Monday, February 5, 2007

Ecosystem Shock II

Day 2 of my Everglades Trip. I planned on waking up early but despite my first fears of not being able to sleep on the floor of the minivan I wound up sleeping fine. By the time I woke up the sun was just peeking over the horizon and the interior of the van was getting decidedly funky smelling with the steamy environment bringing out the best of my still slightly guano covered field gear and my pile of dirty clothes from the last few days. I was glad that it was cool enough for me to travel with the windows open for a while. I stopped at Mrazek Pond again and the birds were lit wonderfully from behind (see my photo from the previous post). I wandered my way out of the park stopping at a few places on the way out including Mahogany Hammock where I was fortunate enough to pick up my only White-crowned Pigeon of the trip (and a new bird for me). One other bird that I wanted to try to see was the Snail Kite so I headed north to the Tamiami Trail and headed west across the northern border of the park. I wound up going back and forth along this highway a few times as I debated where to go. Finally, I spotted what appeared to be a kite just above some trees bordering the highway. I found a place to pull over fairly quickly and soon had a female Snail Kite wander into view for a quick look before it wheeled out of sight in the strong wind. I decided to stay at that spot for a while to see if the bird would return and it never did in the time I was there. I headed further west to the Big Cypress visitors center then returned back to Miami. I had decided that I needed to get the rental back during daylight hours so that I wouldn't be stressed about finding the rental return place in the early morning darkness. I wound up spending the night on the floor in the airport and completed my journey back to the somewhat frozen plains of Montana on Saturday. At least I only had to come back to Billings where the temperature was somewhat moderate. If I had returned home immediately I would have returned to temps much colder than I had experienced at any point in my trip to Antarctica.

A few avian impressions of south Florida. There must be a lot of dead things in south Florida. I saw more vultures there than I have anywhere else I have been. They were everywhere. One of the more impressive sights was the Black and Turkey Vultures coming off the roost at Royal Palm early in the morning. It looked like a dust devil had picked up a large load of graceful black plastic garbage bags and flung them in the air. I would recommend getting there early in the morning just to see this. I was also able to get some of the best looks I have ever had of a Black Vulture when one joined the Laughing Gulls waiting for food to be dropped from the picnic tables at the Marina in Flamingo. There were also an impressive number of Yellow-rumped Warblers. They seemed to be everywhere too. It made looking for other warblers and such a bit of a challenge as I had to try to overcome the urge to just call the bird I saw moving in the bushes another Yellow-rumped (it turned out they were mostly always Yellow-rumped Warblers anyway. If it wasn't a Yellow-rumped it was a Palm Warbler). The number and variety of herons was fun to see. A welcome change from what I knew was waiting for me at home and I was able to get very good looks at birds I seldom if ever see in Montana.

This was probably the best trip I have taken to Antarctica. I was able to visit places I hadn't been before, introduce someone (Thomas Mueller) to the Antarctic and participate in the experience being brand new again, enjoy one very smooth and another pretty good crossing of the Drake Passage (very important for someone prone to the Mal de Mer), and enjoy the longest stretch of temperate, sunny weather in both Torres Del Paine and the Antarctic Peninsula I have had yet.

As I noted earlier, I plan to fill in some of the blanks of my travels with text and photos over the next couple of week and also work on some synthesis of thoughts concerning Antarctic tourism, Antarctic wildlife, and other random thoughts generated by my travels.

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