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A Report from

Florida, St. Petersburg Area. 19th April-3rd May 2007,

Ray & June Thorneycroft.

This wasn’t a birding trip, but a family holiday for my wife and I, having said that, I did try to squeeze some time in.

We flew direct from Gatwick to Tampa by British Airways. A car was hired from Dollar, through Airline Network, and we stayed at St. Pete’s Beach.

We stayed at small hotel on Bay Street, with a jetty facing east overlooking Boca Ciega Bay.

I did a little research on the internet, and I had subscribed to Floridabirds website for a number of years. I also had David Sibley’s, “Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. All the route planning was done on Google Earth.

The main places I would try and visit were Fort De Soto, for the warbler migration, and Honeymoon Island. All this was wishful thinking and depended on how much shopping time June required.

 On landing at Tampa, and clearing immigration, I was singled out by the customs sniffer dog. June had put two apples in my knapsack that I was unaware of. We then had to go through all the customs procedures.

After picking the hire car up, we hit the highway and arrived at our hotel, in St Pete’s Beach about 40 minutes later. It was about seven o clock in the evening, and after dumping our gear in the accommodation, I went and sat on the jetty overlooking Boca Ciega Bay. It had been a long day, and I was shattered.

Boca Ciega Bay

This turned out to be a fantastic location. Each morning and in the evening I would sit on the jetty until the sun went down. That first evening when we arrived, it was low tide, and there was a sand bar directly in front of me about 200 metres out in the bay. I wasn’t to see this sandbar again until two days before the end of the vacation. On either side of the jetty were other jetties, and pilings.

The first birds I saw were a pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons feeding along the shoreline amongst the pilings. This was followed by a Great Blue Heron, 4 Great Egrets, 4 Snowy Egrets, and a green Heron. 20 White Ibis flew over along with a couple of Fish Crows. There was tree on the shoreline overhanging the jetty, and a White-eyed Vireo was busy feeding. A Grey Catbird was foraging in the undergrowth around the base of the tree.

Out on the sandbar, there was a Reddish Egret, 10 Royal Terns, 3 Least Terns, 1 American Oystercatcher, and about 20 Laughing Gulls. On the bay were Brown Pelicans, a couple of Double-crested Cormorants, and an Anhinga.

What a way to start a holiday. During the next 14 days from this location I also saw, Semipalmated Plovers, Willets, Spotted Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitchers, 2 Marbled Godwits, 1 Belted Kingfisher, and a pair of Mottled Ducks. These had 4 ducklings with them. I thought, I don’t fancy their chances with the number Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets around. I never saw the ducklings again.

On the shore birds seen were Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Palm Warbler, House sparrows, Eurasian Starlings, Northern Mockingbirds, and Black-hooded Parakeet. On and over the bay were 7 female Red-breasted Mergansers, Osprey catching a fish, 5 Magnificent Frigatebirds, and a couple of American Herring gulls. Also seen on the sandbar were 5 Sandwich Terns, 1 Black-crowned Night Heron, and 3 Black Skimmers. The Skimmers were seen most nights trawling across the bay. Each day there were Least Terns and Brown Pelicans diving amongst the pilings?

Also seen on a few occasions were a couple of Dolphins. Three times we saw Manatees. We estimated that there were three. At times you would see a head, and part of the body flat atop the water. When the large flat tails broke the surface, they were unmistakable.

Fort De Soto

This is an Island in the mouth of Tampa Bay. A fort was built there during the time of the Spanish American war. It is also renown for the  migration of Warblers which drop in there each spring on their journey from South America to the northern Hemisphere. The best time to visit is the latter part of April. On the Saturday, we went, there was a Second World War enactment taking place, and the fort was crawling with men dressed in uniforms from all over the world.

We made four trips to this place. The first two, witch were made on Saturday, and Monday, the 21st and 23rd of April, were the best.

The trip from St. Pete’s took about 20 minutes, and was very scenic, driving through Tierra Verde.

There are three main birding areas, East Beach woods, Mulberry trees area, and North Beach areas. From these areas are different walks. We started at the Mulberry area, when we eventually found it.

After parking up we walked towards the area, the first birds we saw were four Hooded warblers on the ground. Next was a close up male Summer Tanager, then a first spring male Summer Tanager in its red and yellow livery. A few yards further on was a feeding station. I believe this is maintained by a local birder, Lynn Atherton. There was also a number of bench seats, which June and I took advantage of. The birding activity around this area was out of this world.

Close up views of Summer Tanagers, Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles, Baltimore Orioles, 3 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Grosbeaks, and Blue Grosbeaks.

I walked over to the restrooms, and on the way picked up Blackburnian Warbler, with its brilliant orange throat patch, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a Northern Waterthrush.

We broke off the birding, and drove up to the fort to find something to eat.

This was where the world war two enactments were. I asked a SS paratrooper, resplendent with sub-machine gun and stick grenades, the way to the restaurant, and was given curt directions.

After a bite to eat, June and I strolled nochalantly through the frontlines and drove back to the Mulberry area. The birding bonanza was still going on. There must have been up to 80 Indigo Buntings on the ground under some Australian Pines, between the Rangers house and the sea. We took a seat near the fountain, watching the Orioles and Tanagers feed up for their next leg of the journey. An American birder put me onto a Chestnut-sided Warbler. A Black-throated Blue made an appearance. Atop a tree was an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and flitting about in the undergrowth at the bottom was a Worm-eating Warbler. A Kentucky Warbler came down to the fountain to drink.

On this first day, we never moved from this area. On the way back to St. Pete’s there were 3 American White Pelicans at Tierra Verde causeway.

On Monday, the 23rd April, we returned to Fort De Soto, and started at the East beach woods. Black-and-white-warblers were scuttling along the boughs of the trees, and we had 2 male American Redstarts.

The first birder I spoke to, a lady asked me if I had been here at Fort De Soto on Saturday. She informed me that one of the best migrant falls in recent times had happened, and 24 warbler species had been recorded... I told her I had been here, but never moved from the Mulberry area. She had dipped out on it. She advised us to walk the privet trail.

The first bird I saw was a warbler with yellow upperparts; dancing in and out of the undergrowth at the side of the path I thought this could have been a Prothonotary warbler. Further along the path I had A Black-whiskered Vireo, then, a male Kentucky warbler, along the path was a Northern Waterthrush, then a Hooded Warbler, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. We got talking to an American birder, who said, “Did you see the Blue-winged Warbler, at the beginning of the path?” This could have been what I thought was a Prothonotary. On the way back I waited in the area where I had seen it, and after a short wait it flitted out of the undergrowth into the path. It was indeed a male Blue-winged Warbler, with a black line from the base of the bill to the eye. Other birds seen along this trail were Grey Catbirds, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbird, and two White-eyed Vireos. On the way back to the car park we witnessed a photographer harassing a Veery to get his shots. Virtually chasing it from tree to tree every time it tried to settle. This was disgraceful behaviour.

At the Mulberry area we had fantastic sightings of a male Cape May Warbler. As we were looking up into the tree, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something with a large horizontal striped tail drop to the ground. A birder at the other side of the tree shouted, “A Cooper’s has taken a warbler”. It went back into the middle of the tree and started eating it. We couldn’t make out what it had taken, and because so many were trying to see it, it flew to the next tree witch was more open. Groans emitted from some of the birders, when the prey was recognised as a Worm-eating Warbler.

We then drove up to the North Beach parking area, and covered the area at the top right hand corner. This was a lovely area with picnic tables right up to the beach, there was a Mangrove filled creek running around the perimeter. There were lots of Black and White Warblers, Palm Warblers and Blackpoll Warblers in the trees. In the leaf litter, an Ovenbird was feeding, and a Northern Parula was spotted in a small tree. A couple of women birders were on to a probable Louisiana Waterthrush amongst the base of the Mangroves in the creek. About twenty minutes later, and about twenty metres further along the creek I got it. I also got another Worm-eating warbler, and two Common Yellowthroats.

From the edge of the lagoon, I spotted some shorebirds roosting. These were about 100 Black Skimmers, 100 Willet, 30 Royal Terns, 2 Forsters Terns, and 4 Least terns. There was also a Tricolored Heron, and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers. I also saw 3 Ospreys, one of whom was carrying a fish.

June and I returned to Fort De Soto, on Monday, 30th April, with June’s sister, Margaret, and her husband Jim. They were staying up at Clearwater, and were visiting us for the day. The only new birds I saw were a Grey Kingbird, a Common Ground Dove, 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, 4 Red-winged Blackbirds, and 3 Brown-headed Cowbirds.

The next day I managed to get a few hours to myself, and returned again.

New birds seen were 2 Chimney Swifts, Caspian Tern, 2 Western Sandpipers, 1 Wilson’s Plover, 5 Magnificent Frigatebirds, and a Marbled Godwit.

Fort De Soto is not to be missed, during the spring migration. I had seventeen species of warbler, including nine I hadn’t seen before.

Honeymoon Island.

We visited once, on Sunday, 22nd April, when we eventually got there. The navigator didn’t realise there were two pages of directions, and we virtually finished up at Tarpon Springs. When we did arrive, June preferred to lie on a sun bed on the beach for a few hours. I asked a Ranger where the birders go. “Try the Osprey Trail” he said, and gave me the directions.

The trail is through a forest with lots of dead trees. I reckon I saw at least eighty Ospreys, and at least forty nests. They were calling all the time, bringing fish in. Some to their nests, others were perched up eating fish. They were all over the place.

I got talking to a local birder, as I was walking the track. He was keen to show me the Great-horned Owl nest site. He was pointing through the trees, and I could see the female and a baby owl at the nest. When I turned my head back to the path, about fifteen yards in front of us was a pine tree, and about fifteen feet up the tree, was the male Great-horned Owl looking directly at us, and giving us fantastic views.

Other birds seen were 6 Great-crested Flycatchers, 3 Grey Kingbirds, 3 Blackpoll Warblers, 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 1 Eastern Phoebe, 4 Northern Cardinals., 1 Palm Warbler, 1 White-eyed Vireo, and a Bald Eagle high in the sky.

As I was leaving the wood a snake, about a metre long, black with creamy bands around it slithered across the track. I was told later, that this was probably a Black Racer.

On the beach were a couple of Ring-billed Gulls, and a Red-winged Blackbird, flying around the snack bar.

Tampa Bay Pier.

We went here on Tuesday, 24th April. This was a shopping trip for June. While the shopping malls in St Pete’s were good, out on the pier they were typical of a seaside resort. The birding wasn’t too good either. Only bird of note was a Common Loon, still in winter plumage.

Celery Fields, Fruitville Road, Sarasota.

We called in here on Wednesday, 25th April. This was a place I had read about on Floridabirds. A couple of weeks earlier, Virginia Rails, King Rails, and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks had been reported here. This was about 40 miles south of St Pete’s, and entailed going over the Sunshine Highway, the large bridge that crosses Tampa Bay.

After stopping for a photo shoot of the bridge, (makes good wallpaper for the computer), we carried on down the interstate 1-75, coming off, and turning left onto Fruitville Road. After about 500 metres, we turned right onto Palmer Road, and followed the road to the Gazebo. This is the viewing area over the marsh.

Alas, no Rails, and no Whistling Ducks. What we did get was 6 Soras, 10 Lesser Yellowlegs, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, 1 Killdeer, 4 Long-billed Dowitchers, 10 Moorhens, 1 Savannah Sparrow, 1 Common Yellowthroat, 1 Eastern Meadowlark, 10 Least Sandpipers, 1 Red-tailed Hawk, 3 Turkey Vultures, and 6 black-necked Stilts.. The only new bird for me was the Red-tailed Hawk.

We drove back the way we had come, and carried on along Fruitville Road and into Sarasota. This was a lovely place, and June hit the shops.

After a bite to eat, we drove up Longboat Key towards Anna Maria Island. We made one stop at a beach. The only birds seen were 6 Willet, 6 Sanderling, and 1 Magnificent Frigatebird. It was then back through Bradenton, over the Sunshine bridge to St. Pete’s.

Sawgrass Park, St. Petersburg.

Sawgrass Park is situated in St., Petersburg. We went there on Thursday, 26th April. This is more like a jungle than a park, with a boardwalk running through it to an observation platform overlooking a lake. Around the lake were about 20 Anhingas, 1 Osprey, and a Little Blue Heron.

Four Alligators were spotted in the lake, and also a Red-eared Turtle, and a Soft-shelled Turtle.

A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks had a nest in a tree above the visitors centre. No small birds were seen.

Magic Kingdom, Orlando.                                                                                                          

My daughter, son in law, and grandchildren were over doing Disneyland. We motored over, and stayed overnight with them, and the next day we toured the Magic Kingdom with them. The birds seen here, was when we were enroute from the Magic Kingdom to the parking area by a paddle boat steamer. I saw one Swallow-tailed Kite, 1 Osprey, 1 Cattle Egret, 4 Great Egrets, and 2 Wild Turkeys on a grass verge. About 10 Vultures were in the air, but too far away to identify.                                                                                                                                                                                            


On Sunday, 29th April, we travelled up to Clearwater, to meet up with Margaret, and Jim, and their American friends Janet and John, for a Sunday brunch, at the Island Grill. This place had “valet parking”, something we had only seen in the movies. As you drove in, you were handed a ticket, and a team of young men were on hand to park the cars.

 This was the first time we had seem Margaret and Jim during the vacation, and his arms were covered in sticking plasters. John has a boat, and he takes Jim fishing. During a refuelling operation, Jim was trying to hold the boat to the dock, and it moved away pulling him in, and he grazed his arms on some shellfish growing on the piles. You can’t keep a good man down

After lunch, Janet and John took all of us out on the boat. From his home berth, we sailed up past Clearwater Beach Island, on past Caladesi Island, and around Honeymoon Island. We must have had as many as 30 Ospreys, around Honeymoon Island, some carrying fish. It was low tide, and we could not land on any of the Islands. Near the Clearwater Bridge we did a bit of bird watching on the sand flats, picking up 4 Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 2 Reddish Egrets, and 2 Little Blue Herons. We also had 30 Black Skimmers, 50 White Ibis, 10 Black-bellied Plover, Willets, 1 American Oystercatcher, and 2 Magnificent Frigatebirds.

Alas, the cruise was not without mishap. While we were bird watching, Capt’n Pepe realised we had run aground. In the best seafaring tradition, Capt’nJohn , and his trusty First-mate Jim, went over the side, and successfully got the boat refloated.

We managed to reach home port without further ado, thus ended a great day out.

Botanical Gardens, Seminole.

This was a very nice place for strolling around. We just had a couple of hours here. Next to it is the Florida Heritage Centre, telling the story of how Florida was settled. That too is worth a visit. Birds seen in the Botanical Gardens were 2 Blue Jays, 8 Red-winged Blackbirds, 2 Ospreys, 2 Fish Crows, 4 American Coots, 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, and 3 Little Blue Herons, one of which was a white morph...

Sand Key Park, Clearwater.

I had an hour here while June went shopping with Margaret and Jim. This was a nice little park at the end of the key, and bordered between the highway and the sea... The trees were the same as at Fort De Soto. In one tree I spotted a male American Redstart, then, a Black and White Warbler, and then a Red-eyed Vireo, witch was a new bird for me. I thought, I’m into the migrants again, but they just moved on out of sight, and I never found the feeding flock.

On the beach were 3 Royal and 1 Sandwitch Tern, about 20 Black Skimmers, and 3 Ring-billed Gulls.   

To summarise, this was a great vacation, and I did manage to get to Fort De Soto, and Honeymoon Island, all thanks to June. Altogether I managed to see 23 birds including 9 new species of warbler.  114 species during the trip.

Florida, 19th April-3rd May.

Species list

Common Loon, 1 off Tampa pier
American White Pelican, 3 at Tierra Verde causeway
Brown Pelican,   common
Magnificent Frigatebird small numbers seen most days
Anhinga,   at all suitable locations
Double-crested Cormorant       seen daily at Boca Ciega Bay
Great Blue Heron,   common, seen daily
Great Egret,   common, seen daily
Snowy Egret,      common, seen daily
Reddish Egret,    1 at Boca Ciega, 1 Clearwater Harbour
Little Blue Heron,    1 Sawgrass Park, 2 White morph Botanical Gdns, Seminole
Tricolored Heron,    1 Ft De Soto
Cattle Egret, 10 Ft De Soto
Green Heron,     1 seen daily, Boca Ciega Bay
Black-crowned Night Heron     1 seen at Boca Ciega Bay
Yellow-crowned Night Heron  3 seen daily, Boca Ciega Bay
White Ibis,   seen Daily
Roseate Spoonbill,   4 at Clearwater Harbour
Mallard,   several at Botanical Gdns, Seminole
Mottled Duck,    3 seen daily at Boca Ciega Bay
Lesser Scaup,     6 at Tierra Verde
Red-breasted Merganser          7 females at Boca Ciega, 1 at Fort De Soto
Turkey Vulture, only seen south of Tampa Bay
Osprey.,   most commonplace raptor. 80+ seen at Honeymoon Island
Swallow-tailed Kite, 1 at the Magic Kingdom
Coopers Hawk, 1 at Fort De Soto taking a Worm-eating Warbler
Red-shouldered Hawk pair Sawgrass Park, pair Botanical Gdns, Seminole
Red-tailed Hawk,    1 at the Celery Fields, Saratosa
Bald Eagle, 1 over Honeymoon Island
Wild Turkey,      2 by roadside, Magic Kingdom
Sora,    6 at the Celery Fields, Saratosa
Common Moorhen,   seen at suitable places
American Coot, 4 at Bontanical Gdns, Seminole
Black-bellied Plover,      seen at Boca Ciega Bay, and Clearwater Harbour
Killdeer,   1 at the Celery Fields, Sarasota
Semi-palmated Plover,    5 at Boca Ciega Bay, and 5 at Fort De Soto
Wilson’s Plover, 1 at Fort De Soto
American Oystercatcher           1 at Boca Ciega Bay,1 Clearwater Harbour
Black-necked Stilt, 6 at the Celery Fields, Sarasota
Greater Yellowlegs,   2 at the Celery Fields, Sarasota
Lesser Yellowlegs,   6 at the Celery Fields, Sarasota
Spotted Sandpiper, 1 at Boca Ciega Bay
Willet, common at suitable locations
Marbled Godwit,     2 Boca Cieba Bay, 2 North beach, Fort de Soto
Ruddy Turnstone,    common at suitable locations
Sanderling, 6 on the beach, Anna Maria Island
Dunlin, 8 North beach, Fort De Soto
Western Sandpiper,   6 North beach, Fort De Soto
Least Sandpiper,     10+ Celery Fields, Sarasota
Long-billed Dowitcher  3 Celery Fields, Sarasota
Short-billed Dowitcher  up to 5 daily on Boca Ciega Bay.
Laughing Gull,     common everywhere
Ring-billed Gull, St. Pete’s beach and Clearwater
American Herring Gull  2 over Boca Ciega Bay.
Caspian Tern,     1 North beach, Fort De Soto
Royal Tern,   common on beaches
Sandwitch Tern, up to 5 in Boca Ciega Bay
Forster’s Tern,   3 at St Pete’s beach
Least Tern, 20+ at Boca Ciega Bay
Mourning Dove, common everywhere
Common Ground Dove, 1 Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Eurasian Collared Dove, common
Black-hooded Parakeet, daily flight over Boca Ciega Bay
Great Horned Owl.,   1 male, 1 Female with Owlet at nest. Honeymoon Island
Chimney Swift,   2 Fort De Soto
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2  Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Belted Kingfisher,    1 flew across Boca Ciega Bay
Red-bellied Woodpecker         3 Fort De Soto
Eastern Wood Peewee, 1 Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Eastern Phoebe, 1 Honeymoon Island
Great-crested Flycatcher          6 Honeymoon Island
Grey Kingbird,   3 Honeymoon Island, 1 Fort De Soto
White-eyed Vireo,   Boca Ciega Bay, Honeymoon Island, Fort De Soto
Red-eyed Vireo, 1 Sand Key park
Black-whiskered Vireo 1 East beach woods, Fort De Soto
Blue Jay, common
Fish Crow, common
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3 Boca Ciega Bay
Veery, 1 East beach woods, Fort De Soto
Grey Catbird,     common
Northern Mockingbird  common,    
European Starling,   common
Blue-winged Warbler,     1 East beach woods, Fort De Soto
Northern Parula, 2 North beach area
Chestnut-sided Warbler, 1 Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Cape May Warbler, 1 Mulberry Area, Fort De Soto
Blackburnian Warbler,    1 Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Black-throated Blue Warbler    1 Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Palm Warbler,    common Fort De Soto
Blackpoll Warbler, 30+ Fort De Soto
Black & White Warbler, 20 + Fort De Soto
American Redstart, 1m Fort De Soto, 1m Sand Key park
Worm Eating Warbler,    3 Fort De Soto, 1 of witch was being eaten by a Coopers Hawk
Common Yellowthroat  3 Fort De Soto, 1 Botanical Gdns, Seminole
Kentucky Warbler, 1 Mulberry area, 1 East beach woods, Fort De Soto
Northern Waterthrush,    2 Mulberry area, 1 East beach woods, Fort De Soto
Louisiana Waterthrush  1 North beach woods area, Fort De Soto
Ovenbird,    1 North beach woods area, Fort De Soto
Hooded Warbler,    15+ near Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Scarlet Tanager, 2m, 2f, Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Summer Tanager,    2m, 3f, Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Blue Grosbeak, 3m, 2f, Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Rose-breasted Grosbeak          3m, 3f. Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Indigo Bunting,   80+ on the ground, Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Northern Cardinal,   common in woodlands
Savannah Sparrow,   1 Celery Fields, Sarasota
Baltimore Oriole,     3m, 3f, Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Orchard Oriole, 4m, 4f, Mulberry area, Fort De Soto
Eastern Meadowlark,     1 Celery Fields, Sarasota
Red-winged Blackbird  common round picnic areas, Fort De Soto
Common Grackle,   common everywhere
Boat-tailed Grackle, common everywhere
Brown-headed Cowbird, 2m, 1f, around Picnic tables, North beach, Fort De Soto
House Sparrow, common around Boca Ciega Bay.

114 Species

23 new birds

9 new warblers

Saturday, 21st, April, was considered one of the best falls of migrants in recent times, at Fort De Soto. 24 species of warbler were recorded on that day.      


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