Sunday, January 22, 2012

Florida Birds, Crocs and Manatees

Everyone has a Bucket List. You know that long list of wonderful to-do items that you've always dreamt of doing sometime in your to-short a life. When I travel, I always do a mental check of my Bucket List and I see if I can fit something in. I just returned from Florida where I had been to for work before but never really had ever seen any of it. Florida was my wife’s idea and instantly I knew I could check off another item as the timing was perfect.

"Sure we can go to Florida, we just need to go to Crystal River to swim with the Manatees" I said. My wife asked "Exactly what are Manatees and why would you want to swim with them?"

Baby Manatee Resting (Francois Cleroux 2012)

After explaining what Manatees were, and then showing her pictures of them and then some videos of other people swimming with them, she still wondered why I would want to swim with them. I explained it had been a dream my whole life to swim with these incredible gentle ten foot long 1000 pound creatures. As usual I got a funny look; but also got the always approving nod from my always supportive wife. Thank you honey.

So we planned our trip; Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Fort Myer Beach, Crystal River and then back to Fort Lauderdale. Although the trip was primarily a much needed 'holiday', except for the Manatees, photography was not a primary goal so al,ong the way we hit Zoo Miami, Flamingo Gardens, the Keys and Key West, the Everglades, Crystal River, Disney's Magic Kingdom, Miami Beach and a few required Shopping Malls including Adventura Mall with over 300 Shops (must keep wife happy).

As most of you know I love bird photography and Florida is a birders haven. So I did try my best when time and location permitted to get some shots in. Without any real effort I managed to get some shots in of which I have posted a few images here and will post some more soon.

(Francois Cleroux 2012)

What I did do was to scout out where the best places are for Bird Photography in Florida and I also checked in with local photographers for the best hot-spots and some tips. This information I will also share shortly in another post.

Having recorded all the information I am now ready to return to Florida for a few weeks of "Bird Photography" which may be in two or three years’ time. I will plan the trip to co-inside with the largest birding festival in North America, Florida's Space Coast Bird Festival which runs January 25-30 this year. (http://www.spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org/)



Along with the tips and hot-spots and some web research and the festival it should be an incredible two weeks. of bird photography.

What little bird photography I did manage to do, I did everywhere. At the house in Pompano (Fort Lauderdale) in the backyard behind the pool in the canal we saw wild Muscovy ducks, Great Blue Heron's, American Bitterns, White Ibises, Cattle Egrets, Cormorants and some Black-Crowned Night Herons. During our drive thru the Everglades we saw many Pelicans, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, thousands of Cattle Egrets, Cormorants, and even the endangered Stork and a multitude of other birds I do not know.

Just on the road sides we saw Ibises, Great White Egrets, again tons of Cattle Egrets, some Flamingos, Cormorants, Storks, Spoonbills and even some Turkey Vultures. These Turkey Vultures have always been around in small numbers but large groups arrived a few years ago and now they are everywhere from Northern Florida to the Keys and from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast in large numbers. They are beautiful to see as they are fairly large and majestic when flying high above but are more rodent like when scavenging on the streets. After several days of seeing them everywhere and all the time they quickly became a nuisance. The locals hate them.

We saw the occasional Osprey and many small birds including various ducks and thru the everglades we spotted several large flightless green Alligators and/or Crocodiles (not sure which). We didn't manage to fit an airboat ride into the mix but did add it to the Bucket List.

(Wild Croc/Aligator? - Francois Cleroux 2012)

Our next trip will mostly be on the East Coast starting in the Keys to get some Fishing and Scuba Diving in and return visits to the excellent Blue Heaven Restaurant and the best place for Dessert in the Keys a small place called “Better Than Sex”. Make sure you make reservations to Better Than Sex. Then the Everglades again with an airboat ride. Driving up the coast thru Fort Myers Beach we will stop at some birding hot spots including some areas where the Burrowing Owls are to be found with a final stay at the excellent Plantation Inn at Crystal River for more Fishing, Diving and Swimming again with the Manatees.

(Francois Cleroux 2012)

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was "Awesome". It could have been better if we had run into any of the larger animals like Rays or Turtles or even a whale but we did not. Snorkeling at the Three Sisters Springs with the abundance of Manatees was "Frickin’ Awesome!" Probably the most memorable thing I ever did (besides getting married). And just like when I last did some Scuba Diving in the Great Barrier Reef, again I decided I just love it. So my New Year’s Resolution (only one allowed and I saved it) is to do more Scuba Diving!

My next post will be about the Manatees, Crystal River and the Plantation Inn.

© 2012 Jean-François Cléroux

(Version 1.01 - January 2012)

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- Francois Cleroux