36 hours in Florida
I took a last minute trip to Florida at the weekend, to try again for some mammals I’d failed to see in January.
It was a good 10 – 15 F warmer in mid March than in January, and so I was optimistic the Florida Bonneted Bats would emerge from their roost in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables. They did at exactly 30 minutes after sunset. I got a few – rather bad – pictures of some of the bats before they emerged from the roof. This species is barely known and I believe only a handful of roosts have been discovered.
While I was waiting for the bats with my eyes glued to the roof of the house they roost in, some rustling in a Strangler Fig caught my eye and I saw the silhouette of what appeared to be a mouse moving along a branch. It disappeared into the next tree along. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of the bats so only spent a few seconds looking for the mouse. But given its size the only possibility is, apparently, a Cotton (Deer) Mouse. Another lifer for me, albeit one I want to see again.
From Miami I drove a couple of hours north to the Kissimmee Prairie Reserve where Eastern Spotted Skunks are seen from time to time. In January I’d seen a Striped Skunk here but no Spotteds. This evening there were more mammals running around, including several Opossums and Raccoons, some White-tailed Deer and an Armadillo. And I smelled a Skunk. But I didn’t see one.
The next day I headed up to the Gainesville area, which seems to be one of the better places to look for Round-tailed Muskrats, aka Florida Water Rat. This is another species I have failed several times to see and now it is getting annoying. I spent a few hours at Payne’s Prairie Reserve, just south of Gainesville, which boasts a healthy population of the Muskrats. But they are hard to see, not least because the park closes at sunset. And when I spoke to two park staff they proudly told me that other than the stuffed one in the visitor centre, they had never seen one in X years (where X was at least 10). Undeterred I tried looking along the La Chua trail as this appeared to run through the best habitat. I later learned that there are lodges near the end of trail, though I didn’t have time to get that far lest I was caught in the park after 8pm (the curfew is quite strictly enforced because of Alligators, Cottonmouths and Bison… yes Bison). I saw only a bunch of Feral Pigs.
But Highway 441 runs through the park and across a swampy lake and Muskrats are seen – very occasionally – crossing the road. It was a lot busier than I’d expected so spotlighting from a vehicle, as I’d planned, isn’t an option. Walking along the shoulder with a light would be safe enough, but there is so much traffic noise you’d have little chance of hearing any splashes so would need to be very lucky to see an animal. I didn’t even try. I did walk along the short observation boardwalk, that runs into the swamp off of the highway (about 6 miles north of the town of Micanopy). Within 20 seconds of reaching the end I heard – and then saw – my first Marsh Rice Rat moving through the swamp and climbing up some grass (this was about 45 minutes after sunset). I think this species is abundant here.
I will return next month and try again for both the Skunk and the Muskrat, though I will be with my kids who are currently under the impression that the trip is more about Harry Potter World than mammals. Oh well kids…. Sorry!