Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bahama bay, Florida

One of the pleasures of going on holiday abroad is simply the fact that things are different. For me that especially holds true for the wildlife - animals, birds and plants may all be quite unremarkable to those who live there, but to a visitor even the 'ordinary' can be, well, exciting, I suppose.

When we booked a holiday in Florida we headed for the Orlando area. I didn't fancy being stuck in the centre so we chose to go to a resort on the outskirts. The brochure said it was on a lake - Lake Davenport, and the pictures looked okay, but I have to say from both our perspectives we fell on our feet. As well as being a good resort in terms of accommodation the setting turned out to be superb.

For a start Lake Davenport was a proper Lake

Complete with promises (or threats) of real widlife.

The surrounding areas had a range of semi wild habitats, with palms and trees dripping with Spanish moss.

The moss made me think of those films set in the Louisiana, where David Carradine is being hunted by a group of inbred cajuns. Seemed strange to see it in a less dramatic setting!

I caught a bit of one of those survival programmes the other night. An intrepid adventurer - or barmpot - was abandoned to survive in the Evergaldes. He said that the moss looked nice and soft, but was full of 'chiggers', whose bites would leave you itching for days - one to file away for future reference.

Away from the main lake the resort was built around a series of ponds which proved to be happy hunting grounds for a man with a camera, but just a hour or so each morning to try and see what was around!

A classical example came just after sunrise on our second morning. Strolling along about150 yards from our 'condo' a sound overhead caught my attention and revealed a sight that would have me in raptures in the UK.

We were later to find that ospreys were everywhere - nesting alongside the interstate, hunting over lakes at the theme parks - but it was still a great start. Some days later I had an even bigger treat as the calls of mobbing birds drew my attention to a bald eagle perched briefly on top of one of the resort buildings. Not the best of pictures, but it was early, so the light wasn't great, I was too far away and my hands were a bit shaky!

The most striking vistors to the ponds were the herons. Indeed I saw all the common ones at the ponds except the black capped night heron:

Least Blue Heron and Snowy Egret

Great Egret

Snowy Egret in the reflection of the resort buildings

Least Blue Heron

Tri-coloured Heron

Green Backed Heron

Out on the water amongst the coots (bit different) and moorhens the most obvious ducks were mallards or these ducks which at first glance looked like female mallards, but after I saw two mating it was clear they weren't! The dark body and pale head means that these are (I think) American Black Duck

The treat for me was the sight of a pair of hooded merganser, although they were a bit shy, making decent pics tricky. You can at least see the lovely display plumage of the male.

The female made me think of a punk rocker. however. Unlike the male her crest seemed permanently raised.

Along the edges of the ponds this little plover is, I'm sure, a killdeer (sorry I was too stingy to buy a big bird book, and my little one seems to have some surprising omissions! I'm reasonably sure about the names I have given, but better to add a health warning).

I decided this shy little chap was a Wilson's snipe, with the heavy barring along the flanks. A bugger to photograph.

At dawn the main sound was the calling of these irridescent male grackles, perched on the tops of trees, buildings - anything providing a bit of height. The drab females tended to hide more in the reedbeds.

One bird I had heard of before was the Northern Cardinal. The female would skulk around rarely venturing into the trees from the bushes, although the big beak was evident

The male however took to proclaiming his territory in a tree right outside our front door. He was a bit shy, but eventually we reached a compromise and I got a few snaps of this outrageously coloured bird.

In the bushes and grassland the northern mockingbird was relatively tame, and brought back memories of 'o-level' english lessons - Atticus Finch, Boo Radley, X Billups, etc - for anyone from my generation! To anyone who isn't 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

One of the most common birds were the yellow rumped warblers - wonder how they got that name?

One day perched on a sign was a bird that had to be a flycatcher - I think it's an Eastern Phoebe. It was quite cute anyway.

Florida had many birds of prey, mostly viewed from a long way beneath against a bright sky making identification tricky. This one was a bit more accommodating. Again not absolutely sure, but I think a Cooper's Hawk.

Tucked away in the bushes there were filttery twitterings - as tricky to snap as long tailed tits on the move, but eventually got some snaps of the pretty little Blue Grey Gnatcatchers.

Before we left, the surfbirds website gallery was dominated for a few days by pictures of an American Robin that had somehow made its way to Yorkshire. I just had to go a bit further to see this one.

It wasn't just birds at Bahama Bay. The wild plants weren't really in flower to any extent and I didn't buy a flower book. I thought I did recognise Joe Pye weed, the American equivalent of our own Hemp agrimony, though it wasn't very tall so I might be wrong. The others are just nice looking! Let's escape the tyranny of labels for once.

At night there was much croaking from the ponds and the egrets seemed to find some frogs, but this was the only one that I saw clearly, and it was next to our front door.

Animals were few and far between, although with more time and a torch I know I could have found some. There were various runs and trails. However a crashing (and I mean crashing) in the bushes outside our front door one day revealed an armadillo, out gathering bedding, and marked a real treat for me.

So there we are. Bahama Bay. I would say - go. I want to go back. Tomorrow!
As I didn't take any sunset shots, here's a sunrise shot to finish.

More Florida to follow as I get organised .................

No comments: