Bird Treks - A Quality Birdwatching Tour Company

Previous Tours - SOUTH FLORIDA, EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK,

Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS
April 2013

Bob,
Many thanks for a great trip.
Helen

Thanks again Bob for another super trip!
Janet and Barry

Dear Bob,
Thanks for a wonderful tour. I had a lovely time with our group and all the Florida birds. I’ll remember it fondly for a long time indeed.
Yours,
Lisa

Thank you very much for providing a fantastic birding adventure Bob. It was truly exciting to see some fascinating natural areas in Florida and a wide array of interesting wildlife. The excursion to Fort Jefferson was particularly memorable for us.
All your efforts toward ensuring a rewarding and fun experience have been sincerely appreciated.
Colin and Martha

SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS
April 2012
Pam & Mike Holmes


Great Trip! Thanks for finding the birds and getting us on them. We enjoyed traveling with you again.

Pam & Mike

 

SOUTH FLORIDA & DRY TORTUGAS:
19-27 April 2014

  1) Yellow (Golden/Cuban) Warbler
  2) Bahama Mockingbird
  3) Barred Owl
  4) Florida Scrub-Jay
  5) Limpkin
  6) Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  7) Osprey
  8) Swallow-tailed Kite
  9) Painted Bunting
10) Black-throated Blue Warbler

Mammalian highlights included two West Indian Manatees in Everglades National Park (ENP), at least EIGHT diminutive Key Deer on Big Pine Key and adjacent No Name Key, two of which were button bucks. We saw an American Crocodile at West Lake in ENP, numerous American Alligators (adults and young), Green Iguanas, a Gopher Tortoise at Venus Flatwoods, several Florida Softshells, and several species of snakes, including a beautifully marked Banded Water Snake, and a Black Rat Snake that was just about to shed its skin. The introduced Agama Lizards at Matheson Hammock Park were quite colorful. Watching Atlantic Flying Fish on the Tortugas boat ride is always a treat.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS
19-27 April 2014
Bob Schutsky, Tour Leader
Written by Jeanne Kern, tour participant

South Florida, total diversity for Chris Brothers from Massachusetts, Rich and Jeanne Kern from Nebraska, and our Fearless Leader Bob Schutsky, who resides in Pennsylvania. Our other tour member was Beverly Vennum from southern California, so the habitat was not so terribly different for her. The trip began in Fort Lauderdale for the Kerns Friday night, 18 April, when they stumbled upon three Amazon-type parrots. ‘Wow,’ we thought. ‘We’re not in Nebraska anymore.'

Bev arrived with a broken zipper on her luggage and discovered that airlines will not help replace handles, wheels, or zippers. Bob Schutsky to the rescue with his handy tool kit, and Bev found lots of safety pins to keep things organized until she could get home. At least she was in Fort Lauderdale with all of her belongings. Saturday morning Bev and Bob and the Kerns met for breakfast. But where was Chris? After several attempts she was located at another Best Western across town wondering where WE were. Eventually we united, the van was packed, Subway sandwiches selected, and we headed northward toward West Palm Beach and the wetlands at Wakodahatchee and Green Cay, despite the rain and tornado watch in effect, mostly to our south. A stop at Florida Atlantic University gave us White Ibis, Muscovy, and Mottled Ducks, a Cattle Egret comfy atop a John Deere as if ready to drive away, a Loggerhead Shrike, and the birds we went for: Burrowing Owls. Certainly not by chance, the school mascot is the Owl. By the time we left FAU, the rain was mostly gone. It was a fine beginning to our day.

Along the Wakodahatchee Wetlands and Green Cay boardwalks we saw Least Bittern, Common Gallinules, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Black-necked Stilts, Anhingas, Tricolored Herons, and the usual long-legged wading birds. The surprise was a nesting family of Neotropic Cormorants. It’s possible that the Neotropic was mated with a Double-crested, as the three nestlings appeared to be hybrids. It is the sole record of Neotropic Cormorant in Florida. A Double-crested Cormorant (to which Bob confessed he once thought was a Double-‘breasted’) sat on the railing and posed with tourists for photos. A Red-shouldered Hawk greeted us and an Osprey guarded a large fish. Baby Common Gallinules delighted, as did the demanding baby Great Blue Herons, the fluffy Great Egret chicks, American Alligators, a Florida Cooter (turtle), and several Roseate Spoonbills. Limpkin was our target bird, and Chris had a glimpse of one that flew quickly out of sight. Bob was skeptical when a tourist in a propeller beanie announced he frequently saw the Limpkin sitting on the railing—but down the boardwalk, there one was as advertised. Several more appeared during the day. And we had our first sighting of the Zebra Longwing, Florida’s state butterfly. As we left Green Cay, a Raccoon sat atop a tall pole. While we watched, it descended slowly, face first. And we all got a laugh from the mother hurrying her young son along, saying, ‘Your Dad is way ahead. You know he don’t stop to smell nothing.’

Off we went to check into the Best Western in West Palm Beach. Two police cars were pulled into spots by the front door, and another arrived while we watched. By the time Bob went in to check us in, they all left. We speculated wildly, and finally Jeanne called the front desk. She said it was none of our business, we were just nosy—which loosened the lips of the desk clerk who related that a man had dropped his baby by the pool—and grabbed it by one arm to save it. Some hotel guests reported him—thus the influx of the law and its rapid departure.

Easter morning was a comedy of errors for Rich and Jeanne. Jeanne called to report a leak and got the room number wrong, so she had to call back. Rich told her the wrong new number, so she had to correct it again. The clerk said she was ‘a sweetheart’ to report it, but he must have been thinking quite another thing. Then…as Rich was making his second trip to the van, the doorknob fell off, trapping him inside the room. He had to call for someone to let him out. The Best Western folks were probably very glad to see us pull away. But we hated to go. The grounds were lovely: a huge oval pool surrounded by lush gardens, a garden chess board, mock alligators, a meditation garden, a picnic area, and a gazebo complete with geckos poolside for our checklist visit. Dinner was at Sweet Tomatoes—which turned out to be a large warehouse-y place with multiple stations offering a staggering array of foods—everything but red meat. De-licious. And we were pleased with the discounts.

Sunday took us to Lake Okeechobee, Archbold Research Station’s Lake Annie--a sinkhole lake 68 feet deep, and the Venus Flatwoods. Along the road we found four adult Sandhill Cranes with a baby, a venue of Black Vultures, a Swallow-tailed Kite, and a Florida Gopher Tortoise. Chris caught up to it so we could take photographs. Though ‘running down’ a turtle doesn’t sound difficult, that baby could scoot! Lake Okeechobee yielded an array of aquatic birds, notably Laughing Gulls and Black Skimmers, Least, Forster’s, Royal, and Caspian Terns, Common Gallinules, more Limpkins, soaring Snail Kites and below the walkway, the shells of the Apple Snails that Limpkins and Snail Kites devour. A pair of Osprey visited a nest in tandem, and gators were everywhere. Archbold Research Station gave us a lovely picnic area and a bird house taken over by an enormous swarm of honey bees. A handsome Florida Scrub-Jay came near the path to check us out and posed beautifully. We saw Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Common Yellowthroats, Eastern Bluebirds and an Eastern Towhee, Solitary and Least sandpipers, more Sandhill Cranes, and a Pileated Woodpecker. A Swallow-tailed Kite showed us the way home. Buffet dinner over, we checked into the Ramada in Lake Placid. Bob observed, “The hardest part of the day was checking in at the Ramada.” The desk clerk seemed just a bit distracted from her work. For no apparent reason, we were given large packs of Orbitz chewing gum in our rooms. The sunset was simply gorgeous!

April 21 we went to Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to search for the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. We got good binocular views of two with a third in and out, and spectacular scope views. Babcock-Webb and Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) gave us Muscovy Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Bobwhite, Crested Caracara, Common Gallinule, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Brown Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike, Gray Catbird, White and Brown Pelicans, Northern Mockingbird, Pine and Palm Warblers, Eastern Towhee, and a host of shorebirds: Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Willet, Least Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher. We enjoyed watching an immature Little Blue Heron just beginning to get his blue color which, Bob told us, comes on symmetrically. Some saw an immature Bald Eagle in a leafy tree. Our first Reddish Egret showed off a bit for us. We were all amazed at the White Mullet jumping high out of the water. And we saw two Brown Snakes in the water, as well as a number of American Alligators, and Mangrove, Horseshoe, and Fiddler Crabs. Just before we reached the bridge to Sanibel, Chris remarked she’d seen a sign, ‘Watch for low-flying pelicans.’ And sure enough, one came at us just as she said the words. Babcock-Webb gave us some worry, as we got rather lost on the un-marked dirt roads and had to chase down a WMA truck to find our exit. So it was fitting that Greg Nichols, manager of the Best Western Plaza, upgraded us to suites for our night in Naples. Ah, what luxury. Dinner at Applebee’s.

Day 4 found us choosing our Subways and heading for Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary where a Red-shouldered Hawk gave us a ‘hostly’ welcome from a post near the entrance. We started at the feeders and saw buntings, male and female Indigo AND Painted! And Gray Squirrels were so frantic they seemed to suffer with ADHD. Barred Owls were our target birds, and we were told where to look. The babies had fledged, but adults came down frequently to get crawfish to feed them. We waited with a German family for some time before moving along. Suddenly a hoo-hoo-wack howl sounded, again and again. The ‘the monkey call’ continued as another answered and they called to each other. Commotion back where we’d been standing moments before alerted us that one was coming in, and it flew right past us. We had a butt view when it perched overhead. But then it delighted us by flying overhead once more to a nearer, lower perch on the other side of the path so we could get glorious photos and great views.

We had spectacular views of a Great Egret nest with three chicks, nesting Anhingas, and a Black-crowned Night-Heron being alert but particular about snatching food from Lettuce Lake. Also enjoyed were Brown and Green Anoles, Carolina Wrens, a flock of Cedar Waxwings dining on fruit overhead, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, Great Crested Flycatchers, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Banded Water Snake, more of the usual suspects, and two Swallow-tailed Kites soaring overhead in courtship. At one point we heard enormous splashing sounds that could have been made by 20-year old Bendix washing machines running amok. This continued for minutes, before the reason for it came into view, a smallish gator chased by a much bigger gator came crash-splashing past us.

We picnicked in shaded coolness. A stop along the Tamiami Trail at Miccosukee brought great views of Red-bellied Woodpeckers and some impressive courting behaviors. And a stop at Cutler Ridge Bridge showed us four Cave Swallows, until Bob phished heartily and the whole colony of 50 rushed to the sky. Three Green Iguanas watched nearby and a Basilisk sunned itself next to the water. We had a nice dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s. Then on we went to the Travelodge at Florida City for gift microwave popcorn and cookies, a quick glimpse of Common Mynas, the daily checklist, and sleep.

We arose on Day 5, walked the few feet to select our Subways, wondered what caused the motel coffee machine to pour its contents onto the floor, and headed to Everglades National Park. The parking lot was the convention site for Black Vultures who, we were warned, would eat all the rubber parts on cars, so tarps were provided. Our van looked like a big blue tent, but nothing had been damaged during our walk. At one point a sawgrass prairie was on one side of the boardwalk, a willow thicket was on the other side, and a hardwood forest lay beyond the visitor’s center. Mere inches of difference in elevation cause dramatic habitat changes. We met a lady who declared she was searching for a Purple Gallinule because “I haven’t seen one in 16 years.” The second she left, Bob spotted one coming through the reeds. Rich ran after her, and we all had lovely views. Gators, gators, gators, and Black Vultures galore! Spectacular Anhingas spread their wings alluringly, and Great Blue Herons demonstrated the delta wing posture that aids in thermoregulation. We saw Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, White-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Common Yellowthroat, Indigo Bunting, Cooper’s and Red-Shouldered Hawks, Common Gallinule and American Coot, Black-necked Stilts, Spotted, Stilt, and Solitary Sandpipers, and at one point 275 Willets.

We walked the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo trails. On the latter we again heard the ‘monkey calls’ of the Barred Owl. The Anhinga Trail yielded Alligator Gar, Oscar, Largemouth Bass, Asian Cichlid, and Blue Tilapia. Rich rescued a Florida Softshell (turtle) from the road. An immature Cooper’s Hawk was on the roadside with prey. We lunched with a curious American Crow while watching the mangrove island covered with nesting egrets and a pair of Roseate Spoonbills. In the van, discussion turned to regional pronunciations, notably ‘pots’ (parts) in Rhode Island and ‘ice’ (which is pronounced like a rear body part) in Texas. At Flamingo Visitors’ Center we had fabulous looks at adult Ospreys and two young in the nest almost ready to fledge. We saw American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, a Stilt Sandpiper, and another pair of Osprey, one dining on its prey only feet from the van. A large raft of American Coots and an American Crocodile were sighted.

Thursday we walked to Subway, checked out, and headed south and west along the Keys. We made an early morning detour back into Everglades National Park near Mahogany Hammock. While searching for the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, we encountered a very cooperative Sedge Wren. We saw an Eastern Meadowlark and heard Sandhill Cranes. Eventually we got a far-away look at the Seaside Sparrow, and were off again. We visited Card Sound Bridge and Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park. At Dagny we went farther than the underpass where Bob usually stops. We went until the road was covered by the rising tide, saw lots of Prairie Warblers, but couldn’t find the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo.

Magnificent Frigatebirds soared overhead, while Wood Storks, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great and Snowy Egrets appeared along the road. A venue (yes, that’s the collective name, sometimes a ‘committee’, a ‘volt’, or a ‘wake’) of Black Vultures devouring an Alligator proved noteworthy. We had a look at a Black-whiskered Vireo as well as a White-eyed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Gray Catbird, Common Myna, Tennessee Warbler, Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, our only Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, and a Painted Bunting. Manatee mailboxes became an Item to Notice. We drove through parts of Big Pine Key and spotted two diminutive Key Deer. We saw Stilt Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. In Key West we found the pier for tomorrow’s boat trip, checked on parking and reservations for our trip to the Dry Tortugas, chuckled at the thought of turtle races and the flashily promoted NASCRAB races, had a wonderful dinner at Turtle Kraals, a check-in at Best Western Key Ambassador, and a promise to do a checklist the next morning, as we were all quite tired.

Friday we were up early and off to the pier and the Yankee Freedom II. We had breakfast on board and sailed at 8:00am. We all commented on the clever bird towel sculptures we had in our motel bathrooms. On deck we got a great look at Mel Fisher’s treasure-salvaging boat, still operating near the site of the Atocha discovery. Flying fish leapt and Magnificent Frigatebirds joined gulls overhead. Brown Pelicans and Ruddy Turnstones welcomed us—as did the Captain—at Fort Jefferson. Palm and Prairie Warblers were so plentiful that Chris said she found herself wishing there weren’t so many, as they distracted her from searching for other birds. The Fort and its history were a grand background for all of the birdlife there. At one point we saw an Eastern and a Gray Kingbird sharing the same tree branch. Dozens of Brown Noddies perched on the North Coaling Docks (metal stanchions just offshore) and myriad Magnificent Frigatebirds continually soared above us. Sightings included American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Cliff Swallow, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, and in the last 30 minutes of our stay, the mother lode of warblers which included: Wilson’s, Tennessee, Northern Parula, Magnolia, Cape May, Prairie, Palm, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, and a Worm-eating, five feet away! We saw several Brown Boobies, and on the return trip we sailed next to Hospital Key to see the nesting Masked Boobies. Despite the heat—What a Day!

Dinner back at Key West was at La Trattoria, a marvelous Italian restaurant near our motel. And as if that wasn’t enough, we drove to The Pier House for a slice of Key Lime pie where, supposedly, this dessert originated. We sat down, ordered, and saw planes overhead. One was a bi-plane; one was ejecting long streamers. The waters began to fill with boats—two were definitely pirate boats with costumed crew. A Coast Guard vessel pulled up. And BOOM! A canon went off. It was the annual re-enactment of the great Harbor Rescue, the Great Conch Republic v/s the U.S. Government! We learned that Bob’s son David had participated in the mock battle 16 years ago and was delighted that his Dad was also able to experience it. We were enchanted. Every time the canon boomed, a large flock of pigeons exploded from the Pier House roof. Wonderful dessert and a show—Oh, my! Contented, happy, and sleepy, we retired to our Best Western.

And then it was our penultimate day. We began at Fort Zachary Taylor which defended the Key West Harbor from 1845 to 1947, when it was decommissioned following the abolishment of the Coast Artillery Corps. The Fort was impressive, the Disney cruise ship anchoring in the harbor was impressive, but the highlight of the day—and possibly the trip—was the sighting of a Bahama Mockingbird, native to the West Indies. Other groups were looking for it. The initial report had come on the previous Tuesday; could it still be here? Finally another group spotted it and told us where to look. We waited patiently for more than half an hour, and were rewarded handsomely. There it finally was, and we saw it nicely in the spotting scope! Of all the things we found at Key West and Stock Island, on Sugarloaf Key, Big Pine Key, and at Key Colony--we’d seen Muscovy Duck, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great White Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, White Ibis, Osprey, an American Kestrel, Least Tern, Royal Tern, White-crowned Pigeon, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern and Gray Kingbirds, Black-whiskered Vireo, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Gray-cheeked Thrush, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, and eight Key Deer including two button bucks (and Jeanne was delighted to see in context that the deer are shorter than a standard mailbox)--that Bahama Mockingbird was the acme, the apex, the epitome. It was quite a find!

On the return trip along the Keys, Bob had previously found the Cuban race of Yellow Warbler at No Name Key Bridge. Rich briefly played the song, and the little bird was instantly on the spot protecting his territory. He perched on the railing next to our group, moved to Rich’s shoulder, and finally identified the Ipad’s microphone as the source of the intruder. He perched next to the mike on the pad, delighting everyone. And when the sound stopped, the bird was delighted too, knowing he’d won and driven the interloper away.

We pulled into our last stop, TraveLodge in Florida City again, only to find the reservations were mistaken and they had just one room for us instead of four. Saturday night in Florida City, and rooms were at a premium. They were able to book us next door at the Quality Inn, and we were VERY happy for that. We went to Mutineers for dinner. What a fun spot. Wonderful food, a New Orleans-style painted gator sculpture in a pond with ducks, and a lone cat prowling outside the fence. Koi and treasure chests and a large pirate figure to greeted us at the entrance.

Sunday we loaded the van for the last time, and waved without stopping to our old friend Subway. Bev started us off with her standard ‘Off like a herd of turtles’ and the Kerns did their standard one line: ‘On the road again.’ We stopped at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables where we saw Northern Cardinal, Orange-winged Parrots, three Blue Macaw, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Great Blue Heron, Fish Crows, and blue lizards with orange heads and red and white tails called Agama, from Madagascar. We also saw a bride in full regalia and people moving couches, love seats, and mirrors into the park. And all too soon we were at Fox Car Rental returning the van, hugging goodbye, thanking Bob, and boarding the shuttle to Fort Lauderdale Airport for our looooong trips home, carrying cameras, luggage, and wonderful memories.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA & DRY TORTUGAS:
20-28 April 2013

  1) SWALLOW-TAILED KITE--seen on numerous occasions, even while eating dinner in a Naples restaurant. What an impressive bird!!
  2) Red-cockaded Woodpecker--we found a pair at Babcock-Webb WMA. It is always fun to observe a federally endangered species in the spotting scopes, calling, flying, and feeding.
  3) Roseate Spoonbill--a unique bird with wildly-colored plumage.
  4) Burrowing Owl--awesome looks at adults and nearly grown young, at Cape Coral and Marco Island.
  5) Florida Scrub-Jay--once again the Archbold Field Station yielded this state endemic species, as close as 25-30 feet away in our scopes.
  6) Barred Owl--a pair with two newly-fledged young at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Killer close-up views, with one of the adults capturing prey.
  7) Pileated Woodpecker--after several poor looks early in the tour, we found THREE feeding and calling in the Flamingo campground of Everglades National Park (ENP).
  8) Anhinga--we saw many, but we saw them REALLY well at the Anhinga Trail of ENP. Where else?!
  9) Limpkin--point blank looks at two adults and three nearly grown young, looking down on them from a boardwalk at Lake Okeechobee. We watched one of the adults find and consume an Apple Snail (genus: Pomacea).
10) Prairie Warbler--after hearing them sing numerous times, we finally put our binoculars on several in the Keys and the Dry Tortugas. It is an impressive warbler.

Mammalian highlights included Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins on our boat trip to the Tortugas, and three diminutive Key Deer on Big Pine Key. We saw an American Crocodile at the Flamingo Marina, numerous American Alligators (adults and young), Spiny and Green Iguanas, THREE Gopher Tortoises in one afternoon, numerous Florida Softshells, and three Green Sea Turtles during our Tortugas boat ride. Watching Atlantic Flying Fish from the boat was also a big treat. And, the Fiddler Crab show at Ding Darling was almost mesmerizing, as hundreds of male crabs waved their over-sized claws to communicate with each other.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS
20 – 28 April 2013
Bob Schutsky, Tour Leader

South Florida is a very popular birding destination. There is a great diversity of habitats, some of which are found nowhere else in the US. It is always fun when we have participants from diverse geographical areas. This year’s group included Janet and Barry from Calgary, Alberta, Martha and Colin from Ottawa, Ontario, and Lisa and Helen from near San Francisco, California. Many of the birds that we found were new to one or more of the people in our tour group. And everyone was able to help others to find exciting new species.

Sat, Day 1 We all gathered yesterday afternoon and spent the night in Fort Lauderdale. Our first stop this morning was City Furniture in Tamarac, a seemingly unlikely spot to begin a birding tour. A large pond on the property produced four Purple Swamphens, a newly established South Florida species. No more than a month prior to the tour, it was voted to be countable by the American Birding Association, so everyone was anxious to see one. We all had great looks. From there we drove north toward West Palm Beach to visit extensive wetlands at Wakodahatchee and Green Cay. Both locations have great boardwalks and produced exciting species such as Least Bittern, Purple Gallinule, Common Gallinules with young, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, and nesting Black-necked Stilts. Nesting Anhingas and most of the long-legged waders were seen in abundance. We saw our first Red-shouldered Hawks here, and found them daily throughout the tour. This is the very pale South Florida race. The birds in general are quite tame as you observe them from the boardwalk, a true pleasure for birding and photographing. We spent the night in West Palm Beach.

Sun, Day 2 As we drove toward Lake Okeechobee, we had excellent luck with birds along the road. There were two Sandhill Cranes, a Limpkin in the middle of the road, and at least five Crested Caracaras. Red-shouldered Hawks were abundant. The wetlands along the Lake Okeechobee shoreline produced fine looks at Snail Kites, Caspian Tern, and a family group of Limpkins. A singing Marsh Wren was almost certainly a late migrant. At Archbold Research Station we found a family group of Florida Scrub-Jays, an endemic to Florida. An additional sandhill specialty was the pale-eyed race of the Eastern Towhee. Extensive pastures adjacent to the Venus Flatwoods produced at least half a dozen Red-headed Woodpeckers, our first of many elegant Swallow-tailed Kites, and THREE Gopher Tortoises in one afternoon. There were numerous Common Nighthawks. We settled down for a peaceful night, just south of Lake Placid.

Mon, Day 3 We gave up some local birding this morning and headed west toward Punta Gorda, near the Gulf Coast. There we visited Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, a new destination for this tour. Our target species was the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and we were quite successful. We had scope views of a male and female, calling, feeding, and flying. Formerly we could find these woodpeckers at the Venus Flatwoods, but they deserted this area nearly a decade ago. We also had good looks at Brown-headed Nuthatches, and heard Northern Bobwhite and Bachman’s Sparrows well. Unfortunately these last two species allowed only fleeting glimpses. There was a female American Alligator with about thirty young in a small pool along one of the forest roads. As we headed toward the coast we made a detour into Cape Coral, for killer looks at young and adult Burrowing Owls. Cape Coral has the densest population of this owl anywhere in the world. Nearby coastal waters produced three Common Loons, unusual for late April. Our final stop of the day was Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), where we concentrated on aquatic species. We found a sleeping Roseate Spoonbill, Stilt Sandpiper, Red Knot, and dark-plumaged Reddish Egret, all on a single sandbar. A few Magnificent Frigatebirds soared high overhead. Hundreds of male Fiddler Crabs entertained us as each waved its over-sized claw, their form of communication. Our final new bird of the day was a Belted Kingfisher, the only one of the entire tour. As we ate dinner just north of Naples, a Swallow-tailed Kite put on a spectacular show over the parking area, passing three sets of windows, thus providing a good look for all, including our server. What a spectacular bird!

Tue, Day 4 En route to Tigertail Beach on Marco Island, we had fine looks at another Burrowing Owl. Tigertail yielded a dark Reddish Egret, Least Terns, and several Wilson’s Plovers. Prairie Warbler had been somewhat elusive thus far, but we managed a few glimpses and heard its song well. There would be more in the Keys. National Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is always an enjoyable destination. The highlight was a Barred Owl family of two young and one of the adults. We watched the adult drop into the palmettos to capture prey. All of the observations were at VERY close range, in our scopes. Additional sightings included a soaring Peregrine Falcon, and two female Painted Buntings at a feeding station. We had multiple views of American Redstarts, Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Carolina Wrens. Views of these and many other species are often ridiculously close from the boardwalk trail through the cypress swamp. Our afternoon drive took us across Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades. Our final stop was a bridge at Cutler Ridge, south of Miami, where Cave Swallows have nested for years. We also saw our first Muscovies and a Spiny Iguana.

Wed, Day 5 Our day began with a Western Kingbird and Common Myna, both a mere few blocks from our motel and both at Shell gas stations. This could lead to a new birding strategy! Later during our stay in Florida City we would see more Common Mynas, right on the grounds of our motel. We spent the entire day in magnificent Everglades National Park, where we saw a minimum of 15 Swallow-tailed Kites. Along the Anhinga Trail there were several broods of newly-fledged Green Herons, great looks at Double-crested Cormorants (several feet away on the boardwalk railing), and a gathering of 25 large American Alligators. We had our first good looks at Florida Softshell Turtles, with their elongated snouts. Fishes included Alligator Gar, Oscar, Largemouth Bass, and Mosquitofish. Moving on to Mahogany Hammock, a Barred Owl sounded off close to the boardwalk, but we were not able to see it. We saw a few migrant warblers, including Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll. It seems as if we had to struggle for every migrant songbird that we saw--no major fallouts this year. For example, we saw 100+ Blue Grosbeaks last year, zero this year. Last year there were dozens of Dickcissels (10 in one flock), this year none. I could cite many more examples, such as Indigo Bunting and many of the warblers. Perhaps because they were a bit more difficult, we were all the more excited about the ones we found. Shiny Cowbird has become quite reliable in the short grassy areas near the Flamingo Visitors Center. We found two males this year. There was an American Crocodile in the nearby marina. The Paurotis Rookery hosted a nice variety of long-legged waders, including Wood Storks, Tricolored Herons, and a few Roseate Spoonbills. We continued to see Swallow-tailed Kites throughout the park.

Thu, Day 6 This was our day to travel west through the Florida Keys, with our final destination being Key West. Our first stop was the Card Sound Bridge, a short drive from Florida City. This is one of the more reliable spots to find the Golden (or Cuban) form of the Yellow Warbler. We heard them, saw them in flight, and had brief looks at them perched. On Upper Key Largo we had great looks at Black-whiskered Vireos, plus added a few warblers to our migrant list. These included stunning male Cape May Warblers, plus Prairie, Palm, Black-and-white, and American Redstarts. A large flock of about 50 Bobolinks put on a good show. We continued to find migrant warblers at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park (phew--what a name). Especially entertaining were the numerous Ovenbirds, feeding openly on the main trail, which is an old macadam road bed. No one tired of seeing more Cape May and Black-throated Blue Warblers. After lunch at Evelyn’s Restaurant, we proceeded to Founder’s Park on Islamorada. In addition to repeated looks at warblers seen earlier in the day, we had our first views of Gray Kingbird, a specialty of the Keys. We also found our first White-crowned Pigeons of the tour. Upon arriving in Key West we drove to the dock to see our point of departure for tomorrow’s adventure to the Dry Tortugas. Along the shoreline near our motel we found both Great White and Wurdemann’s Herons. Both are localized morphs of the Great Blue Heron.

Fri, Day 7 Our day at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas is typically our most productive and exciting day of the entire tour, and this year was no exception. On our boat trip from Key West, we saw Northern Gannets, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Atlantic Flying Fish, and several Green Sea Turtles. Near the Fort we saw Masked and Brown Boobies, and thousands of Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns in their nesting colony. At the Fort we saw a Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and our second Peregrine Falcon of the tour. During our 4.5 hours on shore we added six new warblers: Blue-winged, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle), Yellow-throated, Worm-eating, Kentucky, and Hooded, with knock-out looks at every one. We also found Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, Swainson’s Thrush, Shiny Cowbird, and a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Add the Fort with its history and architecture, the incredible scenery, and beautiful ocean water, and this is certainly a day to remember.

Sat, Day 8 Our plan for today was to drive back through the Keys and spend another night in Florida City. Our first stop was Saddlebunch Key, in search of the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. We gave it our best try, but unfortunately were unsuccessful. One new species in the mangroves was a Northern Waterthrush that was heard only. Prairie and Palm warblers were common. We explored Big Pine Key and No Name Key, especially to search for the diminutive, endangered Key Deer. It is the smallest race of the White-tailed Deer, which is found across the US and parts of Canada. We had great looks at a buck, a doe, and a sub-adult, which made everyone very happy. We tried some county office buildings in Marathon where several pairs of Roseate Terns nested on the rooftops with many Least Terns last year. We found the massive colony of Least Terns, but no Roseates. After several other stops, we found another Gray Kingbird at the Card Sound Bridge.

Sun, Day 9 Today would be a short day, as we had flights to catch in Fort Lauderdale. We spent some time in South Miami, especially on the grounds of the Baptist Hospital, with its palm trees, lush plantings, and large lake. Birds of interest included an Egyptian Goose (a probable escape), a Monk Parakeet (countable by ABA standards), and a flock of Mitred Parakeets (nesting, but not yet fully established). You never know what you will find in the Greater Miami metropolitan area. We finished the tour with a point-blank look at a Gray Kingbird, in the scopes. And a fine tour it was, thanks to our wonderful participants. It was time to head for Fort Lauderdale and make our way home.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA:
21-29 April 2012

  1) BLACK NODDY--John found one individual among the thousands of nesting Brown Noddies on Bird Key in the Dry Tortugas. Within the next hour, every birder at Fort Jefferson was able to see this bird!
  2) Antillean Nighthawk--we had a nice comparison between perched Antillean and Common Nighthawks at Fort Jefferson, plus several Antilleans in flight at the Marathon Airport.
  3) Brown Noddy--thousands of these handsome terns were seen at the Dry Tortugas, many of which were perched and flying at close range.
  4) Swallowtail Kite--we saw this elegant raptor on a daily basis, as many as a dozen in one day. One was carrying a small snake.
  5) Roseate Tern--a small nesting colony was performing courtship flights at the Marathon Government Center. They often carried small fish and passed them to each other.
  6) Burrowing Owl--there was a pair at VERY close range (10 feet) near our Marathon motel. From our motel balcony we watched a single bird hunting on the adjacent golf course.
  7) Florida Scrub-Jay--everyone had nice looks of this Florida endemic near Archbold Field Station in the sandhill country.
  8) Bachman’s Sparrow--a single bird perched in the open and sang in the Venus Flatwoods, south of Archbold.
  9) Magnificent Frigatebird--the Dry Tortugas colony always puts on a nice show.
10) Indigo Bunting--large flocks of migrants were seen on numerous occasions, often mixed with Dickcissels and Blue Grosbeaks.
11) Black-whiskered Vireo--our best view was of a single bird that visited the fountain at Fort Jefferson on the Tortugas.
12) Blue Grosbeak--we estimated one flock of at least 80 birds, mostly males. They were along the shoulder of the road that leads to Flamingo at Everglades National Park.

The diminutive Key Deer, an endangered sub-species of the White-tailed Deer, was seen at close range on the Florida Keys. We had great looks at American Crocodiles at Flamingo Marina in Everglades National Park. We found American Alligators and Florida Softshells in numerous locations, and several Gopher Tortoises.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA:
21 - 29 April 2012

Leaders: John Puschock and Bob Schutsky
Trip Report by John Puschock

Bird Treks 2012 tour of South Florida began at two of the area’s best spots for getting up close and personal with a variety of waterbirds: Green Cay and Wakodahatchee. Both sites are located near West Palm Beach and feature a boardwalk through extensive wetlands. The birds have grown accustomed to people, so you can often watch herons, egrets, and other aquatic species from very close range. There were a few rain showers, but we didn’t let that get in the way. We had several flying and perched Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, and one of the most-wanted Florida birds, Limpkin. Of course, there were many American Alligators. There was also some drama: a Great Blue Heron caught a small turtle and was having a tough time trying to eat it. It had difficulty getting the turtle into position to swallow it. We watched it for about 15 minutes. Sometimes the heron would drop it, and it looked as if the turtle would get away, but each time the heron would grab it by a leg and pick it up again. When we left, the stalemate was still in progress.

The next day was sunnier than our first day; we only had a few rain showers to contend with around midday. We started the day by driving inland from West Palm Beach. Our ultimate destination was Sebring, but we had stops planned for Lake Okeechobee and Archbold Research Station. Of course, there were unplanned stops along the way, such as our first Crested Caracaras along Highway 710 and our first Swallow-tailed Kites that were found during a fuel stop. We arrived at the north end of Lake Okeechobee shortly before noon. Our objective: Snail Kite. There were lots of birds around, but we couldn’t pick out a Snail Kite. We explored a few spots along the shoreline, looking for a raptor flying slowly over the emergent vegetation. A Northern Harrier gave us pause several times. But before giving up, we returned to our starting point to give it one more try. And yes, there was a Snail Kite actively hunting for snails. It was fairly far out, but everyone had scope views, and it eventually came closer. After it moved on, we continued west to Archbold.

Shortly after arriving at the Archbold property, we saw the bird that the research station is most known for, the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay. We first spotted a jay acting as a sentinel, perched high on a snag. Scrub-Jays live in family groups, and when you see one like this, you can be pretty certain that there are several jays looking for food in the scrub below it. We pulled off to the side of the road, and in a short time the rest of the group came out to the shoulder of the road to forage. We then headed on to Archbold’s headquarters and visitor area. We waited for a rain shower to pass before getting out of the vans. The rain seemed to make the birds more active. A Northern Bobwhite called from a tree, hidden by foliage. Eventually we pinned down its location and focused a scope on it. We also added Brown Thrasher and Red-headed Woodpecker to the trip list.

We spent the night in Sebring, and started the next day at Venus Flatwoods. Our main target was Bachman’s Sparrow. This species is usually found by its song, but none were singing. It was looking grim, but then some call notes started coming from the undergrowth – not a song, just chip notes. The bird popped out into the open, and there it was: Bachman’s Sparrow, our only one for the tour. Next stop was Fisheating Creek. Here we scanned the skies, picking through the vultures to look for a Short-tailed Hawk. Eventually, I picked one out, but it was quite distant. It wasn’t a satisfying look, but at least we had found one. From here we drove west to Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast. A Lazuli Bunting had been coming to a backyard feeder. We watched the feeder for about 20 minutes. No Lazuli Bunting, but we there were several Indigo Buntings, and even better, Painted Buntings. We then finished the day with a drive around Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Birding was fantastic, but not with the expected waterbirds. A fallout of songbird migrants had occurred the previous day, and many were still lingering. We had a great time watching tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and my favorite, thrushes. Of course, these were some of the least colorful birds we saw that day, but it was fun having a lot of brown thrushes together and seeing the subtle differences between them.

Day 4 started at Eagle Lakes in Naples. There were some migrants lingering here as well. There were lots of Indigo Buntings, some Blue Grosbeaks, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and the first Bobolinks of the tour. Eagle Lakes is known for having Bronzed Cowbirds, and we found numerous individuals. The famous Corkscrew Swamp was the next stop. A Brown-headed Nuthatch nest cavity had been discovered right over the trail, so we waited for one to show up. We had missed this species at Venus Flatwoods and thought that would be our only chance, so it was nice to see this one well. We then had a long drive back to the Atlantic coast. After crossing the Everglades, we stopped at Cutler Ridge south of Miami, where there is a colony of Cave Swallows. They nest under a few bridges and are relatively easy to observe, especially with some pishing to help bring them in close.

We birded almost exclusively in Everglades National Park on Day 5. We had only one stop outside the park boundary. On the way to the park, we came across a small flock of Upland Sandpipers in a plowed field. Anhinga Trail was our first stop inside the park. It wasn’t particularly birdy, but there was an Eastern Kingbird building a nest close to the trail. As always, the abundant American Alligators put on a show. We stopped beside the main park road to look for Cape Sable Seaside Sparrows. They are a subspecies of Seaside Sparrow. They’re restricted to the Everglades and their population has been declining. We didn’t get great looks, but we did see one or two. Continuing on, the road goes through an extensively forested area as you approach Flamingo and the end of the park road. Again, we came across a lot of migrant songbirds. Blue Grosbeaks were particularly numerous. At Flamingo, we drove through the campground. There were a lot of Blue Grosbeaks here, as well. We also found a flock of more than ten Dickcissels. At the Flamingo visitor center, we looked through the large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and picked out a few Shiny Cowbirds. On a sandbar in the bay, we spotted a Great White Heron, which is regarded as a morph of Great Blue Heron, and our only Gull-billed Tern of the trip. Then we took a short walk to the marina. A few American Crocodiles were sunning themselves on the banks.

The following day, Day 6 of the tour, we drove to the Keys, with our first stop at the beginning of the bridge that would take us there, the Card Sound Bridge. This is a well-known place to look for the “Cuban” or “Golden” Yellow Warbler, a subgroup of the Yellow Warbler that is resident primarily in the Caribbean. There was at least one singing, and it eventually came over to the mangroves along the road where we all could see it. We then crossed the bridge over to North Key Largo. We birded several locations here. At the first stop, a Black-whiskered Vireo was singing directly above our vans. This species was cooperative and we saw several. White-crowned Pigeons, however, were much less cooperative. There were a few around, but we saw them only as fly-bys. I spotted a few that were perched, but they all flushed before anyone else could get a look. We continued heading through the keys and made it to Key Largo in time for lunch. We dined al fresco. All morning I was asked about the chances of seeing Gray Kingbird, a bird I was quite confident we would see. I said it was simply a matter of time. So during lunch, I kept an eye open, and sure enough, a kingbird flew over the restaurant’s parking lot. Without saying anything, I tracked it down. It was on a wire behind the restaurant. I went back to get the group. The Gray Kingbird stuck around for several minutes, so we all got to see it in the scope. We birded at several places as we drove to Marathon, where we would spend the night. A park at Islamorada had decent numbers of warblers and other migrants. A Black-billed Cuckoo had been reported here the previous day. We failed to find it, but we found a Kentucky Warbler instead. Late in the day at Marathon, we stopped at a spot that’s had Burrowing Owls for years, and there they were, calmly sitting by their burrow, ten feet from the vans.

The next day we were going to the Dry Tortugas, so we had to be in Key West early to board the boat. Once in Key West, we had a short walk from the parking garage to the dock. Along the way, we were treated to a White-crowned Pigeon perched in a leafless tree in the early morning light. The White-crowneds here are a lot more accustomed to humans, so no worries about flushing this one. It takes about two hours to reach the Tortugas from Key West. The boat is fast, but we still managed to see a number of pelagic species along the way. There were Northern Gannet and Pomarine Jaeger. There was also an immature Bridled Tern sitting on a floating piece of wood. Unfortunately only a few of us were able to see it as we zipped past. The real seabird show begins as you approach the Tortugas. Brown Boobies perch on channel markers. Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies are flying to and from their nearby nesting colony. The boat passes through this stream of birds as it approaches the dock. It’s a great show that continues when you get off the boat, as the colony is only a short distance from the dock. Many of the Brown Noddies perch on the abandoned coaling dock pilings, allowing birders to study them at leisure. But on this day, we were immediately distracted from the terns. A small flock of shorebirds was working through seaweed washed up on shore, and they were oblivious to the birders watching them from just a few feet away. This flock included colorful Ruddy Turnstones, Western and Least Sandpipers, a Pectoral Sandpiper, and the one that attracted me the most, a single White-rumped Sandpiper. Next we moved into the fort to look for migrant songbirds. Other birders pointed out a roosting nighthawk that was almost definitely an Antillean Nighthawk. There were numerous warblers, including a Wilson’s, which is fairly rare in Florida. We watched a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the lawn. After lunch, we set up our scopes on the top of the fort to scan through the tern colony. A Black Noddy had been reported here a few days earlier, so we carefully examined every noddy that we could see on the island. Compared to Brown Noddy, Black is smaller, longer-billed, and, yes, blacker. Eventually I came across one that seemed to be darker and the bill looked good, but something seemed wrong. It appeared to be the same size as the other noddies nearby, and sometimes it looked black while other times it looked brown. After scrutinizing this bird for some time, it became apparent what was going on. It was a Black Noddy, but there was a Brown Noddy directly behind it. My mind had superimposed the two birds together, making me think the Black Noddy was larger than it was. It also explained why the Black Noddy sometimes looked brown; when it would turn occasionally, more of the Brown Noddy was visible, leading me to believe it (the Black Noddy) was also brown. Once we solved the mystery, we spread the news to all the birders on the island. Eventually the Brown Noddy moved, so we could see the Black Noddy in all its glory. This is a very rare bird in the ABA area.

Day 8 was spent further exploring the Keys. We found another tern species, Roseate Tern, at the Marathon Government Center. They nest on top of one of the buildings, and we watched them engaged in courtship flights over our heads. We stopped at Sugarloaf Key to look for Mangrove Cuckoos, but had no luck with that shy species. Fort Zachary Taylor Park on Key West gave us some more warblers including Prothonotary and our only Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows of the tour. On the drive back to Marathon, we saw a Wilson’s Plover that had been previously reported.

The final day of the tour, Day 9, found us driving back to the Fort Lauderdale Airport in heavy rain. We had planned to bird at a few spots. We even tried to look for Mangrove Cuckoo at Black Point Marina south of Miami, but we had to quit after a short time as the rain turned into a deluge. We waited for the rains to subside, but they showed no signs of letting up, so off to the airport we went. South Florida had once again treated us quite well.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA TOUR:
19-27 April 2011

  1) PURPLE GALLINULE--we witnessed a 4-way brawl at the Wikodahatchee Wetlands. It was quite a spectacle!
  2) Swallow-tailed Kite--numerous sightings of this elegant raptor.
  3) Burrowing Owl--we checked on the Key Colony owl several times, just to see how it was doing.
  4) Shiny Cowbird--there were two males with a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds at Flamingo.
  5) Black-whiskered Vireo--after some hard work we were rewarded with nice looks at a singing bird on Sugarloaf Key.
  6) Brown Noddy--great scope views as they perched on the coaling docks at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas.
  7) Hooded Warbler--a very tame and tired female at the Dry Tortugas, observed at arm's length.
  8) Red-headed Woodpecker--our best looks were at the Venus Flatwoods near Lake Placid.
  9) Crested Caracara--several nice views of this unlikely falcon.
10) Roseate Spoonbill--close up and personal at Corkscrew Swamp.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA:
22-30 April 2004

  1) SWALLOW-TAILED KITE--Many close views of this graceful raptor.
  2) Mangrove Cuckoo--Point blank binocular views for 10 minutes at Ding Darling.
  3) Barred Owl--A big show at Corkscrew that included an adult catching a crayfish, a fledgling that munched on a grasshopper, and the adult owls evicting a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks from their territory.
  4) Chuck-will's-widow--Two spectacular views: one at night in the Everglades, one by day on the Dry Tortugas.
  5) Crested Caracara--At least 4 different adults as we neared Lake Okeechobee. One was feeding on a roadkill.
  6) Snowy Plover--Two adults on Sanibel Island with two young that were roughly the size and consistency of cotton balls.
  7) Smooth-billed Ani--Scope views at Fort Lauderdale Airport, perhaps the last remaining individual in the ABA area.
  8) Purple Gallinule--Many good looks, especially at the Wikodahatchee Wetlands.
  9) Antillean Nighthawk--Four calling and displaying at the Marathon Airport, 7:45 PM.
10) (3 way tie)
      Least Bittern--Great scope views at Wikodahatchee.
      Upland Sandpiper--A nice surprise in a pasture near Labelle.
      Cape May Warbler--An amazingly common migrant.

Non-avian highlights that made a great impression were the single American Crocodile and many American Alligators, one of which was feasting upon a Florida Softshell Turtle. We saw a herd of Wild Pigs, a few Key Deer, and several Armadillos. Displaying Brown Anoles were a big hit, as were the Gopher Tortoises and the Peninsula Ribbon Snake. High among the fish sightings were the two Trunk Fish swimming in tandem.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA and the DRY TORTUGAS: 22-30 April 2004

Leaders: Mike Haldeman and Bob Schutsky
Trip Report by Mike Haldeman

Within 30 minutes of leaving the Miami Airport we were enjoying scope views of a Smooth-billed Ani. One of the last of this species in the US, this individual has taken up residence on the fringes of the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Next we headed to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for our first views of all the large waders and marsh birds for which south Florida is famous. Among these was a cooperative Limpkin that allowed us a close approach as it dined on its favorite prey - the Apple Snail. Next we visited the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. This small reserve has a wonderful boardwalk that allows extremely close approach to the very tame marsh birds. Along with numerous herons and egrets with bare parts adorned in high-breeding colors, we had excellent looks at several Purple Gallinules and scope views of Least Bitterns and Soras. Not bad for a travel day with birding that began after noon!

The next day we headed inland to the pinewoods and farmlands near Lake Okeechobee. Here we found numerous Florida Sandhill Cranes, many with fuzzy young tagging along with their parents. Near the small town of Lorida we found five Burrowing Owls and were pleasantly surprised by an Upland Sandpiper actively feeding in an open field. Crested Caracaras are common here and we had great looks at a pair on the side of the road. Florida Scrub-Jays were easily seen at the famous Archbold Biological Station, where we also observed a Hairy Woodpecker. At Venus Flatwoods we were finally rewarded by scope views of a singing Bachman's Sparrow and several nice looks at the local Red-headed Woodpeckers. We had distant, rather unsatisfying looks at Short-tailed Hawk along Fisheating Creek.

Our next stop was Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Here we spent some time sifting through hundreds of shorebirds looking up occasionally to see another flock of Roseate Spoonbills cruising overhead. The highlight was an extremely cooperative Mangrove Cuckoo that came in right above us in the dense mangroves near the entrance kiosk. The bird posed for several minutes before disappearing into the vegetation. A brief stop at Eagle Lakes near Naples gave us looks at the local group of Bronzed Cowbirds as well as Black Skimmers skimming, Least Terns diving, and many more shorebirds.

The boardwalk through the extensive cypress swamps of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary makes this impressive ecosystem uncharacteristically accessible. With the early morning mist still clinging to the treetops and Spanish moss hanging from the branches, the experience is one not soon forgotten. As we sat on a bench watching a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, a Barred Owl appeared out of nowhere to grab a crayfish out of the shallow water. It flew to a nearby branch and worked with its prey for a few minutes. Then it flew higher to give the food to its downy juvenile that had just begun to give its high-pitched calls. At about the same time a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks began to call excitedly and, as the adult owl left its perch, it was strafed by one of the hawks. When the Barred Owl settled on a branch it began singing, "Who cooks for you" and was soon joined in song by its mate. What was obviously a very tense moment for all the raptors involved became quite a wildlife spectacle, performed right overhead, for our group of birders. After Corkscrew we made our way across the Tamiami Trail stopping, or course, to scan the extensive flooded grasslands that the road bisects. We persisted until we had nice looks at Snail Kites, and then drove on to Key Largo for a chance at Western Spindalis. We did not find this Caribbean vagrant, but we did see our first Black-whiskered Vireo.

The boardwalk known as Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park is another spot where the wildlife is well acclimated to people. Here fuzzy white Anhinga juveniles beg for food as many patient American Alligators wait below the nests. Adult Anhingas actually rest on the handrail allowing tourists to sit right beside them, and normal Great Blue Herons are joined by their "Great White" relatives. At other spots within the park we found our first Gray Kingbirds, nesting Wood Storks, Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, and a male Shiny Cowbird. On the day before the tour Bob and I had the chance to walk the infamous Snake Bight Trail. The mosquitoes, while bad, were nothing like they can be, and at the end of the two-mile walk we were rewarded with a single Caribbean Flamingo on Florida Bay. Because of our good luck we decided to give the group the option of making the trek. They chose to go but no flamingos showed. We heard Clapper Rails, found another Barred Owl family, saw two Whimbrel, and experienced several million mosquitoes. That night we went back into the park and soon found a Chuck-will's-widow perched at eye-level near the side of the road. The cooperative bird sang in the spotlight for several minutes.

Our day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park yielded fifteen warbler species and great looks at Gray-cheeked Thrush, Veery, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. We saw another Chuck-will's-widow, this one perched silently in the shade of a clump of sea grape. Thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies were in place at their nesting colony and we could just make out the Masked Boobies on distant Hospital Key. On the way back to Key West we had a fly-by Brown Booby. Elsewhere on the Keys we had great looks at several perched White-crowned Pigeons and even managed a couple of male Bobolinks foraging on a baseball field.

Back in the hustle and bustle of the Miami area we visited a West Indian Cave Swallow colony, then found Red-whiskered Bulbul, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Common and Hill Mynas, and a last minute Spot-breasted Oriole before returning to the airport.

Next year's tour is scheduled for the same dates, 22-30 April 2005.

 

DRY TORTUGAS, FLORIDA
19-23 April 2001

  1) SOOTY TERN
  2) Painted Bunting
  3) Masked Booby
  4) Mangrove Cuckoo
  5) Brown Booby
  6) Brown Noddy
  7) Magnificent Frigatebird
  8) Chuck-will's-widow
  9) Roseate Tern
10) Shiny Cowbird

Additional highlights included a 20-foot Basking Shark, Spotted and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, Manta Ray, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA:
20-28 April 2000

  1) BURROWING OWL--people just cannot resist them
  2) White-crowned Pigeon--nice views
  3) Magnificent Frigatebird--what an elegant bird
  4) Barred Owl--was it the adults or the newly fledged young?
  5) Least Bittern--which one of the 20 that we saw at Wikodahatchee?
  6) Roseate Spoonbill--in the scope
  7) Mangrove Cuckoo--always a favorite
  8) Swallow-tailed Kite--many incredible views
  9) Wood Stork--I liked the young in the nests
10) Florida Scrub-Jay--close up view at Briggs
We also had great looks at Key Deer, watched a Nine-banded Armadillo in the spotlight, saw 5 Wild Pigs crossing a field, and found a beautiful Yellow Rat Snake in a tree.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA TOUR:
18-22 April 1999

  1) Roseate Spoonbill
  2) Key West Quail-Dove
  3) Burrowing Owl
  4) (Golden or Cuban) Yellow Warbler
  5) Loggerhead Shrike
  6) Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  7) Chuck-will's-widow
  8) (Cape Sable) Seaside Sparrow
  9) Reddish Egret
10) Shiny Cowbird
Non-avian sightings of interest included the diminutive Key Deer, some very large American Alligators, and two Southern Black Racers engaged in a mating ritual.

 

SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS
April 1999

I'll summarize these ten days with one bird: Key West Quail-Dove in the first hour of the tour. WOW!!!!! And the other nine days and 23 hours were just as much fun. These two tours will be conducted in April 2000. No promises on the Quail-Dove: sorry.................

 

SOUTH FLORIDA TOUR: 22 - 30 April 1997
  1) Mangrove Cuckoo
  2) Red-cockaded Woodpecker
  3) Chuck-will's-widow
  4) Antillean Nighthawk
  5) White-crowned Pigeon
  6) Snail Kite
  7) Burrowing Owl
  8) Florida Scrub-Jay
  9) Swallow-tailed Kite
10) Reddish Egret

 

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