April 12-17 Key West and South Florida Trip
April 12th- Rebecca Smith and I met our birding group at the docks on Stock Island near Key West around 10:00AM. The group was excited to get to the Dry Tortugas, but sadly, that was not to be as it turns out later.
At the docks we met up with Wes Biggs and Dave Hartgrove that were just getting back from their previous trip. We heard that they did very well on their trip and even on the boat ride to and from the island. While waiting for late arrivals many of the group got their first lifers of the trip with Great White Heron standing in the mangroves and a flyover Short-tailed Hawk.
After gathering everyone and finishing introductions, we car-pooled to Sugarloaf and Saddlebunch Keys in hopes of Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo. Unfortunately Irma had laid waste to much of this area and few birds were found. So off to Fort Zachary Taylor SP after a lunch at the Date and Thyme for more birding. The birds were low in numbers and in moderate diversity with 14 species of warbler and 36 species of birds overall, plus 10 species of Butterflies including Mallow Scrub-hairstreak. It was the Prothonotary Warblers that put on a show for everyone. That was not enough to offset the forthcoming news, however. Wes got word from the boat captain that due to the weather, the trip to the Dry Tortugas would be cancelled. So we sat down with everyone and put our options on the table. The Arkansas group decided to stay with us and we all slept on the boat after an amazing meal at the Hogfish Grill.
Obscure Skipper, Sugarloaf Key & Prothonotary Warbler, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
April 13th-Beck and I rose early since she had previously made plans with a friend from Miami for the day. I left the group with directions to our first target bird, Spot-breasted Oriole, which was a lifer for Beck and the entire Arkansas group. They had to wait a little while as the pair made their 45 minute rounds through the neighborhood. Once the pair arrived, they gave quite the show!
Next we headed over to the Ocean Bank for the White-winged Parakeets that nest/roost in the palms outside. We had a long wait but Common Myna gave looks to everyone from light poles until our first parakeets arrived. They also put on quite a display hanging upside down from palm fronds and other amazingly cute positions. On way back to hotel we stopped at the 216th St exit off the Florida Turnpike for Cave Swallows of the Caribbean race that nest under the bridge there. We also saw Egyptian Goose and Muscovy Duck, which were lifers for many since they are ABA countable in the Miami area.
Spot-breasted Oriole, Virginia Gardens & White-winged Parakeet, Ocean Bank Little Havana
April 14th-Rising early again to head west, Beck stayed behind to catch up on some work, but had plans to join the group again after lunch. Our first stop was Shark Valley- Everglades National Park, in which we added Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Snail Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite (Only I saw it though), and a rWilson’s Warbler, which is rare for Florida. We also heard King Rail but could not get one to come out to be seen by group.
We next entered Big Cypress National Preserve and birded the Loop Road. The group finally saw the Swallow-tailed Kites, we also had Roseate Spoonbills and Black-necked Stilts. A stop at the Tree Snail Hammock Trail scored us good looks at Barred Owls and of course the endangered liguus tree snails. At this point it was very late into the afternoon and we filled up our tanks and bellies at a gas station with a Subway. After some discussion Wes took part of the group onto Marco Island for shorebirds while I returned to Florida City with Bill and picked up Beck from the hotel. We headed over to Lucky Hammock after a quick stop at Navy Wells Pineland Preserve in hopes of a Bartrum’s Scrub-hairstreak, which we failed to find. Lucky Hammock held a few birds but a couple birders we ran into said the day before was awesome. We did get a few highlights including Painted Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Nighthawk, and nice views of a female Cape May Warbler. The three of us then headed on to Marco’s Cuban Café in Homestead for some very yummy food before returning to hotel to relax and cool down.
April 15th-Early rise again to head south to finish the day at Sugarloaf Lodge. We started off at the Card Sound Bridge toll booth (which is no longer there, as it is being replaced by an e-toll system) for Golden Yellow Warbler. Just as we were about to give up Beck found us our bird and eventually we had 2 show up giving everyone nice looks. From there we continued to Power Pole 29 and the Purple-wing Trail in hopes of Florida Purple-wing, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Black-whiskered Vireo but it was very dead only 2 butterfly species and 14 bird species. However, we did add Mangrove Skipper to our trip list that we were not able to see anywhere else throughout the trip. So we packed up and headed to Caryfort Circle with many of the same targets in mind and Beck immediately picked up the Black-whiskered Vireos singing as we exited our vehicles. Playing a few calls got them in close for “life” views and photos by all. Continuing towards our final destination, we stopped at Dagny Johnson State Botanical Park and scored big! After making a fortuitous turn onto a trail I have never taken, we picked up Mangrove Cuckoo which was soon joined by a second. After watching them feed on a caterpillar and a walking stick, they proceeded in copulation! Lots of photos and congratulations went on after this. With a stop at Ballyhoo’s for lunch in which we all ate hardily our trip continued on to the Caribbean Club where Parakeets and Shiny Cowbirds often show up. Sadly we learned that the parakeets have been gone for a long time and only Brown-headed Cowbirds showed at the feeders. So onward to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where it was extremely hot and Arkansas group decided to head to Marathon Government Buildings for Roseate Tern (no luck) and then to hotel at a reasonable hour to rest up. Beck and I then hit up Islamorada Brewing Company for a beer and Mexicana Morada for dinner, which was amazing before finally reaching Sugarloaf Lodge and getting some much needed sleep.
Black-whiskered Vireo, Carysfort Circle, Key Largo & Mangrove Cuckoo, Dangy Johnson State Botanical Park Key Largo
April 16th-We rose early to head to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park but as we passed the Key West Golf Club on Stock Island I spotted the reported Greater White-fronted Goose from the car, which is a rare bird in Florida and crazy rare in Florida Keys. A Florida bird for Beck, she jumped out and got some photos over the fence before we continued to our primary destination.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park was rocking for us with 13 species of butterflies and 55 species of birds. 17 species of warbler including a stunning male Bay-breasted Warbler, more looks at Black-whiskered Vireo and Gray Kingbird. Beck spotted 4 Dickcissels but we could never relocate for her to get photos and a whopping 17 Tennessee Warbler added to the great day. We had lunch at The Café which serves pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan food. Beck and I were in heaven between food and craft beers on tap. Following lunch we headed to Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens where we had 6 species of butterfly and 38 bird species. Highlights included 11 species of warbler including a Wilson’s Warbler seen by a few, and a Yellow-throated Vireo in the parking lot as we left. Next stop was Boca Chica Beach for shorebirds on way back to the hotel. It did not disappoint too much with 8 shorebird species including Wilson’s Plover, as well as Red-breasted Merganser, Swainson’s Thrush, Yellow Warbler (Northern Race), and Northern Harrier rounded out some of the 40 species seen. Unfortunately there was no Whimbrel, our main target. We all headed to dinner at different places based on what we were hungry for. Beck and I returned to The Café for more vegan fair after I helped her jump the golf course fence to get better photos of the Great White-fronted Goose.
Greater White-fronted Goose, Key West Golf Club & Bay-breasted Warbler, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Indigo Bunting, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park & Tennessee Warbler, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
April 17th-Our group got up early again, checked out of our hotel, and went to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park by way of a quick stop at the Charles “Sonny” McCoy Indigenous Park. We fed some Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) their breakfast of plantains and observed a Spotted Sandpiper on the beach but there were no new species, so we continued on to the fort. The fort was again a great place for birding and we had 11 species of butterfly and 53 species of bird. Highlights included a Blackburnian Warbler which gave everyone fits trying to get good views, a juvenile dark morph Short-tailed Hawk put on a show eating a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 20 species of warbler graced us, Dickcissel showed off nicely near the restrooms and Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak were everywhere. We also add our first thrush of the trip. Sadly the Arkansas group had to leave to grab lunch, return rental cars, and catch their flight home. So we said our goodbyes though we forgot to get a group photo.
Beck, while birding in a separate area, ran into two birders from Virginia and gave them a business card. They asked her if we could help them find a few birds after lunch. We agreed even though this meant Beck giving up her Red-whiskered Bulbul and some beers with our friend Paul Bithorn in Miami later that evening. This also meant we would get home very late.
We picked them up and headed back to the fort where we found 48 species including the two main targets of the visiting birders, Cape May and Tennessee Warblers. We had 16 warbler species for the afternoon and Wood Thrush which unfortunately eluded Beck as a Florida bird. We returned the couple to their hotel and decided to grab dinner again at The Café before heading home. We arrived at exactly 2:00AM in the morning leaving us only a couple hours of sleep before heading off to Fort DeSoto County Park for the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Field Trip. This time I remembered my camera!
http://www.floridanaturetours.net for trips to the Dry Tortugas.
http://www.archaeopteryxbirdingandnaturetours.wordpress.com for tours in Florida and across the globe.