Join us on for this unforgettable tour of southern Florida in Spring.
We'll explore vast swamps, impressive forests, coastal beaches, mangrove lagoons and even Miami suburbs in search of the many specialty birds of Florida. Near the end of the trip we'll venture out to the Dry Tortugas in search of rare seabirds. Wading birds put on a spectacular show on this tour with both the "Great White" and "Wurdemann's" form of Great Blue, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork and Limpkin all likely. Snail Kites quarter over saw-grass marshes, while Swallow-tailed Kites, the pale Florida race of the Red-shouldered Hawk, and rare Short-tailed Hawks hunt along the cypress edge. Antilliean Nighthawks, Gray Kingbirds, Black-whiskered Vireos, Shiny Cowbirds, and Mangrove Cuckoos attest to the West Indian origin of many of the land birds. Pine forests will be visited for Florida Scrub-Jay, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatches and Bachmann's Sparrows.
In addition to wild Florida, we will also search for some of the ABA countable exotic species like Monk Parakeet, a highly social parrot that builds stick-ball nests and breeds in colonies, and Spot-breasted Oriole, a singularly beautiful Middle American relative to the Altamira Oriole. While birds will be the focus, an amazing abundance of other natural history will be noted including many tropical and subtropical plants of West Indian origin, as well as exciting butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
Day 1 The tour begins this evening as we enjoy dinner at the hotel where we may spot a Common Myna foraging on the hotel grounds. Night in Miami.
Day 2 This morning we'll drive to Kendall and explore the attractive gardens of this Miami suburb for exotic birds such as Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Monk, White-winged and Yellow-chevroned parakeets and an assortment of other species, including brightly colored butterflies such as Zebra Heliconians and the lovely green Malachite. We'll then make our way north through fields of saw-grass watching for Red-shouldered Hawks, Anhingas and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons as we go. After a quick stop at Markham Park where after a short walk through a forest of invasive Australian Pines we hope to see Snail Kites, we'll head for the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. An impressive variety of waders, such as the unique Limpkin, colorful Roseate Spoonbills and stately Wood Storks can be found at Loxahatchee. Spend night in Palm Springs.
Day 3 As we drive north towards Lake Wales, the wet saw-grass habitats will give way to vast forests of Loblolly and Long-leafed pines. We'll stop at the Avon Park Bombing Range where the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay is a possibility in addition to other pine forest birds such as the tiny Brown-headed Nuthatch, the shy Bachman's Sparrow and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. A host of other woodpeckers also inhabit these woods including Red-bellied, Red-headed, Downy and Pileated woodpeckers. We should see a host of beautiful butterflies here as well. Night at Lake Wales.
Day 4 Lake Kissimmee State Park can be alive with birds so we will plan to spend the entire morning here amongst the pine trees. Flocks of migrant warblers will be found here including little gems like Yellow-throated, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided and Prairie warblers and Northern Parulas. Birds typical of the eastern forest such as Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Carolina Wren are common here as well. Overhead, graceful Swallow-tailed Kites sail just above the treetops creating excitement amongst birders whenever one is spotted. In addition to pine woods there are also open fields in this state park where Northern Bobwhite, Crested Caracara and Eastern Meadowlarks are found. Waterways and ponds are dotted amongst the park creating habitat for herons, egrets and Florida Softshell Turtles. In the afternoon we'll explore Lake Wales Ridge State Forest where many of the above mentioned pine forest species can be seen in addition to migrant songbirds and a host of colorful butterflies. Night in Lake Wales.
Day 5 This morning we'll abandon the pine forest and head for the bird-rich coastal mangrove swamps and sandy beaches of the Fort Myers area. As we drive across the causeway between Fort Myers and Sanibel Island we're bound to see legions of Magnificent Frigatebirds, their wings outstretched to 7.5 feet! Hundreds of Laughing Gulls, Royal and Sandwich terns and Brown Pelicans will likely be seen from the causeway as well. Once we reach Sanibel Island we'll spend our time at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Extensive mangrove swamps and brackish lagoons are home to a wide variety of waterbirds including Anhingas, Reddish Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, brilliant Roseate Spoonbills and flashy Tricolored Herons. We'll sort through great flocks of shorebirds, comprised mostly of Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, dowitchers, Dunlin and Semipalmated Sandpipers for goodies like Red Knots and White-rumped Sandpipers. Songbirds are plentiful in the mangroves and we'll be on the lookout for one of the star attractions at Ding Darling, the secretive Mangrove Cuckoo. Spend night in Fort Myers.
Day 6 After breakfast we'll head for Fort Myers Beach where nestled between the ocean and a strip of high rise hotels, shorebirds congregate on a brackish lagoon. Comical American Oystercatchers, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet and Snowy and Piping plovers are just a few of the species we expect to see here. For those carrying cameras Fort Myers Beach offers an unrivaled chance to photograph waders like Reddish, Great and Snowy egrets, Great Blue Herons, both Night-Herons and White Ibis. After enjoying a coffee at one of the local shops along the attractive strip nearby we'll begin driving south from key to key until we reach Big Cypress National Park. On an hour long walk through a stately forest of Royal Palms and other tropical hardwood trees we'll hope to see a variety of warblers, vireos, tanagers and flycatchers. Pileated Woodpeckers inhabit these woods, which were undoubtedly once inhabited by the extinct or nearly so Ivory-billed Woodpecker. After this walk, we'll return to the vans and the air-conditioning and then drive a loop through the open scrub where Common Ground-Doves, Swallow-tailed Kites, Eastern Kingbirds, and perhaps the uncommon Short-tailed Hawk will be seen. Sizeable American Alligators congregate alongside the waterways where Green Herons quietly hunt. Once we're satisfied with the days birding we'll continue driving east towards Homestead where we will spend the night.
Day 7 The entire day will be devoted to birding in Everglades National Park. Before leaving Homestead we'll visit a Cave Swallow colony, its inhabitants of the West Indian race. We'll walk the boardwalk at Anhinga Pond where waterbirds like Anhingas, Double-crested Cormorants and Green Herons allow you to get ridiculously close! Showy Boat-tailed Grackles sing from side of the trail while raptors of all sorts fly overhead. Next we'll stop at the Everglades Visitor Center for an informative lesson on Everglades ecology. The gift shop is not to be missed! As the afternoon sun heats up we'll check into our accommodations at the only settlement in the Everglades in Flamingo and take a short siesta after which we'll explore the grounds of the lodge for birds like White-crowned Pigeon and Shiny Cowbird. While we enjoy a fine dinner at the restaurant located on the grounds we will be treated to a gorgeous view of tiny, emerald green keys offshore. After dinner we'll set out for Mahogany Hammock where Chuck-will's Widows can be heard and perhaps seen. Night in Flamingo.
Day 8 We'll take a pre-breakfast walk around Eco Pond where many birds typical of the Florida Everglades such as Gray Kingbird and White-crowned Pigeon are possible. Red-shouldered Hawks regularly perch on the backs of benches allowing close approach for photography. Marsh birds like Purple Gallinules, Soras and Common Yellowthroats are common in the reeds and cattails surrounding the pond. Black-crowned Night-Herons sit quietly in the shadows at ponds edge, while Ruby-throated Hummingbirds sip nectar from sub-tropical flowers. After breakfast we'll attempt to walk the infamous Snake Bight Trail, well known for its birds and notorious for its mosquitoes. Any trip to the Everglades should include a walk along this mangrove infested trail which ends at a shallow, muddy bay which is the most reliable site in North America for Greater Flamingoes. Wurdeman's Herons and Great White Herons, both races of Great Blue Heron seen only in South Florida are also to be expected here. Mangrove Cuckoos are regularly seen in the thick vegetation along the trail. Night in Flamingo.
Day 9 We'll have one last stroll along the edge of Eco Pond before heading for the Florida Keys. We'll take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens on Key Largo which are excellent for Black-whiskered Vireos and White-crowned Pigeons. We'll make our way to Key West where we spend the night. This evening we'll head out in search of Antillean Nighthawk.
Day 10 Today we'll make an exciting journey from Key West, 70 miles to the Dry Tortugas. Here, at Fort Jefferson, we'll see thousands of Sooty and Bridled terns. We'll see Brown Noddy and with luck the rare Black Noddy. We should see Masked Booby and perhaps the rare Red-footed or Brown Booby. We'll keep our eyes open for rarities such as White-tailed Tropicbird amongst large gatherings of Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds. At Fort Jefferson we could encounter any number of migrant songbirds from warblers and vireos to tanagers and buntings. Peregrine Falcons often patrol the area as do hungry Cattle Egrets waiting to snatch up a tired warbler. Such are the harsh realities in the Dry Tortugas. Night in Key West.
Day 11 After a little morning birding, we'll depart the Florida Keys and make our way back to Miami where the tour will conclude.
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