“Out West” to most Floridians might mean California or Arizona or might even refer to the Gulf Coast of Florida. But to us locals from the El Dub (Lake Worth, FL) it refers to anywhere east of the Everglades and west of Congress Avenue. And this is where magic happens from time to time. And the magic factories are two neighbors, Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands. These two water management wetlands are amongst the very best birding and photography locations in south Florida. If not THE best. The only drawback is that both places are highly trafficked with runners (both fast and not so fast), jabbering housewives with strollers, walkers (both fast and not so fast), camoed-out photographers with lenses that would make Piers Morgan call for an assault weapons ban on camera gear and an assortment of other frenetic bipedals. But besides this manic traffic on acres of bouncy boardwalks, magic still happens here regularly.
Take this morning for example. I’m out guiding a lovely couple from California. Green Cay Wetlands at sunrise for the specials – Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and of course the ever-reliable (at this time of year) male Painted Buntings. But a tip-off from a friend whispers, “La Sagra’s Flycatcher east of the entrance”. Like clockwork the western elves work their magic and, as the dawn brightens, the “Whit…Whit…Whit” call of this Caribbean vagrant punctuates the air.
But oh lets not forget the buntings – those painted little beauties. For years now, the feeders in winter at Green Cay have been home to a reliable group of these fantastic little seedeaters.
From the tangled scrub at the entrance to Green Cay my guests emerge on the boardwalk, cooing and ahing at the tameness of all the birds. Red-winged Blackbirds, within arms-reach, glisten in the morning sun and puff out their red shoulder epaulettes like proud military generals. Nearly every species of heron and egret in North America forage only feet away, some of them in their dazzling breeding displays. A lone Merlin watches the proceedings as a Sora darts by underneath our feet. An alligator makes an aggressive but half-hearted lunge for a group of dabbling Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals. Limpkins, Glossy Ibis and Wood Storks criss-cross the mirror-like water on stilts for legs. But this is everyday stuff at Green Cay and I beckon the western elves for more.
A young Bobcat! Right in the open. It doesn’t stay long as calls of “Bobcat!!” ring out across the boardwalk and some desperate photographer scares it off, not content with his 30 foot visual.
The sighting reminds me of the last time I was here when I happened across another bobcat. Only this one was encountered in a somewhat less tranquil condition…
I can literally see the drool easing down the chins of my Californian friends as we exit Green Cay and head off to Wakodahatchee, five minutes away. As they get in the car wide-eyed, I politely mention that they might want to wipe the drool off their faces. Because there is more to come. We exit the car and enter magic factory number two. Besides a Roseatte Spoonbill, Egyptian Geese, Purple Gallinules and a few Wood Storks, there are also several active rookeries and many of the herons, egrets and Anhingas already have full nests and hungry mouths to feed…
And then my mate Adrian Binns calls to say that he has a Fulvous Whistling Duck! This is a bird that is becoming increasingly hard to see anywhere in North America so we passed over the dozens of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks to get a look at this pretty rarity.
With all this magic around from just a morning’s birding, I won’t be surprised if next time the western elves start asking for a cut of our guiding fees.