Birding Tour USA: Florida Peninsula – Southern Specials and the Keys


DISCOUNT: WE'VE MANAGED TO REDUCE THE ORIGINAL PRICE

Dates and Costs:

 

24 April – 02 May 2025

Price: US$4,980  / £4,048 / €4,803 per person sharing assuming 4 – 8 participants

Single Supplement: US$1,060  / £862 / €1,023

 

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.

 


Recommended Field Guide

(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)


Tour Details

Duration: 9 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Miami
Tour End: Miami


Price includes:

Meals
Accommodation
Transport
Guiding fees

Price excludes:

Flights
Personal insurance
Drinks
Gratuities – (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
Laundry service
Personal expenses such as gifts

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Florida Peninsula: Southern Specials and the Keys
April 2025

 

On a map, the finger-like state of Florida protrudes prominently from the continental United States, reaching south towards the Caribbean just barely missing Cuba 90 miles (c. 140 kilometers) beyond. To the north, frost-hardy, temperate deciduous forest dominates, while warm bodies of water surround the rest of the state. Together, both climate and geography isolate Florida from the rest of the country. Because of its geographically unique position, Florida is a crossroads between the temperate northern latitudes and the sultry Caribbean tropics with almost tropical forest-like habitat resulting in some fantastic bird watching opportunities. Indeed, about a dozen bird species of West Indian origin reach the northern limits of their range here, while many species typical of more northern latitudes reach the southern edge of their range in Florida. Many of the West Indian species live nowhere else in the United States. We also time our tour in late April, when spring migration peaks and the national parks, botanical gardens and residential areas are teeming with bird life, potentially augmenting our trip list with a wide variety of colorful warblers and charismatic shorebirds.


Florida Scrub Jay is a charismatic and quizzical species.

 

On this tour, we cover the southern two thirds of the state comprehensively in search of the many special birds on offer. We begin by exploring Miami, a city with a decidedly Caribbean flair, in search of several established exotics such as Spot-breasted OrioleWhite-winged Parakeet and Red-whiskered Bulbul. In the central/western part of the state, pinelands feature a specialized avian community, including Red-cockaded WoodpeckerBrown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow. We also explore nearby oak scrub for Florida’s only endemic bird, Florida Scrub Jay. On the last leg of our journey, we explore the tropical hardwood hammocks and mangrove swamps of the Florida Keys in search of Caribbean specials such as Mangrove CuckooWhite-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo. We also take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, where Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy breed in their thousands. With some luck, many of the sites we visit on this tour may be alive with migrant songbirds, and there is always a chance for a vagrant from the Caribbean like a La Sagra’s Flycatcher or a Western Spindalis to show up.

 

Itinerary (9 days/8 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Miami

After arriving at Miami International Airport, you will be transferred to a nearby hotel for the night.

Overnight: Miami

Florida birding toursSpot-breasted Oriole is one of the many exotics we will target in the Miami area.

 

Day 2. Miami and the Palm Beach Area

The nearly tropical climate and exotic vegetation of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area offers a unique landscape of opportunity for a myriad of introduced bird species from all over the world. We spend our first morning in Florida exploring this urban landscape in search of ABA-countable exotics such as Grey-headed SwamphenSpot-breasted OrioleWhite-winged ParakeetRed-whiskered Bulbul, and Common Myna. However, introduced species are only a small fraction of the avifauna of Miami, a county which claims one of the longest bird lists east of the Mississippi River. Parks, preserves, and even parking lots provide opportunities to see native species like Grey KingbirdWhite-crowned Pigeon, and more, along with a supporting cast of migrant songbirds.

After a delicious lunch at a local spot in Miami, we will head north to Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands, two artificially created wetlands that host nearly all of Florida’s water-associated specials: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Anhinga, Purple Gallinule, the incredibly beautiful Roseate Spoonbill and more. The rookeries at Wakodahatchee Wetlands should be active at this time of year, providing excellent birding photographic opportunities of nesting herons, egrets, ibises, and storks.

Overnight: West Palm Beach

Florida birding toursThe Palm Beach area usually holds decent numbers of Grey-headed Swamphens.

 

Day 3. Ocean side to gulf side

We will spend the morning hours birding the ocean (east) side of the Florida peninsula at several local parks, hoping to catch a new batch of migrant songbirds. Depending on how we faired with waders the previous day and how migration fairs for the day, we may head to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for species such as Roseate Spoonbill, Snail Kite and a shot at Smooth-billed Ani. After lunch, we will spend the slower afternoon birding hours driving across the middle of Florida towards Fort Myers. The late afternoon and evening hours will be spent birding the gulf (west) side of the peninsula, searching the coastline for shorebirds including Snowy, Piping and Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatcher, Willet and more.

Overnight: Fort Myers

 

Day 4. Babcock-Webb and Tamiami Trail

Today will be an early start to ensure our sunrise arrival at the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area. This huge tract of land hosts a wide variety of habitats including Florida slash pine, a favorite of several special bird species. We will spend the better part of the morning exploring these pines in search of Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman’s Sparrow and Brown-headed Nuthatch. Following a successful morning at Babcock-Webb, we will then explore one or two other locations to search for the endemic Florida Scrub Jay. Where we go will depend on recent trends and timing.

Afterwards, we start our journey southeast across the peninsula via the Tamiami Trail to Homestead, passing through Big Cypress National Preserve and the northern edge of Everglades National Park. Sites along this road provide excellent opportunities to see King Rail and Snail Kite for our growing trip list.

Overnight: Homestead

Florida birding toursThe majestic Swallow-tailed Kite is often encountered on this tour.

 

Day 5. Everglades National Park

Published in 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s The Everglades: River of Grass highlighted the uniqueness of the Everglades. Lying at the southern tip of the state, the Everglades is a vast, subtropical sawgrass prairie broken only by cypress domes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pinelands and mangrove swamps. There is nowhere else in the United States with such a decidedly tropical suite of habitats. We bird throughout the day along the length of the main park road that terminates in flamingo campground, exploring these various habitats for several birds, difficult or impossible to see anywhere else in the country, like “Cape Sable” Seaside Sparrow and Shiny CowbirdAmerican Crocodile is possible at the marina in Flamingo. There will also be an optional birding session after dark to look for Eastern Screech OwlBarred Owl and Chuck-will’s-widow.

Overnight: Homestead

 

Day 6. Florida Keys

After an early breakfast, we will drive along Card Sound Road to Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, making a brief stop at a patch of mangroves along the way to look for the Florida race of Prairie Warbler and the Cuban race of American Yellow Warbler. Once slated to become a housing development, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park protects one of the largest tracts of tropical hardwood hammock in Florida. It is also an important breeding ground for several target species on our tour, particularly the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo and the vociferous Black-whiskered Vireo. For the rest of the day we will keep our schedule open as we make our way south to Key West, to accommodate the presence (or absence) of migrant songbirds or even the possibility of chasing a Caribbean vagrant. Regardless of the status of migration, we visit a breeding colony of Roseate Tern in Marathon and stand vigil in the evening for Antillean Nighthawk in Key West.

Overnight: Key West

 

Day 7. Dry Tortugas National Park

Seventy miles (c. 110 kilometers) west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a series of tiny coralline islands surrounded by the shimmering aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Among birders, these islands are particularly famous for having the only nesting colonies of Brown NoddySooty TernMagnificent Frigatebird and Masked Booby in the contiguous United States. We reach these islands via the Yankee Freedom II catamaran on a day trip.

Upon arrival at Garden Key, we have about four hours to enjoy the cacophony and bustle of activity from the seabird colonies on nearby Bush Key as well as marvel at impressive Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Due to the isolation of these islands from any land, the parade grounds of this grand fort function as a welcoming oasis for exhausted migratory songbirds including warblers, cuckoos, flycatchers, vireos, tanagers, and buntings. On our return voyage to Key West we make sure to stop at nearby Hospital Key to see the colony of Masked Booby.

We spend a second night in Key West to hopefully allow some time to relax and admire this famous town and perhaps to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home for example.

Overnight: Key West

Florida birding toursBrown Noddy will certainly be a highlight of the Dry Tortugas.

 

Day 8. Florida Keys to Homestead

We drive north back towards Miami, stopping at various state parks and preserves in the Florida Keys to look for species we may have missed (possibly a Bald Eagle or two). Perhaps we’ll find some new migrant songbirds and breeding specials or maybe we’ll even chance upon finding a Caribbean stray (we’ll be checking the e-bird reports frequently to see what’s around!). We also usually make a stop at the National Key Deer Refuge to see the miniature and endemic Key Deer, the smallest subspecies of White-tailed Deer and the smallest deer in North America. This will be a flexible day so that we can chase any reported rarities, and we will keep ourselves wired to any special sightings.

Overnight: Homestead

 

Day 9. Transfer to Miami International Airport

After some optional early morning birding, looking for any bird species we may have missed, we drive back (less than an hour when there is no traffic) to Miami to catch our flights home.

 

 

Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.

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Florida – Set Departure Trip Report

22 – 30 APRIL 2023

By Jacob Roalef

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The elusive Mangrove Cuckoo.

Overview

This nine-day birding adventure of Florida began in Miami with some exploration of the Atlantic Coast, crossed the state to Fort Myers on the Gulf side,  headed back along the southern edge and down throughout the Florida Keys, before circling back to Miami for the trip’s conclusion. The tour explored several different habitats and visited some amazing birding locations such as Crandon Park, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area, Carlos Pointe, Everglades NP, Big Pine Key, Dry Tortugas NP, and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

We enjoyed many fantastic bird sightings which included a variety of specialty species, migrants, seabirds, and ABA countable introduced species, giving us a fine list for southern Florida during our short nine-day visit. Avian highlights included Mangrove  Cuckoo, Mottled Duck, Reddish Egret, White-crowned Pigeon, Limpkin, Piping, Wilson’s, and Snowy Plovers, Black and Brown Noddies, Mitred and Red-masked Parakeets, Scaly-breasted Munia, Spot-breasted Oriole, Cape May Warbler, Black-whiskered Vireo, and several ABA area rarities: Smooth-billed Ani, Tricolored Munia, and Red-legged Honeycreeper!

A total of 160 bird species were seen, plus one additional heard only species, for a total of 161 species recorded. In addition to the birds, several nice mammal and reptile sighting were had which included West Indian Manatee, Marsh Rabbit, American Alligator, Florida Cooter, and the endangered subspecies of White-tailed Deer known as Key Deer. Full bird and mammal checklists can be found at the end of the report.

Veery was one of many migrants seen during this tour.

Detailed Report

Day 1, 22nd April 2023. Arrival and Miami birding.

Two participants arrived in Miami earlier in the morning, so we headed off to do some early afternoon birding around the city. Miami is known for its many ABA countable introduced species that have taken a strong hold in the tropical climate here. With that in mind, we headed off to some strange birding locales to target these introduced birds. First up was the gorgeous Biltmore Hotel where we picked up both Red-masked and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets plus a beautiful Broad-winged Hawk soaring overhead. From here, we checked out the nearby Kendall Baptist Hospital and added our first Egyptian Goose and Muscovy Duck of the trip, as well a small group of Mitred Parakeets roosting in a giant tree nearby. The heat of the day was increasing, and we were all a little drained from our  travel to Miami, so it was time for an afternoon break before dinner and the final participant’s arrival. However, as we pulled into the hotel parking lot, a pair of stunning Spot-breasted Orioles were waiting for us to open our doors and enjoy them! That just goes to show that you really are never done birding until you close your eyes for the night.

This Spot-breasted Oriole was waiting for us in the hotel parking lot!

Day 2, 23rd April 2023. Miami birding and heading North.

This morning we headed off to Pine Woods Park, another local Miami hotspot and were quickly greeted by a large flock of Scaly-breasted Munias, another introduced species target. We continued walking the small path here and noted several other species which included Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Common Grackle and of course Northern Mockingbird (a staple on every checklist in Florida). From here we moved on to Key Biscayne to explore the large area of Crandon Park until lunch. The northern portion of the park hosted some nice woodland type habitat, but things were a bit quiet overall, and we ticked American Redstart, Cape May Warbler and Great-crested Flycatcher. We moved on to the southern portion of the park where we quickly added the exotic Indian Peafowl (another ABA countable species) before moving on to the beach area. On the sands we spotted many humans enjoying the lovely beach, but despite all the foot traffic, we still managed several great bird species which included both Piping and Wilson’s Plovers, Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, and Sanderling. It was now time to enjoy some lunch after a good morning of birding.

It was a treat to watch this clumsy Purple Gallinule tightrope walk on a reed.

When our bellies were full, we headed off the island and worked our way through Miami which, thankfully, was void of any major traffic issues. We drove north of the city and arrived at Brian Piccolo Sports Park where we were greeted by several Monk Parakeets on the baseball fields and fence. After driving around for a bit, we spotted our other target here, a pair of Burrowing Owls who were busily working on their den. It was a treat to observe this pair, as one bird would kick sand into the air while the other kept a careful watch, before eventually switching places and jobs. We continued north and spent the mid-afternoon at the beautiful Wakodahatchee Wetlands. This park has an amazing boardwalk path through the wetlands and is home to countless nesting waders. As we arrived, we were  welcomed by a  party of nesting Wood Storks mere feet from the boardwalk’s edge. We took our time walking the loop trail here, really taking in the unbelievable encounters with Tricolored Heron, Great Egret, Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant, Purple Gallinule, Grey-headed Swamphen, Mottled Duck and Glossy Ibis. This place is always a trip highlight, and this year was no different. A great cap to our first full day of birding here in southern Florida.

Day 3, 24th April 2023. Ocean side to gulf side.

The goal for today was to make it across the peninsula and get to the gulf side of Florida, with many birding stops along the way. First up on the agenda was Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. We began in the eerie cypress swamp where we picked up several new trip species like Northern Parula, Pileated Woodpecker and Wood Duck, before we moved on to the marshes of the area and noted Red-shouldered Hawk and Little Blue Heron. After a morning well spent, we continued our journey across the state, but first we spotted a pair of Limpkins in the grass next to the road! We quickly pulled off and enjoyed watching these birds for a few minutes before continuing to Peaceful Waters. Here we enjoyed another wetland with a fantastic boarding dissecting the middle of it, and we picked up our first Roseate Spoonbill of the trip along with the classic wading species and a Brown Basilisk, one of the many exotic reptiles found here.

Limpkin was one of the many southern Florida specials on offer.

After lunch we covered a decent portion of the drive before we stopped near Lake Okeechobee at the Torry Island Campground. Thankfully the wind direction kept the looming storm north of us, so we could enjoy the area as we climbed the nearby tower and spotted several Snail Kites, another Florida specialty, as well as Osprey, Blue-winged Teal, and Grey-headed Swamphen. It was now time for the final push across the state to Fort Myers where we would stay for the night, but we had one more stop planned in a nearby neighborhood. As we pulled into the area, a Northern Bobwhite was out in the open for us to enjoy. From there, it didn’t take long to spot our target, a family group of the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay! Despite the loud barking dogs at the nearby house, the jays put on a lovely show for us. From here we headed to the hotel and then off for a tasty Italian dinner, well deserved after our long day of travel across Florida.

Day 4, 25th April 2023. Babcock Webb and the Tamiami Trail.

Today began with another gorgeous sunrise over the water as we drove the 40 minutes to Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area. This preserve hosted a new habitat for us to explore (slash pine savannah) and with it, many new bird species for the trip. Along the entrance road we watched an Eastern Towhee singing atop a pine and a pair of Downy Woodpeckers busily working on their nest cavity. We continued along the roads here before reaching some trees that were clearly marked as nesting sites for our main target here, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. This specialist only nests in pine savannah type habitat and thankfully it wasn’t long before we enjoyed a pair of these lovely birds as they foraged in the pines. In addition to the woodpeckers, we added many more great trip birds like Pine Warbler, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Sandhill Crane, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Eastern Bluebird. By mid-morning it was time to move on to our next birding location, Carlos Pointe. This sandy beach is protected, as it hosts several nesting species, and today it was packed with migrant birds as well. We slowly walked along and carefully scanned through all the birds, making sure to get a good view of everything here. Our list here was fantastic as we ticked many new species like American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Black-bellied, Snowy, and Semipalmated Plovers, Willet, and Reddish Egret.

We managed great views of this very young Florida Scrub-Jay.

After all the shorebirds were thoroughly checked, it was time for a well-deserved lunch and a break from the heat. The afternoon was spent driving back across Florida via the Tamiami Trail, the southern route connecting Tampa and Miami. We made a quick stop through Naples which turned up a Brown Thrasher for us, but the heat made any birding slow. We arrived at the Homestead area around 4:30pm and headed straight to the nearby airport here, where a local rarity had been hanging out. The sun was brutal, and the birds were few, but we did see a large flock of Bobolinks as well as Eastern Meadowlark and Loggerhead Shrike. Our hopeful target was a no show, so we decided to pack up and leave the task to the other birders here. We didn’t get too far away before  another birder sped down the road to get our attention, the bird had shown up! We quickly turned around and made it back in time to see the rare Smooth-billed Ani. This bird was not only rare for the United States, but also held significance as Rich’s 700th species for the ABA! Quite an impressive achievement and one worthy of celebration. We wound our way back to Homestead where Rich promptly added number 701 in the form of a Common Myna, and then we celebrated with a tasty Mexican dinner. Another fantastic day and huge congrats on number 700 (and 701) to Rich!

Day 5, 26th April 2023. Everglades and Homestead.

The Everglades have their own unique style of beauty and ecology, with freshwater sloughs mixed with cypress and pine hardwood forests and even some grassland prairie habitats for good measure. Today we spent a lot of time enjoying this wonder and learning more about it, while of course also searching out birds. American Crows and Common Yellowthroats were there to greet us at our first stop of the day on the entrance road, along with an accommodating, Red-shouldered Hawk. We eventually made it to the end where freshwater meets saltwater in these marine estuaries, a perfect location for West Indian Manatees, which we saw a few of. We worked our way over to the Eco Pond area here and picked up some nice birds like White-eyed Vireo, American White Pelican, American Avocet, and Snowy Egret. From here, we enjoyed a picnic style lunch at the Amphitheater and waited for our target to show up. Eventually, the male Shiny Cowbird appeared with a small group of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

It was now time to work our way back out of the park with a brief stop along a boardwalk trail to take in the views of the glades. Just outside of the park, we made a quick stop for a delicious fruit shake and continued to a large colony of Cave Swallows to enjoy our treat. The heat of the day had taken full effect now, so we took a few hours break to rest. After our tasty dinner, we headed out for a little bit of late evening and night birding, however a looming storm nearby might have quieted bird activity. We managed to get on some very distant White-tailed Kites and as the sun set, a Chuck-wills-widow was seen down the road. It was then time for bed and rest in preparation for our adventure tomorrow in the Florida Keys!

Day 6, 27th April 2023. The Lower Florida Keys.

This morning we headed south along Route 1 to begin our exploration of the Florida Keys. Most of the day was spent birding some of the lower keys before eventually making the scenic drive to Key West, where we would spend the night. First up was Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. We were greeted by a very vocal Black-whiskered Vireo in the parking lot, and it eventually made an appearance for us. We began to walk the trails, but the mosquitoes became a little too unbearable, so we quickly turned around and headed to the next location. Thankfully John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was much nicer in terms of bugs, but the birding was a bit quiet. We noted Least Tern, Laughing Gull, Northern Cardinal, and Northern Waterthrush.

From here we made our way to Long Key State Park and enjoyed a pleasant loop trail as we sighted Prairie Warbler, Common Ground Dove, Tricolored Heron, and some interesting crabs on the sand. It was now time for lunch, so we grabbed some tasty local food and headed back out to Big Pine Key. Here we slowly drove the roads until we eventually spotted our target, the endangered Key Deer (the tiny subspecies of White-tailed Deer) which can only be found here. It was neat to see these little guys and we were all glad their population was doing well. We continued our drive and took in the gorgeous views of Route 1, as beautiful blue and green water surrounded us, before we eventually made it to the busy island of Key West. We made a circle of the island to view some of the more popular attractions and added both Red Junglefowl (which some people call Key West Chicken) and White-crowned Pigeon before checking in to the hotel and heading off for a tasty dinner.

It was great to get up close views of Black-whiskered Vireo on this trip.

Day 7, 28th April 2023. Dry Tortugas National Park

Perhaps the most anticipated part of this tour is a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park, since it hosts many amazing nesting species as well as a mystery of migrants. We headed down to the docks early this morning to get checked in and board the ferry. We enjoyed the beauty of the waters during the 2.5-hour ferry ride to the islands which comprise the Dry Tortugas. As we approached, we noted the very distant Masked and Brown Boobies on Hospital Key and the many Magnificent Frigatebirds swirling overhead. Once we deboarded the boat, we had about 3.5 hours to explore the island and surrounding areas. We headed inside the fort and immediately got onto a Black-billed Cuckoo at the water drip feature, quite a difficult bird to spot in Florida. We also picked up Cape May and Palm Warblers as well as our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the trip, before climbing the fort to scan through the seabirds. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to spot the rare Black Noddy mixed in with the hundreds of Brown Noddies on the north coaling docks. We headed back down inside the fort where another group of birders alerted us to a Tricolored Munia they had just seen. We exchanged some info on our sightings and about ten minutes later the munia made an appearance. This Tricolored Munia was almost certainly a vagrant from the established population in Cuba that would then count on anyone’s ABA list. We worked our way back to the boat to enjoy some lunch and along the way we noted Veery, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Black-and-white Warbler, and American Redstart.

After lunch, folks had some time on their own to either continue with some relaxed birding or explore the crystal-clear waters here and do a little snorkeling around the reefs. For the birding portion, we checked out the nearby Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern nesting colonies for some up-close views and then headed inside to relax by the water drip. The migrant birds here have, in some cases, flown hundreds of miles over salt water and are very tired when they arrive, so the freshwater drip here offers them a refreshing drink and a chance to wash off some of the salt spray from their feathers. We watched from nearby benches as many birds came and went including Indigo Bunting, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanager, Hooded and Palm Warblers, Swainson’s Thrush, Ovenbird, and Eastern Wood-Pewee. It was then time to catch the ferry back to the mainland and head off for a tasty dinner after an incredible day at the Dry Tortugas.

This rare Tricolored Munia likely came from an established population in Cuba.

Day 8, 29th April 2023. The Upper Florida Keys.

Today we worked our way back to Homestead, with some birding in the morning in the upper keys. First up was Fort Zachary Taylor State Park located on Key West. Birding was a bit slow today with migrants being a struggle. We checked along the beaches first and noted some regular species like Brown Pelican, Royal Tern, and White-crowned Pigeon. We moved into the park a bit where we began to hear the chips of a few warblers and we managed to get onto a Palm Warbler and Northern Parula, before a bird lit up in Jacob’s binoculars, a Red-legged Honeycreeper! This extremely rare bird gave us great views for around 15 minutes and allowed us to track down some other birders in the area and give them a heads up. We watched as it actively foraged in the flowering tree here and gave us a stellar view. What an incredible way to start the morning off. From here we left Key West and headed to Boca Chica Road nearby, where we spotted a Shiny Cowbird being chased around by a Brown-headed Cowbird. We got close to some mangroves and had some incredibly close views of a Black-whiskered Vireo singing and then a juvenile, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron as it hid in the trees. We continued to the No Name Pub for a tasty lunch and some interesting décor inside, with nearly 500,000 dollar bills covering the walls here.

This mega rare Red-legged Honeycreeper was quite a surprise!

After lunch we crossed over the 7-mile bridge and back to Marathon, where we stopped nearby and picked up a pair of Roseate Terns, along with some Least Terns and Double-crested Cormorants. We made one final stop in the keys along the water spots at Grassy Key, where we picked up Black-necked Stilt and Lesser Yellowlegs. A couple nice additions to our list. We then made the rest of the drive out of the beautiful keys and arrived in Homestead, where we picked up a couple more delicious fruit smoothie treats and did some pre-dinner birding at Frog Pond. Here we managed to find several new species for our list, like Western Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, as well as some close views of the always impressive Swallow-tailed Kite. It was now time for dinner where we celebrated a great final day of birding together.

Day 9, 30th April 2023. Departure Day and Black Point Marina.

The last day of the trip usually consists of breakfast and airport transfers, but today we all had afternoon departure times which left a little time for some extra birding in the morning. We still had a little unfinished business with a target species, so after breakfast we headed off to Black Point Marina. We walked along the roadside here and scanned through the mangroves as we went. There were a few migrants like Black-throated Blue Warbler and Northern Parula, which were nice. We made it to the cul-de-sac at the end of the road and enjoyed watching a pair of Great-crested Flycatchers and a Prairie Warbler here before our main target showed up. Sure enough, out of thin air, a Mangrove Cuckoo appeared! We all got fantastic views and photos before it disappeared back into the thick mangrove forest. This gave us an impressive cuckoo sweep on the trip, with four different species from the family. Not an easy feat in Florida for such a short time span. After our cuckoo excitement it was time to make some airport (and train station) drop-offs and say our goodbyes after another great tour in Florida!

Bird ListFollowing IOC (13.1)

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen. Species seen only on the pre-trip day of this trip are marked with (+) after the common name.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: CE = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened.  

Common Name

Scientific Name

Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Dendrocygna autumnalis

Egyptian Goose

Alopochen aegyptiaca

Muscovy Duck

Cairina moschata

Wood Duck

Aix sponsa

Blue-winged Teal

Spatula discors

Mottled Duck

Anas fulvigula

 

 

New World Quail (Odontophoridae)

Northern Bobwhite

Colinus virginianus

 

 

Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)

Indian Peafowl

Centrocercus urophasianus

Red Junglefowl

Centrocercus minimus

 

 

Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)

Common Nighthawk

Chordeiles minor

Chuck-will’s-widow

Antrostomus carolinensis

 

 

Swifts (Apodidae)

Chimney Swift – VU

Chaetura pelagica

 

 

Hummingbirds (Trochilidae)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris

 

 

Cuckoos (Cuculidae)

Smooth-billed Ani (Rarity)

Crotophaga ani

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Coccyzus americanus

Mangrove Cuckoo

Coccyzus minor

Black-billed Cuckoo

Coccyzus erythropthalmus

 

 

Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)

Rock Dove (Pigeon)

Columba livia

White-crowned Pigeon

Patagioenas leucocephala

Eurasian Collared Dove

Streptopelia decaocto

Common Ground Dove

Columbina passerina

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura

White-winged Dove

Zenaida asiatica

 

 

Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)

Grey-headed Swamphen

Porphyrio poliocephalus

Purple Gallinule

Porphyrio martinica

Common Gallinule

Gallinula galeata

 

 

Cranes (Gruidae)

Sandhill Crane

Antigone canadensis

 

 

Limpkin (Aramidae)

Limpkin

Aramus guarauna

 

 

Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)

American Oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

 

 

Stilts and Avocets (Recurvirostridae)

Black-necked Stilt

Himantopus mexicanus

American Avocet

Recurvirostra americana

 

 

Plovers (Charadriidae)

Grey (Black-bellied) Plover

Pluvialis squatarola

Semipalmated Plover

Charadrius semipalmatus

Wilson’s Plover

Charadrius wilsonia

Killdeer

Charadrius vociferus

Piping Plover

Charadrius melodus

Snowy Plover

Charadrius nivosus

 

 

Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)

Ruddy Turnstone

Arenaria interpres

Sanderling

Calidris alba

Dunlin

Calidris alpina

Least Sandpiper

Calidris minutilla

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Calidris pusilla

Short-billed Dowitcher

Limnodromus griseus

Spotted Sandpiper

Actitis macularius

Lesser Yellowlegs

Tringa flavipes

Willet

Tringa semipalmata

 

 

Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Brown Noddy

Anous stolidus

Black Noddy

Anous minutus

Black Skimmer

Rynchops niger

Laughing Gull

Leucophaeus atricilla

American Herring Gull

Larus smithsonianus

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Larus fuscus

Caspian Tern

Hydroprogne caspia

Royal Tern

Thalasseus maximus

Least Tern

Sternula antillarum

Bridled Tern

Onychoprion anaethetus

Sooty Tern

Onychoprion fuscatus

Roseate Tern

Sterna dougallii

 

 

Storks (Ciconiidae)

Wood Stork

Mycteria americana

 

 

Frigatebirds (Fregatidae)

Magnificent Frigatebird

Fregata magnificens

 

 

Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)

Masked Booby

Sula dactylatra

Brown Booby

Sula leucogaster

 

 

Cormorants and Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)

Double-crested Cormorant

Nannopterum auritum

 

 

Anhingas, Darters (Anhingidae)

Anhinga

Anhinga anhinga

 

 

Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)

American White Ibis

Eudocimus albus

Glossy Ibis

Plegadis falcinellus

Roseate Spoonbill

Platalea ajaja

 

 

Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)

Least Bittern

Ixobrychus exilis

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Nyctanassa violacea

Green Heron

Butorides virescens

Western Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

Great Blue Heron

Ardea herodias

Great Egret

Ardea alba

Reddish Egret

Egretta rufescens

Tricolored Heron

Egretta tricolor

Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea

Snowy Egret

Egretta thula

 

 

Pelicans (Pelecanidae)

American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

 

 

New World Vultures (Cathartidae)

Black Vulture

Coragyps atratus

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura

 

 

Ospreys (Pandionidae)

Western Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

 

 

Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)

White-tailed Kite

Elanus leucurus

Swallow-tailed Kite

Elanoides forficatus

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Snail Kite

Rostrhamus sociabilis

Red-shouldered Hawk

Buteo lineatus

Broad-winged Hawk

Buteo platypterus

 

 

Barn Owls (Tytonidae)

American Barn Owl

Tyto furcata

 

 

Owls (Strigidae)

Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia

 

 

Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Belted Kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon

 

 

Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Melanerpes carolinus

Downy Woodpecker

Dryobates pubescens

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Leuconotopicus borealis

Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

 

 

African & New World Parrots (Psittacidae)

Red-masked Parakeet

Psittacara erythrogenyus

Mitred Parakeet

Psittacara mitratus

Monk Parakeet

Myiopsitta monachus

Yellow-chevroned Parakeet

Brotogeris chiriri

 

 

Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae)

Eastern Wood Pewee

Contopus virens

Western Kingbird

Tyrannus verticalis

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Tyrannus forficatus

Grey Kingbird

Tyrannus dominicensis

Great Crested Flycatcher

Myiarchus crinitus

 

 

Shrikes (Laniidae)

Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus

 

 

Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis (Vireonidae)

White-eyed Vireo

Vireo griseus

Black-whiskered Vireo

Vireo altiloquus

 

 

Crows, Jays, and Magpies (Corvidae)

Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata

Florida Scrub Jay (Endemic) – VU

Aphelocoma coerulescens

American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

Fish Crow

Corvus ossifragus

 

 

Waxwings (Bombycillidae)

Cedar Waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum

 

 

Swallows (Hirundinidae)

Sand Martin (Bank Swallow)

Riparia riparia

Purple Martin

Progne subis

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

Cave Swallow

Petrochelidon fulva

 

 

Wrens (Troglodytidae)

Carolina Wren (H)

Thryothorus ludovicianus

 

 

Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla

 

 

Mockingbirds, Thrashers (Mimidae)

Grey Catbird

Salpinctes obsoletus

Northern Mockingbird

Catherpes mexicanus

Brown Thrasher

Cistothorus palustris

 

 

Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)

Common Myna

Acridotheres tristis

Common (European) Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

 

 

Thrushes (Turdidae)

Eastern Bluebird

Sialia sialis

Veery

Catharus fuscescens

Grey-cheeked Thrush

Catharus minimus

Swainson’s Thrush

Catharus ustulatus

 

 

Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)

House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

 

 

Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)

Scaly-breasted Munia

Lonchura punctulata

Tricolored Munia (Rarity)

Lonchura malacca

 

 

New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)

Grasshopper Sparrow

Ammodramus savannarum

Eastern Towhee

Pipilo erythrophthalmus

 

 

Oropendolas, Orioles, Blackbirds (Icteridae)

Bobolink

Dolichonyx oryzivorus

Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella magna

Spot-breasted Oriole

Icterus pectoralis

Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Shiny Cowbird

Molothrus bonariensis

Brown-headed Cowbird

Molothrus ater

Common Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula

Boat-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus major

 

 

New World Warblers (Parulidae)

Ovenbird

Seiurus aurocapilla

Northern Waterthrush

Parkesia noveboracensis

Black-and-white Warbler

Mniotilta varia

Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas

Hooded Warbler

Setophaga citrina

American Redstart

Setophaga ruticilla

Cape May Warbler

Setophaga tigrina

Northern Parula

Setophaga americana

American Yellow Warbler (H)

Setophaga aestiva

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Setophaga caerulescens

Palm Warbler

Setophaga palmarum

Pine Warbler

Setophaga pinus

Prairie Warbler

Setophaga discolor

 

 

Cardinals & Allies (Cardinalidae)

Scarlet Tanager

Piranga olivacea

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Pheucticus ludovicianus

Northern Cardinal

Cardinalis cardinalis

Blue Grosbeak

Passerina caerulea

Indigo Bunting

Passerina cyanea

 

 

Tanagers & Allies (Thraupidae)

Red-legged Honeycreeper (Rarity)

Cyanerpes cyaneus

 

 

Total Seen

160

Total Heard

1

Total Recorded

161

 

Mammal List

Common Name

Scientific Name

Rabbits and Hares (Leporidae)

Marsh Rabbit

Sylvilagus palustris

 

 

Squirrels and Allies (Sciuridae)

Eastern Grey Squirrel

Sciurus carolinensis

 

 

Raccoons and Allies (Procyonidae)

Northern Raccoon

Procyon lotor

 

 

True Deer (Cervidae)

White-tailed Deer (Key Deer)

Odocoileus virginianus clavium

 

 

Manatees (Trichechidae)

West Indian Manatee

Trichechus manatus

 

 

Total seen

5

 

DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

USA: Florida Peninsula Southern Specials and the Keys

 Tour-specific Information

 

PASSPORT AND VISA

For US citizens, no visas or passports are required. You will need to bring along a government issued ID as they are sometimes required for hotels.

Non-United States citizens will require a valid passport to enter the country, and some may require a tourist visa. Please consult with your local US Embassy for more details and information. You may need to show your ID/passport at various hotels and for the boat departures on this tour.

 

TRAVEL INSURANCE

We strongly encourage you to purchase trip cancellation or interruption insurance in case you have to cancel due to illness or for any other reason, as tour payments are non-refundable as per our terms and conditionsWe advise you to get a plan which covers all your medical care and evacuation back to your country of residence, repatriation, and trip cancellation due to illness just prior, or any other reason.

 

HEALTH

Florida poses no major health risks and there only a few potential minor items to consider. There is a boat ferry (approximately two hours each way) which typically is smooth sailing but if you are prone to seasickness, it is best to pack the needed medication. Additionally, some of the drives can be long and pose similar issues. Climate can pose small issues but overall, the temperatures tend to be pleasant with a consistent breeze and plenty of water will be made available. Mosquitoes and other biting insects can be present, especially in wet swampy areas, so we recommend insect repellent and appropriate clothing to help with this. Your guide will inform you when they think things might be particularly “buggy”.

 

MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Please make sure that you are covered by medical insurance in case of an emergency while on this trip. Without insurance the cost of medical care can be extremely high. Please notify us at the time of registering for this tour of any medical conditions you think we should know about (including allergies, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.). This will greatly help us to cater to your needs and to update emergency services if required.

 

WEATHER/CLIMATE

The weather in Florida in April can range from 70–90 °F (21–32 °C) during the day with nights remaining mild and warmer. Rain and thunderstorms can occur at any moment, so it is best to be prepared with a waterproof jacket. Just as quickly as clouds can appear, they can dissolve, leaving behind a wave of hot and humid conditions. Wind is typically present, especially near water, with a gentle breeze felt most of the time.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS

We will be staying at comfortable hotels throughout the tour.

 

COMMUNICATIONS

Our hotels should have decent access to Wi-Fi throughout the trip and phone service is typically fine near these areas and in the larger more populated cities. There are times throughout the trip where we will be out driving through the swamps between destinations so service can be lost there. Additionally, out on the boat and Dry Tortugas, service will be spotty.

 

PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE OF TOUR

Overall, this tour is labeled as fairly easy from a physical requirement perspective. All hiking will be on flat ground with an occasional stray to more sandy trails. There will always be an option to remain back with the vehicle if needed. There are no long hikes on this tour (all less than one mile). There are a few drives of distance but none lasting longer than three hours and those drives do have birding and restroom stops planned to break things up.

 

WHAT TO BRING

Please kindly read the general list of what to bring on a birding tour, here.

Layers and waterproof gear are always a good idea when preparing for a wide variety of possible weather conditions, and we consider them essential on this tour. We also do recommend bringing Dramamine or other motion sickness medications if you need them as there are longer drives in the vehicle and the ferry ride. Also, please bring along a face mask (or a few) to ensure we are able to follow local guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic as they will be required in certain areas.

Do not forget – Binoculars, prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs), toiletries, prescription glasses (and a spare pair), sunglasses, camera, batteries (for electronic equipment and chargers for re-chargeable batteries if required), alarm clock, money pouch, field guide(s), daypack.

Key Documents and Cash – Passports, your travel or health insurance cards, photocopies of which can be carried by the tour leader in case of emergency, Covid-19 vaccine card (or photo/copy), credit cards (see info above). US dollars for drinks, gifts, tips, items of a personal nature, etc., which are not included in the tour cost.

 

LUGGAGE

There should be enough space for each participant to bring one medium-sized suitcase as well as a personal bag to keep at their seat with them. Please do be mindful with large cameras or tripods if you choose to bring these along.

Birding Ecotours

Download Florida Peninsula: Southern Specials and the Keys Tour-specific Information

Jacob really knows the habitats and has a lot of experience finding the sought-after birds. Combined with his excellent awareness and listening skills, and his ability to give good directions, with judicious use of laser pointer, his knowledge led to stellar looks at Florida’s birds. He made sure everyone got good looks.

Maureen - On Jacob and Florida

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