Update] Additonal Photos

While doing some file management on the many photos I had taken in Florida, I found 14 photos that I had selected to include on this blog, but had forgotten to process. They can be seen here. photos


  Florida 2013     Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
  Common Name   # 39 36 38 37 31 25 36 36 50 37 36
1 Pied-billed Grebe       x x     x x x x x x
2 American White Pelican             x         x  
3 Brown Pelican       x             x x  
4 Anhinga     x   x x x x x x x x x
5 Double-crested Cormorant     x   x x     x x x x x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
6 Magnificent Firgatebird       x                  
7 American Bittern                     x    
8 GreatEgret     x x x x x x x x x x x
9 Great Blue Heron     x   x x x   x x x x x
10 Little Blue Heron     x   x x x   x x x x x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
11 Reddish Egret       x             x x  
12 Snowy Egret     x x   x     x x x x x
13 Tricolored Heron     x   x x     x x x x  
14 Cattle Egret         x       x x x   x
15 Black-crowned Night Heron         x     x          
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
16 Yellow-crowned Night Heron               x       x  
17 Green Heron         x         x x x  
18 Glossy Ibis     x   x x     x   x    
19 White Ibis     x   x x x x x x x x  
20 Roseate Spoonbill                     x x x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
21 Wood Stork         x x     x x x x x
22 Domestic Muscovy     x                    
23 Blue-winged Teal         x       x   x x x
24 Green-winged Teal                         x
25 Lesser Scaup     x           x       x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
26 Ring-necked Duck     x           x        
27 Mottled Duck     x           x   x    
28 Mallard         x x     x        
29 Hooded Merganser     x           x   x x  
30 Northern Shoveler     x                    
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
31 Red-breasted Merganser                       x  
32 Black Vulture     x   x x x   x   x    
33 Turkey Vulture     x   x x x   x x x x x
34 Snail Kite                 x        
35 Osprey     x x x x x   x x x x x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
36 Cooper's Hawk                         x
37 Red-shouldered Hawk     x x x x x x x x x x  
38 Short-tailed Hawk                     x    
39 Red-tailed Hawk     x                    
40 Northern Harrier                 x x   x x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
41 Bald Eagle     x   x           x    
42 American Kestrel           x x   x       x
43 Crested Caracara           x              
44 Common Gallinule         x       x x x    
45 Purple Gallinule                     x    
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
46 American Coot         x       x x x   x
47 Sora         x                
48 Clapper Rail                       x  
49 Limpkin                 x       x
50 Sandhill Crane           x     x        
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
51 Black-bellied Plover       x                  
52 Piping Plover       x                  
53 Snowy Plover       x                  
54 Semipalmated Plover       x               x  
55 Killdeer     x           x x      
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
56 Wilson's Plover       x                  
57 American Oystercatcher       x                  
58 Spotted Sandpiper     x     x x            
59 Lesser Yellowlegs                     x    
60 Willet       x               x  
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
61 Ruddy Turnstone       x             x    
62 Sanderling       x                  
63 Dunlin       x               x  
64 Least Sandpiper       x                  
65 Red Knot       x               x  
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
66 Short-billed Dowitcher       x                  
67 Laughing Gull     x x               x  
68 Ring-billed Gull     x x           x x x x
69 Great Black-backed Gull       x                  
70 Royal Tern     x   x           x    
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
71 Forster's Tern     x x x               x
72 Sandwich Tern       x                  
73 Black Skimmer       x                  
74 Mourning Dove     x     x x x   x x   x
75 Ground Dove       x               x  
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
76 Rock Pigeon           x              
77 Burrowing Owl       x                  
78 Barred Owl               x          
79 Belted Kingfisher         x x       x x   x
80 Pileated Woodpecker             x x          
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
81 Red-bellied Woodpecker     x     x x     x x x x
82 Downy Woodpecker           x x x   x x    
83 Flicker           x       x x    
84 Red-cockaded Woodpecker                   x      
85 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker       x   x   x          
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
86 Great Crested Flycatcher             x            
87 Loggerhead Shrike     x     x              
88 Eastern Phoebe         x   x            
89 Blue Jay     x             x     x
90 Florida Scrub Jay                         x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
91 American Crow       x   x         x    
92 Tree Swallow     x   x x     x x x x  
93 Tufted Titmouse               x          
94 Carolina Wren             x x     x   x
95 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher           x x x       x  
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
96 Eastern Bluebird     x                    
97 Gray Catbird       x x x x x   x x x  
98 Northern Mockingbird     x     x x x   x x   x
99 European Starling         x x              
100 Common Yellowthroat             x       x   x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
101 Black-and-white Warbler             x x          
102 Yellow-rumped Warbler       x x   x x   x x x  
103 Yellow-throated Warbler       x                  
104 Palm Warbler     x x x x x x x x x x x
105 Pine Warbler           x   x   x      
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
106 Northern Parula             x            
107 Painted Bunting         x x x            
108 Northern Cardinal       x x   x x   x x   x
109 Savannah Sparrow                 x       x
110 Grasshopper Sparrow                 x        
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
111 Song Sparrow                 x        
112 Chipping Sparrow                         x
113 House Sparrow     x                    
114 Boat-tailed Grackle     x   x x     x   x    
115 Common Grackle     x   x         x x   x
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
116 Wild Turkey     x       x            
117 Northern Bobwhite                         x
118 White-eyed Vireo             x x     x    
119 Blue-headed Vireo                          
120 Eastern Meadowlark               x   x      
        Naples
Area
Marco
Island
Eagle
Lakes
Immokalee
Area
Bird
Rookery
Corkscrew
Swamp
Harns
Marsh
Babcock
Webb
Tamiami
Everglades
Sanibel
Island
Sarasota
Area
121 Red-winged Blackbird         x                
122 Brown-headed Cowbird         x                
123 Baltimore Oriole               x          
124 Caspian Tern         x               x


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