We flew Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick to Orlando on 20/01/05, arriving the same day, and flew out of Miami on 03/02/05 arriving at Heathrow on the 4th. Our vehicle for the two weeks was an eight seater Ford van/people carrier. We had platinum insurance that covers everything and included a free full tank of petrol. The vehicle gave us plenty of room and was easy to drive and didn't take too long to get used to, which was just as well as by the time we got out of Orlando airport it was dark and rather daunting to head into the evening traffic for the drive north to Ocala.
I used Wildwings as our UK agent to book the flights, car hire and accommodation (motels). Everything ran smoothly and as on other occasions I was very pleased with the services provided by Wildwings (and Virgin Atlantic).
Places and motels we stayed at:
Ocala - two nights - The Best Western.
Lake Placid - four nights - The Ramada Inn.
Fort Myers - four nights - The Comfort Inn.
Homestead - four nights - The Days Inn.
John Wright (Tour Leader).
Apart from myself this was the group’s first birding trip to the Americas. I have been on ‘American’ birding trips to Arizona, Canada and Ecuador. I knew all the members of the group as we all live in the Southend-on-Sea area of Essex in the UK. I have also taken the same group of people (with one or two exceptions) on birding trips to Israel and India.
Although I had gleaned information from the Internet including trip reports, in the main I used ' A Birders Guide to Florida' by Bill Pranty for sites at the various locations.
For the first couple of days the evenings were cool but it was sunny and warm during the day. On the 22nd there was a light fog in the early morning. Later in the day as we drove south towards Lake Placid we hit a few rain showers, but nothing drastic. A cold front from the northwest then took over for the next three days. The first day of which was positively cold in the early morning with a stiff wind. However, the day still turned out sunny and was warm in sheltered areas. After that it got progressively warmer with the Gulf Coast and the Everglades being quite hot during the day. The temperatures ranged from the mid 50's to the mid 70's F.
It got light enough to bird watch at about 07:15 and was getting too dark at about 18:15.
The herons, egrets, storks and ibis lived up to expectations being plentiful and easy to see and personally I hadn’t realised just how common the White Ibis is in Southern Florida. At one point I thought we might miss Limpkin altogether but due to a chance drive by sighting we eventually had excellent views of a pair on the last day. Although we ended up with eight species the ducks surprised us, as we thought we would see them in greater numbers. The two biggest flocks we saw were a 1000+ Ring-necked Ducks on Lake Placid and about 100 Blue-winged Teal at the J N 'Ding' Darling Reserve on Sanibel Island. We only saw a pair of Wood Duck and a single American Wigeon (a drake). Mottled Duck were easy to find in the Lake Placid/Venus area, albeit in small numbers. We only saw one Red-breasted Merganser but 18 Hooded Mergansers.
Turkey and Black Vultures aside, the commonest (and most vocal) raptor was Red-shouldered Hawk, which was seen everyday. In fact we logged 15 species of raptor including Crested Caracara and Snail Kites. The number of Ospreys was impressive and it was good to see them breeding close to the road often on poles specifically put up for them.
As for waders it was pretty much as expected but was good to see Wilson's, Snowy and Piping Plovers. However, we only saw three American Oystercatchers and one Whimbrel.
We saw hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls a few Herring Gulls and large numbers of Laughing Gulls - mainly on the Gulf coast - but only two Bonaparte's Gulls, both on Lake Placid. Forster's Terns were common and our first sighting of Black Skimmers, a flock of 221, at Lake Okeechobee will always remain a highlight even though we saw skimmers again along the Gulf coast.
It would be an understatement to say we didn't do very well with owls - we dipped on every species. We didn't find any Burrowing Owls and missed a roosting Barred Owl at Corkscrew Swamp by 5 minutes.
We did well with woodpeckers seeing seven species including Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, we only missed Hairy Woodpecker, which in any event isn't a common bird in the areas of Florida we visited.
We saw all four species of crow and jay that occur in Florida, which of course included the endemic Florida Scrub Jay. Fish Crows were only seen in the Fort Myers area, where they were not uncommon. Of the pigeons/doves the star had to be White-crowned Pigeon, which after two indifferent glimpses in the Everglades we finally had great views of on Key Largo.
The beautiful and showy male Vermillion Flycatcher not far from the entrance to the Everglades National Park was one of the highlights of the trip. Of the other flycatchers we saw two Western Kingbirds, on Sanibel Island, and four Great Crested Flycatchers.
Tree Swallows were very common and seen every day. We only saw Purple Martins once, at Lake Placid, where there were about six birds, and Cave Swallows once, at Eco Pond in the Everglades.
Yellow-rumped Warblers were very common and they were easily the commonest warbler. Palm Warblers were also common. The Yellow-throated Warblers were superb and the following four warbler species were a bonus - Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia and Worm-eating - all of which we saw in the Everglades.
Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles and Cowbirds were all common. The sparrows were hard work with only three species seen: A flock of about 60 Chipping Sparrows in Ocala. Savannah Sparrows were more widespread, mainly in small numbers, although at Lucky Hammock, at the edge of the Everglades, there were about 40 birds in a loose flock. Only one Grasshopper Sparrow was seen and that too was at Lucky Hammock. Painted Buntings were brilliant (the males literally) with four males and five females seen.
Thursday 20th January
Arrived in Orlando late afternoon. By the time we cleared immigration, customs and the new security procedures and picked up the hire vehicle it was dark. We then drove the 75 miles or so north to Ocala for a two night stay.
Friday 21st January
Ocala. Birded the vicinity of the motel, from first light (about 07:15). The highlights of our first morning of American birding around the motel included: Cattle Egrets, Ring-billed Gulls, Common and Boat-tailed Grackles, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wrens, House Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Northern Cardinals. In particular the Northern Cardinal males were a fantastic sight with their red plumage showing to advantage in the early morning sun. Small parties of American Robins flew across the sky and a flock of Cedar Waxwings alighted on a berry tree for a few minutes before flying off over the trees. Our first Grey Catbird skulked tantalisingly in the undergrowth but eventually showed well. Catbirds were seen every day in the end and in good numbers.
But it was soon time to move on to Ocala National Forest (Pranty pg. 97) so at about 10:00 we drove the seven miles or so to the forest boundary and Visitors Centre. Near the Centre we had Red-shouldered Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. All these species proved to be common and in the event seen every day. Driving around the roads and sandy tracks of the forest produced small flocks of Sandhill Cranes, a Red-tailed Hawk, hundreds of American Robins, a large flock of Chipping Sparrows, Tree Swallows, Pine Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, American Kestrel, a Northern Flicker and a party of five Florida Scrub Jays - one of our target species.
A roadside pool in the Salt Springs area had an Anhinga sitting on a fallen tree drying its wings. At Lake George we saw our first American Bald Eagles, at least three - the emblem of the United States in the bag. The lake also produced Double-crested Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Ring-billed Gulls and Forster's Terns and in a lakeside tree there was a White-eyed Vireo. However, we decided to leave the lake and move on to a different site in the forest for another target species. So at about 17:00 we were just south of Lake Kerr waiting in an area of forest with marked trees in the hope of seeing a Red-cockaded Woodpecker coming in to roost. As we waited a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers kept us amused before the main event. At 17:25 an unfamiliar call heralded the arrival of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Unfortunately it didn't show for very long before going into a tree hole, but we all got good views. Ten minutes later a second bird appeared, but there was nothing shy about this individual as it constantly called it performed in front of us for the next 20 minutes. It was still there calling and tapping away when we departed at about 18:00.
Saturday 22nd January
As it was a bit foggy first thing in the morning we decided to bird the vicinity of the motel before driving south to Lake Placid for a four-night stay. We saw pretty much the same as yesterday morning, for instance Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-throated Warblers, Black and White Warblers, Tufted Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and Blue-headed Vireo, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Brown Thrashers and Carolina Wrens.
We set off for Lake Placid on the US 27 at about 10:15. On the journey a roadside lake held a pair of Ruddy Ducks. In the early afternoon we stopped for a rest and a bite to eat just off the road at a small lake. Although the lake was unproductive there was a Belted Kingfisher and we did have a flyover Wood Stork and a White Ibis.
Arriving at our motel in Lake Placid, the Ramada Inn, late afternoon we were greeted by the sight of 16 Killdeers in an adjacent field and two Sandhill Cranes strolling around the golf course behind the motel, completely oblivious of the golfers. A few White-winged Doves were also around the motel area. But we didn't hang around the motel instead we went out for a walk along the southeast corner of Lake Grassy, which was only five minutes away. The most obvious birds were the herons and egrets - Snowy, Cattle and Great Egrets, Tri-coloured and Little Blue Herons all in good numbers, a few Great Blue Herons and single Green Heron and Purple Gallinule. But not to be outdone the White Ibises put on a good show with about 65 bunched together on the lakeside. A couple of Ospreys glided around and on the duck front we saw our first Mottled Duck (a pair) with three domesticated looking mallard, a pair of Wood Duck, which turned out to be the only Wood Ducks of the trip. Scanning across the lake we found eight Ring-necked Ducks a few American Coot and Pied-billed Grebes. In the reeds and on the surrounding telephone wires large numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common and Boat-tailed Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds were gathering in flocks before going off to roost. As sunset neared hundreds of egrets, herons and ibis, including 10 Glossy Ibis, flew in from surrounding areas to roost at the lake - a spectacular sight.
Sunday 23rd January
This morning we birded the roads (the old SR-8 and CR-17) south of Lake Placid and west of Venus (Pranty pg. 167). The flooded field off the old 8 just south of the junction with the SR-70 gave us our first Least Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson's Snipe, as well as Killdeer, Mottled Duck, Little Blue and Tri-coloured Herons and Belted Kingfisher. White-winged Doves were along the roadside. A little further down the road along the edge of the Archbold Biological Station we watched Florida Scrub Jays and our first Eastern Towhee and the only Cooper’s Hawk of the trip. We drove slowly along the road stopping at flooded fields, small ponds and clumps of bushes and trees and logged: four Hooded Mergansers, a pair and two females, seven Blue-winged Teals, about 12 Mottled Ducks, Sandhill Cranes, Glossy Ibis, Great Whites, Snowy and Cattle Egrets, Great and Little Blue and Tri-coloured Herons, three Northern Harriers, Pileated Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker two superb Eastern Bluebirds and in a belt of pine trees a flock of approx 60 Pine Warblers made constant feeding forays to a ploughed field. As we headed due south on the CR-731 in the direction of Rainey Slough we came across three Eastern Meadowlarks and a Crested Caracara strutting across a grassy field.
From late afternoon till dusk we drove around the roads to the south and east of Lake Istokpoga, north east of Lake Placid town, (the 621 and Driggers Road area (Pranty pg. 163)). We had a flight view of another Caracara, Red-shouldered Hawks, and lots of Ospreys, Sandhill Cranes, Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow, American Goldfinch and an Eastern Meadowlark. We failed to find any Burrowing Owls at Arbuckle Creek Road but did see a couple of Meadow Larks.
Monday 24th January
The day began cold and windy. A brief stop at the flooded area on the old SR-8 produced nothing different from yesterday so we headed on to the Archbold Biological Station. Along with the very confiding Scrub Jays we also had very good views of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Common Ground Doves, Eastern Towhees, House Wrens and Brown Thrashers. In the afternoon it was a lot warmer and in a sunny and sheltered corner near the Stations buildings we came across Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos and two rather elusive Common Yellowthroats.
Late afternoon we went back to the 621/Driggers Road area briefly to look for up to four Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that we were told were seen along a particular stretch of road a few weeks previous - but despite a good search we didn't find any. We did see Ospreys, American Kestrels, Killdeers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Meadowlarks and the usual ibis, herons and egrets.
We spent the last hour of daylight in the southeast corner of Lake Grassy watching hundreds of herons, egrets and ibis coming in to roost.
Tuesday 25th January
This morning we drove west along the SR-70 towards Lake Okeechobee and then south on the CR-721 to the NW corner of the lake (Pranty pg. 172). Along with the usual Ospreys, Red-shouldered Hawks and Belted Kingfishers we also saw a Red-tailed Hawk and five Caracaras en-route. Heading along the lake side road we stopped briefly at the site described in the Pranty guide as a place to take a pontoon boat tour of the marshes (Swampland Tours) but this service had, unfortunately, long ceased. We stayed only long enough to see a few American Herring Gulls, Brown Pelicans, some confiding Wood Storks loitering by someone cutting up fish and a pair of Pine Warblers in a car park pine tree. We then carried on a couple of miles to the Jaycee Park stop. Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls were abundant around the first car park. A pair of Mottled Ducks paddled on the Lakeside and offshore Double-crested Cormorants, Brown Pelicans and White Pelicans were fishing. We moved along to the next car park and walked along the levee which afforded good views into lakeside trees and a wet area to the north of the lake. The usual herons and egrets were present along with a couple of Sandhill Cranes, single Glossy Ibis and Wilson's Snipe, a few Purple Gallinule, Caspian Terns and Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Phoebe's. The best birds were a Northern Harrier and three or four Northern Rough-winged Swallows, which unfortunately kept their distance and stayed someway off over the marsh. However, a very obliging Eastern Meadowlark was good value. We also saw our first American Alligator. On leaving Jaycee Park we came across 221 Black Skimmers resting in the first car park. We then drove west along the top of the lake back the way we had come and stopped at Harney Pond Canal Recreation Area. Apart from Coots, Caspian & Forsters Terns and Common Ground Doves we didn't see too much, however, one person had a brief view of a male Painted Bunting that dived into thick cover and unfortunately never re-appeared.
The journey back to Lake Placid was uneventful we saw much the same as on the outward journey, including four Caracaras along the same stretch of road we travelled down on. We did a small detour to Buck Island Cattle Ranch but didn’t see anything different. The ranch is associated with the Archbold Biological Station and is engaged in research on the effects of the citrus industry on the prairie environment and associated wildlife.
Wednesday 26th January
After breakfast and before driving to Fort Myers for a four-night stopover we spent about three hours in the Lake Placid area. On the west side of Lake Placid Lake we found a couple of Bonaparte's Gulls and an Eastern Bluebird. On the east side we found about six Purple Martins and out on the lake there was a flock of about 1,000 Ring-necked Ducks. The Driggers Road area produced 10 Mottled Ducks, 10 Hooded Mergansers, five Green-winged Teal, an adult Bald Eagle, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, a Northern Harrier, Sandhill Cranes, Ospreys, Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Wood Storks, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and of course the usual herons and egrets
After an uneventful drive we arrived in Fort Myers (Pranty pg. 190) early afternoon and soon found our motel. In contrast to the rural and quiet areas over the previous six days, Fort Myers was big, bright and busy with neon lit shopping malls, motels, fast-food outlets and such like either side of the main highway through the town. Late that afternoon we headed to Fort Myers Beach (Estero Island) and parked in the Holiday Inn car park, as described in the Pranty Guide, and birded both sides of the lagoon. However, we found the seaward side the better side of the two. The best birds were: Reddish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Hudsonian Whimbrel, American Oystercatcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-bellied (Grey) Plover, Semi-palmated, Wilson's, Piping and Snowy Plovers (2), Willets, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling, Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Terns and Black Skimmers. Out at sea a few Bottle-nosed Dolphins swam by. We left the beach as the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.
Thursday 27th January
Sanibel Island and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Reserve (Pranty pg. 192). We hit a bit of a traffic jam due to road works on the bridge across to Sanibel Island but on route from our motel we noted Cattle Egrets, Glossy & White Ibis, Wood Storks and Fish Crows. From the approach to Sanibel Bridge we saw our only Red-breasted Merganser of the trip - a female. We had a quick walk around the Bailey Tract Reserve which produced: Wood Storks, Anhingas, Green Herons, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Coots, Moorhens, Pied-billed Grebes and a brief view of a Prairie Warbler and a Merlin. We then moved on to the "Ding" Darling reserve proper. The highlight was the sheer number of herons and egrets as we walked and drove along the five mile trail - Great & Little Blues Herons, Tri-coloured & Green Herons, Great, Snowy, and Reddish Egrets, Yellow-crowned & Black-crowned Night-Herons plus White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks, White and Brown Pelicans, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Dunlin, Western & Least Sandpipers, Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal, and a single female Ring-necked Duck. Three Raccoons wandered passed the van and looked at us in vain for a handout. Along the banks Alligators basked in the warm sun.
Whilst having a late lunch in the car park area of the Visitors Centre two Western Kingbirds hawked for insects and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers called noisily from the trees. After lunch we had a brief walk along the Indigo Trail but it was a bit hot and we didn’t see very much. During the late afternoon we visited a beach a few miles west of the ‘Ding’ Darling Reserve but apart from Royal Terns, Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls an Osprey and three Skimmers we didn't see too much there either. So for the last hour or so of daylight we went to the lighthouse area on the eastern side of the island. The main interest on the bird front was the large numbers of Royal Terns flying by to roost. But best of all was being entertained for the duration by up to six Bottle-nosed Dolphins frolicking very close to the shore.
Friday 28th January
Drove to and spent the whole day at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (Pranty pg. 203). The usual raptors, herons and egrets were seen on the route, the best bird being a Caracara. In the car parking area of the Sanctuary there must have been near on a hundred Yellow-rumped Warblers. After a quick look around the Visitors Centre we set off along the Sanctuary trails and soon came across one of the Sanctuary Wardens who was watching an American Bittern just a couple of metres from the boardwalk. He told us where a Barred Owl was but unfortunately it had gone when we got to the tree it had been in. He also told us that the second feeder along the trail from the visitors centre had been attracting two male Painted Buntings. We visited the feeders a few times during the course of the day but didn't see the Buntings, only American Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Common Grackles. So we decided to make a concerted effort and stake out the feeders for as long as it took at the end of the afternoon. In the meantime we birded the trails picking up the usual herons, night-herons and egrets plus White Ibises, Wood Storks (Corkscrew being a major breeding area for this species) and Purple Galinules along with Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, Northern Parulas, Black and White Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-throated and Pine Warblers, Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos. The day flew by and not realising the time we headed back to the feeders 30 minutes before the reserve closed at 17:00. But what timing as we arrived two superb male Painted Buntings were already at the feeders and there they stayed for at least 10 minutes before dropping down into some bushes and sitting quietly and inconspicuously in thick cover. Whilst watching the Buntings an Ovenbird crept around on the ground below the feeder. We were probably the last visitors to leave the Sanctuary, but what a good end to another good day.
Saturday 29th January
Today we stayed in the Fort Myers area. First thing after breakfast we drove to the Cape Coral area in a half-hearted attempt to find Burrowing Owls. I had read that a lot of house building had taken place in the area and consequently was not confident in finding any owls. The whole area mentioned in the Pranty Guide being good for Burrowing Owls had been built on, so not surprisingly we didn’t see any Burrowing Owls. However, I understand a few pairs do still frequent the area. As we all wanted to see Manatees we then drove the few miles to Manatee Park and watched at least ten of these strange aquatic mammals loafing in the warm waters of a power station outfall canal. The small nature trail also produced good numbers of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings as well as Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a few Pine Warblers.
In the early afternoon we moved to Six Mile Cypress Slough. The Slough (pronounced "slew") is a 2,200 acre wetland reserve. Along with the usual ibis, herons, night-herons (both species) and egrets we also saw Belted Kingfishers, three Hooded Mergansers - a pair and a single drake and an American Bittern so close that you couldn't focus binoculars on it. In the woodland we saw Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and we came across two small roving flocks of birds. All together we saw: six Blue-headed Vireos, six Black and White Warblers, two Northern Parulas, four Yellow-throated Warblers, five Common Yellowthroats and the usual Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers plus American Goldfinches and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers. But the best was a very obliging Great Crested Flycatcher. We left as the reserve closed at 17:00, in the car park a Ruby-crowned Kinglet showed briefly.
Sunday 30th January
Departed Fort Myers today and made our way to Homestead, on the eastern side of the Everglades. Stopping off at three places for some specific birds and some general birding en-route. The best bird on the first leg of the journey was an adult Bald Eagle in the Naples area. The first stop was Marco Island, Tigertail Beach County Park south of Naples (Pranty pg. 198). This detour was to find Snowy Plovers as not everyone had seen them a few days previous on Fort Myers Beach. We only spent about an hour on the actual beach/lagoon area but scored well with at least six Snowy Plovers. We also had good numbers of Piping and Wilson's Plovers, Least Sandpipers and about 100 Western Sandpipers and one Oystercatcher along with Willet, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Knot, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers and try as we might we couldn't find any Long-billed Dowitchers. A couple of Reddish Egrets showed well doing their characteristic zany feeding behaviour.
We pushed on eastwards on the Tamiami Trail (US-41) (Pranty pg. 198) and stopped a couple of miles west of Shark Valley at Tippy’s, a small cafe/shop area just off the road. We had been informed by a couple of birders we met at Corkscrew that it was a good place to see Snail Kite and indeed it was as we watched up to four birds hunting the huge reed beds. We also saw Great Blue Heron, Purple Gallinules and Belted Kingfisher. We also had our first Short-tailed Hawk, a light phase adult, and Sharp-shinned Hawk during the 30 minutes or so we were there. Before we stopped at Shark Valley we had a quick look in the Indian Reservation gift shop. The canal at the edge of the gift shop car park held a few Purple Gallinules, which were very tame and even pecked at my ice cream! Three or four small alligators were also present.
About a mile down the road we pulled in to the car park at Shark Valley. There is a 15 miles road loop at this reserve but you cannot drive around it. You can walk, cycle or get a tram, but as the tram is geared for general tourists and not specifically birds (although very interesting no doubt, as regard the everglades ecosystem) we decided to walk a couple of miles instead. All the usual herons and egrets were present, plus White Ibis and Wood Storks with good numbers of Green Herons and both species of night-herons and of course alligators. Of the smaller birds we saw 10 Yellowthroats, a couple of Eastern Phoebes, Blue-headed Vireo, Black and White Warbler, Red-winged Blackbirds and as usual Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. However, the highlight of the walk was a couple of Soras that showed well.
We continued on our way and got to our motel, The Days Inn, at Homestead at about 18:00.
Monday 31st January
Homestead (Pranty pg. 229) and the Everglades (Pranty pg. 234). After breakfast and whilst re-fueling the van (20 gallons for $40) we came across our first exotics - Common Mynas - a bird we were all familiar with from our birding trip to Goa, India. We then drove the six miles or so to the entrance to the Everglades National Park. Following a quick look around the Visitors Centre, we continued and soon arrived at the car park for the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. As the more open, wetland habitat of the Anhinga trail was rather crowded with visitors we decided to do the wooded Gumbo Limbo Trail, which was much quieter. The beginning and end of the Gumbo Limbo Trail was birdless but fortunately we hit a purple patch in the middle with two Hermit Thrushes, a Magnolia Warbler a Worm-eating Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Northern Parula and an Ovenbird. As we left the trail a Brown Thrasher showed well near the track. We then did walk the aptly named Anhinga Trail with its abundant Anhingas, herons and egrets as well as two very obliging American Bitterns plus Wood Storks, White and Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinules, Osprey and Northern Harrier and plenty of "gators".
We then headed west across the park towards Flamingo but stopped off and birded the various trails. A brief stop at the Pay Ha Okee tower gave good views of the vast expanse of the Everglades but bird wise was very quiet. Heading to our next stop we saw a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk. We then did the Mahogany Hammock Trail and logged the following species: Black and White Warbler, two American Redstarts, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos and a Great Crested Flycatcher. A very quick stop at Puritis Pond produced Purple Gallinule and a Belted Kingfisher but little else. Nine Mile Pond had a few American Coots, Common Moorhens, Great Blue and Green Herons and an Osprey.
Late afternoon we arrived at Flamingo where adjacent to the Visitors Centre two Cape May Warblers performed exceptionally well as did a Yellow-throated Warbler. Whilst watching a nesting Osprey, on top of the Centre, a dark phase Short-tailed Hawk flew over. Around the marina were Laughing Gulls and Caspian Terns. We finished up at Eco Pond at about 17:20 and from a viewing platform watched hundreds of White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, herons and egrets going to roost in a clump of large trees, whilst a total of 21 Roseate Spoonbills flew overhead. We left as it got dark and watched some Marsh Rabbits by the side of the road a couple of hundred yards from Eco Pond. Back in Flamingo, where we decided to have an evening meal, a Raccoon loitered around some wastebins. After the meal we drove back through the Everglades in the intense dark (no light pollution) and arrived back at our motel in Homestead at about 22:20.
Tuesday 1st February
Heading back to the Everglades at about 08:00 we stopped at canal C111, the penultimate canal before the entrance to the Everglades National Park, for a male Vermillion Flycatcher. This bird had apparently returned to this spot for the last couple of winters. The bird performed exceptionally, the vermilion plumage looking superb in the bright sunshine. Nearby there was an American Kestrel and a Loggerhead Shrike and a Meadowlark sang from some telephone wires.
We then made our way through the park and headed towards Flamingo, as we decided to start from that end today. On route we saw three White-tailed Deer, Red-shouldered Hawk, Great Blue Herons, Wood Storks and Loggerhead Shrikes. We got to our first stop, West Lake, at about 08.50 and walked the boardwalk trail. Which was a good move as we saw: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, White-eyed Vireos, two Black and White Warblers an American Redstart and a magnificent male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Back in the car park there was a Brown Thrasher and a light phase Short-tailed Hawk flew over. Continuing on, we stopped briefly at Murazick Pond where there were two drakes and a female Blue-winged Teal, overhead nine White Pelicans spiraled.
We arrived at Eco Pond at 10:30 just in time to see two Cave Swallows circle the pond a couple of times before moving off. A walk around Eco Pond produced the usual herons, egrets and ibises plus Pied-billed Grebes, Roseate Spoonbills and White Pelicans and one person had a brief flight view of a White-crowned Pigeon. Along with the Red-shouldered Hawks and Ospreys we had a dark phase Short-tailed Hawk, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds a Great Crested Flycatcher and large numbers of American Goldfinches, plus a couple of Raccoons.
At Flamingo the two Cape May Warblers were still present and a Baltimore (Northern) Oriole showed well, but all too briefly. One or two Prairie Warblers were also present along with Yellow-throated and Black and White Warblers, Cardinals, Gnatcatchers, Eastern Phoebes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons a white phase Great Blue Heron and a single Great Crested Flycatcher. Offshore on the exposed mud flats there were large numbers of gulls and terns - Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, Caspian and Royal Terns, plus White and Brown Pelicans, 150 Skimmers, Willets and a Spotted Sandpiper plus herons, egrets and spoonbills.
At about 16:00 we walked the Snake Bight Trail but it was a bit quiet and the mosquitoes were biting so we left after only a short walk but not before logging Green Heron, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird and Black and White Warbler. We then drove back for the last half hour of light at the Anhinga Trail where along with the usual herons and egrets we saw two American Bitterns. A pink coloured ibis, a hybrid between a Scarlet and a White Ibis, came in to roost with the White Ibis, as did a few Glossy Ibis.
Wednesday 2nd February
We left the motel at 08:00 to go to Key Largo. About six Common Mynas were around the motel as we left. On Route 1, passed the eastern side of the Everglades, what was almost certainly a Limpkin, was seen briefly but unfortunately we couldn't stop at that time as the road was very busy and the verge was a bit steep. So we pushed on to Key Largo and the Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site (Pranty pg. 247). We soon caught up with our target bird - White-crowned Pigeon. We came across an adult and immature showing really well soon after entering the reserve’s Port Bouganville entrance. Later as we walked the rest of the reserve we had views of at least six other White-crowned Pigeons ranging from good views to brief fly overs. Apart from the pigeons the reserve was quiet with a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and Catbirds and in a small, water filled quarry we heard a Spotted Sandpiper and saw single Tri-coloured, Little Blue and Green Herons. Two Raccoons and a Grey Squirrel were also seen.
We came off Key Largo mid morning and went back to the 'Limpkin' site along Route 1. After parking the van I walked back along the road for about a mile alongside the canal in search of the Limpkin. There were Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tri-coloured Herons, White Ibis a Glossy Ibis and four Roseate Spoonbills but no sign of the Limpkin and then on the way back and only a couple of hundred yards from the van a Limpkin got up and flew passed me, unfortunately I was the only one who saw it. Despite waiting around it never re-appeared. During my 'Limpkin walk' the others found a drake American Wigeon and Blue-winged Teal only ten minutes walk along another track from the van. After I had seen the ducks it was decided to come back and search for the Limpkin the next morning, which would be our last day in Florida.
We then drove back into Homestead and reached Castello Hammock Reserve early afternoon. A walk through the woodland trail produced our second Worm-eating Warbler of the trip and a Black and White Warbler but apart from that it was rather quiet. So we bird watched the more open area between the car park and the Visitors Centre which proved much more productive. With White-winged Doves, White-eyed Vireo, two Prairie Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black and White Warblers, three Loggerhead Shrikes, Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Brown Thrashers and a few Cedar Waxwings. There were also two Yellow-chevroned Parakeets - the second exotic of the trip. The feeders by the centre attracted three female Painted Buntings and one or two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were attracted to the flowers in the adjacent bird and butterfly garden. We left the reserve at 16:30 and went back to the motel. But three of us decided to carry on birding and check out Lucky Hammock for Lesser Nighthawk, which we were told had been seen there recently. So 30 minutes before dark we arrived at Lucky Hammock and stood and waited. On telephone wires a couple of American Kestrels sat and there was a large mixed flock of Mourning Doves and Common Ground Doves feeding in an adjacent dirt field along with lots of Killdeers. In some nearby scrub a couple of Brown Thrashes showed well along with the usual Catbirds. A large flock of vultures and a single Osprey settled down to roost in some distant trees. Then, just as the light faded at 18:20, two Lesser Nighthawks flew around the trees of the Hammock and then away across the fields. We then saw another six nighthawks albeit distantly. We left at 18:30 when it was too dark to really see anything.
Thursday 3rd February
The final day. After breakfast we loaded our luggage onto the van and left the motel. We headed straight to the southern boundary of the Everglades, a few miles south of Homestead on Route 1, to look for yesterdays Limpkin. As we drove slowly along the road a Limpkin was spotted. No hesitation this time I pulled over onto the sloping grass verge and brought the van to an abrupt stop. It was well worth it as not one but two Limpkins performed exceedingly well for everyone. In addition there was Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Tricoloured Herons, Great Egrets, Anhingas, Red-shouldered Hawks and a single Broad-winged Hawk. All happy we drove off to spend the rest of the morning at Lucky Hammock.
Lucky Hammock is a remnant of what was before, it is small you could walk around the periphery of it in less than five minutes. It is surrounded by dirt fields, with just a strip of degraded scrub adjacent to it. Nevertheless Lucky Hammock and the strip of scrub certainly turned up some good birds for us. Including two male and two female Painted Buntings, an all to brief view of an Indigo Bunting (but it was a brown immature bird), about 60 Savannah Sparrows a single Grasshopper Sparrow, Common Ground Doves, White-eyed Vireos, Prairie Warblers, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroats, Parula Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, American Goldfinches, Eastern Phoebes, Brown Thrashers, Catbirds, Mocking Birds, Cardinals, Blue Jays.
At 13:00 we left Lucky Hammock and made our way to Miami International Airport for our return flight to the UK.
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great (White) Egret
Little Blue Heron
Black-bellied (Grey) Plover
(American) Herring Gull
Feral Rock Dove
Common Ground Dove
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Florida Scrub Jay
Blue-headed Vireo (Solitary Vireo)
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black and White Warbler
Baltimore (Northern) Oriole
Total: 154 Species
White Ibis x Scarlet Ibis hybrid
Bat sp. - probably Evening Bat - including dozens emerging from a bat box at Lake Grassy, Lake Placid.
Black Bear - two Road Traffic Accidents (RTA’s).
River Otter – at least six RTA's
Raccoon - four 'Ding' Darling Reserve, two Eco Pond and one Flamingo, Everglades, two Key Largo. Plus RTA's.
Opossum - RTA's
Eastern Grey Squirrel – widespread and fairly common, including one on Key Largo.
Eastern Cottontail – best view was of one at the Archbold Biological Station near Lake Placid.
Marsh Rabbit - six near Eco Pond, Everglades.
White-tailed Deer - a couple of drive-by glimpses and then a decent view of three in the Everglades.
Manatee - at least ten at Manatee Park, Fort Myers.
Bottle-nosed Dolphin - quite a few seen in the Gulf of Mexico with exceptional views of about six off the eastern end of Sanibel Island.
Wild Hog (feral pig) – one on Buck-eye Ranch.
Reptiles & Amphibians
Yellow Rat Snake
South eastern Five-lined Skink
Florida Box Turtle
Florida Red-bellied Turtle
Soft Shelled Turtle