The week of Memorial Day I took advantage of low shoulder season pricing for airfares and hotels to visit in and around South Florida, mostly birding but also keeping an eye out for interesting butterflies. The species diversity is not the highest this time of year in South Florida — for birds or butterflies — but I just could not resist the attractive price points.
I arrived midday on May 31 via Ft. Lauderdale, picked up my car and drove across I-75 to Ft Myers, my base for the first couple of days. The typical summer thunderstorms rolled in pretty much as soon as I got on the road, so I opted for the faster route rather than the more naturalist-friendly Tamiami Trail through the Everglades proper. Nothing much in the way of butterflies on this soggy leg, but it was good to note that a new flush of growth is greening the Everglades with the summer monsoons. And hope springs eternal for a cougar sighting with most of the roads carrying warning signs of Puma Crossings.
The next morning in Ft. Myers dawned clear and hot (it would be upper 90s F with very high humidity the entire week); I had pegged this day as dedicated to birds at the famous Corkscrew Swamp and later at a little-known excellent site for water birds, Harns Marsh Preserve. Between the two, they gave me life birds such as Everglades snail kite, limpkin, and gray-headed swamphen. Gulf Fritillaries were abundant pretty much everywhere, along with the other orange long-winged butterfly, Julia, and Zebra Heliconians. Highlight of Corkscrew Swamp trip was the first bud opening on one of the ghost orchids along the boardwalk (every botanist needs to see this before he dies), too far away for a photo but nicely presented in my spotting scope.
My second full day was also bird-oriented, Ding Darling Refuge in the morning and then back to Harns Marsh for Purple Gallinule.
June 3 saw me headed back east to the Miami-Dade area by way of the Tamiami Trail, this time mostly focused on odes and butterflies. Among the highlights were Barred Yellows and Georgia Satyr at Kirby Storter Roadside area and boardwalk. Palamedes Swallowtail were abundant, unlike their very rarefied status here in Maryland at the very northernmost outpost of their range. Driving down into the Everglades from the Coe Visitor Center in Homestead, I was able to compare the local form of Viceroy (deep, dark, brick red) and how this mimic matches in color its local models, Queen and Soldier, instead of the bright orange of Maryland Viceroys that mimic the equally bright orange Monarch.With Tropical Storm Colin begin to make its presence felt in Florida, with expected rain squalls and generally cloudy skies by Sunday afternoon, I wanted to make the next two days count. So I headed on the 4th into the Everglades for Shiny Cowbird, a successful life bird tick, and unsuccessful searches for Mangrove Cuckoo and White-crowned Pigeon after checking out the historic Deering Estate and Castellow Nature Center for butterflies. Both sites produced good butterflies, especially Dina Yellow, Mangrove Buckeye, Monk Skipper, Ruddy Daggerwing and good shots of the (currently irruptive) Great Southern White at Deering. On the 5th I opted to go all-out for another life bird, Smooth-billed Ani, at Loxahatchee NWR in Boynton Beach, well up the eastern coast. Despite counsel by the resident staff at the Refuge that the anis (which had been seen for about a month) had pulled up stakes and gone elsewhere, I braved an incoming squall line to hike out to the Ani Spot and poked around in the willows and aquatic plants lining the canal at this point. While looking for the anis, I was treated to great views of a rookery containing Anhingas, egrets of many stripes (Cattle, Tri-colored, Great, Little Blue, Reddish, Bnowy) and herons (Yellow-crowned Night Heron), Wood Storks, and ibis (Glossy and White). Good views again of Swallowtailed Kites as well. And finally, after hearing its whining squeaking in the brush, up popped a male Ani — just in time for me to get back to the car and avoid a soaking! My final day I had considered heading down into the Keys, but Colin was moving ashore and the weather forecast was dicey, so I decided to sleep in during the early morning rain and head over to the phenomenal Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami for the rest of the day. An amazing collection of palms and other tropical plants, many of them of economic significance (the specialty of David Grandison Fairchild, for whom the gardens are named), and rich with butterflies. Fairchild gave me Mangrove Skipper, more Monk Skippers, and that most photogenic caterpillar of a photogenic South Florida specialty, Atala Hairstreak. A great butterfly on which to end my Everglades expedition.