Experience the Everglades Up-Close
2023 Florida – South Florida Specialties and the Dry Tortugas
Reviews 0 Reviews0/5
Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Moderate
Group Size Medium Group
Welcome to the next tour in our Birding Tour USA collection. On a map, the finger-like state of Florida protrudes prominently from the continental United States, reaching south towards the Caribbean until it just barely misses being in the tropics. To the north, frost-hardy temperate deciduous forest dominates, while warm bodies of water surround the rest of the state. Together, both climate and geography isolate Florida from the rest of the country.
Because of its geographically unique position, Florida is a crossroads between the temperate northern latitudes and the sultry Caribbean tropics. Indeed, about a dozen bird species of West Indian origin reach the northern limits of their range here, while many species more typical of more northern latitudes reach the southern edge of their range. Many of the West Indian species live nowhere else in the United States. We also time our tour in late April, when spring migration peaks, potentially augmenting our trip list with a wide variety of colorful warblers and charismatic waders.
On this Birding Tour USA adventure, we cover the southern two thirds of the state comprehensively in search of the many specialty birds on offer. We begin by exploring Miami, a city with a decidedly Caribbean flair, in search of several established exotics such as Spot-breasted Oriole, White-winged Parakeet, and Red-whiskered Bulbul. In the central part of the state, pinelands feature a specialized avian community, including Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman’s Sparrow.
We also explore nearby oak scrub for Florida’s only endemic bird, Florida Scrub Jay. On the last leg of our journey we explore the tropical hardwood hammocks and mangrove swamps of the Florida Keys in search of Caribbean specialties such as Mangrove Cuckoo, White-crowned Pigeon, and Black-whiskered Vireo. We also take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, where Sooty Tern and Brown Noddybreed in the thousands. With some luck, many of the sites we visit on this Birding Tour USA excursion can be alive with migrant songbirds, and there is always a chance for a vagrant from the Caribbean, like La Sagra’s Flycatcher or Western Spindalis, to show up.
Duration: 9 days
Limit: 4 – 8
Date: 22-30 April 2023
Start: Miami, FL
End: Miami, FL
US$4180 per person sharing assuming 4 – 8 participants
Single supplement: US$880
We can run the same trip at a price similar to the larger group price for 2 tour participants, if they rent their own vehicle and pay for fuel – please e-mail [email protected] for details.
- Guiding fees
- Entrance fees
- All transport while on tour
- Domestic and International flights
- Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts
- Alcoholic drinks
- Personal insurance
- Laundry Service
Arrival at Location
After arriving at Miami International Airport, you will be transferred to a nearby hotel for the night.
Miami Metro and Green Cay Wetlands
The nearly tropical climate and exotic vegetation of the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metropolitan area offers a unique landscape of opportunity for a myriad of introduced bird species from all over the world. We spend our first morning in Florida exploring this urban landscape in search of ABA-countable exotics such as Grey-headed Swamphen, Spot-breasted Oriole, White-winged Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Common Myna.
However, introduced species are only a small fraction of the avifauna of Miami, a county which claims one of the longest bird lists east of the Mississippi River. Parks, preserves, and even parking lots provide opportunities to see native species like Grey Kingbird, White-crowned Pigeon, and more, along with a supporting cast of migrant songbirds.
After a delicious lunch at a Cuban restaurant in Miami, we head north to Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands, two artificially created wetlands that host nearly all of Florida’s wetland specialties: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Sora, Purple Gallinule, and more. The rookeries at Wakodahatchee Wetlands should be active at this time of year, providing excellent photographic opportunities of nesting herons, egrets, ibis, and storks. We end the day near Port St. Lucie, where we stay for the night.
Overnight: Port St. Lucie
Ocean side to gulf side
We will spend the morning hours birding the ocean (east) side of the Florida peninsula at several local parks, hoping to catch a new batch of migrant songbirds. Depending on how we faired with waders the previous day and how migration fairs for the day, we may head to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge for species such as Roseate Spoonbill, Snail Kite and a shot at Smooth-billed Ani. After lunch, we will spend the slower afternoon birding hours driving across the middle of Florida towards Fort Myers. The late afternoon and evening hours will be spent birding the gulf (west) side of the peninsula, searching the coastline for shorebirds including Snowy, Piping and Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatcher, Willet and more.
Overnight: Fort Myers
This specialized habitat is home to three American endemics, which will be the focus of our morning search: Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman’s Sparrow. It also pays to keep close attention to the roadsides in this area for Northern Crested Caracara, Wild Turkey, Sandhill Crane, and Bald Eagle.
We then continue west to Circle B Bar Reserve and Lettuce Lake Park. Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, and cypress swamp at these sites provide habitat for a tremendous variety of birds, including waterfowl, waders, raptors, and passerines. Many summer migrants approach the southern edge of their breeding range at Lettuce Lake Park, including the spectacularly-hued Prothonotary Warbler, diminutive Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and boldly patterned Yellow-throated Warbler.
Babcock-Webb and Tamiami Trail
Today will be an early start to ensure our sunrise arrival at the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area. This huge tract of land hosts a wide variety of habitats including Florida slash pine, a favorite of several special bird species. We will spend the better part of the morning exploring these pines in search of Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman’s Sparrow and Brown-headed Nuthatch. Following a successful morning at Babcock-Webb, we will then explore one or two other locations to search for the endemic Florida Scrub Jay. Where we go will depend on recent trends and timing.
Afterwards, we start our journey southeast across the peninsula via the Tamiami Trail to Homestead, passing through Big Cypress National Preserve and the northern edge of Everglades National Park. Sites along this road provide excellent opportunities to see King Rail and Snail Kite for our growing trip list.
Swainson’s Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak are just a sample of the migrant songbirds we hope to see here. This site is also excellent for migrating waders, gulls, and terns. By scanning the sandy beaches and mudflats, we can see a broad sampling of Nearctic waders such as Snowy Plover, Piping Plover, Willet, and Marbled Godwit. The elegant Reddish Egret and bizarre Black Skimmer are also regular along the coast.
The area around Fort De Soto hosts a healthy population of Nanday Parakeet, now an ABA-countable exotic. With so many potential species, we will be in no rush to leave and allot a full day of birding here.
Everglades National Park
Published in 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s The Everglades: River of Grass highlighted the uniqueness of the Everglades. Lying at the southern tip of the state, the Everglades is a vast, subtropical sawgrass prairie broken only by cypress domes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pinelands and mangrove swamps. There is nowhere else in the United States with such a decidedly tropical suite of habitats. We bird throughout the day along the length of the main park road that terminates in flamingo campground, exploring these various habitats for several birds, difficult or impossible to see anywhere else in the country, like “Cape Sable” Seaside Sparrow and Shiny Cowbird. American Crocodile is possible at the marina in Flamingo. There will also be an optional birding session after dark to look for Eastern Screech Owl, Barred Owl and Chuck-will’s-widow.
After an early breakfast, we will drive along Card Sound Road to Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, making a brief stop at a patch of mangroves along the way to look for the Florida race of Prairie Warbler and the Cuban race of American Yellow Warbler. Once slated to become a housing development, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park protects one of the largest tracts of tropical hardwood hammock in Florida. It is also an important breeding ground for several target species on our tour, particularly the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo and the vociferous Black-whiskered Vireo. For the rest of the day we will keep our schedule open as we make our way south to Key West, to accommodate the presence (or absence) of migrant songbirds or even the possibility of chasing a Caribbean vagrant. Regardless of the status of migration, we visit a breeding colony of Roseate Tern in Marathon and stand vigil in the evening for Antillean Nighthawk in Key West.
Overnight: Key West
Dry Tortugas National Park
Seventy miles (c. 110 kilometers) west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a series of tiny coralline islands surrounded by the shimmering aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Among birders, these islands are particularly famous for having the only nesting colonies of Brown Noddy, Sooty Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird and Masked Booby in the contiguous United States. We reach these islands via the Yankee Freedom II catamaran on a day trip.
Upon arrival at Garden Key, we have about four hours to enjoy the cacophony and bustle of activity from the seabird colonies on nearby Bush Key as well as marvel at impressive Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Due to the isolation of these islands from any land, the parade grounds of this grand fort function as a welcoming oasis for exhausted migratory songbirds including warblers, cuckoos, flycatchers, vireos, tanagers, and buntings. On our return voyage to Key West we make sure to stop at nearby Hospital Key to see the colony of Masked Booby.
We spend a second night in Key West to hopefully allow some time to relax and admire this famous town and perhaps to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home for example.
Overnight: Key West
Florida Keys to Homestead
We drive north back towards Miami, stopping at various state parks and preserves in the Florida Keys to look for species we may have missed. Perhaps we’ll find some new migrant songbirds and breeding specials or maybe we’ll even chance upon finding a Caribbean stray (we’ll be checking the e-bird reports frequently to see what’s around!). We also usually make a stop at the National Key Deer Refuge to see the miniature and endemic Key Deer, the smallest subspecies of White-tailed Deer and the smallest deer in North America. This will be a flexible day so that we can chase any reported rarities, and we will keep ourselves wired to any special sightings.
Transfer to Miami International Airport
After some optional early morning birding, looking for any bird species we may have missed, we drive back (less than an hour when there is no traffic) to Miami to catch our flights home.
Another successful Birding Ecotours’ South Florida Specialties Tour has wrapped up! Though a few species eluded the group early on, our persistence and perseverance paid off in the end with incredible looks at all of the South Florida target species. In addition to the birds, we spent some time with American Alligator, American Crocodile, and Wil got down and dirty with the Tarpon on Marathon Key. Florida treated us very kindly with sunny skies, great food, and 164 total bird species – including 15 warbler species and many other migrants. In all, we traveled over 1800 miles from downtown Miami to the central pine forest, along the west coast to the Everglades, through the Keys, and out to the remote Dry Tortugas.
Will we do any birding the first day?
YES! – Assuming that everyone’s flight arrives before dark. One of our first targets is only a few minutes from from the airport.
Will we see any American Flamingos on this trip?
Anything is possible! We will be keeping an eye on current reports, and we might be able to chase one down. Flamingos are present, but uncommon in Florida, so we will keep out fingers crossed!
Will I get seasick on the boat?
Most people will not get sick, although you should take precautions if you are prone to motion sickness, as the weather can dictate how rough the ride will be. There are various remedies sold at local pharmacies and in our galley which can help relieve motion sickness and will make your trip more enjoyable.”
How should I dress for the tour?
Check the weather for the destination as close to your departure date as possible, and dress accordingly for your comfort level. You can also review our What to Bring page for more information.
Besides clothes, what do I need to bring?
There are many items the will be useful to you while on a Bird Treks tour. We have put together our list of recommendations on the What to Bring page.
What language are tours conducted in?
Our tours are all conducted in English, but we do have some experience working with client that don’t speak English well – Some English would be needed for safety reasons. In locations where another language is predominately spoken, a native guide may accompany the tour.
Can you help me book flights?
Yes, we will always try our best to help with anything at all! We’re here to serve you. However, it is usually easier if you book your flight through your own travel agent as we can’t always get the best deals from your particular country. But we will help whenever needed!
Can you book accommodation for us the night before the tour starts or the night the tour ends?
While Day 1 is usually a travel (arrival) day, and the last day of the tour is usually also a travel day (departure), many people do like to arrive early and/or leave late. We can indeed book extra nights before and after the trip, and we in fact recommend you let us book them, as it avoids confusion and allows us to book the accommodation that is most convenient for the tour.
NOTE: Most often it is the same hotel or lodge that you use on the first night of the tour, but in some instances, it could be an airport hotel or an accommodation establishment where the guide is staying.
Do you provide trip insurance?
No, we do not. We find that it is better for trip participants to purchase their own medical, trip cancellation, and baggage insurance through their own insurance provider in the country they reside in. We expect all tour participants to have comprehensive insurance, and we encourage everyone to send us a copy of their insurance documents.
Are meals included?
For most tours, meals are included in the tour price. This may include a hotel-provided breakfast, or guide-provided box lunches. For dinners, we strive to find interesting and delicious local restaurants – this allows us to give back to the local economy, and find exciting new place to eat.