Friday, February 7, 2014

Displaced New England Herpers: Florida Day Three 2-2-2014

Up at the crack of dawn after 4 1/2 hours sleep, we were bleary eyed as we hit the park... even after a big breakfast and tons of caffeine. But we knew this might be our last herp day for a while and we had the added bonus of meeting our friend and fellow Massachusetts herper Steve, who would be on his first day of his annual mid-Winter Everglades Thaw Out. His enthusiasm was much needed as, admittedly, I was toast.

We were to meet him at Royal Palm. Now, the lot at Royal Palm is pretty straight-forward; they tell you to be careful.
They provide tarps to cover your car.
The vultures, however, are not impressed. When they want to rip the rubber and wiper-blades from your car, they'll do it. I must admit... it made me chuckle to see them destroying a Lexus!
Black vultures Vs. Lexus
It seems the high end cars use a fish-oil in their rubber to make it more supple. I felt pretty secure about my rental Corolla, but covered it anyway.

We found Steve and we hit the EDB road to cruise a bit in his vehicle. There is a nice canal along the side of the road there, so every once in a while, when the trees and bushes cleared, we decided to hop out and inspect the water closer. Eagle-eye Steve saw this little Florida Banded periscoping up at one of these stops!

At another stop along the road, we saw some turtle faces peering over the side, but they had plopped away by the time we got out. Still, Steve (who I was so grateful to be with... my eyes were crusty and bloodshot!) saw this large Florida Redbelly a few feet under the water nearby.
Thinking about getting a closer look, both of us tried to reach it to pull it up. I manged only to push him down  deeper into the muck and weeds to swim away. It was a few minutes later that we both realized that we were reaching into water that has Moccasins and Gators in it... that could have been hiding in the weeds. Oops.

Steve struck again with another new species for us this weekend... a Southern Leopard Frog!
Up North, I'd have called this a Pickerel Frog all day long but they're not in the 'Glades (yet) and the white dot in the tympanium proves it to be a Southern Leopard. Very cool!

Another stop was pretty exciting because we saw this:
Whazzat? Let's look closer...
This youngster was pretty adorable, and still fairly small. Was Mom hiding in a nearby culvert? Probably not but we gave it a pretty wide berth.

Steve admitted that he was going to just kill time until dark and road-cruising time so he was up for whatever. I expressed interest in going back to Anhinga Trail to try to get a photo of a Florida Softshell and try again to see a Pig Frog. So that's what we did.

The car was still intact when we hit the trail. Steve's amazing eyes caught sight of a Florida Redbelly hatchling at water's edge.
This little fella had better watch out... he'd be a tasty morsel for anything from a gar to a heron to a frog!

I finally got a decent shot of Big Year #17, the Purple Gallinule!
Purple gallinule

I needed a dramatic "herpers herping" shot, so Andrea and Steve sprung into full photographer pose!
They are aiming at absolutely nothing.

There's always room for more Alligators, a common sight on this trail!

Heading back, Steve again amazed us with his eyesight... there was a turtle poking around near the water's edge. We thought we were photographing a Musk Turtle of something but then it revealed itself to be a young Florida Softshell!
I wont win any awards for these photos, but it was what I wanted to see, so I'm happy!

While photographing the turtle, there was a Swedish man talking at us and he kept coming back to tell us about a fish in a nest. To humor him (and shut him up) I went over to see what he was yappin' about. Actually, it turned out to be pretty cool.

This is a Tilapia fish guarding the nest she has cleared... a male is patrolling above it. Or vice verse...
Tilapia guarding nest
We saw another one with a female shooing away an Oscar who was too close. Pretty cool, indeed.

Hey look! A Florida Red Belly giving me the side-eye from a distance!

I tried to add to my Big Year with a Tri-colored Heron, but it lunged for prey just as I snapped the picture.
Tri-colored Heron lunging

Finally, Big Year #18, the Tri-colored heron.
Tri-colored Heron

Andrea spotted another Florida Softshell surfacing and I made good with my one second chance at getting a shot!

I could hear those damn Pig Frogs, but I'll be damned if we ever saw one!

So, Steve's plan was to be south in Flamingo around dusk, so we headed down, hitting many different spots and exploring along the way. We found two secluded limestone ponds off of dirt roads but they, while picturesque, yielded no animals. Still, it wasn't killing us hiking around these beautiful places.

It was the heat of the day and the only snakes we would see were on this sign...

We were driving up one road (in two cars now) and I saw a gator from the car. Figuring that if there were gators here, there could be Moccasins and other stuff, too. So we pulled over and ran back to the gator spot. Steve and I saw what was there and yelled back to Andrea... "Gator with babies. Baby-babies!"
Andrea arrived in true Presidential fashion.
Damn, they're cute! I thought I had counted 6 babies, but could only photograph 5. At any rate, the mom was pretty good about not getting upset with us photographing her offspring.
We got to hear that adorable baby gator sound but since it is a distress call, we left them alone after a short while.

Up the road, I got my #19, the Wood Stork
Wood Stork

Some birds tipped us off to another watery spot on the road, which we explored and saw nothing. Crossing the road, Steve stopped in his tracks and gasped. This guy was right there outside a culvert, not very far from where he stood. It was a pretty big gator!
We had been discussing getting a "sea of grass" shot and this guy provided us with a prefect opportunity for a animal and habitat shot.

This is around where we split up... Steve headed South and we headed back North. We were just dead and needed to get back to the car place and stuff and get to the airport. We had plenty of time, though, so we checked out a few things on the way out. Andrea found a DOR Florida Chicken Turtle on the road, picked clean by Crows. Sad, it would have been another lifer.

Some White Ibises alerted us to another watery spot and we got this not-so-hot shot of our final American Alligator of the trip.

Speaking of which... #20, White Ibis.
White Ibis

Outside the park, we took a quick look at the spot where we had seen the first Yellow Rat Snake. We ended our herp trip with some stunning anoles... all of which I think are Browns. This shows how variable they can be.

We had a large buffet dinner and outside in the parking lot, I took my last gratuitous Big Year shot, #21, a Eurasian Collared Dove, eating garbage.
Eurasian Collard Dove

We noticed that it had gotten late, so I hauled it stressfully to Miami and got to the (extremely hard to find) Fox car rental place about 15 minutes later than planned, but with plenty of time yet. Except there was only one person checking in car returns and we were third in line. And the "every ten minutes" shuttle had disappeared.

I was very pissed and chased a House Gecko around a mailbox for a while but failed to capture him. The shuttle finally came and I knew we'd never make it on time. There were two other couples there who were about to miss a plane leaving 10 minutes earlier than ours. We bitched a lot in front of the shuttle guy. It was our only form of revenge, short of smacking him upside the head.

We took a cab from the car rental part of the airport to the American Airlines terminal, but it was too late. We missed our window of opportunity by 8 minutes. We had missed our flight. I was in melt-down mode, just spitting bullets. I hate when I lose control like that, but I did. Andrea gave me a tranquilizer that I happily took. Soon, I was slurry and dizzy and pissed.

We got on stand-by for a flight at 7:10 AM the next morning. But we couldn't go to the terminal until after Midnight. We fitfully slept and fidgeted for three hours and finally went through. We slept on the floor of the terminal off and on until roughly 6 AM. It was cold. We spooned for warmth. At one point, Andrea slept in a chair, sitting, while folded in half. I was impressed.

We got on the flight and almost didn't get to sit together. We threatened to remove our swamp-wet shoes. The seat next to me never became occupied, so Andrea moved away from a twat who smugly said she wouldn't move. We badmouthed her. Her kind husband was sitting next to me. Oops. Oh well, I have no doubt he understood what a twat his wife was. No wonder he was sitting across the aisle from her.

At any rate, we got home around 11 AM Monday morning, tired and stinky and gross. It was snowing.

But you know what? Despite the difficulty of the night at the airport and the cold weather at home (and the foot of snow that would fall in two days), we were thawed out and happy. We had seen 25 species, 12 of them being lifers. (Plus two more in each category if you want to count DORs, but I don't). It was February 3rd. This trip was just what we needed and thanks to Tim and Steve and each other, it is a trip that we'll remember forever!


  1. ¡Qué hermoso!! To visité esos lugares y vi los animales .había un lagarto que se llamaba Romeo ten el paseo que dimos por los everglades, el que dirigía la lancha lo llamaba ¡ROMEUU! y el animalito se asomaba desde el agua para recibir algún premio ja-ja.!!!Bueno ,me alegro que lo pasaran bien a pesar del cansancio y un beso para la "cumpleañera" cariños Martha

    1. Muchas gracias, Martha! Tuvimos un tiempo maravilloso! Ojalá que todavía estábamos en la Florida! Love Mike and Andrea!