USA Road Trip - Florida Birding
If I had to recommend a birding trip to the USA I would recommend a trip to Florida in the winter when the birds have moved here from the North. Staying with Jessie and Errol in their lovely house in Boynton Beach in central Florida has made it possible to do trips in all directions and we still plan to visit the West Coast when we leave here on Monday. On the way we are planning to travel firstly up north to watch the launch of 5 astronauts from Cape Canaveral before we cross the state to the west.
The State of Florida is basically flat and lies in the tropics. It has beautiful beaches and colorful foliage, mostly in the form of a variety of Palm, Cypress and Mangrove trees, interspersed with lovely lawns and flowers – everything grows very well and the garden services do a huge business. It has a population of over 15 million and an area of 65,756 sq miles and the second largest coastline of any USA state. More kind of fish are found here than anywhere else in the world.
Yesterday we drove down/up the 1A1 highway that hugs the coast and often follows the beach front between the coastline and inter- coastal waterway. Here the rich and famous own big properties and the residents of this area like to drop names like Oprah, Tiger and Ernie, while Gary Player also ekes out an existence here. The houses along the road through Palm Beach and Jupiter Island are stately and huge, often with a beach house across the road on the beach ,that is a smaller replica of their main house! Behind the main house on the inter-coastal waterway is a jetty where their cruise liner is parked/moored. At the front door their personal stretch limo is waiting, ready to whisk the family off to one of the nearby restaurants or Palm Beach International Airport. The gardens are large and spectacular as residents try to keep up with the neighbours, with huge sculptures of Greek mythology or African animals and sculpted trees, depicting local animals or birdlife. It was quite an eye opener to someone who grew up on a smallholding in Derdepoort, outside Pretoria, a place which the spelling engine in Windows has not even heard of!
Be that as it may, we have been able to walk on the same beaches and swim in the same waves, even if we could not cruise in the same boats. The law here in Florida does not allow anyone to own the intertidal beach (unlike the law in California) and so provided you can get to one of the public beaches and you pay your parking fee you can walk on the same sand and swim in the same sea as Ernie and Oprah, but I doubt that you will see them there as they are probably out making millions to pay their gardeners, maids, cooks and pilots who fly their personal Jets and also their rates and taxes. One person from up north told me that he moved to Florida because there is no tax here. I’ll have to look into that!
Back to the birding. Within a few miles of where we are staying are some really great birding places and if you are prepared to travel a few hours you can add many more to your list. Two of the top 20 listed birding hotspots in my “Field Guide to BIRDS of North America” (put out by no one less than the National Wildlife Association of America, and they should know!), are found right here in Florida. They are the Everglades National Park and Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas National Park. Not wanting to boast in any way we have added both to our tour list, but I have to be absolutely honest and admit right up front that we have not been into the Dry Tortugas as you need a boat to get there. We have driven as close as you can get and I thought of asking Ernie if he would take us down but unfortunately he has been playing golf in Asia and is now in Wentworth at one of his other houses that he owns, so we have had to go where Matilda or Jessie’s Chevrolet will take us.
Near Boynton Beach however there are within 5-10 minutes drive, at least 3 wonderful birding spots that are not specifically listed in the national top 20 but are part of the Everglades. Firstly there is the Loxahatchee National Wild Life Refuge where we saw some excellent birds and Audrey got a great shot of a sunset the other evening that has made it into my selection of our Best Photos of the trip. (We have now taken and saved 16,985 photos and this week I managed to choose out the best 10, that eventually became the best 40, of Places, Views, Sunsets, Flowers and Birds!) I think I personally have one really good photo, but I will let you decide.
But I digress – we saw a great number of birds at Loxahatchee this morning, some identified and some photographed, including one of the big ticks that is spoken of in hushed tones even by local birders because of its rarity. As we were leaving today we saw a pair of Snail Kites that are only found in Southern Florida in the USA because of their very specific food choice, swamp freshwater snails. Wow, this must be one of the sightings of the trip! We had earlier spoken to some local birders who have lived in Florida for 35 years and they had not seen one. Our list of American birds now stands at 164 that we have positively identified.
The other great birding/photography spots that we visited right near here are Green Cay Wetlands & Nature Centre, Wakadahatchee Wetlands and Boynton Beach, all places that are rated highly in local lists of Florida Birding Hot Spots. We have not even made it to Okeechobee Lake about 50 miles to the NW that at 730 sq miles is the second largest fresh water lake in the USA.