A day in Florida Keys…

Florida keys is part of the American state Florida. It is an archipelago connected to the mainland by a series of bridges. One such bridge is one of the longest in the world. The climate of Florida keys is akin to climate of West Indies i.e. Tropical. This means that even when America is getting snow storms in the peak of winter this place is still sunny and hot. The reason I am telling you this is because this place is totally different from the rest of mainland America. In fact it looked lot like Kanyakumari than America. The architecture of the place also looked like Kanyakumari.

So with different climate , different species would be a possibility. With that in mind we reached Florida keys. As usual our plan is to reach the place early in the morning for sunrise.

Transmission lines in florida keys duing sunrise, sea bridge

We missed the sunrise by just a few minutes but the beautiful morning light was there to compensate. Even the electric lines were glowing and the sea bridges in the background were also visible.

After watching the sunrise we quickly started searching for our target species – the frigate bird. The frigate bird is an ocean going bird and is known to nest in these islands. It is not a very common bird though , so we were only trying to stretch our luck in finding one. While the anxiety to find one exists we were happy about the climate. It was mild and there was a soothing sea breeze. This was in January i.e. Right in the middle of winter ! I was quipping with hidden joy that we were back to warmth of the sun.

Vinod on bridge with binoculars, Florida Keys

Not really a dress to wear in January in America. The cold is bitter in most places but Florida keys is more like Kanyakumari weather

Sometimes when the climate is great all you would like to do is just to sit and enjoy the climate. But never did I now that it was going to be a hectic day ! Our day started with a bang. While looking down the bridge and watching the waters, we started spotting fishes and just like that, something big came out of the water. It was a sting ray or rather a school of rays. I shouted to Mathi to come and see and she came running with the camera. We took a moment to see it first and then clicked a couple of pictures. This was the first time we had seen something big inside water.

Spotted eagle rays, florida keys

Spotted eagle rays are large fishes growing upto 7 feet in width.

And just like they came out of nowhere they also merged into the sea. We were so happy that we forgot where to go next. We decided to go to the very end until which the road allowed and started driving. The place was amazing with crystal clear waters and mangroves. We decided to park the vehicle and get down on a beach. As usual we went to a place where no body goes. We had to walk a little to pass through the mangroves and reach the waters. We took the opportunity to do some birding and it was a blast. Some of the birds found here are migrants from the West Indies , so it was like a sneak peek into a different part of the world. While birding, we found that the mangrove trees also had other inhabitants.

Aratus pisonii, mangrove tree crab, Florida Keys

Aratus pisonii, commonly known as the mangrove tree crab, is a species of crab which lives in mangrove trees in tropical and subtropical parts of the Americas.

The crabs on the trees made the place even more lively. We finally reached the beach and water was so clear that one could see the bottom as if the water was not even there. We slowly waded through the water relaxing. We spotted some shore birds and started taking pictures of them. While approaching the birds we noticed something in the water. It was a jelly fish.

Cassiopea xamachana or the upside down jellyfish , Florida keys

Cassiopea xamachana or the upside down jellyfish. While most of the time it rests on the floor upside down, our luck means that it was in normal position.

The jelly fish is something we had to be careful of. Some could be dangerous, as their sting can be poisonous to humans. We had no idea what kind of jellyfish it was but we decided to leave it alone. After searching for our frigate bird once again we decided to go to our next stop – the camp site. Florida keys is generally for the ultra rich Americans who have sea side homes and private beaches but there are couple of national parks that allow camping to visitors. Since the camping site was right on the beach we thought that we could find some more birds there. After reaching there, we walked along the beach but it was cordoned off to non campers. Like true bird watchers we ignored the sign and went inside ! Birds don’t have boundaries and so do bird watchers !

camp ground, wading birds, florida keys

With many birds freely roaming inside, it was very hard not to follow them !

We found almost all of the wading birds that come to mainland as migrants. By this time we were exhausted already. Only then we realized that we had not eaten in the morning as we were consumed by the place. We decided to find a place to eat. We had some noodles that we had prepared earlier in the night before we started to travel. We carry food in visits like these to maximize the time we spend inside the natural areas. For hectic travelers we are not great fans of eating outside. We homed in on a beach which had picnic benches. We had pleasant surprise waiting for us as it was free from any people but even more joyful was the fact we had other company….the kind of company we like. A flock of birds ! As soon as we parked our car there was commotion all across. I quickly took a picture of the flight.

Terns, Skimmer, Gulls, Florida Keys, Birds flying

Terns, Skimmers, Gulls, Plovers …..all in one go ! What more can a birder want ?!

We did not expect such huge numbers of birds to casually perch on a beach but here they were. We cursed ourselves that we should have approached slowly but all the birds started returning as quickly as they took off. It looked like it was their regular resting place. We slowly crept out of the car and by one step followed by another we grabbed a picnic bench at a distance. My stomach which was growling in hunger a minute ago had calmed down. I slowly moved from one bench to another to reach closer as I know that inside the mixed flock was one specialty….the skimmer. It is not common to see one , let alone sit with one.

The black skimmer, Rynchops niger , Florida Keys, beach

The black skimmer (Rynchops niger). Skimmers have the most weird shape of all the birds. The upper beak is shorter than the bottom one . The birds literally skim the surface of water to catch fish.

After getting the above snap , I crept back to my bench for the noodles , only that I was not hungry this time. Why would I be hungry…we had a deserted beach all for ourselves….with crystal clear water….A flock of skimmers…would I be hungry ?…Surely No….I was definitely satisfied. From the morning we had started , we have had great birding in paradise like settings and with beautiful weather. We just sat and looked at what the birds were doing. By late afternoon we had one more destination left. We started to go there after saying bye to our skimmers. Before even reaching the place we had to stop en route for a beautiful large bird. A common bird around this place but nonetheless beautiful. The brown pelican was resting near mangrove and the perfect light was too much to leave unnoticed.

The brown pelican , Pelecanus occidentalis , florida keys

The brown pelican or Pelecanus occidentalis is widely found in the area. In some places they even perch on boat piers completely ignoring the humans around them.

After clicking the pelican we reached our final destination….another beach side. After running for the entire day this was time for relaxing. The water temperature was optimum for chilling. By this time we had lost track of our frigate bird search. We had seen more than 80 species of birds and some very rare one’s too. We sat down across a tree log quietly to absorb the day but call of the water was too much for Mathi as she likes clear knee deep water.

Beach, Clear water, Florida Keys

Crystal clear waters at optimum temperatures is Mathi’s requirement of a beach. The mangroves along the beach also provided ample shade to take rest from the sun.

As the sun started coming down we had to leave as we had a plane to catch. We returned back to the sea bridge after driving through the main town. The roads were now filled with traffic. Since we were high on the bridge the birds were flying at eye level. After a few majestic pelicans , the bird we were hoping to see flew past our car. It was the frigate bird ! No one can mistake it because of the long slender wings and jet black colour. We rushed for our camera in the back seat but before we could take a snap it flew away. We could not even reverse the car as it was bumper to bumper traffic in a single lane road.

We were excited but a little disappointed for not getting a picture. But after a hectic day of birding we got the feeling that we got more than we bargained for. 

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