Yesterday, April 4, 2015, I was able to lead a field trip to Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA 2) in southern Palm Beach County. The area encompasses the former Brown's Farm Wildlife Management Area, an area once leased to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for waterfowl hunting. The area is now part of Everglades restoration, filtering water coming of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) before it continues it's journey to Florida Bay.
STA 2 is managed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The staff at SFWMD have been very generous in allowing access to restricted areas of the STAs. Hendry-Galdes Audubon Society has been leading trips to STA 5 for a number of years. Audubon Society of the Everglades (ASE), based in Palm Beach County, has been leading trips to STA 1E for a couple years. Last year, word got out that a flock of American Flamingos had been visiting STA 2 annually for a number of years, The staff at SFWMD and volunteers at ASE arranged to allow special access to STA 2 for folks to see the flamingos. Popularity grew quickly and now there are several trips scheduled this year, shuttling ca 500 people through the area this year. There are future plans to allow monthly surveys as in STA 5 and 1E.
But enough boring stuff, let's get on with the birds. I arrived at the gate to find everyone already there, about 40 folks in all. Susan McKemy was busy checking people in and assigning them to the 12 vehicle caravan. Several friends of mine were there, some expected, others a pleasant surprise. We had to blow past the first couple congregations of birds in oder to have time for the flamingos. Unlike other STA trips, the route for this one is about 20 miles long and we have to vacate the area where the flamingos are by 5:30 so as not to disturb them. We saw the flamingos at the third open patch of water, along with hundreds of Black-necked stilts (sometimes referred to as "Marsh Poodles"), American white pelicans, American coots, and many other species. There were six flamingos present, interestingly, they were set off in three pairs. One bird appeared to be a juvenile, much grayer than the others with duller legs, face, and bill. A couple others had a strange color patter, grayish on the body and bright pink on the head and next. The birds were fairly far out and were not disturbed by our presence. After about an hour of watching, scanning for other birds, such as Stilt sandpipers, American avocets, and others, we decide to move on. Blasting through the rest of the STA, we made brief stops for nesting wading birds and to peruse the remaining ducks (mostly Blue-winged teal among the throngs of coots and gallinules) searching other lingerers. We did manage to see several Northern shovelers, a couple American wigeon and a few Ring-necked ducks. Fulvous whistling-ducks were abundant. This species was once much more common in Florida but now is more restricted. The EAA is one of the areas where they remain common and easily seen although often in restricted or difficult to access areas. Snail kites were seen in singles throughout the area as were Purple swamphens, a new addition to the American Birding Association's Checklist. Two Peregreine falcons continually flew ahead and behind us offering many views. Two adult Gull-billed terns foraged in one of the last open water areas. The last great sighting was found by Paul Miller, a male Least bittern that stood out in a clump of bulrushes long enough for everyone to get good scope views.
A great time was had by all. Many more trips to come. I will be leading a double header next Sunday, April 12. Hope to see some you out there.