Experience the Everglades Up-Close
2021 Florida – South Florida Specialties and the Dry Tortugas
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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: 10 days
Limit: 3 – 8
Date: 24 April – 3 May 2021
Start: Miami, FL
End: Miami, FL
US$4183 per person sharing assuming 5 – 8 participants
Single supplement: US$850
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, we will transfer you 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 Purple 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
Three Lakes WMA, Circle B Bar Reserve, Lettuce Lake Park
After an early breakfast we drive to Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area. Although heavily altered by years of cattle ranching and logging, this wildlife management area still protects a sizeable piece of pineland habitat with a saw palmetto understory.
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.
Fort De Soto Park
Lying on a series of small islands in the Gulf of Mexico, Fort De Soto Park is one of the premier migration hotspots in the state of Florida. Given the right weather, exhausted migrant songbirds land en masse on these small islands, filling the woods and fruiting mulberry trees with a riot of color.
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.
Oscar Scherer State Park and Tamiami Trail
We make the short drive from Sarasota to Oscar Scherer State Park, which hosts a healthy population of the threatened and endemic Florida Scrub Jay. This jay lives only in a unique oak scrub community adapted to regular fires and well-drained sandy soils. Unfortunately, this rare habitat is under increasing pressure for agriculture and housing developments, corresponding in population declines for this species.
Afterwards, we continue our journey south and then back east 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.
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 work throughout the day along the length of the main park road that terminates in Flamingo, 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, Northern Barred Owl, and Chuck-will’s-widow.
Birding the Florida Keys
After an early breakfast we 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 see 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 vociferous Black-whiskered Vireo.
For the rest of the day, we keep our schedule open, as we make our way south to Key West, to accommodate for the presence (or absence) of migrant songbirds or even 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 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 III 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.
Overnight: Key West
Florida Keys to Homestead
We drive north back to Miami, stopping at various state parks and preserves in the Florida Keys to look for migrant songbirds and breeding specialties or perhaps even chance upon finding a Caribbean stray. We will also make a stop at the National Key Deer Refuge to see the miniature and endemic Key Deer, the smallest subspecies of the 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.
After some optional birding early in the morning for any bird species we may have missed, we drive back to Miami, where the tour ends.
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.