Thursday, March 5, 2015

Everglades Day Two: Feb. 28th, 2015. The Controversial Post.

Welcome to a very special Hit Me With Your Nature Stick, in which I voice my controversial opinion on a conservation issue.

So, the best laid plans... we overslept! Didn't notice the time until after 8 AM! Oops! We hurried ourselves ready. While I was loading up the car, I saw a flock of these crow-like birds with yellow eyes, beautiful and plentiful.
Common Myna #30 Life #114
I didn't know it at the time but they're Common Myna birds, who have made themselves at home in Southern Florida. I want one. They are beautiful. Life List #114.

We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed over to a field with a canal running through it to poke around. Our first herp of the day was a perky Brown Anole.

This broken down boat had caught our attention a few times...

Surely this boat was the home of many species of critter, one of which was this highly suspicious Green Anole.
(One of my favorite pictures of the weekend.)

We herped around for a while and found nothing, except for a few herpers. We met a group of guys whose names and faces we recognized from herp forums and groups. Small world.

We decided to head into Everglades National Park for the day, and much of the night. We hit the visitors center first thing, mostly to use the bathrooms. There was a beautiful Green Water Snake poking through the reeds near the entrance.

Since it was barely after 9 AM, we decided to check out the road where we had seen the Leopard Frog the previous day. No frogs but we finally got our lifer live Cottonmouth!
This wee moccasin paid us no nevermind and was probably hoping for a Leopard Frog himself.

That made us pretty happy! We went onward to look around a campground nearby. We hadn't realized there was a pond near it so we took a walk around it. Right at the base of a path was this lone Alligator!
He slid under the water and hid while childrenand families walked nearby!

Also walking around the pond was this beautiful Greater Yellowlegs, my Life List #115.
Greater Yellowlegs #32 Life #115

Before leaving this area, we saw a Black-throated Green Warbler, Life List #116.
Black-throated Green Warbler #33 Life #116

We headed deeper into the park, ultimately wanting to check out the spot we saw the Water Snakes hunting the night before. There was a bunch of cars pulled over on the way in, ironically right about where we saw the wee pictiventris the previous night. The spectators were looking at the many birds grouped there and this... a stack of baby Gators!

Mom was very nearby.

The birding was spectacular here. We got plenty of water birds including Wood Storks, which I didn't realize had recently become listed.
Wood Stork #34 (threatened)

A group of Black Vultures stood nearby, oblivious the the tourists and their clicking cameras.

The feeding puddle that had so much activity the night before was empty but we saw a basking Brown Water Snake trying to catch some rays, though it was cloudy and sprinkling at the moment.
We pointed him out to a little girl who was there with her family and she was so impressed with him that she said she wanted to kiss him. Just wait till she learns about Nerodia musk!

The bathrooms are few and far between from there on out and we both had imbibed in our share of morning caffeine so we kind of made a bee line to Flamingo, our eventual destination anyway. While the wilds of the park had been good enough for me, Andrea is far more civilized so while I waited, I flipped a few stones and found the third Brahminy Blind Snake of the trip.

Flamingo is the home of the rare American Crocodile but it also offers some top-shelf birding! Here is our Life List #117, a Cattle Egret, who was poking through the grassy field around the parking lot.
Cattle Egret #38 Life #117
This bird definitely walks the walk! Fabulous.

I stretched my beloved 60X Zoom to its limit to try to shoot some flamingos someone said were out on an island. I got this blurry shot not of flamingos, but of Brown Pelicans, Life List #118.
Brown Pelican #39 Life #118

We also ran into an Osprey with his lunch in his claws.
Osprey #40 (eating)

The real draw of Flamingo for us is, of course, the Crocs. A ranger said two had been out and about so we went to the marina to take a look. Sure enough, one large one came swimming over to say "hey"!
It almost takes up the whole length between the piers. Must be roughly a 10 foot animal.

Another one was basking way off to the side where we couldn't photograph it, hidden by trees and fencing. This is the best I could get.

Much to our surprise, on the opposite shore of the bay, there was a third Croc catching some rays. This is my favorite shot of the weekend!

We had some lunch (it eventually turned out to be dinner as well!) and went back to look at the water. Evidently, we had narrowly missed a manatee sighting. Damn!! I need mammals! I took a long shot of some gulls and later noticed a couple of Black Skimmers out in the bunch, Life List #119.
Black Skimmer #42 (2) and Royal Tern #43 (far right) Life #119 and #120
While showing this shot to my fellow Bird Contest participants, my friend Wayne noticed a Royal Tern (LL#120) on the right hand side, itching its shoulder. Yay for surprise birds!

Much to Andrea's aggravation, I was hell-bent on flipping stones. I was trying to be inconspicuous. My determination paid of when I flipped our lifer Greenhouse Frog!
Adorable and tiny!

I had also flipped a few small geckos that got away unphotographed. I flipped another small one, who got away, but this medium sized (5" or so) Mediterranean Gecko lumbered into view and stayed long enough for us to get this shot.

Things were shaping up nicely! We took a short hike in the area, turning up some crabs
but decided to go hike around a nearby pond while we waited for sundown.

The pond was beautiful and had many Zebra Longtails flitting about.
Zebra Longwing

The highlight of this pond was a group of Black-necked Stilts (LL# 121) who completely charmed us.
Black-necked Stilts #44 Life #121
As the dusk set in, we started to get some nice artsy-fartsy photos.
A truly beautiful place.

The sun finally did set and we were right where we wanted to be to start a night of road-cruising. Sadly, the first thing we saw was a DOR Garter, but then weirdness happened. There was a very young (maybe 12-14" long) Gator standing proudly on the side of the road! We hopped out for a shot and he bolted! I had the AC in the car cranked and Andrea's glasses fogged so she wasn't able to get a picture and these are the best I could do:
Not great photos, but they'll help us to remember this bizarre sighting.

We saw our first Cuban Tree Frog next and he sat politely for his portrait.

Andrea had asked me earlier, "what would be a holy-shit moment for you this trip?" I mean, in Arizona, it was definitely when the stunning Desert King slowly crawled in front of us. We thought about it all day and made a few suggestions.

Turned around and heading back south, I saw something in the road that made me say "there's our holy-shit moment."

Now, everyone and his brother knows about the Burmese Pythons in the Everglades... that's pretty much the only snake mentioned in reference to the 'Glades by non-herpers. I'm pretty sure Andrea's mom has even mentioned them. I have been undecided on whether or not I wanted to encounter one in the wild. But here was one right in front of us and it was a 6-foot beauty. I got in front of it to try to make it change its course and head back to the road for photos. It did.

We then let him crawl off on his merry way.

While I think that the number of Burms in the Everglades probably isn't nearly as high as the news (and alarmists in general) would have you think, I do understand that their presence in the Everglades is a potentially dangerous proposition for many native species. I know that.

That said, I can not and will not ever sentence an animal to death. So no, I didn't report this snake. In truth, we got pulled over shortly after this (cops making sure slow drivers... ie herpers... are not collecting or touching the snakes) and I asked the trooper what to do if we should see a python. He said "nothing... just don't touch it. I guess if you see a 12 foot one, you could call the park, but I wouldn't worry about it."

So, if  one was to report it and not touch it, how would one hold said python until the ranger arrived? They need to work this whole thing out. But still, I would never be able to report this animal only to have it exterminated. I know, I know... "but what about the native animals this guy will eat, you bald-headed shit-for-brains?" But I can't be personally be responsible for this guy's death. End of rant.

We went on our way. We turned back around and headed north again. We saw a Cuban Tree Frog in the road, but it was too soon to stop, so I swerved around him and while realigning the car, we saw a snake in the road! We hopped out and got our first Floridian Eastern Garter!
They're the same species as ours up here but they often have a gorgeous blue tinge in the South. This guy had some blues in the neck area.
My ill parked car caused a mini traffic jam as two more cars converged, one in either direction to see why I was parked across the road. No other cars all night, but all at once... sheesh!

We parked for a bit, donned our mosquito coats and set about on a night-time hike on a trail that runs through some wetlands. Spooky? Not really but it pays to be alert. We walked back and back for over an hour, thinking that, despite the humidity (and afternoon rain), things just weren't moving much. We saw a few Cubans.

Andrea miraculously saw our second Greenhouse Frog of the day!

Our target had been a Scarlet Snake, but none were to be seen. Plus, my damn headlamp was fading on me. So, we turned back. It wasn't long before I heard Andrea say "Scarlet." Really?? YESS!!
Holy smokes, these are beautiful snakes!

OK, that was well earned and totally worth the time invested! To be honest, so was this Cuban.

Heading back North (after we were pulled over), we saw a big green frog hop out of the road. Could this be an elusive Pig Frog, the species we always hear but never see? You betcha!
Our lifer Pig Frog was well worth the two year wait!

Heading back up, we saw a squat squamate body on the side of the road. I got out and Andrea asked what it was. I said "It's a Ball Python." Well, it wasn't really, but to me, this moccasin seems to be dressed up in a Ball Python outfit.
Harumph! Moccatude.

We couldn't pass the spot with the Water Snake puddle without checking to see if there was a feeding party like the night before. One Brown Water Snake was up, hunting alone.
Hunting successfully by the looks of it.

The Brown that we'd seen earlier, the one that the little girl wanted to kiss, was still where he had been, though he had shifted his position. Breaking the law, I decided to haul him up to take a look at him.
Fact of the matter is... he is so ready to shed that his skin that its practically hanging off of him. He was barely moving or taking notice of me, so uncomfortable was he. I placed him into the water and he came alive and started acting more like a snake. Hopefully, he got that skin off later that night.

We had been on the road and herping for about 15 hours at this point. My head was spinning more than usual. Our last herp before we called it a night was another beautiful Pig Frog who was hopping around in the parking lot.

So that was quite a night! We got back to the hotel and pretty much died. And I'm sorry if you don't agree with my choices concerning the Burmese Python. I am what I am. I certainly understand the harm they present and I respect people who are able to take action. I am not, however, one of them

With a new spot for us in the plans for Sunday, we wondered just how fruitful the day was going to be. The next chapter will reveal all.

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