Florida has a lot of birds, especially in the spring. Whenever I go there, I’m never quite sure whether to be overjoyed (a lot of birds! And I’m looking at them!) or depressed (just imagine how many more birds there must have been here before they built repulsive housing developments and clumsy retail boxes, paved the spaces in between, and air-conditioned the shit out of everything…)

But even more than birds, Florida has reptiles.

Cute l’il reptiles, like the brown anole:

and not-so-cute, not-so-l’il reptiles:

and properly poisonous snakes, not like the wimpy snakes we have up in New York… but we didn’t have the opportunity to photograph any of those. How sad.

As a New Yorker, the concept of lizards just running around the landscape has a lot of novelty value. Seriously, I can’t get enough of them. So… reptilian! I love it!

But back to the birds. Lots of birds, too. Lots of BIG birds. On the drive from the airport to The Inimitable Todd’s parents’ home, I added Brown Pelican, Black Vulture and Osprey to my year list, as well as Boat-tailed Grackle when we stopped for breakfast. Osprey and Boat-tailed Grackle would, as it turned out, be dominant themes during the whole trip. It would be very very hard to go anywhere in the general Lake Tarpon vicinity and not see them.

After dropping our bags, it was time to get out there and walk around! Sure, we were just going to stroll the sidewalks of a ghastly over-lawned development, but A.) we needed to enjoy the weather while there was still novelty value in it, before we started to wilt, and B.) the IT’s parents had beguiled us (which surely wasn’t their intention) with stories about the 10-foot alligator that allegedly lived in the 100-foot pond out back. A forlorn and frankly inadequate-looking alligator trap had been placed out there at the request of someone in the neighborhood who had just had a baby and apparently mistook the alligator for a dingo, but the only living creatures in evidence when we stepped out were a Great Egret and an Anhinga (two more species that would turn up seemingly every time I set foot outdoors for the next few days.)

We walked around the pond. An Osprey flew over (to save space, as I describe the rest of the trip you may just want to mentally assert “and then an Osprey flew over” at the beginning and/or end of each paragraph.) We came to the edge of a tree-row, and sighted another pond, half grown over with lilypads, just beyond, so we went to see if the alligator had moved to new digs. Strange fish half-jumped from little diggings in the edge of the water as we went, and it became our project to see if we could sneak up on well enough to get a picture of it before it fled.

Apparently fish who live in alligator ponds don’t like to be snuck up on.

Suddenly, while we were concentrating on the fish, a commotion broke out amongst the lilypads. I swung my binoculars up and locked on to a couple of Common Moorhens. Common Moorhens, which are sort of like American Coots but with extra Satan, do make their way up to New York in the summer. But these were the first of the species to ever have the good fortune to wind up in my presence, so I was pretty psyched to see them. The glow last until we were chased back to the road by a local neighborhood watch zealot.

At least we weren’t tasered, and thus were still upright to hear a small buzzy sound coming from a short roadside tree. It took a bit of maneuvering and chasing, since the bird wouldn’t sit still, but finally I was able to lock it down as a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher – a second life-lister in ten minutes that I should really have picked up in New York years ago. Shades of the San Francisco Brown Creeper Incident.

Slowly – being still dressed for April in New York rather than April in the subtropics – we wended our way along. It was a bit disconcerting to see Northern Cardinals, to me the consummate snow-birds, picking about under palms, but there they were.

Finally we reached a little park on the edge of Lake Tarpon, where the Anhingas were out in force.

Snakebird does a funky dance.

There was more than just that afoot in this little spit of park, intended more for boat-launching and dog-walking than birding, though. A swampy area without enough open water to be dignified with the name “pond” held another Great Egret, a Great Blue Heron, and a pair of Mottled Ducks – Florida’s special entry in the Mallard-Black Duck sweepstakes, and my first truly irreplaceable life list entry for the trip. The Inimitable Todd was rather surprised that I was so insistent about photographing boring brown ducks.

Along the path we encountered a cagey Tricolored Heron, who, perhaps rightfully irritated at being deprived of the more romantic “Louisiana Heron” tag, flew off before the IT got a good photo. Nevertheless, this was another life bird, and though it isn’t remotely inconceivable that I’ll add this one to my New York list one day, I might wait a good long time.

Then it was time to actually, y’know, visit with these strange people who claim to be related to IT and were letting us sleep in their house. To their credit, though, they know how to pick a dinner joint:

I suppose that after a picture like this, even if I do ever see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the ABA will never buy it. The dining establishment in question is Tarpon Turtle Grill and Marina. From their open dining area, I added my last lifer of the day: a flock of White Ibis head home after a long day. The Boat-tailed Grackles here were notable for their complete lack of shame. The Inimitable Todd was quite taken with them.

So ended the day, with my life list five species up and my year list burgeoning… and the real birding of the trip had scarcely begun!

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Boat-tailed Grackle Quiscalus major
Black Vulture Cragyps atratus
Great Egret Casmerodius albus
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus *LL
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea *LL
Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Fish Crow Corvus ossifragus
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Anhinga Anhinga anhinga
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula *LL
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor *LL
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Wood Stork Mycteria americana
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla
Little Blue Heron Florida caerulea
American White Ibis Eudocimus albus *LL
Snowy Egret Egretta thula

All photos, as always, by the Inimitable Todd.

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