Guided by Cameron Cox. This was a set departure tour.
The location of the Florida Peninsula, farther south than the vast majority of the US, means that March is the height of the breeding season for many species in Florida. When most of the rest of the county is only beginning to feel winters grasp loosen, the Sunshine State is warm and pleasant! We took full advantage of this on this Florida Photo Journey, escaping from more northern climes to photograph wading birds at the height of their finery, and even enjoy the beginning of spring migration with several species of early warblers. The trip encountered some unseasonable rain, but with a little luck, innovation, and strategic reorganization of locations, it never slowed us down or affected our shooting significantly.
There were many highlights, but the sheer numbers of birds was certainly a repeated daily theme. Locations such as Huguenot Park, Merritt Island, Viera Wetlands, and Lake Kissimmee were just teeming with birds so that we moved from one great photographic opportunity to the next, almost seamlessly. The heron rookeries at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Gatorland gave us a chance to be right in the middle of the action and to watch and capture these charismatic species. Some in the midst of their courtship, some at war with their neighbors, others caring for newly hatched babies, but all were spectacular. There was constant activity and ceaseless noise! A more specific highlight was the immature BROWN BOOBY that was sitting docilely on the St. Augustine Fishing Pier. The airboat ride on Lake Kissimmee provided not only large numbers of birds, but also close encounters with significant Floridian specialties: SNAIL KITE, LIMPKIN, and numerous PURPLE GALLINULES. Nearby on Joe Overstreet Road we encountered a family of SANDHILL CRANES with two colts, one of several SANDHILL CRANE FAMILIES we bumped into on this tour.
We all snapped away as a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE brought in a huge caterpillar and proceeded to impale it on a barbed wire fence, tear it apart, and consume it. It was my most dramatic example of this behavior I have ever observed! We did not stick strictly to birds but made a detour to view WEST INDIAN MANATEES at a location near Tampa. The manatees must have wanted to show off for our group, as they were far more active than normal, splashing about and slapping their tails on the surface and generally putting on a great show. Keeping with the theme of experiencing Florida, and not just its birds, we took a boardwalk through a dense swamp of giant cypress trees, their boughs draped with Spanish moss. Birds were few here but it was a great experience and we picked up SHORT-TAILED HAWK. On the final morning, Fort De Soto featured perfect light, and we took advantage to shoot White Ibis in full breeding colors, and RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, and REDDISH EGRETS. We also caught the beginning of spring songbird migration, seeing more than ten species of warblers highlighted by a number of active HOODED WARBLERS and a stunning PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. We wrapped up the trip with several more stops for waterbirds in the Tampa area and by shooting BROWN PELICANS in flight as they cruised slowly by, giving us every angle like a professional model rather than a wild bird! It was an intense few days with lots of birds and lots of clicking shutters. We had a great time enjoying the beautiful birds and the beautiful weather of the Sunshine State!