Florida Peninsula – Southern Specials and the Keys Trip Report, April 2022

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17 – 25 APRIL 2022

By Luis Gles

 

florida peninsula trip report 2022The elusive Mangrove Cuckoo.

 

Overview

 

This nine-day set departure birding tour of southern Florida commenced on the 17th of April and concluded on the 25th of April in Miami in 2022. Over these nine days we covered a lot of ground, managing to drive across eight counties exploring parts of two national parks, a few state parks and birded in nearly a dozen different key habitats, ensuring we got to see a large and unique diversity of birds and other wildlife.

During spring southern Florida can be an amazing experience, filled with avian possibilities: hundreds of migratory species stopping over the region during northbound flights, returning Caribbean breeders settling back into their territories and the prospect of vagrants from the tropics. This all contributed to giving us a great list for our southern Florida tour. The highlights featured a long list of Florida specials and migrants including: Swallow-tailed and Snail Kites, Shiny Cowbird, Mottled Duck, Mangrove Cuckoo, White-crowned Pigeon, Grey-headed Swamphen, Limpkin, Wood Stork, Piping Plover, Brown and Black Noddies, Sooty, Bridled and Roseate Terns, Magnificent Frigatebird and Masked Booby. We also had a few migrant warblers including the likes of Cape May, Magnolia, Blackpoll and Pine Warblers. Additionally, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Yellow-chevroned and Mitred Parakeets, Grey Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, Florida Scrub Jay, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Bachman’s Sparrow and Spot-breasted Oriole were loved by all on the trip.

A total of 188 bird species were seen and two species heard only. Species lists are at the end of this report.

 

Detailed Report

 

Day 1, 17th April 2022. Arrival in Miami

After arriving in the busy city of Miami, the most tropical city in the USA, we checked into our hotel close to the airport. After settling in, we left for lunch, but not before checking the small pond behind the hotel. Here, we saw some of our main targets such as the introduced Grey-headed Swamphen and returning Grey Kingbirds as well as Sora, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula and Summer Tanager. After this good start we were ready for a delicious Cuban lunch.

After lunch, we began birding some of the city’s parks in search of multiple introduced species like Red-whiskered Bulbul, Common Hill Myna and Spot-breasted Oriole. A number of parrots and parakeets were also seen, and most definitely heard, such as Red-masked and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets and a pair of Chestnut-fronted Macaws in their cavity nest.

 

Day 2, 18th April 202. Miami and Palm Beach Area

We started the day with a quick breakfast and continued exploring for more exotic parrots around one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami. Here we were able to see more parakeets including Green, Mitred, Yellow-chevroned and Monk Parakeets. Later we transferred to the Island of Key Biscayne, located in the southeastern part of Miami-Dade County. It is a barrier island connected by the Rickenbacker Causeway and home of Crandon Park. This park is a hotspot for birdwatching, where we are fortunate to see one of the largest extensions of beautiful white sandy beaches. These beaches are critical for providing habitat to large numbers of shorebirds and seabirds. This specific park is famous for being a wintering ground for a great number of the threatened Piping Plovers. Here, the group enjoyed Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, Laughing Gull and Magnificent Frigatebird, before seeing the most unexpected bird for the tour so far, Thick-billed Vireo. This vagrant from the Caribbean has a restricted range between the Bahamas and Cuba with increasing numbers of records in southern Florida in recent years. The newest addition to the county bird list after this rarity became the Least Grebe which we were lucky enough to see on this tour too!

florida peninsula trip report 2022Thick-billed Vireo, a vagrant that we enjoyed on our second day.

 

After lunch we drove north to Palm Beach where we spent the rest of the afternoon at Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands. These two artificially created wetlands are an oasis for breeding waterbirds, including Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Bittern, Anhinga and the incredibly beautiful Painted Bunting.

 

Day 3, 19th April 2022. Ocean side to gulf side

We spent the morning hours birding the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge looking for and finding some top targets, such as Roseate Spoonbill, Limpkin, Pileated Woodpecker and Barred Owl. While here we crossed paths with a mixed flock of warblers which included American Redstart, Black-and-white, Cape May and Black-throated Blue Warblers, to name a few.

After lunch we spent the slower afternoon birding hours driving across the middle of Florida towards Fort Myers. Before reaching our final destination, we stopped at the magnificent Lake Okeechobee where we had great views of a couple of Snail Kites and dozens of Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) and Tree Swallows with a few Barn Swallows mixed in. The late afternoon and evening hours were spent birding the gulf finding many of our targets such as Wilsons Plovers, Willet and Reddish Egret.

 

Day 4, 20th April 2022. Babcock-Webb and Naples

We started in the early morning before sunrise to get to the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area. These Florida slash pine forests attract specials not found elsewhere. We were pretty lucky to hear one Red-cockaded Woodpecker as soon as we stepped out of the van, soon revealing itself to us. Following this Near Threatened species, were excellent views of Bachmans Sparrow and Brown-headed Nuthatch. Afterwards we passed by a known territory of a pair of the southeastern subspecies of American Kestrel. This is one of the most endangered subspecies of this fantastic falcon. A nearby neighborhood gave us Florida Scrub Jay, Florida’s only endemic bird species.

florida peninsula trip report 2022The sociable Florida Scrub Jay.

 

After a successful morning and a delicious lunch, we were ready for our departure south to Naples to look for one of the newest additions to the ABA acceptable bird list, the Rose-ringed Parakeet. After we added another yet parakeet to our list, we finally got to see the cute Snowy and Piping Plovers as well as Least and Sandwich Terns. Afterwards we drove southeast across the peninsula via the Tamiami Trail to Homestead, passing through two of the best-known wilderness areas in the state of Florida, Big Cypress National Preserve and the northern edge of Everglades National Park. The tasty Mexican food around the corner is a must-go and we enjoyed this treat before getting to our hotel in Homestead.

 

florida peninsula trip report 2022The endangered southeastern subspecies of American Kestrel.

 

Day 5, 21th April 2022. Everglades and Homestead

We started the day early to be in the most favorable habitat where we saw and enjoyed the one and only “Cape Sable” Seaside Sparrow. This subspecies of Seaside Sparrow is the first bird to adapt to the climate change and rising sea levels. There are many trails to explore in the Everglades including: Anhinga Trail, Gumbo Limbo Trail, Mahogany Hamock Tail and Pahockey. A great diversity of warblers including Black-throated Green, Prairie, Magnolia and Cape May Warblers, greeted us on these trails while a Barred Owl chick had us all staring. Short-tailed Hawk is a Florida special, sought out by raptor-lovers, and today we had a light morph soaring above us which we all enjoyed. After all the excitement we finally got to the Flamingo Visitor Center area, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the edge of the impressive Florida Bay. Following our lunch, we observed a Swallow-tailed Kite on the nest, feeding their young along the Anhinga Trail. The Everglades offers wildlife of all kinds and the group couldn’t pass up seeing American Alligators, Yellow-bellied Sliders and strange Florida Softshell Turtles.

Knowing that we would be going owling in the evening, we decided to take a more relaxed afternoon around the pool of the hotel. Following another delicious Mexican dinner, we enjoyed an excellent evening of owling, where we were able to see and hear White-tailed Kite and American Barn Owl, foraging at dusk outside of the everglades. Chuck-wills-widow and Eastern Screech Owl could be heard singing inside the park. Southern Toads on the side of the road were a regular occurrence and multiple Two-striped Walkingsticks were seen crossing the road.

florida peninsula trip report 2022The localized Bachman’s Sparrow gave us great views on this Florida birding tour.

 

Day 6, 22th April 2022. Florida Keys

After an early breakfast, we began our drive south to Key West, but before reaching the southernmost town in the US, we stopped along the road at multiple birding hotspots like Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. Here, we enjoyed seeing Prairie and Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstart and other regional specials, like Black-whiskered Vireo. The vireo breeds in the Caribbean but has been extending its range to southern Florida. After a full morning of driving and birding, we had lunch in Marathon at a famous food truck, Irie Island Eats. A quick vote easily decided this was the favorite restaurant of the tour! After lunch, we continued driving south while we kept a lookout for the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo and the Cuban race of American Yellow Warbler. On our search we visited Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a family group of the endangered ‘Key Deer’ (a subspecies of White-tailed Deer) before ending our day indulging in a flavorful Key West dinner.

 

Day 7, 23th April 2022. More of the Florida Keys

After a delicious Cuban breakfast, we kept searching for the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. Our adventures that morning went from Key West to Big Pine Key. During the search for the cuckoo, we were able to see multiple White-crowned Pigeons, a top target for the tour, since this bird only just reaches southern Florida and the Keys to breed. We also saw ‘Great White Heron’, a white morph of Great Blue Heron that only occurs in this region. We took advantage of the opportunity to explore multiple islands in the lower and middle Keys where we got to enjoy the amazing landscape – white sandy beaches with clear blue waters, unlike anywhere else in the word which enchants its many visitors. All these places were surrounded by mixed flocks of warblers and fishing Western Ospreys and Northern Gannets. Closer to noon we received information of two Mangrove Cuckoos that were seen in a neighborhood of Big Pine Key. We rushed to the area where we were finally able to see this extremely shy bird! Probably one of the hardest birds to see in the US.

Before heading out for lunch we visited Blue Hole, a trail inside the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge, where we enjoyed more migrant warblers and local food. In the afternoon we went around Key West and got to see one of the most iconic places in Florida, the southernmost point in the US, just 90 miles (c. 140 kilometers) from Cuba. Then we cooled off around the hotel pool, before getting ready for dinner.

 

Day 8, 24th April 2022. Dry Tortugas

Today we yet another early start, as this day was probably the most-anticipated day of the tour. We left our hotel to jump aboard the Yankee Freedom II catamaran on a day trip heading 70 miles (c. 110 kilometers) west of Key West to the Dry Tortugas National Park. This park is composed of seven sandy islands that barely rise above sea level and are often changing with the tides and storms. Once we were within the boundaries of the archipelago, the deeper waters of the straits were replaced by the bright turquoise, light blue and emerald-green hues distinctive of the Dry Tortugas National Park. The only key we were able to explore was Garden Key, where we had four hours to awe over the famous nesting colonies of Brown Noddy, along with the hundreds of Sooty Terns, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Masked Boobies and a few Bridled Terns. We were extremely lucky to see one White-tailed Tropicbird flying between Garden Key and Loggerhead Key. There were also some migrants around the impressive Fort Jefferson including Ovenbird, Black-and-white and Cape May Warblers, Barn Swallow, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, an extremely rare Red-shouldered Hawk and an unusual Cooper’s Hawk. Taking the ferry there and back offers opportunities for other highlights including Black Noddy, Audubon’s Shearwater, Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtles, many flying fish, Common Bottlenose Dolphin and a group of Roseate Terns, before returning to Key West and starting the scenic drive back to Homestead.

 

florida peninsula trip report 2022The rare Black Noddy at Dry Tortugas National Park.

 

Day 9, 25th April 2022. Homestead area and tour conclusion

On our last day of the tour, we decided to do a clean-up outside the Everglades for some of the missing species. A few meters out of the van and we were lucky to encounter a Great Horned Owl, followed by a good variety of flycatcher including. Great Crested, Least and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Tropical and Western Kingbirds and another rare visitor to this part of the country, a Cassin’s Kingbird, all making the last morning a treat. Shiny and Bronzed Cowbird were the last of the regional specials added to our list! Before the airport we had to stop for a delicious Cuban lunch. After lunch all the participants were brought to their hotel or the airport. This concluded another successful tour full of great moments, delicious food and amazing birds!

 

Bird List – Following IOC (12.1)

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: 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 (H) 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
   
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor
   
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)
Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans
King Rail Rallus elegans
Sora Porzana carolina
Grey-headed Swamphen Porphyrio poliocephalus
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata
American Coot Fulica americana
 
Cranes (Gruidae)
Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis
 
Limpkin (Aramidae)
Limpkin Aramus guarauna
 
Grebes (Podicipedidae)
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Least Grebe (Rarity) Tachybaptus dominicus
 
Stilts and Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
 
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
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Willet Tringa semipalmata
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
Black Noddy Anous minutus
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus
Cabot’s (Sandwich) Tern Thalasseus acuflavidus
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Tropicbirds (Phaethontidae)
White-tailed Tropicbird (Rarity) Phaethon lepturus
Petrels, Shearwaters, Diving Petrels (Procellariidae)
Audubon’s Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri
Storks (Ciconiidae)
Wood Stork Mycteria americana
Frigatebirds (Fregatidae)
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens
Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra
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
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
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
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
Short-tailed Hawk Buteo brachyurus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
 
Barn Owls (Tytonidae)
American Barn Owl Tyto furcata
Owls (Strigidae)
Eastern Screech Owl Megascops asio
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
Barred Owl Strix varia
Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker Dryobates pubescens
Hairy Woodpecker (H) Dryobates villosus
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Leuconotopicus borealis
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Merlin Falco columbarius
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
African & New World Parrots (Psittacidae)
Red-masked Parakeet (Non-ABA) Psittacara erythrogenyus
White-eyed Parakeet (Non-ABA) Psittacara leucophthalmus
Green Parakeet Psittacara holochlorus
Scarlet-fronted Parakeet (Non-ABA) Psittacara wagleri
Mitred Parakeet Psittacara mitratus
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet Brotogeris chiriri
Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Non-ABA) Ara severus
Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae)
Tropical Kingbird (Rarity) Tyrannus melancholicus
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Cassin’s Kingbird (Rarity) Tyrannus vociferans
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus
Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus
Grey Kingbird Tyrannus dominicensis
Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
Brown-crested Flycatcher (Rarity) Myiarchus tyrannulus
Shrikes (Laniidae)
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis (Vireonidae)
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus
Thick-billed Vireo (Rarity) Vireo crassirostris
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
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Swallows (Hirundinidae)
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
Purple Martin Progne subis
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
American Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Wrens (Troglodytidae)
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
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
Common Hill Myna (Non-ABA) Gracula religiosa
Thrushes (Turdidae)
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
 
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)
Seaside Sparrow Ammodramus maritimus
Bachman’s Sparrow Peucaea aestivalis
Eastern Towhee (H) 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
Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus
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
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Northern Parula Setophaga americana
Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens
Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum
Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus
Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor
Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens
 
Cardinals & Allies (Cardinalidae)
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Painted Bunting Passerina ciris
Total Seen 185
Total Heard 3
Total Recorded 188

 

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
Total seen 4

 

 

This is a sample trip report. Please email us (info@old.birdingecotours.com) for more trip reports from this destination.

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