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South Florida: Birding Residents, Rarities & Exotics

Tour Overview:

Florida offers some of the best and most entertaining birding in eastern North America. 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 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. The tour has been timed for spring, when temperatures are usually still pleasant, but the birding opportunities are at a premium, the wetland species are busy breeding, the seabirds are already nesting, and migrant birds are coursing through the region.

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Tour Details:


20 - 28 April

Price: TBA

Length: 9 Days

Starting City: Miami

Ending City: Miami

Pace: Moderate

Physical Difficulty: Easy

Focus: Birding

Group size: 7 + 1 leader

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Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival day in Miami

After arriving in Miami, please take the hotel shuttle to our nearby hotel. There are no activities on this day, so feel free to arrive at any time. Dinner is not included in the tour fee for this night, so please take your dinner at the hotel at your leisure. The guide for the tour will meet the group the following morning for the start of the tour activities. The arrangements for this will be confirmed shortly before the start of the tour.


Day 2: Metro Miami

On this first full day, we’ll venture into the Miami suburbs to look for a number of introduced and exotic species, all of which are ABA-countable for the listers in the group. This panel includes Red-whiskered Bulbul, Spot-breasted Oriole, Common Myna, and Yellow-chevroned and White-winged Parakeets (though the last is getting very difficult to find). We’ll hope to intersect resident Bronzed Cowbirds and White-crowned Pigeons, and we’ll have our eyes open for migrants like Gray Kingbird, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Cape May Warbler as we explore suburban parks and wooded hammocks. Importantly, we will make a special effort to find any notable vagrants — Western Spindalis, Bahama Mockingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Smooth-billed Ani, etc. — which might be hanging around. We’ll probably visit Matheson Hammock Park, Black Point Marina, and Crandon Park in the course of the day, but our exact itinerary will be determined based upon what’s being seen where in the lead-up to the tour. We’ll spend this night at the same airport hotel as the first night.

Day 3: Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Green Cay Nature Center, and Loxahatchee NWR

We’ll make an early start on this second day and head north to a trio of wonderful reserves in Delray Beach: the Green Cay Nature Center, the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, and Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Wakodahatchee and Green Cay are small tracks of habitat in otherwise surrounding suburban sprawl. Both feature elevated boardwalks, and we’ll look for Anhinga, Common and Purple Gallinules, Gray-headed Swamphen, Least Bittern, and Boat-tailed Grackle as we explore the impoundments. Nesting Wood Storks, Green Herons, and Tricolored Herons will keep the photographers busy, and we’ll hope for American Redstarts and other migrants in the adjacent thickets. Moving slightly east after lunch, we’ll explore expansive Loxahatchee NWR. At the eastern edge of the Everglades, the refuge offers similar birding to Green Cay and Wakodahatchee but in a wilder setting. Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Red-shouldered Hawk might be circling overhead, and we’ll need to be alert to the possibility of Snail Kite and Limpkin as we explore the habitat. With turtles and alligators thrown into the mix, it should be quite the afternoon! Our memory cards full and our life lists grown, we’ll grab dinner and retire to a Delray Beach hotel for single night.


Day 4: Delray Beach to Ding Darling and Fort Myers

We’ll use the early morning to clean up any species or photographs we missed the previous day before heading west towards the Gulf Coast at Fort Myers. En route stops will offer opportunity to find the animated Florida Scrub Jay — a Florida endemic which occupies isolated parks and neighborhoods — and we’ll invest additional time into Snail Kite if we didn’t intersect with it at Loxahatchee the previous day. After lunch, we’ll hit a number of Fort Myers spots including (but not limited to) Rotary Park Environmental Center and Six Mile Cypress Slough. By visiting a variety of habitats, we’ll increase our chances of intersecting with Common Ground Dove, White-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Purple Martin, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and — if we’re really lucky — Short-tailed Hawk! We’ll round out the day in Cape Coral where we should have incredible views of the Burrowing Owls which populate the suburban neighborhood. Throw in the possibility of Monk Parakeets and it should be the perfect end to our day. This will be the first of two nights in Fort Myers.


Day 5: Babcock-Webb WMA and Sanibel Island

An early start will deliver us to Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area as close to sunrise as possible. The dawn chorus will greet us, and we’ll explore expansive pine savannas for the ‘Pine Woods Trio’: Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the last a Threatened species named for its usually-concealed ear patch. We might observe Northern Bobwhite scampering across the reserve’s roads, and we’ll need to be on the lookout for Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Brown Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, and Pine Warbler. Bald Eagle and Crested Caracara are often in the area, and we’ll have opportunity for Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed Hawks.

After lunch, we’ll return to the water at JN ‘Ding’ Darling NWR on Sanibel Island. The refuge is comprised of tidal flats, wetlands, mangroves, and tropical hammocks, and we’ll spend time looking for Piping Plover, Roseate Spoonbill, Marbled Godwit, Reddish Egret, Tricolored Heron, and the comical American White Pelican. Magnificent Frigatebird could fly over us at any moment, and we’ll hope for Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, Mangrove Cuckoo, Palm Warbler, and Loggerhead Shrike as we explore terrestrial parts of the refuge. Manatees are sometimes loafing round, so that would be extra cool, right? This will be our second of two nights in Fort Myers.


Day 6: Bunche Beach, Corkscrew Swamp, and the Everglades via Tamiami Trail

Can you say shorebirds? If not, that’s gonna change after a morning at Bunche Beach! Waders should be out in full force, and we’ll try to pad the trip list with the likes of Black-bellied, Wilson’s, Semipalmated, and Piping Plovers. Beyond those, American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Least, Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers, Willet, and Short-billed Dowitcher are all within the realm of possibilities. Royal, Sandwich, and Least Terns are usually around, and we might also observe Black Skimmer feeding low over the water. Exploring the adjacent mangrove habitat, we’ll try for the shifty Mangrove Cuckoo, a species which has experienced sharp declines with the continued development of its obligate habitat.

Next up? The legendary Corkscrew Swamp! Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Limpkin, and White Ibis lurk in the swampy recesses, and we might find Barred Owl roosting among the beautiful, moss-covered cypresses. Also possible along our extended boardwalk amble are Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great-crested Flycatcher, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated and Prothonotary Warblers, and Louisiana Waterthrush. The setting is absolutely stunning, and our trip to Corkscrew won’t be forgotten!

We’ll have lunch outside Naples and recross the peninsula on the Tamiami Trail through the afternoon. An en route stop at Thousand Island NWR might yield Bald Eagle or Stilt Sandpiper, and we’ll need to keep our eyes skyward in case a Snail Kite floats over the road. If we’ve missed Bronzed Cowbird, we can look for it in the agricultural fields west of Homestead, where we overnight.


Day 7: Everglades National Park and The Florida Keys

An early start will deliver us to the Flamingo Recreational Area at the southern end of Everglades National Park. Brown Pelicans and Ospreys should grace the tidal flats, and we’ll explore adjacent thickets, marshes, and wooded hammocks for migrants, waders, and raptors. Swallow-tailed Kites can abound, and we’ll make a special effort to tease the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow from appropriate habitat. Shiny Cowbird is a rare but regular visitor, and resident Prairie Warblers usually offer confiding, photographic views. Whooooo knows? Maybe we’ll add Barred Owl at Mahogany Hammock!

We’ll backtrack to Florida City for lunch and spend the rest of the day exploring the incomparable Florida Keys. Birding as we island hop to the southwest, we’ll look for Laughing Gull, Roseate Tern, Gray Kingbird, White-crowned Pigeon, Black-whiskered Vireo, and Mangrove Cuckoo. Rarities are always a possibility in the Keys, and we’ll pursue anything interesting that surfaces. We will also make a late-evening attempt for Antillean Nighthawk, either en route at the Marathon Airport or somewhere closer to Key West. The keys are only reliable place in the United States to see the bird, so we’ll try hard to find it for the ABA listers! Two nights will be spent in Key West.

Day 8: The Dry Tortugas

We will board the high-speed and very comfortable Yankee Freedom III and reach west to the Dry Tortugas on this last full day. The crossing takes about two hours, and we’ll have four hours to explore Garden Key and Fort Jefferson once we arrive. With white sands and turquoise waters, the setting is a tropical paradise! Throw in breeding colonies of Magnificent Frigatebirds, Sooty Terns, and Brown Noddies, and it makes for an incredible birding experience! Brown and Masked Boobies, and Bridled Tern are present in smaller numbers, and we might get really lucky with something like Black Noddy. Beyond the resident breeders, spring migration could deposit Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Gray Catbird, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, or Indigo Bunting on the tiny island. At the end of our Tortugas time, we’ll board the ferry and return to Key West for a second night, the final of our amazing tour.


Day 9: Departures from Miami

The drive from Key West to Miami takes around three hours, and we’ll leave early so we can mop-up any missing birds as we return north and east. Clients should arrange to fly out any time after 3pm. If that’s a problem, please contact the Tropical Birding office.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. This is not a physically-demanding, but the days will be pretty long. One of the many benefits of perfect climate (see Climate Section below) is that we can use the entire day for birding; it’s neither too cold in the morning nor too hot in the middle of the day to be out and about! Sunrise is at 6:45, so we’ll be departing the hotel around 6am each day. Participants can expect to make multiple birding stops through the day, and we’ll aim to have dinner sometime between 6pm and 7pm, depending on daily energy and enthusiasm. There will be time to rest in the van as we move between locations, and we’ll have a field lunch on some days. All efforts will me made to eat all meals at restaurants with outdoor seating.


PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. All of our birding stops will require light to moderate walking, but we’ll rarely cover more than a mile-and-a-half at a stretch. Anyone in average walking shape will do just fine. The pace will be mellow to facilitate photography, and the footing should be level everywhere we go. Elevation and topography are non-issues because South Florida is at sea level and flat as a pancake.


CLIMATE: This tour has been timed for spring, before the suffocating summer heat sets in. Temperatures should fluctuate between the high 60’s and high 80’s, and clientf should prepare for at some least some rain per seasonal averages. A rain coat is therefore advised, as are precautions to protect your cameras/optics in the event of a surprise shower.


ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and motels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, no special requirements are necessary to visit Florida. 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 – click here for the full list), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which should be applied for online IN ADVANCE OF THE TOUR. 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.


WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 8; meals from breakfast on day 2 to lunch on day 9; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water only between meals (tap water is safe to drink in the US, and you are encouraged to fill your water bottles when able); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 9; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 9; airport shuttle bus on day 1; tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; boat trip to the Dry Tortugas on day 8; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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