all photos & text by Don Roberson
Rita and I visited Florida just
before Christmasin late December
2006. We drove a transect along the Atlantic coast from Jacksonville
to Miami, checking out historic sites and looking for interesting birds.
Our only venture toward the interior was just west of Jacksonville,
to the Olustee Battlefield. This was the only Civil War battle of any size
fought in Florida, and it came late in the War in February 1864. The result
was a Confederate victory that stymied any attempt to release Union prisoners
at Andersonville, Georgia, from the south.
The pine and palmetto woods on the battlefield are nicely preserved.
We were surprised to find several Red-cockaded Woodpecker (right).
Although surely this is a well-known site for this species, we had been
unaware of that prior to our encounter with them.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (left) protects
the earliest and most important Spanish fortress now on U.S. soil. Begun
in 1762, this large fort in today's downtown St. Augustine was occupied
by the Spanish, taken (twice) by the English, and re-occupied by the Spanish,
before being ceded to the United States in 1821. It changed hands again
during the Civil War, and later served as a prison for American Indian
leaders from the Southwest.
The hefty thick-walled fort is still impressive, although Ruddy Turnstones
now tread the walls instead of soldiers.
An unexpectedly delightful spot was Ft. Matanzas National Monument
(right). It is a little fairytale pocket-fort built by the Spanish in 1740
to ward off British encroachments. It is such a fine example of 18th century
Spanish forts that it was one of the first four forts preserved by the
National Park Service during the administration of Calvin Coolidge. Although
no battles were fought here, the fort was built on the site of a 1564 massacre
of French Huguenots by the Spanish from St. Augustine.
The Fort is reached only by ferry. The ride produced views of Bald Eagle
and (at the fort's little pond) several Hooded Mergansers.
A late afternoon visit to the salt marshes at the end of Shiloh
Marsh Road, Merritt Island NWR, produced several surprises. Don
donned wading boots to see marsh-dwelling sparrows, but before finding
any managed to spook a Short-eared Owl and then almost stepped on a Dusky
Pigmy Rattlesnake (left; Sistrurus miliarius barbouri). Eventually,
both Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows were viewed,
but not without substantial efforts. A half-dozen other sparrows got away
This female Masked Duck, a long-running vagrant stakeout,
performed very well at the Viera wetlands, Brevard County, on 21
Dec (right). We have multiple still and video images but I rather like
this one, in which she tries to hide in an obviously inadequate mat of
||Rita still needed to see an ABA-area Smooth-billed Ani, a species
now seriously in decline in Florida. From Internet postings it seemed the
only recent leads were at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and even these were
several months old. We tried the little linear park along Griffon Avenue
at the south end of the airport and encountered a flock of 8 anis! They
posed nicely in a festive setting (left).
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Our final stop was Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
on Key Biscayne, where a Western Spindalis had been the week before. Despite
searches in late afternoon, and the next morning before our flight to Trinidad,
we came up empty. That vagrant seems to have departed. The only vagrants
of note seem to have been a few Red Saddlebags
We don't know their true status here, but at least one guide (Nikula &
Sones 2002 Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies
) suggests they are only
erratic here. If nothing else, it is always gratifying to obtain flight
shots of odes.
It was just a short visit to the Sunshine State, and a prelude to tropical
birding in Trinidad, but we were quite pleased with our pre-Christmas visit.
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Page created 31 Dec 2006