Birding Everglades National Park

Our past April trip to the Dry Tortugas had us spending a half day in the Everglades National Park before heading home. We could not wait to get back here and explore more of the park. Therefore, we planned a long weekend trip in the second week of January. 

We also thought the trip might be a nice respite from a cold and snowy Northeast winter. However, as it turned out, the 2019-2020 winter has been mild. To top that off it was in the high 60’s in New York when we were down in Florida!

This will mainly be a quick birding and photography trip with an emphasis of trying to see American Crocodile.


Thursday January 9, 2020

We were up early for a 7 AM JetBlue flight out of Westchester County Airport to Fort Lauderdale. Our friend Mark Testa is joining us and he drove us to the airport. We did carry-on only and had printed out our boarding passes the day before so we went right to security and our gate. We were surprised on how crowded the small waiting area was. It seems that the airport has added more flights. Our flight down was on time. I was disappointed that my TV did work in my seat but passed the time reading my Astronomy magazine. It was a bit bumpy the last half of the flight, but Kelli did fine.

Fort Lauderdale is not the best run airport. It took 30 minutes just to wait for the internal bus and get to another terminal for our car rental. Then it took a whole hour to get our car from Budget. On the positive side, we saw some Cattle Egrets when we landed and had Boat-tailed Grackles and Eurasian Collared Doves while waiting for the bus.

Our rental car had an Oklahoma license plate and we noticed it had a silhouette of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on it. It took us a little over an hour to get to our hotel in Florida City, Best Western Gateway to the Keys. We passed the Hard Rock Hotel and noticed a brush fire in the distance. 


Rooms were not available, so we had lunch at a nearby Cracker Barrel and headed to the park to the iconic Anhinga Trail. Along the way, we spotted American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes along the telephone lines. We arrived at 2:45 PM. It was warm but windy and the Spanish Moss was gently swinging in a nearby tree. Our first sighting was an American Alligator close to the wall at the visitor’s center. A White Ibis, just reaching adulthood, greeted us at the foot of the trail. Since it was late afternoon the trail was a bit quiet but some very tame Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Egret entertained us. The egret’s outstretched neck seem to sway in the strong breeze. A few alligators and Anhinga were found along with both vultures, an Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Red-winged Blackbird. A young male Common Yellowthroat was a nice find.


Anhinga Trail

White Ibis

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

American Alligator


Great Egret

Common Yellowthroat

As  we made our way back to our car, hundreds of Black and Turkey Vultures were swirling overhead.


We made our way out of the park to bird a hotspot at dusk, the Lucky Hammock at the Frog Pond Wildlife Management Area. We met up with a newly hired park ranger and recent transplant from Chicago. She gave us some good birding hints and pointed us to a nearby rare bird, a Brown-crested Flycatcher. This bird summers in the far southwest US. It can be found in the southern parts of Arizona and Texas. It is now annual in the winter in this area. A couple of Northern Mockingbirds chased it away before we could get a photo. Other sightings included Loggerhead Shrike, Barn Swallows, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Meadowlark, and Palm and yellow-rumped Warblers. We waited until nightfall hoping to see a Barn Owl but only had a Northern Harrier hunting the nearby fields.


Fine dining is hard to come by in Florida City so we opted for Denny’s before checking into our hotel and resting after a long day. Kelli thought their Greek omelet was the best and liked their sayings on their mugs.


Friday January 10, 2020

We are heading to the end of the road in the Everglades so we were up early to have the complimentary breakfast at the hotel at 6:15 AM.

We did a quick stop at daybreak to try for a rarity. A La Sagra’s Flycatcher was reported at Gate 13/ Hidden Lake. We did not see or hear it but did have a Great Crested Flycatcher.  We did not stay long since we needed to catch a boat.

We drove the hour to end of the park road to Flamingo. The first thing we saw were five Black Vultures trying to eat a car, YES a car. In the Everglades they are well known to rip apart rubbery material, especially windshield wipers. We thought about chasing them away, but we feared they may head to our own rentals. We got our tickets for the Back Bay (Coot Bay) Boat Tour at the marina and found a nesting pair of Osprey, flying Roseate Spoonbills and wintering Laughing Gull before boarding.

Black Vulture


Laughing Gull

The boat went up the narrow Buttonwood Canal where we saw a variety of herons and egrets along with White Ibis, Belted Kingfishers, Pied-billed Grebe, Anhinga and cormorants. We then crossed a birdless Coot Bay. Coots once wintered here in the thousands, but the salt water intrusion when the canal was first built changed the ecosystem and the coots never returned.  Next was up Tarpon Creek where native Florida Butterfly Orchids were pointed out; but were not in bloom. We briefly entered Whitewater Bay before heading back. We finally found some baby American Crocodiles in Buttonwood Canal before our boat tour ended.

young American Crocodile

Tricolored Heron

Florida Butterfly Orchid


Great Blue Heron

After stopping at the restrooms, we found our tour leader looking at two large American Crocodiles resting on the shore across the small marina. A few Manatees were also found in the marina and later were seen drinking the fresh water coming off a boat that was hosed down.

American Crocodile


A fellow birder let us look through his scope at some White Pelicans and Black Skimmers on a sand bar out in the bay.

The new visitors center was still under construction, so we visited the temporary trailer. Kelli bought and filled out some postcards to send back home. In the parking lot we heard, then found a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Lunch was at the food truck for some delicious burgers. We sat at picnic table enjoying our meal and the Florida sun. Both Laughing Gull and American Crow stopped by hoping for a handout. We did not give in, the $5000 penalty sign for feeding wildlife made sure of that!


Our afternoon boat out into the bay was cancelled due to the high winds so we decided to stop by a few trails heading back east. We stopped briefly at Paurotis Pond where we had a number of birds in a breeding colony in April. Very few birds were about but we did see some tarpon jumping out of the water.

Next stop was Mahogany Hammock but wintering songbirds were scarce due to the high winds. We did add American Redstart along a picturesque boardwalk along with some Resurrection Ferns. Next was the Pa-hay-okee Lookout Tower where Barred Owl was recently seen. But the only thing we saw was the vast view of the Shark River Slough. 

Carolina Ruellia

Resurrection Fern

Not surprising we found Pine Warbler in the Pinelands. We stopped by the Anhinga Trail for the restrooms and tour the boardwalks again where we added an Eastern Phoebe. We photographed some of the Florida Swamp Lily, aka Southern Swamp Crinum.

Florida Swamp Lily

We headed out of the park. I wanted to try some alligator so we stopped at the Gator Grill. This iconic spot cooked us up some tasty and spiced gator bites. We each tried some. It tasted a lot like chicken but the meat was a bit tougher.  Next stop was a place call Robert is Here. It is a local fruit stand with lots of weird fruit, animals out back, including an Emu. Robert is Here is also known for their fruit smoothies. We tried the Strawberry Key Lime Smoothie. It was OK. Mark enjoyed his chocolate vanilla milkshake.

gator bites

We tried to stop at a Starbucks near our hotel. Oddly, they ran out of decaf coffee so we left. I did spot a pair of Common Mynas on the corner.

Dinner was at the Texas Roadhouse where I enjoyed their Hurricane Margarita and we all enjoyed their complimentary peanuts.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

We had the complimentary breakfast early and found a flock of Killdeer across the street of the hotel. We set out for the 1 hour drive to the Shark Valley Visitor Center and arrived at 8:15 AM, 15 minutes before it opened. We waited with a few cars in front of us. Kelli saw a River Otter cross in front of the entrance road. However, Mark and I missed it. A few Palm warblers were in the parking lot and I heard we just missed a Purple Gallinule along the entrance road while everyone waited.

Palm Warbler

We brought tickets for the first tram at 9 AM. After a brief orientation, we boarded a mostly empty tram and we were on our way. We quickly found some baby alligators next to the roadway.  A variety of egrets and herons were seen and we added Wood Stork, Glossy Ibis, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs on our 6 mile trek to the observation tower. A number of Alligators were seen. Along the way we learned that the flow of water for the Everglades had changed. Due to development, the normal southerly flow of water through the Shark River into the Gulf is now draining both east and west. We heard about the endangered Florida Panther and the problem with invasive Burmese pythons. 

baby alligators

Great Blue Heron

Pied-billed Grebe

Wood Stork

Snowy Egret

We arrived at the tower and had 20 minutes to explore. 

On the way back to the tram we added a Yellow-crowned night Heron. 

There were more birds on the way back along the straight channel.

Florida Cooter

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Back at the visitors center we walked both the Bobcat Boardwalk and the Otter Cave Hammock Trail. 

Back on the main road, we came across a very cooperative Purple Gallinule and then a feeding Little Blue Heron.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

Florida Gar

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron


Lunch was across the street. Glades Eats is a Miccosukee Native American restaurant and we enjoyed the meal.

We traveled back to rest up for tonight’s ranger lead night walk at the Anhinga Trail. Dinner was at Cracker Barrel and we headed straight to the park. We were early so relaxed in the dark parking lot till 7 PM. We had about twenty people on the walk and saw a number of active alligators swimming and moving along. At the far end we heard a pair of Barred Owls start hooting followed by their monkey like calls. Later we heard a Sora call.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Today Mark will head to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Kelli and I want to return to Anhinga Trail and get back early to enjoy a couple of hours in the sun and the pool.

We all had breakfast together and headed out on our own.

We got there at sunrise. The wind had finally calmed down and this made a big difference! Anhinga Trail was teeming with birds and activity. In our prior visits, not a single Purple Gallinule was seen or detected. Today we counted no less than 10! Many were active, chasing each other, eating the fruits of the Yellow Water Lily’s, climbing cattails with their long toes, and one possibly carrying nesting material.



The calm also brought out the passerines; we had close looks at Black-and-White Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Swamp Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Cardinal and four Common Yellowthroats. We heard a Barred Owl call again in the daytime. A Red-shouldered hawk passed by. A few female Boat-tailed grackles posed for us in the morning sun.

Black-and White Warbler

Boat-tailed Grackle

We explored the nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail. We found a Florida Tree Snail on a Gumbo Limbo. The tree is also known as the tourist tree since its bark resembles the skin of sun burnt tourist. We had a good look at Great Crested Flycatcher.


We went over to Gate 13/ Hidden Lake to try for the LaSagra’s Flycatcher again. Two fellow birders were there since sunup without luck. We again missed the flycatcher but did briefly see a Short-tailed Hawk fly over for a lifer for both Kelli and I.

Our next stop was the Lucky Hammock and this time walked completely around it. Yellow-rumped Warblers were plentiful and we saw some Queen butterflies. A Pileated Woodpecker flew out of the hammock and  hundreds of Tree Swallows filled the air. While I was trying to get closer to take pictures of a Loggerhead Shrike my ankles started burning!  I was in the vicinity of a fire ant colony! I quickly ran to the car and used the alcohol in the bug spray to kill and drown them.


We returned to the hotel and enjoyed a couple of hours by the pool.

Mark returned from his outing successfully finding a Limpkin for his life bird and saw another American Crocodile.

Before dinner, we had Northern Parula and Blue-headed Vireo in the hotel parking lot and tried the Anhinga Trail at sunset. A few Purple Gallinules were still about including a young bird.


Our plan was for a nice dinner at Capre Restaurant, but it was closed! Therefore, we opted again for Texas Roadhouse.


Monday January 13, 2020

We had an early flight so had to get up early and leave for the airport at 4:30. There was no traffic for the 1-hour drive to airport. Our 7:35AM Jet Blue flight was on time and our plane name was “Something About Blue”. I watched “Yesterday” on the way home. We were home by noon.  Thanks for reading.

Michael and Kelli