Florida: Birding with a Camera® (BwC)

This is a Birding with a Camera Tour. The goal of the tour is to see a lot of great birds but also, to take great photos of certain species.

For details of how Tropical Birding will be operating this tour, here are our guidelines and tour practices: Safety Tour Regulations and Policy.

Florida is one of the states that offers an excess of opportunities to birders and camera-carrying ones in particular too. Exciting seabirds, like Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown and Black Noddy, Sooty Tern, and Brown and Masked Boobies on the Dry Tortugas, tame endemic Florida Scrub-Jays in the panhandle, and a bounty of reserves home to massive concentrations of easy-to-photograph waterbirds, like Reddish Egrets, “Great White Herons”, and Roseate Spoonbills. Marshes are also home to Purple Gallinules, Limpkins, Wood Storks and Anhingas, while Snail Kites watch on. The graceful Swallow-tailed Kites also calls Florida home. The Pine Flatwoods are perhaps less well known, where endangered species like Bachman’s Sparrow, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Brown-headed Nuthatch flaunt their wares. The tour will start and end in Miami, where exotic parrots, like Nanday and Monk Parakeets inhabit the suburbs. The tour takes in marshes, swamps, pine woods, mangroves, Oak hammocks, and the dramatic backdrop of the Florida Keys. Bring your binoculars and your cameras too, in order to capture some wonderful images. The tour has been timed for spring, when temperatures are lower, but the birding opportunities are at a premium, the wetland species are busy breeding, the seabirds are already nesting, and while migrant birds are coarsing through the region.

PLEASE NOTE: There is a certain amount of flexibility within this itinerary, while all sites mentioned will be visited, the exact order and day in which they are visited may vary depending on local conditions at the time, and how the birding unfolds during the first part of the day.

Florida Scrub-Jays are famously tame
Florida Scrub-Jays are famously tame (Sam Woods)

Day 1: Arrival in Miami; transfer to Delray Beach. After arrival in Miami’s International Airport, we will take a group transfer together from there to Delray Beach (an hour north), our comfortable base for the next two nights. There should be some time to begin to explore the local area in the afternoon, and start tracking down southern specialties, like Gray-headed Swamphen, Limpkin, Anhinga, and Wood Stork.

Florida is a fantastic place to see Purple Gallinules, again and again!
Florida is a fantastic place to see Purple Gallinules, again and again! (Ken Behrens)

Day 2: Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Green Cay Wetlands, and Loxahatchee NWR. Today will give you more than little insight into the joys of Floridian birding and bird photography. By visiting three premier wetland sites in one relaxed day, we will gorge on a procession of images of quality large waterbirds from one end of the day to the other. Among the hordes of birds we will be surrounded by are likely to include…. Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks occur in numbers, as do Wood and Mottled Ducks, and Egyptian Geese too. Wetlands are bursting with birds for our binoculars and cameras likewise, King Rails occupy the swampy areas, while Limpkins, Glossy and White Ibises, Gray-headed Swamphens, Purple Gallinules, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, American and Least Bitterns, Yellow and Black-crowned Night-Herons, Wood Storks, Sandhill Cranes, and incomparable Roseate Spoonbill too. In the lightly wooded areas, ABA countable exotics like Monk and Nanday Parakeets occur.

Several refuges will offer up rails, like this King Rail
Several refuges will offer up rails, like this King Rail (Sam Woods)

Where there are tropical wetlands there are attendant raptors, and we will be in a brace of these in particular, the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite and snail-gorging Snail Kite. Terns, gulls and shorebirds abound too, and Fish Crows are also common in the area. Scrubby areas will not go unchecked as we keep an eye out for small groups of Smooth-billed Anis utilizing them. By the end of a day, where your sense will be have been heightened by the nonstop onslaught of birds, you will have enjoyed not only some southern specialties, but also a spectacle of waterbirds welcome to both birders and those wielding cameras, which will have plenty to focus on during a blistering opening day. Another night will be spent at Delray Beach.

White Ibis are an abundant waterbird, easily photographed, in the Sunshine State
White Ibis are an abundant waterbird, easily photographed, in the Sunshine State (Ken Behrens)

Day 3: Delray Beach to Ding Darling and Fort Myers. This morning provides a bit of flexible morning to revisit one of the spectacular wetland areas of the day before, in case we have missed something. After that we move from one great area of wetlands to another at the World famous Ding Darling NWR. Located on the north of Sanibel Island, this refuge comprises tidal flats, wetlands, mangroves and tropical hammocks. We will spend some of the afternoon scanning intertidal flats for migrant shorebirds, like Piping Plover, Marbled Godwit, an assortment of sandpipers, and larger birds still in the form of Reddish Egrets, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons and American White Pelicans. Overhead, we will be on the lookout for that most tropical of seabirds, the predatory Magnificent Frigatebird on the wing in search of other seabirds to rob of their prey. Other birds possible in this area include Short-tailed Hawk, Common Ground-Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, Palm Warbler, and Loggerhead Shrike.

Fort Myers is an excellent area to see and photograph Burrowing Owls
Fort Myers is an excellent area to see and photograph Burrowing Owls (Sam Woods)

Before we retire for the day we will check around suburban Fort Myers for an endemic bird of Florida, the often tame Florida Scrub-Jay. Our “Jay Run” may also yield one of the tame groups of Burrowing Owls that frequent Fort Myers, which will be welcome to birders and photographers alike, as one of Florida’s most photographed birds! The next two nights will be spent on the southern side of Fort Myers.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a specialty of the Pine Flatwoods
Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a specialty of the Pine Flatwoods (Sam Woods)

Day 4: Babcock/Webb WMA and Corkscrew Swamp. On this day we will be enlightened to the wonderful diversity of habitats within the Floridian state, as first we visit Florida’s oldest Wildlife Management Area, an enticing mix of Pine Flatwoods and bird-rich wetlands. Our principal focus will be the Pines, which are home to some specialties of this declining habitat, most notably Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman’s Sparrow, the so-called “Pine Woods Trio”. An early start is required for these, as they are very much more active at the break of day. Other woodland species include Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and Tufted Titmouse. Away from the songbirds, raptors may also appear, most notably the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite, snail-loving Snail Kite amd marauding Crested Caracaras, three specialties of this tour. Indeed, the site it decent for raptors period, with Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles occur.

Brown-headed Nuthatch is found within the Babcock/Webb WMA
Brown-headed Nuthatch is found within the Babcock/Webb WMA (Sam Woods)

After a morning in the woods, our afternoon will be in the more open wet, at the legendary Corkscrew Swamp. Here waterbirds abound, with southerners like Wood Stork, Limpkin, and Purple Gallinules all on offer again. Open country is home to Northern Bobwhite. Wooded areas with Spanish moss are good for roosting Barred Owl by daytime, Brown Thrasher, and southern breeding warblers, like Yellow-throated Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. While flowers attract the attentions of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by this part of the season. The air may also be graced with a Swallow-tailed Kite or a Crested Caracara, and Red-shouldered Hawk is abundant. A final night is spent in Fort Myers.

Florida is a hotspot for wintering Yellow-throated Warblers
Florida is a hotspot for wintering Yellow-throated Warblers (Sam Woods)

Day 5: Bunche Beach Preserve to the Everglades. This will also be a day of contrasts, with the extensive tidal flats of Carlos Bay planned to feature in the morning, followed by the Everglades after driving southeast in the afternoon.

NOTE: As the flats are best on certain tides, the timing of our visit may be swapped around, with this site instead visited on the day before if needed.

Reddish Egrets are abundant in several  Florida refuges
Reddish Egrets are abundant in several Florida refuges (Sam Woods)

Bunch Beach Preserve is located on Carlos Bay and is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail. It comprises of tidal sand flats, plus also mangrove areas where Mangrove Cuckoos may be found. Shorebirds, however, are the name of the game here, with a list of over 30 species having been recorded, and twenty species possible in a day on the appropriate tide. Among the hordes of birds present, we will be trying to pick out American Avocet, American Oystercatcher, Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers, Red Knot, Snowy, Piping and Wilson’s Plovers, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Marbled Godwit. 9 species of terns are also possible, including Least, Gull-billed, and Sandwich Terns and Black Skimmer. Magnificent Frigatebirds, Reddish Egrets, and American White Pelicans are also regular along the packed shoreline at this time.

After a mind-boggling time at the beach, we will drive southeast, taking in the legendary Everglades as we do so, this being the focal point of the afternoon. We will be on the lookout for roosting Barred Owl, warblers and vireos in the hammocks, and survey the wetlands too for Great White Heron (the white form of Great Blue Heron), Marbled Godwit, King Rail, Purple Gallinule, Limpkin and Anhinga. Overhead we will be on the lookout for Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk or White-tailed Kite. After the afternoon in the Everglades, we check into our hotel in Florida City for a two-night stay.

Southern Florida is the best place in North America for Mangrove Cuckoo
Southern Florida is the best place in North America for Mangrove Cuckoo (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Miami Suburbs. Our location in Florida City is strategic, allowing us to venture north into the southern outskirts of Miami on this day, to pick up some long-established exotic species within easy reach of our base. Searching the suburbs, we may find Monk, White-winged, Yellow-chevroned, and Nanday Parakeets, in addition to warblers moving through at this time, like Cape May, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, and Prairie Warblers. Other distinct possibilities on this day include Muscovy Duck, Smooth-billed Ani, Mangrove Cuckoo, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Black-whiskered and White-eyed Vireos, Spot-breasted Oriole, and Short-tailed Hawk. At the end of a day with multiple stops, we will return to Florida City for a final night.

A Keys specialty: White-crowned Pigeon
A Keys specialty: White-crowned Pigeon (Sam Woods)

Day 7: The Florida Keys. Our day will be spent taking in the spectacularly scenic drive south to Key West, making designated stops along the way. The keys may offer up species like Roseate Tern, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Gray Kingbird, White-crowned Pigeon, Black-whiskered Vireo, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, Mangrove and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Shiny Cowbird, Common Myna, Western Spindalis (in some years) to break our journey south. Rarities are always a possibility in the keys (and around Miami), and so we will have our ears to the ground for these throughout the tour.

In the afternoon, we shall check into our base for the next two nights in Key West, on the tip of the keys. For the adventurous among you, there will be an optional evening trip out to backtrack north to an area where small numbers of Antillean Nighthawks are often present at this time of year, your only good chance of the species in North America.

80,000 Sooty Terns breed on the Dry Tortugas
80,000 Sooty Terns breed on the Dry Tortugas (Sam Woods)

Day 8: The Dry Tortugas. After our night’s rest we will be ready for our boat trip out to the Dry Tortugas. The trip from Key West, on board the Yankee Freedom III, to Fort Jefferson, takes about 2 hours . This gives us 4 hours or so to wander around the Garden Key area and take in the sights and birds. Some of our main targets will be seabirds, like Sooty and Bridled Terns, Brown and Black Noddy, Brown and Masked Boobies, as well as Magnificent Frigatebirds, Royal and Sandwich Terns, and Black Skimmers. There is always a chance with this tour timed during peak migration, that a fall of migrant warblers, cuckoos, vireos, orioles grosbeaks, flycatchers, thrushes, and buntings may occur too. Some 36 species of warblers have been recorded on the islands, with dozens of these regularly passing through each spring, along with the likes of Indigo and Painted Buntings. At the end of the day we will return to our Key West hotel for the final night of the tour.

A boat trip to the Dry Tortugas will bring us to Brown Booby breeding country
A boat trip to the Dry Tortugas will bring us to Brown Booby breeding country (Sam Woods)

Day 9: Key West to Miami for DEPARTURES. The journey back to Miami takes around three hours, and so we will have some time for some final short periods of birding as we make our way back up north through the keys, before getting into Miami International Airport in time for mid-afternoon flights or later.

Barred Owls roost amongst the Spanish moss in the Oak Hammocks
Barred Owls roost amongst the Spanish moss in the Oak Hammocks (Sam Woods)

Many people get their first North American Snail Kite in Florida
Many people get their first North American Snail Kite in Florida (Sam Woods)

Wetlands offer two species of bittern
Wetlands offer two species of bittern (Sam Woods)

Brown Noddy breeds on the Dry Tortugas
Brown Noddy breeds on the Dry Tortugas (Sam Woods)

Coastlines jam-packed with birds: Florida in a nutshell
Coastlines jam-packed with birds: Florida in a nutshell (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. This is not a physically-demanding tour (see Physical Difficulty section below), but the days will be pretty long. Sunrise at this time of year is around 7:00am, so we will generally eat breakfast around 6:00am and depart the hotel at 6:30am. Participants can expect to make multiple birding stops throughout the day, and we’ll aim to be at our place of lodging by 6pm to let people rest before dinner. There will be time to rest in the van as we move between locations, and we’ll have a field lunch on most days to avoid restaurants and crowds. Any lunches eaten at restaurants will be eaten outside.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. All of our birding stops will require light to moderate walking, but we’ll rarely cover more than a mile at a stretch. The pace will be very mellow, and the footing should be level everywhere we go. There won’t be steep hikes on rocky trails, and anyone in average walking shape will do just fine on this tour. There are four days with drives of around 3 hours, although all of these will be broken up by birding stops. Elevation is not a concern anywhere on this tour. There is a boat trip to the Dry Tortugas on day 8, where conditions can be smooth or choppy, so seasickness medications are recommended for those who usually require them.

CLIMATE: This tour has been timed for the cooler late winter/early spring spell, so that the climate is more friendly to us. The average monthly high/lows at this time of year are 54-76F (12-24C), with humidity at around 70%. This is the lowest time of year for rainfall in the area, although a small amount of rainfall does occur (6 days per month at this time of year).

ACCOMMODATION: All the hotels we utilize are fully-modernized with hot water and wireless internet. Importantly, and because of COVID-19 concerns, we have deliberately selected smaller hotels where the rooms are accessed externally. This will minimize time in communal spaces like lobbies and hallways. All lodgings are high-quality with an emphasis on customer service.

WHEN TO GO: Florida offers good year-round birding, and is particularly appealing in the spring, when migration adds to the considerable bird list. Temperatures are also more comfortable than later in the year.

PHOTOGRAPHY: : This is a Birding With a Camera tour, and so while it goes after a number of Floridian specialties, it also takes in some excellent sites for bird photography, such as around the many Delray Beach wetlands and Ding Darling, where large waterbirds provide endless chances to shoot them at close range. That is one of the characteristics of Floridian birding, big numbers of large photogenic waterbirds. The Florida Scrub-Jays are often tame and photographable too. The light if often great in Florida at this time of year for photographers.

GEAR: Binoculars and camera equipment are essential items. The guide will have a scope which of course you are welcome to use too. If you would like to bring your own scope you may do so. A tripod is always welcome but keep in mind that all of our photography will be opportunistic which means you will have to be quick. Monopods are often a better, quicker and more portable option. However, neither a monopod or tripod is necessary to join this tour.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, there are no special travel requirements. For all foreign citizens, please check the ever-changing restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Tropical Birding cannot be responsible for changes in entrance policy or restriction levied by the US government. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which can be applied for online. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodations from the night of day 1 through the night of day 8; meals from the night of day 1 through to breakfast on day 9 (if you do not leave too early for that); all park fees to sites stated in the itinerary; one airport transfer per person/couple (by hotel shuttle) at the start and end of the tour done as a group; Tropical Birding tour leader from the night of day 1 through to the night of day 8; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from days 2 to 9 in a modern, rental vehicle with the Tropical Birding tour leader as the driver. One return boat trip on a passenger ferry to and from the Dry Tortugas on day 8.

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area; any flights; optional tips to the tour leader; tips to any baggage handlers if used anywhere; any passport or visa fees; excess baggage fees; snacks; any drinks other than drinkable water; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; passenger ferry to and from the Dry Tortugas on Day 6; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.