Springtime in Florida is a unique context in the birding world. The combination of factors that create this context includes the resident Florida specialties, migrants in the middle their journey to far off breeding grounds in the northern part of the continent, and Caribbean and tropical species who reach the northern end of their distribution in Florida, showing up on the southern part of the peninsula in spring to breed. This year, we were able to extensively savor all three of these avian realms, all while enjoying some good food, beautiful scenery, and great company.
We started our trip in bustling Miami, heading to the outskirts of the city for our first (and final!) attempt to see the most sought after species among our group: the Mangrove Cuckoo. We detected a vocal male relatively soon after our arrival, and in short order were getting great views as it sat, appropriately, in the tops of the mangrove trees. We then headed south, leaving Miami behind, and hopping on Rt. 1 to make our way down the length of the Florida Keys. The drive was punctuated by a delicious fresh seafood lunch and a couple of birding stops that provided excellent views of two more highly desired species: White-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo. We checked into our Key West hotel, and after an afternoon siesta met up to buy dinner on the go and head north for a lovely evening in the central keys. We were treated to our first good views of Anhinga as we ate our dinner under a lowering sun, and then spent the sunset and dusk with close-up views of Key Deer and a fantastic experience with several Antillean Nighthawks, including one displaying multiple times right over our heads and next to us – an unforgettable evening!
The next day was to be spent in the vicinity of Key West, with morning visits to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden. Migration was on the light side, but there were some nice views of ten species of warblers to be had, as well as innumerable introduced lizards. Lunch was another big hit, with perhaps our best Key Lime Pie experience of the trip, and a bunch of wild-looking Upside-down Jellies in the adjacent marina (the scientific name of this species is evocative too: Cassiopea andromeda). After sitting out another couple of hours of the hot early afternoon sun, we were back in the field, and heading over to the beach, where we had a fantastic afternoon with shorebirds and more right along the shore of the Straits of Florida. Highlights were Reddish Egret, Short-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, and a great array of shorebirds including Wilson’s Plover, and long-distance migrants like White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlin and Sanderling in breeding plumage, and both subspecies of Willet! Then we headed downtown to an early outside dinner before our long boat trip the next day.
Day 3 dawned with partly cloudy skies and a moderate wind from the east-northeast, an auspicious combination for a birding visit to the Dry Tortugas (as it would keep it from being unbearably hot, and perhaps force some migrants battling a headwind to drop into the fort). The boat trip out was eventful, with a tailwind and following sea allowing us to be out on the bow as we tried to get looks at the Green Sea Turtles we were passing at speed. As we approached the Tortugas, we had a flyby of a couple of Bridled Terns, and then a Masked Booby that came into the bow of the ship, giving us great views as it checked us out and then continued on its way ahead of us. We also got our obligatory reasonable but somewhat distant views of the Masked Booby breeding colony on Hospital Key, which happened to have three Brown Boobies mixed in with them. Then the boat docked on Garden Key, and the main event started as we disembarked to explore Fort Jefferson. Swarms of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies swirled around over their breeding colony, complemented by hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds, and we found multiple pairs of Bridled Terns, and, at the coaling docks, a single very cooperative Black Noddy. As for the songbirds visiting the fresh water drip inside the fort, female Shiny Cowbird was perhaps the rarest, but we also enjoyed a delightful array of warblers, including Worm-eating and Kentucky, and over two dozen (!!) Yellow-billed Cuckoos flying this way and that, in and around the fort. We even watched a few migrant songbirds arrive from the south, after being over the water for perhaps twelve hours or more. A few Purple Martins glided over, and the out-of-place immature Red-shouldered Hawk (apparently of the northern migrant subspecies) which had been marooned at the fort for a while was regularly patrolling the airspace. The boat ride back was a bit wetter and rockier than the journey out, as we were riding into the wind and waves this time, but those watching did see a couple of Northern Gannets as we cruised eastward. We finished our time in Key West with another lovely outdoor dinner in downtown, and went to bed with our sights set northward.
As we retraced our tracks east and then north through the keys the next morning, we noticed a steady stream of warblers flying north, many fairly low, flying into the northerly wind. We decided that we ought to try at least one stop at a piece of good habitat in the central keys, and ended up dipping into Green Turtle Nature Center in Islamorada. The steady stream of warblers we had been seeing during our drive now manifested as a bunch of hungry warblers actively foraging in the trees here. The cast of characters was dominated by Blackpoll Warbler (which we had posited from what we could see of the active migrants heading north earlier), but there was a good enough diversity to keep us entertained for quite a while. Then, as we got back to the vehicles, a warbler flushed up in front of the group, and it ended up being Jesse’s most-wanted warbler for the tour: a Connecticut Warbler!! It was a lifer for quite a few folks, and it gave phenomenal views as it walked around in the open all around the nature center building, clearly being more concerned with hunting for insects than with keeping itself concealed. After soaking in this scarce migrant and generally all around difficult-to-see bird, and checking into the visitor center here, we continued north, making our way back onto the mainland. A visit to one of the largest colonies of Caribbean Cave Swallows on the mainland US gave us an intimate look at these birds which are perhaps in the midst of expanding from their far southern US foothold, and we followed that up with some delicious Vietnamese food before setting our sights to the west. We paid an afternoon visit to the Everglades, making our way all the way down to Flamingo, at the end of the 41-mile park road. Here, we saw the two primary objects of our desire – American Crocodile and West Indian Manatee, quickly, and in between found a flock of cowbirds that had a whopping 4 male Shiny Cowbirds, all this resulting in a well-earned ice cream break before we continued with a bit more birding in the toasty afternoon.
The next morning, we made time for another journey into Everglades NP, this time focusing on the northern half of the park, highlighted by some intimate views with waterbirds (including a bold, point-blank Great White Heron), a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers hard at work excavating a cavity, several elegant Swallow-tailed Kites, and the globally endangered and range-restricted Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow (a sedentary taxon currently considered a subspecies of Seaside Sparrow, but strikingly different looking and with a completely isolated breeding area than the migrants that breed farther north along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts). We then picked up some legendary Key Lime shakes and with them in tow made our way west across the entire peninsula, through Big Cypress, and onto Marco Island, where lunch was followed up by a fun experience with a delightful family of Burrowing Owls. We had one more birding stop on our way to Ft. Myers, and were graced with the presence of a whole slew of interesting birds, including Swallow-tailed Kite, baby fluffball Common Gallinules, and briefly seen Least Bitterns. The most unusual birds here were several rare-in-the-east Bronzed Cowbirds, but most fun was perhaps the young Loggerhead Shrikes shrieking at their parents for food on the ballfields.
This drive across the entire state, of course, was all in service of seeing more great birds and habitat, and our couple of days exploring Florida’s lower Gulf Coast indeed provided this. Our two lovely (dare I say idyllic?) mornings featured two disparate habitats – the pine flatwoods around Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, and a beautiful fresh water marsh habitat on the eastern outskirts of Fort Myers. Pre-dawn among the Slash Pines featured a chorus of Chuck-will’s-widow (one of which we were able to see), and as it got light, Common Nighthawks became visible flying around in the gloaming, and we found the hyper-specialized Red-cockaded Woodpecker. With a supporting cast of Brown-headed Nuthatches giving their adorable squeaky toy vocalizations, Pine Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Bobwhite, and even a cooperative Pileated Woodpecker, it was a very fun morning. The forest was wetter than any of us had ever seen, and so Bachman’s Sparrows weren’t evident. Instead of groping around in what seemed like marginal habitat for them (they are usually present here, but the ground is usually much more extensively dry), we pulled up stakes and found a cooperative male at an alternate site, and there was much rejoicing! We finished off our morning with a visit to some dry sandy scrub habitat, where we found a couple of endemic Florida Scrub-Jays, as well as a Florida Gopher Tortoise – two species whose existences are threatened by rampant residential and commercial development in their habitats. We then took a nice stroll on a boardwalk through a lovely native Cypress swamp, part of a remnant of the vast habitat that used to dominate some of this region. Afternoon birding was a trip out to Bunche Beach, where we encountered sun and a relatively high tide, but also had a great study of some migrant shorebirds along the water’s edge, starring lots of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Sanderlings. A delectable dinner (Peruvian this time) led us into our penultimate morning at the aforementioned marsh, where the stars of the show were surely the several Snail Kites flying around and hunting right in front of us in perfect morning light. They used to be called “Everglades Kites,” but they have been expanding northward in recent years, in part due to the presence of a non-native snail species which was involuntarily introduced in Florida within the last few decades. Another invasive species, the Gray-headed Swamphen, was a new avian species for the group here, and we also got our best close-up views of Limpkin here as well. We then headed back across the peninsula towards the East Coast, with one birding stop where we saw a few Roseate Spoonbills, a couple of Purple Gallinules, and the most regionally range-restricted species of the day, a Fulvous Whistling-Duck, which made several long aerial circuits of us over the course of half an hour, whistling its way by each time. Upon arrival at the east coast, we paid a visit to Wakodahatchee Wetlands, and basked in the wonderful up-close viewing opportunities that it provided. The Wood Storks and other in-your-face breeding waterbirds provided a sensory overload, and a couple of Least Bitterns and Purple Gallinules added some scarcity spice to the mix as we dodged a passing afternoon thunderstorm on the boardwalk.
Our final day was structured around getting back to home base in Miami, but that didn’t mean we mailed in the birding. A morning seawatch produced a pair of pristine adult Roseate Terns, and then we drove south heading into the heart of Miami. We finally got to Bill Baggs State Park, where we commenced a vigil alongside some fruit trees. Despite there being not much to see initially, we didn’t quit until…the Bananaquit! This Caribbean vagrant had been present at the park for a week, and fortunately it continued to stick around for all of us to get good views of. We then explored a nearby open area and found yet another Connecticut Warbler! This one was, once again, walking around in the open, providing great views to the group as it stalked its way through the blades of grass. Lunch provided some good food and delightful AC, and we set off for one final birding stop before the last supper. We headed over to Crandon Park, where we found the continuing vagrant Least Grebe, and then ended our birding on a wonderful note – an adult and downy young nestling Eastern Screech-Owl peering down at us from a cavity in a palm tree!
This was, truly, a fantastic running of the Florida tour. From the relatively cooperative and mild weather, to the great showings by the avian headliners, fun migration spectacles, and an infusion of unexpected species, it was a phenomenal eight days of birding the Sunshine State, and Jesse and I were especially delighted to share this time with such a great bunch of traveling companions. Thanks for making it so fun, asking insightful questions, freely sharing your knowledge and laughter, and being so engaged with things at every turn. We hope to see you again soon somewhere else on this great big globe of ours!
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)
We caught up to these gregarious tree ducks in a few places, starting with three individuals standing, seemingly out of place, in a dry agricultural field outside the entrance to the Everglades.
FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna bicolor)
Serendipity struck at Torry Island on the marshy shore of Lake Okeechobee when one of these flew a couple of wide laps around us while we up on the observation tower. This species has become substantially less common in South Florida over the past couple of decades, so it's always a treat to encounter one.
EGYPTIAN GOOSE (Alopochen aegyptiaca) [I]
These established feral geese were seen on a few occasions here and there.
MUSCOVY DUCK (Cairina moschata) [I]
Muscovys of domestic stock are all over in South Florida - even in the hotel parking lot.
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula)
A few good observations of this southern Anas.
NORTHERN BOBWHITE (Colinus virginianus)
We heard these on a couple of occasions, and saw them briefly just outside the Everglades and at Babcock-Webb.
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus dominicus)
This vagrant has been hanging out on Key Biscayne in Miami for over a year at this point, finding a pond that seems a lot like what its habitat back home would be. Where home is isn't entirely clear, but it looks most like the Caribbean form of Least Grebe, which would also make sense contextually.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON (Patagioenas leucocephala)
A phenomenal trip for this tropical pigeon, which is the only Patagioenas to regularly occur in the US. We saw them (quite well) perched several times, and in flight just about all the time during our couple of days birding the keys. Our northernmost perched one was in the Everglades NP.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)
Saw these miniature rusty-winged, short-tailed doves quite a few times, often fluttering by with their distinctive-sounding flight, but also perched in trees and on the ground.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
We had a few of these flying over in ones and twos, and they were most common in West Palm.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Common and widespread, and we even saw new, recently fledged ones.
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)
Cuckoos were among the bird families of the trip, between the phenomenal showing of (around 35!!) Yellow-billed Cuckoos at Fort Jefferson and the great views of the next species, they figured prominently in a couple of our more memorable days.
MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor)
COMMON NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles minor)
We had a few of these in the fields just outside the entrance to the Everglades, with several flying around and calling, and even one perched up on a utility wire alongside the road. Then we had a very memorable one that was perched in a small tree in the midst of the parking lot at our hotel in Palm Beach County, on the evening we arrived and then again the next morning.
ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles gundlachii)
We had a truly fantastic experience with several of these in the Florida Keys. We had up to three birds chasing each other around, vocalizing, and displaying, and then one territorial male came in very close and began displaying over our heads and around us, and we got to see its "booming" flight display, the sound of which is generated by wing noise, rather than vocals. Awesome!
CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW (Antrostomus carolinensis)
Several of these were calling in the gloaming at Babcock-Webb, and we even were able to see one perched while singing away, and watch it flying around as well. Another really neat nocturnal bird experience.
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)
A couple of scattered encounters with these widespread aerial insectivores.
KING RAIL (NORTHERN) (Rallus elegans elegans) [*]
We heard one of these clicking away and grunting in the Everglades.
CLAPPER RAIL (Rallus crepitans)
Some folks had one roadside on Sugarloaf Key, and then as a group we got to watch a pair at the edge of the mangroves at the end of our late afternoon shorebird extravaganza near Key West.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
Eagle Lakes, Wakodahatchee, Crandon, etc.
PURPLE GALLINULE (Porphyrio martinica)
Torrey Island and Wakodahatchee.
GRAY-HEADED SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio poliocephalus) [I]
Good views of this introduced and spreading Porphyrio at Harns Marsh.
LIMPKIN (Aramus guarauna)
Some had some along Rt. 41 and then driving the next day in Fort Myers, but then we all had great views at Harns Marsh.
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Scattered in several places through the northern part of our route, with especially good views coming around Babcock-Webb.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
Several places, with the most surprising being a migrant along the shore at Garden Key, first seen from atop Fort Jefferson.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
Seen on five days, whenever we were in appropriate habitat. Best seen at Boca Chica, and highest density being the flock of 123 birds in the ag fields near the entrance to the Everglades.
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia)
Some real nice views in beautiful afternoon light at Boca Chica beach.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Both of our beach visits, at Key West and at Fort Myers, produced these migrating shorebirds.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Seen every day, often in breeding contexts, once we got out of the sphere of influence of the Florida Keys.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
Seen in quite a few places, including our beach stops.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
Excellent close-up views and comparisons with other small calidrid species at both Boca Chica Beach and Bunche Beach. These are easy to take for granted for people that see them very commonly in migration in winter, but many of these birds could've been in the middle of an epic journey from southern South America to the high arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska - a wild feat to think about when you're watching them while baking in the toasty Florida sun.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
Good views of several in nice breeding plumage, including one oddly plumaged individual which could've been of a different subspecies than the norm.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
Key West, Garden Key, and flying by the Yankee Freedom during our Tortugas boat trip.
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (Calidris fuscicollis)
Another super long-distance migrant, these tend to appear at the tail end of shorebird migration in spring, since they contend with such a short (and late-starting) arctic summer with which to breed. Our tour was well-timed to catch up to numbers of them this year, and not only did we have good numbers in Key West, but we even had a migrant in a small mixed flock of shorebirds at Garden Key/Fort Jefferson.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
Saw these long-distance migrants on their way from northern South America to northern Canada and Alaska on five days, with especially good studies coming on our shorebird sojourns to various beach fronts.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
Key West and Bunche Beach.
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
A great surprise was a group of four of these in breeding plumage migrating north as we buzzed our way out to the Tortugas. Always fun to have a write-in species!
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
Seen on a majority of our days.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
One of these flushed out of Fort Jefferson as our group arrived at the water drip.
WILLET (EASTERN) (Tringa semipalmata semipalmata)
Some apparent breeders at Key West.
WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)
At least one of these was mixed in with the shorebirds, including some Eastern Willets at the beach in Key West.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
In our small mixed flock of shorebirds along shore adjacent to Fort Jefferson.
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Abundant and seen every day.
BROWN NODDY (Anous stolidus)
A Dry Tortugas specialty on this tour. We saw many hundreds, perhaps thousands, during our time on Garden Key.
BLACK NODDY (Anous minutus)
We had an adult or near-adult on the coaling docks on Garden Key. The species is not always present here, but this is the only place with a reasonable shot at it north of the Caribbean Sea. Great views this year!
SOOTY TERN (Onychoprion fuscatus)
Another Tortugas special; we saw several thousand of these patrolling their Bush Key breeding colony.
BRIDLED TERN (Onychoprion anaethetus)
Excellent looks at a handful of these once again, and one or two even appeared to be on nests - a first for us here!
LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum)
Widespread along our route, and common in the Keys.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
Eagle Lakes and STA-1E.
ROSEATE TERN (Sterna dougallii)
We had over a dozen on the Dry Tortugas. While most of the Tortugas birds were immatures, the two we saw at Boynton Inlet on our final day were pristine adults, no doubt on their way north to breed imminently.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
A couple of these were part of the mixed Sterna group at the Tortugas.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
Seen on every day in which we were in view of salt water.
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
A flyby at Fort Zach was our first, and then we had a few on the Tortugas, and a really nice look at Boynton Inlet.
BLACK SKIMMER (Rynchops niger)
One immature at Eagle Lakes turned out to be our only individual!
WOOD STORK (Mycteria americana)
What.A.Spectacle. The cacophony alone was something that would make an indelible memory, but the antics of the young of all ages and the adults tending them and building and reinforcing nests made it another level of special!
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens)
Seen on most days of the tour, with many good views. Highest number was at the breeding colony on the Tortugas.
MASKED BOOBY (Sula dactylatra)
One buzzed us, giving great views, as we approached the Tortugas, and then we saw many dozens at their breeding colony on the spartan sandy Hospital Key. The prospects of this colony are especially worrying given continuing sea level rise.
BROWN BOOBY (ATLANTIC) (Sula leucogaster leucogaster)
Three perched in with the Masked Boobies on Hospital Key.
NORTHERN GANNET (Morus bassanus)
Multiple encounters with several individuals as we headed back to Key West from the Tortugas.
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga)
We saw the iconic snake bird every day except for our Dry Tortugas day.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)
Every day. Common.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis)
A pair at Eagle Lakes, and then good views for some folks of a couple of individuals at Wakodahatchee.
GREAT BLUE HERON (GREAT BLUE) (Ardea herodias herodias)
Several places on the mainland, and then one that appeared to mostly or all a "Great Blue" morph on Saddlebunch Key.
GREAT BLUE HERON (GREAT WHITE) (Ardea herodias occidentalis)
We saw this south Florida special on multiple occasions, with the best views being at Anhinga Trail.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
Common and seen most days.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
Common and seen on even more days.
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
Common, with perhaps the most memorable one being an active northbound migrant along the ocean with Snowy Egrets on our final morning.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
Fairly common on the mainland, though we didn't detect them on the keys.
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)
A saltwater specialist; our memorable encounters were at Key West and (especially) Bunche Beach.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
Common during the second half of the tour, and we even had at least one migrant flying around the fort in the Dry Tortugas.
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Only seen on our next to last morning in the marshland on our way out of Fort Myers.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
A couple of these here and there, mostly associated with mangroves.
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
Here. There. Everywhere.
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
Wakodahatchee provided our best views, as several were nesting here.
ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Platalea ajaja)
Three flying by over Paurotis Pond, and then one or two that showed nicely at Torrey Island.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
We encountered them everywhere except for the southern Keys and the Tortugas.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
None on the Tortugas this year (there are often a few there during migration visits), but seen everywhere else on each day.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Every day, and virtually everywhere. Florida is the land of the Osprey.
SWALLOW-TAILED KITE (Elanoides forficatus)
We caught up to these truly spectacular birds on more than half our days, much to our repeated delight!
SNAIL KITE (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
We had an excellent and intimate experience with several of these on our second morning around Fort Myers.
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
One of these flew over and by us as we were heading south on day one.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Surprisingly few of these, and only at Flamingo and then on our next to last day.
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)
The Red-shouldered Hawk patrolling Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortguas was not one of the B.l.extimus Florida birds, and was part of the lineatus group, which includes three subspecies that occur from the Eastern US, around the Gulf, and into Veracruz, Mexico. It's unclear which of these it was, but the northern (nominate) subspecies, which is the most migratory, seems like a good bet.
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (EXTIMUS) (Buteo lineatus extimus)
The common subspecies throughout our route, and we even got to see one grab a rat at Crandon Park, and then watched it get mercilessly mobbed by crows as it tried to prepare said rat for consumption.
SHORT-TAILED HAWK (Buteo brachyurus)
An immature dark morph at Gulfstream Shores on day one was a great start with this species, and then we had light morphs in Key West and at Anhinga Trail. A nice haul at this late date considering the species' breeding range in Florida is mostly confined to the central part of the state.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Only a couple.
EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (Megascops asio)
It's hard to beat any owl, but this year's Eastern Screech-Owl show was especially hard to beat. First, Terry pointed out one sitting up in its nesting cavity, and it looked somewhat odd at first blush. This was because it was an adolescent owl, whose plumage was not yet that of an adult (and so somewhat unfamiliar), but who had lost most (but not all) of its downy fluff. Then as our final act of bird-finding, we came across an adult and much younger fluffy youngster in a hole in a palm tree. This might have been the cutest scene of a trip that featured many encounters with cuteness.
BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)
Hanging out with these charismatic terrestrial owls is always a highlight experience, and the family we watched this year was a fun-loving delight!
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
One on a utility wire as we drove north out of the Keys.
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
Real good views of these dapper birds as we made our way east from Fort Myers.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
We saw these on every day except for our Tortugas day.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
Only on one day - at Babcock-Webb and then at the Scrub-Jay spot.
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Dryobates borealis)
Excellent views of a couple of birds going about their morning at Babcock-Webb.
PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)
Anhinga Trail and Babcock-Webb.
NORTHERN FLICKER (YELLOW-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus auratus)
We heard these at Babcock-Webb, and then saw the species the next day.
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)
We acquired one of these in caracara alley, as we made our way across from Fort Myers towards Lake Okeechobee.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
One soaring high up at Gulfstream Shores.
GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus)
Abundant in appropriate woodland habitat.
EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus)
Fort Jefferson and Torrey Island.
GRAY KINGBIRD (Tyrannus dominicensis)
Quite common in the Keys and Miami/Homestead area.
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)
Plenty in the scrub around Key Largo.
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)
BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO (Vireo altiloquus)
Great views of this south Florida breeder at both Saddlebunch Keys and the Dry Tortugas.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Common along the second half of our route.
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
Everywhere except the southern Keys.
FLORIDA SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma coerulescens) [E]
We found a couple of these range restricted endemics right as we started searching for them on our first morning near Fort Myers.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Less common than Fish Crow, except for along the Everglades park road where, interestingly, every crow is this species.
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)
Common on the mainland.
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)
Multiple of these singing their heads off in the Cypress forest of Fort Myers.
PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)
A couple of Progne that flew over Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas turned out to be a couple of this species making their tardy way back towards the breeding grounds. Then two days later we were able to get some exceptionally close (nearly reach-out-and-touch level) views at the almost-southernmost Purple Martin breeding colony in North America.
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
Only on a couple of the days, including in the Dry Tortugas.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Scattered around a few places, including the Dry Tortguas and Boynton Inlet.
CAVE SWALLOW (Petrochelidon fulva)
It was really fun to hang around their large breeding colony outside Homestead, and even got to admire the architecture of their enclosed mud nests.
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH (Sitta pusilla)
Real nice views of and listens to this squeaky toy.
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea) [*]
Big Cypress and Fort Myers, but heard only.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
A couple were heard at Anhinga Trail, one of the few spots in the Everglades they can be found. Then we had improved experiences with the resident ones at Six Mile Cypress in Fort Myers.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]
Most of the days on this tour.
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
Key West Botanical Garden.
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)
Eagle Lakes and Six Mile Cypress.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Another every day companion through our travels.
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
Some good encounters at Babcock-Webb.
VEERY (Catharus fuscescens)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
BACHMAN'S SPARROW (Peucaea aestivalis)
We finally were able to track down a cooperative singing male at Babcock-Webb.
SEASIDE SPARROW (CAPE SABLE) (Ammospiza maritima mirabilis)
A lovely experience with several of these highly endangered sparrows as the sun rose over the extensive Everglades marshlands.
EASTERN TOWHEE (WHITE-EYED) (Pipilo erythrophthalmus rileyi) [*]
Heard singing in the pineywoods around Ft. Myers.
BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Dry Tortugas, Gulfstream Drive, and the Everglades.
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
We encountered them most commonly at Babcock-Webb.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
SHINY COWBIRD (Molothrus bonariensis)
This tropical species has been slowly expanding, and has perhaps gained a very small foothold in South Florida, sometimes breeding. This was by far the highest number we had seen on tour (we usually see 0 or 1), as we saw no fewer than 8, and perhaps double digits, across three locations. There were four shiny adult males in one mixed-species flock of blackbirds at Flamingo, and there may have been a female or two mixed into the flock as well.
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
At least four of these (also expanding) icterids were at Eagle Lakes.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
Seen on most days.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
Seen every day but the last.
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major)
Every single day of the tour.
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)
Several places, including the KW Botanic Garden and Fort Jefferson.
WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum)
One of our very first birds at Fort Jefferson was one of these dapper stripe-headed warblers at the water drip.
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
Dry Tortugas and Bill Baggs.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
Key West and the central Keys.
CONNECTICUT WARBLER (Oporornis agilis)
One of the definite highlights of the tour were the TWO of these that we saw, several days apart. The first was a lifer for several folks (including Jesse!) at a small piece of conserved hardwood forest in the central Keys, and the second was walking around a lawn at Bill Baggs SP in Miami. Wow!
KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa)
Some folks had one of these around the water feature at Fort Jefferson.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
Just about every day.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
Every day, and perhaps our most widespread wood-warbler.
CAPE MAY WARBLER (Setophaga tigrina)
A reasonable number during the Keys section.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
Some migrants in the southern section of our route, and then some on breeding territories at a couple of spots around Fort Myers.
MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Setophaga magnolia)
Low density of migrants across several locales.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
KW Botanic Garden.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)
We had these on half of our days, but they figured very prominently in our morning when we were heading northbound (as were they) through the Keys. They were apparently the most common species in that morning's migration event across the weekend, from what we saw in the trees and also crossing the road as we drove north.
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens)
Each of our first four days, and then again at Six Mile Cypress.
PALM WARBLER (WESTERN) (Setophaga palmarum palmarum)
A couple of late lingerers down south.
PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)
Singing on territory at Babcock-Webb.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)
Breeders in the mangroves around Miami and Flamingo, and also a couple of migrants at the Dry Tortugas.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Majority of days.
BANANAQUIT (Coereba flaveola)
Wow! A nice pickup on the final morning of the tour. If we had been a few hundred miles to the south or east, in their native home ranges, we would've been practically kicking these out of the way in order to look at other birds. However, it's very rare in the continental US, and so we were fortunate to be able to converge with the one known bird in South Florida this spring!
MARSH RABBIT (Sylvilagus palustris)
Plenty around the boardwalk at Wakodahatchee.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
Common on the mainland.
NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)
A couple of encounters on and along various roads, including one drinking out of a puddle on Saddlebunch Key.
WEST INDIAN MANATEE (Trichechus manatus)
Fun times with at least three of these endangered dugongs at close range in Flamingo!
FLORIDA WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus seminolus)
A couple in the woods of Babcock-Webb at daybreak
KEY (WHITE-TAILED) DEER (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) [E]
A delightful evening spent with these diminutive deer at the eponymously named National Key Refuge.
BROWN ANOLE (Anolis sagrei) [I]
A very common introduced lizard seen in many habitats.
GREEN ANOLE (CAROLINA ANOLE) (Anolis carolinensis)
The only native lizard that we identified during the tour, we saw a few of these greenies here and there through the course of the tour.
RED-HEADED ROCK AGAMA (Agama agama) [I]
A strikingly patterned (and well-named) lizard that can grow to fairly large size. We saw several of these over the first two days of the tour.
GREEN IGUANA (Iguana iguana) [I]
These introduced monsters have been spreading unchecked across Florida for the past couple of decades, and we saw some really impressively-sized ones!
STRIPED BASILISK (Basiliscus vittatus) [I]
A fun lizard with a crest that can walk on water? Pretty cool, despite the fact that it's a non-native species, and we saw them at Torrey Island and Crandon Park.
NORTHERN CURLY-TAILED LIZARD (Leiocephalus carinatus armouri) [I]
This species is native to the Bahamas, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands, and was intentionally introduced to Florida (Palm Beach) in the 1940s in an attempt to control Sugar Cane pests. It is quite common in south Florida these days, especially in parking lots and other open areas.
AMERICAN CROCODILE (Crocodylus acutus)
Great views of a couple of these, including one monstrously sized individual, at Flamingo. Exhilarating to be so close to these prehistoric-looking carnivores.
AMERICAN ALLIGATOR (Alligator mississippiensis)
We saw these common fresh water crocodilians at several locations once we got north of the keys, including Anhinga Trail, in Big Cypress, at Babcock-Webb, and at Wakodahatchee.
RED-EARED SLIDER (Trachemys scripta elegans)
Seen at least on day two, around Key West, and then again on the final day on Key Biscayne.
FLORIDA SOFTSHELL TURTLE (Apalone ferox)
We had several of these native long-snouted, often very large, turtles, including at Big Cypress, Six Mile Cypress, Crandon Park, and even along Rt. 41.
GOPHER TORTOISE (Gopherus polyphemus)
As we were rolling out of the Scrub-Jay spot, we spotted one moving across some of the sandy substrate near a burrow, and we stopped to ogle it for a while before it kept hustling along on its way (and don't ever let anyone tell you that turtles always move slow!).
GREEN SEA TURTLE (Chelonia mydas)
A few good observations of these near the boat as we motored out of Key West in the early morning on our way to the Dry Tortugas.
FLORIDA TREE SNAIL (Liguus fasciatus)
Half the group saw one of these high on a tree at the entrance to the Everglades.
UPSIDEDOWN JELLY ( Cassiopea andromeda)
What a cool looking jellyfish, with great names (both common and scientific!) to boot!
ATLANTIC TARPON (Megalops atlanticus)
We saw these impressive fish in the middle and lower keys on the first two days of the tour.
SHEEPSHEAD MINNOW (Cyprinodon variegatus)
One of the common fish species we saw in the water at the boat launch at Flamingo, right near the close Crocodile
SAILFIN MOLLY (Poecilia latipinna)
One of the common species we saw in the water at the boat launch at Flamingo, right near the close Crocodile
MAYAN CICHLID (Mayaheros urophthalmus)
One of the brighter fish species in the fresh water lagoon at Big Cypress.
FLORIDA GAR (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)
The biguns were common in the lagoon at Big Cypress.
SPOTTED TILAPIA (Pelmatolapia mariae)
Also in the pond at Big Cypress.
REDFIN NEEDLEFISH (Strongylura notata)
One of several fish species we saw in the water at Saddlebunch Key.
CROCODILE NEEDLEFISH (Tylosurus crocodilus)
One of several fish species we saw in the water at Saddlebunch Key.
ATLANTIC SERGEANT MAJOR (Abudefduf saxatilis)
One of several fish species we saw in the water at Saddlebunch Key - these were the ones with the yellow and black vertical stripes on most of their bodies (but not their heads).
Totals for the tour: 158 bird taxa and 6 mammal taxa