For a lot of our group, this was our first organized birding trip in more than a year. In that sense, Southern Florida was a perfect choice for getting back into the field. This tour offers birding close to "home," with some migration and several Florida specialties (like Black-whiskered Vireo and Snail Kite), the spectacle that is the Dry Tortugas and its breeding birds, and a selection of interesting habitats all within a relatively small area (not too many long drives on this one). The beautiful weather and good eatin' also worked in the tour's favor.
Our tour had two main parts: "The Keys" including Key West, Key Largo, Big Pine Key, Sugarloaf Key (among others like No Name Key!); and the mainland (where we visited Everglades NP, the Fort Myers area, and Boynton Beach). The Keys were great for seeing a couple of tough US birds, like Black-whiskered Vireo (which we located on several cays) and Antillean Nighthawk (a very local US breeder), but it also served as a jumping off point to visit the famous Dry Tortugas. For most, this was the highlight of trip, and rightfully so. The boat trip out to Fort Jefferson alone is worth the visit! This amazing experience filled with thousands of chattering Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, gracefully soaring Magnificent Frigatebirds, and skulking migrants in the scant vegetation makes the trip almost other-worldly. We just aren't used to seeing so many birds in one place anymore (sadly, this was probably the norm 1000 years ago). This is truly a birder's paradise. But could that also be said about other areas of Southern Florida? Likes Everglades National Park, where we spent time watching alligators munch on turtles, or manatees bobbing on the water's surface, or tracking down a pair of Barred Owls in a Dwarf Cypress patch? Or at Babcock Webb with its fire-maintained pineywoods, where we sat in the early morning light listening to the dawn chorus of Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, Chuck-will's-widow, and the booming dives of Common Nighthawks, only soon after to watch a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers near a cavity tree, and later track down a skulky Bachman's Sparrow? And perhaps I should mention Six Mile Slough Cypress Preserve with its wandering boardwalk, or Harns Marsh in the early morning with its feeding Snail Kites and calling Limpkins, or that other boardwalk at Wakodahatchee Wetlands. Now that was something else—you could literally reach out and touch the baby Tricolored Herons (not recommended).
Yeah, I think Southern Florida is a birder's paradise.
Thanks to our group for joining me on this trip. It was a pleasure to guide you on one of my first trips back after a long break. I wish you all the very best in your birding travels for the remainder of 2021 and beyond. [And notice...no mention of gas shortages or disappearing lug nuts ;-)]
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Good numbers (50+) were at Wakodatachee Wetlands.
EGYPTIAN GOOSE (Alopochen aegyptiaca) [I]
A pair were calling from atop the building adjacent to our hotel in the early morning. There was another seen at Wakodahatchee.
MUSCOVY DUCK (Cairina moschata) [I]
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
A female was in the large pond at Six Mile Cypress Slough. She almost got passed off as a Mottled Duck!
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)
Several in the Lake Okeechobee and Boynton Beach area. This seems to be the stronghold of this species in Florida (highest density).
NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus)
We had a pretty fantastic experience at Babcock Webb with a bird that approached closely, giving some interesting calls, then flew across the road just a few feet from us.
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
One of our final chases was this species, a single bird, hanging out in the Miami area. Nice, close looks were had. This individual was of the Caribbean race, (nominate) dominicus.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON (Patagioenas leucocephala)
Good numbers on wires in Key West and Sugarloaf Key.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
Super common in The Keys. They first began their New World expansion not too far from here in New Providence, Bahamas, in the 1970s. Some escaped, others were released.
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)
Small numbers seen throughout the tour at various spots.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
Uncommon around Florida City and the Greater Miami area. Apparently expanding north from the Caribbean where they are native.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
SMOOTH-BILLED ANI (Crotophaga ani)
For those that did the long hike, we found this bird calling and sitting up for a few minutes, but it quickly tired of us. One of our rare bird chases!
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)
Small numbers encountered in The Keys. Heard more often than seen, but we had at least one memorable fly by in the vehicle!
MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor) [*]
COMMON NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles minor)
We watched an awesome diving and booming display at Babcock Webb.
ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles gundlachii)
Seen/heard distantly at Boca Chica Beach, but we later had close views (in the scope even) of a perched bird. A Southern Florida specialty in the US.
CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW (Antrostomus carolinensis)
We spotlighted one bird early in the morning at Babcock Webb. We also enjoyed its namesake song.
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)
Small numbers in the Fort Myers area.
CLAPPER RAIL (Rallus crepitans)
Fantastic looks in the late afternoon at Boca Chica Beach on our first day of birding.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
Good numbers at Loxahatchee NWR and Wakodahatchee Wetlands, where they were breeding.
PURPLE GALLINULE (Porphyrio martinica)
Wakodahatchee was the spot for this species!
GRAY-HEADED SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio poliocephalus) [I]
Our first looks were at Harns Marsh, but again at Lake Okeechobee and Wakodahatchee. Unfortunately, this non-native species is quite widespread in Southern Florida.
BLACK RAIL (Laterallus jamaicensis) [*]
WOW!!! An amazing close experience with a calling individual while birding the Everglades NP. Despite not seeing it, it was a BLACK RAIL!!
LIMPKIN (Aramus guarauna)
It also feels like this one is right out of the Jurassic Period. Monotypic family.
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Speaking of right out the Jurassic Period! We also enjoyed hearing their fluting calls at Harns Marsh in the early morning.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
Small numbers on the salt flats in The Keys, and a few more elsewhere.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
These were around in good numbers in The Keys. Several in full breeding garb.
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia)
One was at Boca Chica Beach.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Also at Boca Chica Beach on our first afternoon of birding. Several in breeding plumage were mingling with the Least and Semipalmated sandpipers.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
Several eating breadcrumbs from our feet at our lunch spot at Keys Fisheries.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
Nice studies of both breeding and nonbreeding plumage.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
The next three species were seen together at Boca Chica Beach making for superb comparisons between the three.
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (Calidris fuscicollis)
This species is larger than Least and Semipalmated, with a longer wing projection, among other subtle plumage differences. We studied 10 or so individuals mixed with the other peeps at Boca Chica.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
WILLET (EASTERN) (Tringa semipalmata semipalmata)
Several individuals were in breeding plumage and doing lots of display calls, etc. This is the local breeding subspecies.
WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)
One or two in nonbreeding plumage looked longer-legged and longer billed than the others. Separation of Eastern and Western willets is a challenge, but Westerns winter in this area and we had a couple that looked good for this subspecies. A potential split in the future.
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Lots in the Keys area.
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
One or two at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.
BROWN NODDY (Anous stolidus)
Thousands at Fort Jefferson where they were nesting. What a sight!
BLACK NODDY (Anous minutus)
The star of the show at the Dry Tortugas. We managed to pick out one within the hundreds of Brown Noddies standing around it. This species is pantropical, but very rare in the Caribbean.
SOOTY TERN (Onychoprion fuscatus)
Also thousands breeding at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. We studied many standing on the beach, or flying around, while a few others had chicks in nests.
BRIDLED TERN (Onychoprion anaethetus)
Two pairs were courting near the boat dock at Fort Jefferson.
LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum)
Super common in The Keys, as well as, at Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
We had one at Lake Okeechobee.
ROSEATE TERN (Sterna dougallii)
We must have hit their migration just right. We had very good numbers (100?) at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Several were banded.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
Seen as we left the dock in Key West for our boat trip to the Dry Tortugas. They always look so deflated with their heads laying on the ground. Hey man, cheer up!
WOOD STORK (Mycteria americana)
Did we see Wood Storks at Wakodahatchee? I just can't remember. ;-)
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens)
Common as soaring birds in the coastal regions. A few were perched on the wires during our bridge crossings in The Keys.
MASKED BOOBY (Sula dactylatra)
Around 60 or so were breeding on Hospital Key as we approached Fort Jefferson.
BROWN BOOBY (ATLANTIC) (Sula leucogaster leucogaster)
One immature was seen on the boat ride out to Fort Jefferson. Not seen by all.
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga)
This is a good tour for seeing Anhinga. We saw several, not surprisingly, on Anhinga Trail in the Everglades NP.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Seen well throughout the tour including large chicks at Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis)
We were happy to get such good looks at Wakodahatchee Wetlands. However, prior to this, we saw one in the scope at a wetland stop after leaving Lake Okeechobee.
GREAT BLUE HERON (BLUE FORM) (Ardea herodias herodias)
This was the common subspecies seen throughout the tour. The "form" most of us are used to seeing.
GREAT BLUE HERON (WHITE FORM) (Ardea herodias occidentalis)
This larger subspecies, which is superficially similar to a Great Egret, was seen on Sugarloaf Key during one of our last stops before heading back to mainland. Good spotting team!
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
The next four species were seen in very good numbers throughout the tour at most wetland locations.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
Somewhat absent from The Keys area where it probably doesn't prefer the more saline environments.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)
A white morph was at Boca Chica Beach (on the airfield side) doing its shadowing dance.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Both species of night-herons were seen on the tour, though this one might have been slightly less common than Yellow-crowned.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
Seen most days, but mostly in flight.
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
Nice studies at Wakodahatchee Wetlands.
ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)
Can be missed some years, but they were seen on a couple of different days during our tour.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Good to see so many. Nearly every telephone pole had a nest on it. An "everyday" bird.
SWALLOW-TAILED KITE (Elanoides forficatus)
This is a very good tour for Swallow-tailed Kite. Once we got to the Everglades they seemed to be everywhere.
SNAIL KITE (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
Awesome looks at Harns Marsh where they were flying around and feeding on apple snails.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Like Osprey, they seemed to be around in good numbers. Seen most days.
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (EXTIMUS) (Buteo lineatus extimus)
This paler subspecies is confined to the Southern Florida area. We saw it during the second-half of the tour on the mainland.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)
A few first-year birds flying around Fort Jefferson looking confused.
SHORT-TAILED HAWK (Buteo brachyurus)
A light-morph bird was spotted soaring at Everglades NP.
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)
One on a day roost at Babcock Webb was very fortunate. Awesome scope views and photographs!
BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)
Odd seeming them nesting in suburbia 'Merica, but they keep on surviving as best as they can. Another species that is tied into the sandy soiled oak savanna habitat of Southern Florida.
BARRED OWL (Strix varia)
We had a very cool experience with a pair that we spotted while driving through the Everglades.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
We visited a colony near Alva. They sure put on a show.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
Seen most days of the tour in a variety of wooded habitats.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
Not so common, but encountered at Loxahatchee.
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Dryobates borealis)
We had a nice time watching a pair at Babcock Webb. A Federally Endangered species found only in upland longleaf pine forests where there is a cyclic fire regime.
PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)
We had a really nice encounter with one at Six Mile Cypress Slough, but also seen/heard on other days.
NORTHERN FLICKER (YELLOW-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus auratus)
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
One was terrifying small birds at Fort Jefferson.
GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus)
This was seen a number of times and it was part of the dawn chorus at Babcock Webb.
GRAY KINGBIRD (Tyrannus dominicensis)
Fairly common in The Keys.
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)
If there was a scrubby area, no doubt this species was in it. However, heard more often than seen.
BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO (Vireo altiloquus)
We had multiple encounters with this Southern Florida specialty in The Keys. A lifer species for several in the group.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Good to see this species doing fairly well in Southern Florida where we saw several on the mainland, usually on a powerline.
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
FLORIDA SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma coerulescens) [E]
The only Florida endemic. We found a couple of cooperative individuals near Punta Gorda in the oak savanna.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Is it American or Fish? Well, we will just have to wait for them to call.
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)
Not common on this tour due to the lack of mixed hardwood birding, but we did find them at Six Mile Cypress Slough and at Babcock Webb.
PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)
Numerous at the martin house while getting our Key Lime shakes!
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
Several were flying around Boca Chica in the late afternoon.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CAVE SWALLOW (Petrochelidon fulva)
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH (Sitta pusilla)
Fun looks at these vocal rubberduckies at Babcock Webb.
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
At least one pair was breeding in the parking lot at Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]
A fairly localized introduced species seen in the Miami area.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
A few were seen at Babcock Webb.
VEERY (Catharus fuscescens)
One was sticking to the shady side of the trees within Fort Jefferson.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
BACHMAN'S SPARROW (Peucaea aestivalis)
We had to venture into the grassy pinewoods understory to find one, but it was worth the effort. Eventually, we saw a couple of individuals. Mostly silent at this time of year, which might mean they were already nesting.
SEASIDE SPARROW (CAPE SABLE) (Ammospiza maritima mirabilis)
Just one distant bird in the scope. I have to imagine this species is also nesting at this time of year. A rare, local subspecies of the Seaside Sparrow, only found in extreme SW Florida.
EASTERN TOWHEE (WHITE-EYED) (Pipilo erythrophthalmus rileyi)
We saw one quickly at Babcock Webb. Based on location and time of year, it was probably the resident "white-eyed" type.
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
Good numbers in the Fort Myers area and around Lake Okeechobee.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
SHINY COWBIRD (Molothrus bonariensis)
Awesome find during our last birding morning on Sugarloaf Key! Not seen on most trips. This is mostly a Caribbean and South American species.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
Lots at Flamingo in the Everglades NP, among other sites.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
Common on this tour, and seemed to replace Boat-tailed Grackle in The Keys.
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major)
Like the previous species, very common on this tour, but oddly absent from most areas in The Keys.
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
One at the Dry Tortugas.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
Seen a few times in The Keys.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
Fairly common as a breeder and migrant on this tour.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
Mostly female-plumaged birds (lots of young males) seen at this point in the migration period.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
Migrants were seen, but also local breeders at Six Mile Cypress Slough were on territory.
MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Setophaga magnolia)
A couple in the Dry Tortugas.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)
These were moving through in good numbers on The Keys. Headed to breeding sites faaaar to the north.
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens)
PALM WARBLER (WESTERN) (Setophaga palmarum palmarum)
One or two still around.
PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)
A breeding warbler in the pineywoods at Babcock Webb.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)
One of the more common breeding warblers encountered on this tour (at least by voice).
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)
Not many, but a few were seen on our first days in The Keys.
BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT (Melanospiza bicolor)
This Caribbean specialty put in a rare appearance at Blue Hole on Big Pine Key. We were so fortunate to have it singing and showing so well during our visit. A major US tick!
MARSH RABBIT (Sylvilagus palustris)
Seen a few times, but our best looks were at Wakodahatchee.
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (Tursiops truncatus)
A few on our boat ride out to Fort Jefferson.
NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)
Seen a few times on this tour, especially common in the mangroves where they feed on crabs.
WEST INDIAN MANATEE (Trichechus manatus)
Seen pretty well (as manatees go!) at Flamingo in the Everglades NP.
KEY (WHITE-TAILED) DEER (Odocoileus virginianus clavium)
Good numbers along the road at Big Pine Key.
BROWN ANOLE (Anolis sagrei) [I]
Sadly, this non-native species has largely replaced Green Anole in Southern Florida. Did you know that Southern Florida has the highest density of non-native herps in the world?
GREEN ANOLE (CAROLINA ANOLE) (Anolis carolinensis)
We did find a few of the native variety.
GREEN IGUANA (Iguana iguana) [I]
Lots around in Southern Florida. Native to Central and South America, but this species has been introduced to Florida.
STRIPED BASILISK (Basiliscus vittatus) [I]
NORTHERN CURLY-TAILED LIZARD (Leiocephalus carinatus armouri) [I]
Native to Cuba and The Bahamas, but introduced (once again) to Florida.
AMERICAN CROCODILE (Crocodylus acutus)
Finally found one lurking in the shadows near the convenience store in Flamingo.
AMERICAN ALLIGATOR (Alligator mississippiensis)
Seen very nicely during our walk at Anhinga Trail including one trying to choke down a Red-bellied Cooter!
AMERICAN BULLFROG (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Heard (seen?) in the small pond at Loxahatchee NWR.
FLORIDA RED-BELLIED COOTER (Pseudemys nelsoni)
Good numbers seen on the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades, among other locations.
FLORIDA SOFTSHELL TURTLE (Apalone ferox)
GREEN SEA TURTLE (Chelonia mydas)
One on the boat trip out to Fort Jefferson.
LOOGERHEAD SEA TURTLE (Caretta caretta)
Seen briefly on the boat ride out to the Dry Tortugas.
PALAMEDES SWALLOWTAIL (Papilio palamedes)
EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL (Papilio glaucus)
JULIA BUTTERFLY (Dryas julia)
MONARCH BUTTERFLY (Danaus plexippus)
ZEBRA LONGWING (Heliconius charithonia)
VICEROY (Limenitis archippus)
WHITE PEACOCK (Anartia jatrophae)
GULF FRITILLARY (Agraulis vanillae)
DAINTY SULPHUR (Nathalis iole)
MANGROVE SKIPPER (Phocides pigmalion)
Totals for the tour: 141 bird taxa and 7 mammal taxa