Trip Reports

Big Three National Parks Birding

Archaeopteryx Birding & Nature Tours guided 8 members of the Clearwater Audubon Society through 3 of America’s most famous national parks from July 10-19, 2020. We observed over 150 species of birds and more than a dozen mammals. We also saw many butterflies, dragonflies, and amazing vistas.

Our first days were spent exploring the prairie regions and areas near Billings. Sites including Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, Pictograph Coves State Park, Eastlick Road, and several other locations between Billings and our first stop, Glacier National Park.

The photos of Glacier do not do it justice. It is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places to visit.

Our second national park was Yellowstone, known more for large mammals and geological features then birding. Still an amazing beautiful place to visit.

Grand Tetons National Park was our last major stop on the trip. An amazing mix of of the two previous parks in beauty and nature.

Below are a few more phots from the trip I was not sure where to place.


Bahamas Birding

Freeport, Bahamas July 6-10, 2018

Rebecca Smith Freeport Harbor

Our trip started by driving the 3.5 hours to Ft. Lauderdale Thursday after work. We crashed at the Roadway Inn, which offers free shuttle service and parking, near Port Everglades to catch the Balearia Ferry to Freeport Friday morning for some casual birding. On way across we grabbed a bite to eat and drink and Gallus went out on the back deck as we were a few miles from the port and spotted 2 Cory’s Shearwater and an Audubon’s Shearwater.

Cory’s Shearwater

Upon arriving and clearing customs we got our rental car and headed straight for the Bahamian “Sands” Brewery to take the tour and enjoy a few cold beers before we could check into our rental for the next 4 nights. Birds and Beer always go well together.

Gallus Quigley, Rebecca Smith, & Christian Detzel Bahamian Brewery

Early on July 7th we headed off to the east about 30 minutes to the Pine Plantation in hopes of adding a few lifers and Caribbean specialties. We got only 12 species but did get some great photos of Bahama Warbler, lifer for Gallus, and we heard Olive-capped Warbler but no luck locating the bird unfortunately.

Bahama Warbler

After a couple hours with no new species we headed over to the Garden of the Groves Botanical Gardens, however it was not open yet. So we instead grabbed some food and a couple of beers at Banana Bay before heading back into Freeport. After an afternoon of tourist activities, we headed over to the abandoned International Village for a photo shoot but also got some great bird and butterfly photos.

The next morning we rose early to head over to the International Airport in search of Antillean Nighthawks for Beck’s like list. After searching many trees Gallus spotted one perched on an exposed branch posed perfectly for photos.107590971

Later in the morning we headed over to the Garden of the Groves Botanic Garden to meet Beck’s friend Bridgit who was going to help us find a few new birds the next day and to photograph some birds and butterflies. We did not see anything unusual among the 17 birds and 4 butterfly species we found but did some nice photos.

We spent the afternoon doing relaxing before heading over to the Garden of the Gates Birder’s B&B to meet with Erika Gates and watch a few more birds around her amazing property.

The next morning  we met up with Bridgit for some birding and returned to the Pine Plantation in hopes of an Olive-capped Warbler sighting this time, no luck unfortunately  and only 11 bird species but some very good photos of Black-faced Grassquit and La Sagra’s Flycatcher. So we headed to Owl’s Hole, a favorite local diving and swimming spot. Driving down the dirt road was quite an adventure in the rental car but was worth it. We had 17 species and 6 species of butterfly including Mexican Fritillary and Nickerbean Blue which were both lifers for us. The butterflies were everywhere it seemed and we had amazing views of Western Spindalis and Yellow-billed Cuckoo as well.

Upon leaving Owl’s Hole we headed to a spot where Bahama Swallows had been seen. On our way there Beck spotted an Antillian Nighthawk perched on side of the road in pine tree allowing for more photos, though not as close as one at airport. Our destination proved empty so we dipped on the swallows and continued on to Barbary Beach where Bahama Yellowthroat sometimes shows up but the afternoon heat kept most of the birds quiet with only 15 species and 9 butterfly. So we headed back to Freeport and dropped off Bridgit who arranged for us to meet Erika and get snorkeling gear and head to Paradise Cove to snorkel with Green Sea-turtles, lots of cool fish, and new fledged Gray Kingbirds in the parking lot.  After returning the snorkel gear we headed over to Port Lucaya Marketplace for some food and drink. When we arrived we scored the nesting Rosy-faced Lovebird in the eves of the building with the House Sparrows! The bird was very cooperative for photographs.

Lovebird (1)
Rosy-faced Lovebird

The next morning July 10, our last day, we got up early and headed to the Garden of the Groves Botanical Gardens for some more birding. We tallied 19 species though nothing out of the ordinary it was a great way to wind down the trip before heading over to the port for the ferry back to Florida.


We returned rental car and caught the shuttle to the cruise port but had several hours to wait so we did what any good birders do, do more birding and butterflying. The port added a few species to our trip list including Magnificent Frigatebird, Florida Duskywing, and Dainty Sulphur.

At long last boarded the ferry after a weather delay and about an hour out Gallus spotted our last Bahama bird, another Cory’s Shearwater which we ran out onto the deck to get some photos of which all were less than perfect. Arriving in port very late, we were happy to get through US Customs, board the shuttle back to our car and make the long drive home where we arrived only an hour before Beck and I had to leave for work and a butterfly survey.

Great trip and we look forward to returning for our wedding and maybe even leading trips there in the future.

Trip Bird Total — 47

Trip Butterfly Total — 17





Iceland May 28- June 5 2018

Recently Archaeopteryx Birding and Nature Tours had the unique opportunity to visit and bird in Iceland for 8 days at the end of May/beginning of June. Our mutual friend, Lorri Lilja, asked if we would accompany her on her vacation that she had been planning. First of all, let me say that I loved visiting and touring around Iceland. It’s a beautiful country and with the spring snowmelt coming off of the glaciers and volcanoes, the country-side was full of wildflowers, Icelandic ponies and sheep, and birds everywhere! There are tens of thousands of birds to one human residing in Iceland in the spring. There are breathtaking waterfalls and streams rushing to the ocean. We even got to catch a glimpse of Iceland’s only native terrestrial mammal, the Arctic Fox, shedding into his summer coat.

Arctic Fox
Arctic Fox

As is typical of Europe, the food was amazing. All the restaurants we visited had at least one vegan option on their menu. We sampled some of the beer and liquor the country had to offer as well. Kaldi Brewery not only had the very best beers we sampled in the country, but they also have a beer spa in Árskógssandur where you can go and soak in a relaxing mixture of barley and hops. There’s beer on draft and a glass in the spa with you, so you can drink as much as you want within the time they give you to soak. This establishment is one of only four currently in business globally. The other three are also located in Europe.

Our birding adventure started as soon as we picked our car up from the airport. Lorri spotted several European Starlings (in their native habitat!) foraging in a field in town. But wait, what were those larger birds behind all the starlings? We backed up and low and behold- our first life bird of the trip! European Golden Plover! We then pulled off the road to a park we were not planning to visit next to Njarðvík Bay. Right away Lorri and I picked up our nemesis birds we could not find in Florida: Red Knot for Lorri and Common Eider for me. We watched Redwings with worms to feed their chicks, Common Eider females on nests, and even mating Arctic Terns. Yes, spring had definitely hit Iceland! Except of course, for the temperature. For these two Floridian tour guides, the 40 degrees Fahrenheit plus 35 mph winds, were a bit chillier than we had anticipated.

Common Eider Female


The following day we picked up our friend who had booked a later flight, Terrie Leibler, and the real adventure began. We started driving further and further away from the capital to explore the areas and find new and different birds. One of the highlights of the trip was the day we visited Snaefellsjoekull National Park where we found Snow Bunting, Northern Wheatear, Rock Ptarmigan, Razorbill, Common and Thick-billed Murres, Northern Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwakes. This was one of the only areas in the northern part of the country where you can hike on a glacier, which we did. The views from the Raudholl trail were amazing!



We also visited Akureyri, which did not disappoint. We saw our Atlantic Puffins that everyone wanted to see and photograph. We had missed them up until this point, but when we saw them, we really hit the jackpot! We estimated 10,000 + puffins roosting on the cliff ledges and foraging in the ocean. We had Great Skua, their natural predator, fly by twice scattering all of the birds and being chased by gulls. The puffins were not on nests yet, but we did see signs of courtship displays.

ATPU Kissing
Atlantic Puffin


Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar


The following day we went out to Lake Mývatn to observe waterfowl. Mývatn translates to midge- and we found out the lake is appropriately named. Each time we opened the door, several flew inside and clung to our clothing. The ducks certainly had enough food to raise their chicks! Lorri and Terrie got their Harlequin Ducks as well as Barrow’s Goldeneye, Eurasian Wren, Horned Grebe, Common Scoter, and several other species of ducks. We had high hopes for White-tailed Eagle and Gyrfalcon, but unfortunately could not find any. Gyrfalcon is considered a sensitive species of concern and therefore, it’s sighting records are kept hidden.

Tufted Duck

Eurasian Wren

On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped and picked up two new birds for the trip. We did find our White-tailed Eagles- two of them nesting on a rock island outside of Borgarbyggð. We also found Goldcrest at Fossvogur Cemetery in Reykjavik. The Goldcrest looks like a kinglet and sounds like a Cedar Waxwing. We were able to pick up on it’s soft, high-pitched sounds and locate a couple of these adorable birds. Not a bad evening for our last night in Iceland, I’d have to say. We ended our trip with a total of 73 bird species seen. I would definitely recommend anyone to visit this country if you get the chance. We will be leading tours here in the future, or upon request. One week’s time is only just enough to scratch the surface of the natural areas, culture, and scenery Iceland has to offer.


South Florida and Florida Keys

Florida Keys & South Florida Birding Trip

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! for trips to the Dry Tortugas. for tours in Florida and across the globe.



Palm Coast Birds of a Feather Fest

We  lead 3 trips for the Bird of a Feather Fest and met lots of new birders and had a great time. Beck got Ruff as a state bird on Saturday’s trip. Friday’s trip nabbed Ash-throated and Vermilion Flycatchers. Got to spend more time with Greg Miller as well.

Greg Miller
Greg Miller, Rebecca Smith, and Gallus Quigley

Paynes Prairie
Paynes Prairie

Ruff Sweatwater Wetlands by Rebecca Smith

Pellicer Creek

Lake Apopka