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Christmas 2006

Part 8:  Tamiami Trail & Fairchild Gardens

After spending the night in Naples I headed across Tamiami Trail with the intention of birding Big Cypress Preserve and Shark Valley.  But if the weather was going to cooperate, I really wanted to check out Fairchild Gardens, as Martin had recommended it as a good butterfly place.  So since the morning was bright and clear, I altered my plans and focused on the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk and Shark Valley for the morning (I normally cruise around Fakahatchee Preserve as well) and then headed straight to Fairchild.

  It turned out to be a good choice: although clear, it was really quite cold, but there were some good birds along the boardwalk: a Great Blue Heron greeted me right at the start, and the morning chorus consisted of Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Phoebes, and the biggest surprise of all: a wheeping Great Crested Flycatcher!  There was a good selection of woodpeckers with the first Flicker of the trip, a mewing sapsucker, and a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers right over the trail that a couple from Pennsylvania pointed out to me!  At the end of the boardwalk was a subadult Black-crowned Night Heron along with an Anhinga, and on the way back a Bald Eagle did its weak chatter!  Back at the trailhead a River Otter was fishing and then came ashore to chomp down his prize, and Blue Jays mimicked the many Red-shouldered Hawks that were around.

     

Scenes along the boardwalk

                

Backside of a Pileated Woodpecker, and young Red-shouldered Hawks

                        

River Otter chowing down and Great Blue Heron at the entrance

Made a beeline for Shark Valley after that, picking up lots of kingfishers on the wires and several Wood Storks, and that turned out to be a good decision as well, as the place wasn't stuffed with people yet (it was packed by the time I left, with a constant stream of people yet coming in)!  Palm Warblers and a Red-shouldered Hawk were at the restrooms, and right at the start of the trail was a great selection of tame herons with Great and Little Blue, Tricolored, and Green Herons, and Great and Snowy Egrets all represented!  (Least Bitterns were around as well, but they were just calling, not showing themselves...)  Anhingas were all over, including one individual who was entertaining everyone trying to swallow a wide fish!  But the star of the show for most of the crowd was a huge Alligator swimming ominously toward the observation deck!

Alligators and Anhingas delight the tourists at Shark Valley!

              

       

Anhinga (drying wings at left and juggling speared fish center) with Swamp Sparrow

                

L-R:  Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, and subadult Black-crowned Night Heron closing in on a snack...

I made my way down the path and enjoyed another subadult night heron and several Greens chasing each other; one of them posed by another huge Alligator, which was quite a picture!  But the best bird was a knock-out dead gorgeous Purple Gallinule that put on a show for myself and this other photographer; a couple of other non-birders showed up and appropriately oohed and ahhed!  In the songbird department a Swamp Sparrow popped up, and at the Bobcat Boardwalk a pair of King Rails grunted.

      

Green Heron poses with an Alligator

        

Aptly-named Purple Gallinule

 

Young gallinules show only a suggestion of their parents’ brilliant plumage!   

    

Boardwalk along the Bobcat Trail and Sawgrass Prairie

I debated about sitting at the defunct airboat place for a few to look for Snail Kites, but decided to head on to Fairchild Gardens, since it was gonna be a long haul through suburban Miami.  It was nostalgic going through Coral Gables (University of Miami is my alma mater), and after getting turned around at the roundabout (I really hate those things) I finally made it to the Gardens, where the parking attendants were doing a superb job of getting everyone in there!  Where I landed I was actually pretty close to the Butterfly Garden, so I went straight there; the place was inundated with Monarchs, but also had Cloudless Sulphur, both Long-tailed Skipper and Dorantes Longtail, and Polydamas and Giant Swallowtails that would not stop to save their lives!

   

Butterfly garden at Fairchild Gardens

       

Monarchs (left) were quite common, as were their similar cousins, the Queens (center). The Monarch’s caterpillar is at right.

       

Cloudless Sulphurs

            

Dorantes Longtails often lose their "tails"; they lack the blue flash of the Long-tailed Skipper (right)

Decided to make a circle around the whole of the gardens, finding a Cassius Blue at one bush, but some chattering diverted my attention to a flock of parakeets, which turned out to be Yellow-chevroned!  It took a minute to register that I had just gotten a life bird!  (When I was here in the 70s, before the split, the "White-winged" Parakeet was the dominant "Canary-winged" type on campus, and to my knowledge the only one I saw—at least the only one I photographed!)  What a hoot!

                       

Acrobatic Cassius Blue and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets—an unexpected life bird!

Further around one of the other ponds (I got so turned around in there despite the map) a couple of large iguanas entertained a few folks, and a narrow path led through some more bushes where several White Peacocks jockeyed for flowers, but I also happened to find a Fulvous Hairstreak, which was fun!  Also found a strongly-marked skipper for which the closest match I could find was Loammi.  But the star (which unfortunately didn't stay put for a shot) was by some palmettos: a knock-out Atala that nevertheless flew close several times and gave outstanding looks!  That was worth the 20 bucks!  (Actually 19 with the AAA discount...)  Took one more swing through the butterfly garden before calling it quits and picked up a Julia Heliconian, which was new!  A Southern Broken Dash was also new, but those little skippers aren't as flashy...

 

More goodies around the gardens...

         

Green Iguana, another feral exotic

                     

Fulvous Hairstreak (yet another established exotic) and White Peacock

                    

Best guess on these guys is Loammi Skipper, as it’s apparently the only skipper in south Florida with spots on both wings

                          

Southern Broken Dash and Moorhen in one of the lakes

 

Back at the Butterfly Garden, a little girl tries to entice a Monarch to sit on her finger!   

        

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar and Julia Heliconians

                

Crested and Brown Anoles?  

Headed down to Florida City after that, after first getting lost in the ghetto, but a nice young man pointed me towards the Turnpike!

Click here to continue to Everglades NP, here to return to Christmas Week

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