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A Report from

Florida Update,

various authors

When my original Florida report was put on line, I posted the following message on rec.birds:

" a Brit, I wasn't at all sure what I might see.  To this day, I still don't know if the birds I saw were just very common or whether I managed to see some rare ones.

It was also interesting to see USA  birds that I had previously seen as rare vagrants in the UK like Double-crested Cormorant, Greater Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Ring-billed Gull.  I was also surprised to see common UK birds like Gannet, Knot, Sanderling etc.

It is my intention to visit again, probably next spring.  I will certainly try to visit the Everglades and if possible the Florida keys. ( Are there good birds down there too?)

Any updates or comments would be really appreciated."

John Girdley

I was delighted to receive the following replies:

John J. Collins wrote:


You did very well on your trip.  I would not classify any of the birds you saw as "rare".  Some are decreasing (i.e. Bobwhite, Wood Stork) while others are increasing (most notably, Bald Eagle, which is now off the endangered species

Next time I hope you can go further south to areas like Loxahatchee and the Everglades to see some "rare" species such as Smooth-billed Ani, Short-tailed Hawk and Snail Kite, and some more unusual Florida birds like Gray Kingbird and Purple Gallinule.  One bird I'm surprised you didn't see is Red-shouldered Hawk.

The Keys are very good.  You can easily find White-crowned Pigeon.   Then there is Mangrove Cuckoo (I've heard the blasted thing at five different places but have yet to see it -- one of my nemesis birds), Antillean Nighthawk, etc.

No trip to the Keys should go by without a visit to the Dry Tortugas.   One must go in spring (preferable late April) for the migration.  It is unbelievable what you can find there at that time of the year.  You must take a boat trip for the best birding (its infamous) but you can fly out for the day by float plane.

There is a breeding colony of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, usually there are two or more Black Noddies present.  There are Brown and Masked Boobies and on the boat trip you can get possible White-tailed Tropicbird and Bridled Tern.  I could go on and on.   Oh yes, don't forget to bring your snorkeling gear.  The waters around the Dry Tortugas contain some of the best coral reefs in the U.S.A.  Its a national park so the fish etc. can live unmolested and grow to
enormous size (I saw the largest spiny lobster I've ever seen there).

I you don't already have "A Birders Guide To Florida" by Bill Pranty, I urge you to get it.  It describes all the above in detail.  You can also find places around Miami where introduced birds have become established and are now "countable" in the U.S.A., such as Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Monk Parakeet, Eurasian Collared Dove (well, you could tick it on your N. American list) and such self-introduced birds as Cave Swallow and Spot-breasted Oriole (a smashing bird).

Good luck and good birding.  I've got to catch a plane for a weeks birding in Mexico and then the American Birding Association's convention in Tucson, Arizona.  (Have your been there?  South-east Arizona is THE birding capital of
the U.S. as far as I'm concerned.)

John J. Collins

"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we are taught."  (Senegalese proverb.)

Bill and Sue Nester wrote:

If you visit Florida again and have some time to go birding, we would recommend the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers (West Coast). In winter (e.g.; December) you will see many species including the Pileated Woodpecker, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-Crowned and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons, White Pelican, Wood Stork, Reddish Egret, and Snowy Egret  to name a few. Alligators are common.  We even saw a large American Crocodile there several years (We are not really experts on Florida but we have been visiting Florida for 10-14 days each winter for about 10 years now).   One year we saw a pair of Bob-Cats there (rare sighting because they are nocturnal).

Two other Florida favourites of ours are Kissimee State Park and Myakka State Park.   At Kissimee, we especially like to feed the Florida Scrub jays.  They will take unshelled peanuts from your outstretched hand, alight on your head or shoulder, and are very pretty.  Bald Eagles overhead are fairly common at Kissimmee. On the drive to Kissimmee, you will probably see Sand Hill Crane in the cattle grazing lands.  At Myakka, there is a wide variety of birds (and other wildlife such as armadillo, wild pig, deer).

Other Birders paradises are Corkscrew Swamp Wildlfe Refuge, Cabbage Lake Municipal Park in Tampa, and of course Everglades National Park

There is much birdlife to be seen in the Everglades National Park. The birds are spread over vast expanses, but in drought years the birds (and alligators) tend to congregate in the residual ponds. (Winter is normally the rainy season in Florida, but they've had some unusual weather the past few years.)  The pond by Royal Palm Visitor Centre (the first stop beyond the Main Park Entrance complex) has a nice boardwalk, and has been particularly productive for us in terms of number of species sighted.  The wildlife population can vary significantly with season, weather, and time of day, so I'm sure some people come away disappointed (and no one sees everything in one short visit).  We would normally stay at a Motel in Homestead or Florida City and visit the Park for 2 or 3 days.

(The mosquito's at Flamingo Visitor Centre at the southermost point of the park can be quite annoying, so the use of DEET repellent is stongly advised (and/or protective attire) down there.)

If you don't have time to go to the far south to the main section of the Everglades Park, there is a northern section which is not too far east of Naples. (The northern section is where you would likely see the Snail Kite). The north section of the park is called Shark Valley Visitor Centre.  It is about midway between Miami and Naples along Highway US41 (Tamiami Trail).  A Tram ride with a naturalist pointing out wildlife and other points of interest is very worthwhile and highly recommended.  Then, if so inclined, you can take a bicycle or foot hike on your own.

Another interesting bird you will probably see is the Anhinga.  They fish by swimming underwater, spearing the fish with their long, sharp bill. They then surface, throw the fish up in the air off their bill, and catch it in their mouth as it falls back down, swallowing it head first. Rather impressive!  One of the best places to observe this feat is at Royal Palm.

We went to Key West only once.  The variety of birds didn't impress me.   Certainly there are many species of gulls and other shore birds.  We did see some Roseate Spoonbills in a pond along the highway (not in a scenic setting, just a "junk" pond).  There were many nesting Osprey on the power-line poles along the highway.  The power company builds roosting platforms on the poles for the Osprey.   There was a small bird sanctuary on Key West with an observation platform overlooking a body of water. We didn't see anything of note there.

Sorry I can't give you a more helpful answer about the Keys.  Other than birds, there is an Underwater National Park on one of the Keys.  There is an glass-bottomed excursion boat tour available. We took the tour to see the coral reefs and the tropical fish. Worthwhile?...Depends on your interests.  I think it was on Deer Key, we took a side nature drive and saw the small Key Deer that live there.  We also saw a large alligator in a lake on one of the Keys (again on a side drive off the main highway).   These side drives are not well publicised nor well marked.

Come to think of it, all of Florida is excellent for birding, especially in the winter, except for the overcrowded "tourist traps" (and some of them aren't too shabby either).

Best Wishes for an Enjoyable Return Visit,
Bill and Sue

Ivan Oelrich wrote:

I just looked over your trip report on your web page and many excellent places are covered.  I just want to emphasize that, in my humble opinion, if you are in Florida, you cannot afford to miss the Everglades.  It is, I believe, the single best birding spot in the US.  (I confess to being a native Floridian, although now living in Virginia, and therefore perhaps a bit biased.)

Timing is important.  The highest density of birds is in the first half of January when you have the year round species plus a large number of migrants from the rest of the eastern US and Canada.  There is a small motel in Flamingo, in the heart of the 'glades but you must book well in advance.  One error in your report: Unless there has been some DRAMATIC climate shift that I hadn't noticed, winter is not the rainy season.  Florida weather is made up of daily thunderstorms in the summer and it pretty dry all winter except for drizzles of a few days when continental winter weather gets that far south.  The point is that summer is wet, and the mosquitoes are intolerable.  The facilities at Flamingo actually close during the summer because of the mosquitoes.  Best time for other animals (e.g. more alligators than you ever thought it healthy to see) is at the very end of the dry season, say, April.

Perhaps also of interest are plans afoot to correct much of the damage done to the 'glades in the name of water "management."  (As though the water wouldn't know what to do on its own.)  The 'glades, although wonderful, are a shadow of what they were a century ago.  Much of the water is diverted to prevent floods (Hurricane Audrey killed hundreds back in the '20s) and to provide water to insatiable Miami.  The Army Corp of Engineers, who did most of the damage in the first place, are now charged with undoing a great deal of it.  With luck, in a decade or two the 'glades will be half way back to where they were.

Ivan Oelrich

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