Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Adventure in the Everglades with Roger Hammer

If you're looking for a guide to show you the Everglades, I highly recommend Roger Hammer, a naturalist, botanist and author who my husband hired to take us on a tour of the park for my birthday late last year. Roger was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide. (Roger pictured left in background).

If there were modern-day pirates, Roger would be one. A Vietnam War Veteran with a long pony tail and a passion for orchids and rum, the self-described "Homestead Hippie" regaled us with wildlife tales from his decades of work in Florida's wilderness, (he once stabbed a python to death), while deftly pointing out the delicate Scented Ladies' Tresses blooming in the tall marsh grasses, one of 108 orchid species native to Florida.

During the course of six hours one morning we saw herons, egrets, palm warblers, belted kingfishers, hooded mergansers, anhingas, black and white warblers, a yellow-rumped warbler and a short-tailed hawk among many other species. We also saw lots of alligators and a few crocodiles.

The 30-mile tour started at the park's main entrance in Homestead, with stops at Royal Palm Hammock, where we saw anhingas and alligators; to Long Pine Key, where we saw an immature bald eagle; to Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook; to Mahogany Hammock; to Mrazek Pond; and the Flamingo visitor center. We traveled in Roger's van, and by foot.

We definitely look forward to our next nature adventure with Roger. He can be found online at He wrote A Falcon Guide to Everglades National Park and the Surrounding Area.

Alligator at Royal Palm Hammock, Everglades

Cormorant at Royal Palm Hammock, Everglades

Osprey at Flamingo Visitor Center, Everglades

American Anhinga at Royal Palm Hammock, Everglades. Note the bright blue ring around the eye, indicating that the bird is in mating season. Also known as a "snakebird."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Digiscoping in Costa Rica

Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica

Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica

One of the most amazing birds I've ever seen is the Resplendent Quetzal, a large trogon with bluish-green feathers, a scarlet breast and long sweeping tail coverts on the males that are spectacular to see in flight. I saw some of these mystical birds in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica a few years ago and I took a few pictures of them using a new method called digiscoping.

Digiscoping is a method of taking photos by which you hold a digital camera up to the eyepiece of a spotting scope and take a picture by looking through the LSD screen on the camera, which allows you to get a photo many times magnified without having to use an expensive camera or pricey lens. My birding guide had a scope with him for me and my husband to use, and after he spotted a Quetzal, he showed me how to put my digital camera up to the eyepiece so that I could take a clear photo of the bird through the lens of the scope. I didn't get the best shots, since the technique was new to me. But I got a few photos that were much better than I would have been able to capture with just my camera.

Now digiscoping is a becoming very popular with birders. There is more gear for sale that makes it easier to attach the camera to the scope, field courses you can take to learn the technique, and lots of websites devoted to the subject. I am considering buying a scope so that I can use this new technique on my birding trips.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Birds of Brazil

Dusky-legged Guan, Serra dos Orgoas (The Organ Range), Brazil
Plush-crested Jay, Iguacu Falls, Brazil
Green-headed Tanager at Iguacu Falls, Brazil

A few years ago my husband and I visited Iguacu Falls and the city of Rio in Brazil, where we saw beautiful birds. At Iguacu Falls, one of the most magnificent series of falls in the world, we strolled along the lush mountain paths that run along the falls, listening to the pounding of the cascading water and enjoying the mist on our faces. We saw a lot of egrets, herons and hawks, but one of my favorite birds was the tiny Green-headed tanager. We saw a few of these exquisite creatures fluttering about at the edge of the rainforest path and I tried to get a good photo. Unfortunately they were too fast for me. But I will always remember the brilliant colors of its feathers - emerald and sea greens, bright blues, violet and sunshine yellow.

When we were in Rio, we took a guided hike in the nearby mountains called "The Organ Range," where we saw dozens of species including the Rufous hornero, Masked water tyrant, Green-barred woodpecker and Planalto hermit. One of the birds I'll remember most is the Dusky-legged guan, a giant fowl that looks like a turkey. In Brazil they are called Jacuacu. They are big blackish birds with a green sheen and they live in the woods, where they go about making a loud "kraah, kraah, krah," so that they are very easily spotted by passing hikers like myself.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Beautiful Eyebrows You Have!

When I saw this immature Great Blue Heron along the trail at Shark Valley in the Everglades, I had to stop and admire those gorgeous brows fluttering in the breeze. So handsome! The bird stood perfectly still in the marsh grass as I took a few photos. From what I understand, those lush eyebrows will grow into the bird's signature black plumes as it enters adulthood. The next time I visit Shark Valley, he'll probably be about four feet tall and spearing little fish with that daggerlike bill of his.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Peacocks in Coconut Grove

One of the things I love most about my new neighborhood are the giant, brilliantly colored peacocks and peahens that roam the rooftops, narrow streets, and lush yards of this tropical Miami haven. They are wonderful, exotic birds and in the right sunlight their plumage shimmers unbelievable shades of cobalt blue and bright green.

The colony of froufrou fowl grew from a few pets brought to Coconut Grove years ago, and are both beloved and berated by the residents. Many people who live here have come to see the peacocks as a symbol of the Grove's nonconformist neighborhood spirit. Others are unhappy about the peacocks' screeching, pooping and loitering ways. I sympathize with the residents whose houses attract dozens of birds. The peacocks' behavior can seem incongruously inelegant compared to their spectacular beautiful appearance. They are as loud and gawky as turkeys sometimes! As a result, some of the male birds (the peacocks) were quietly taken to a farm in Redland last year, pitting neighbor against neighbor, according to some news reports.

The good news is that the peacocks seem to have a special place in the hearts of Coconut Grove denizens. I hear that in March, the town is expecting to receive a number of 5-foot-tall fiberglass peacocks which will grace the bustling, restaurant-lined streets of the Grove's center. Hopefully Coconut Grove's peacocks will enjoy some newfound respect.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Osprey in the Everglades, but no Flamingos to be Found

Recently my husband and I visited Everglades National Park, about an hour from our house, where we hoped to see a few of Florida’s famous pink flamingos. As it turns out the rare bird can be difficult to spot at the park and we couldn't find one. But we had a wonderful day nevertheless with sightings of some 32 species, including a loggerhead shrike (photo upper left) several ospreys (photo lower left), as well as a great crested flycatcher and a prairie warbler, two new species to add to my life list. We started the day early by joining one of the regular free birdwatching tours offered by the park rangers. We walked around the Flamingo Visitor Center's parking lot and along the road leading to the campground, where we saw tree swallows, a roseate spoonbill, American kestrel and other species.

Later in the day we went canoeing for three hours on the Florida Bay, launching from the Flamingo Visitor Center. As we calmly paddled close to the shoreline, graceful little blue herons swooped from the mangroves, egrets fluttered about like white angels, and a kingfisher darted this way and that playfully ahead of our canoe.

My favorite part of the trip was our visit to Eco Pond, where we saw an elderly couple watching two red-shouldered hawks doing a dance on a high dead branch, before we headed around the bend on our own. For a splendid hour, it was just the two of us, the wildlife and the soft wind blowing across the vast river of grass. As we trudged through a muddy patch of grass and pickleweed, we were richly rewarded with the site of two American avocets in the distance. We stood silently for a while observing the two black and white shore birds dip their long slender bills into a small pond, as several red-shouldered hawks shrieked overhead in the bright blue sky.

A great day!

If you want to check out the free guided tours at Everglades National Park, check out their schedule of events here: