Day 1 – Participants to arrive in Miami today, where we will spend the night at a hotel near the airport.
Day 2 – Southern Florida, specifically areas of Miami, are home to a number of exotic species that are countable on the ABA list and we will devote much of this morning to finding as many of these species as possible. A few of the potential introduced exotics we could find include Red-whiskered Bulbul, Common Myna, Spot-breasted Oriole, Egyptian Goose, White-winged Parakeet, Monk Parakeet and Nanday Parakeet. From southern Miami we will drive south to the keys, where we will spend the night at Key Largo. In the late afternoon we may do a little birding around the Key Largo Botanical Gardens, where species such as Gray Kingbird, White-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo may be found. In the evening we’ll make an outing in an attempt to locate Antillean Nighthawk, a species found in the ABA area, only on the Florida Keys. Night at Key Largo.
Day 3 – This morning we will have another look at the botanical gardens in Key Largo before beginning the drive to Key West, via the Overseas Hwy, a 180 km journey, taking in 42 overseas bridges. The longest of these bridges is just over 11 km from one end to the other. The drive is scenic with crystal clear turquoise colored waters, and palm studded islands surrounded by coral reefs. Birds we can expect to see while traversing the keys include Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, White Ibis and the ubiquitous Laughing Gull. Groves of trees can hold Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-crowned Pigeons, Great Crested Flycatchers, White-eyed Vireos, as well as migrant warblers such as Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cape May Warbler and Prairie Warbler. With luck we’ll bump into a Mangrove Cuckoo on our explorations of the Florida Keys. Night in Key West.
Day 4 – Today we will visit the Dry Tortugas, a small chain of 7 islands approx. situated 68 miles from Key West. Riding on a high speed catamaran we will visit the tropical island chain which is protected under national park status, spending some time on Garden Key, which is where Fort Jefferson is located. Some of these islands host breeding colonies of tropical seabirds such as Sooty and Roseate terns, Brown Noddies, and Magnificent Frigatebirds. If we are lucky we could spot something uncommon like a Brown or Masked booby, or perhaps the rare Black Noddy. We will have time to wander about on Garden Key, a location that is often hopping with bird activity as tired migrants take refuge here before continuing on to the mainland. A variety of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, thrushes and flycatchers can be found here during April. Our boat is to return to Key West by 5:15 PM. Night in Key West.
Day 5 – Today we will travel from Key West to the Florida Everglades, making birding stops along the way. Once in the Everglades there are a number of excellent birding sites we may visit. The saw-grass habitat here provides habitat for the Snail Kite, another species found in the USA only in the Sunshine State. We will stay for two nights at the town Flamingo, the only real habitation within Everglades National Park. Eco Pond, located right next to Flamingo, is an excellent place to get an introduction to everglades birding. West Indian species such as Gray Kingbird, White-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo could be encountered in the vegetation around the pond. Wading birds such as both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Green Heron and Tricolored Heron stalk prey in the shallows around the pond. Raptors including Red-shouldered Hawk and the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite can be found here. Perhaps if the conditions are right we will venture out this evening to listen for Eastern Whip-poor-Will and Chuck-will’s-Widow. Night in Flamingo.
Day 6 – Before breakfast we will do a little birding in the Flamingo area, perhaps finding some migrant songbirds that could include anything from the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird to dazzling warblers such as Black-throated Blue Warbler, the buzzy-voiced Prairie Warbler and the tiny Northern Parula. After breakfast we will explore some of the trails through mangrove swamps where with some luck we could find the uncommon and elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, a species found in the USA only in southern Florida. Though rare and not to be expected, this area produces somewhat regular sightings of American Flamingos! More expected species include Wood Stork, Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant and Great Blue Herons of two unique races; the ‘Great White Heron’ which is pure white much like a Great Egret, and the ‘Wurdemann’s Heron’, which is basically a Great Blue Heron with a white head. This afternoon we’ll visit Royal Palm Hammock and the Anhinga Trail, a trail and boardwalk that offers excellent opportunities for birding and especially for photography. Though rare during April, we’ll watch the skies overhead for Short-tailed Hawks, a tropical species that occurs in the USA with regularity only in Florida. In addition to the avian delights we should see a variety of other wildlife while in the Everglades including impressive American Alligators and the crafty Raccoon. Butterflies are common here, with the highlight perhaps being the gorgeous Malachite. Night in Flamingo.
Day 7 – From the Everglades we’ll make our way up the west coast of Florida to Fort Myers, pausing along the way at a couple of fantastic birding sites, the first of which is the Kirby Storter Roadside Park and Boardwalk in Big Cypress National Preserve. The boardwalk here begins in prairie habitat and ends up in a cypress swamp. The mixed woodlands along the boardwalk, are good places to look for species such as Downy Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird and Northern Cardinal. Passing warblers could include Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Pine, Prairie and Yellow-rumped Warblers of the ‘Myrtle’ race, which may soon be elevated to full species status. In the prairie habitat we could find Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Mockingbird and noisy Boat-tailed Grackles.
Our next stop is at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a 14,000 acre wildlife sanctuary, with a 2 ¼ mile long boardwalk that takes you through the largest remaining virgin Bald Cypress Swamp in North America. The boardwalk also gives access to other habitats including marsh and wet prairie, and pinewood flatlands. Wetland habitat here is home to species such as the gorgeous Wood Duck, as well as White Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and the noisy Limpkin, a species in the USA, found only in Florida. Cypress woodlands are home to species like Red-bellied and the rotund Pileated Woodpecker, as well as Barred and Eastern Screech-Owls. Brushy areas along the boardwalk are good for two stunning species, the Indigo Bunting and the Painted Bunting, the latter of which is perhaps the most colorful of North America’s songbirds. With any luck we’ll find the elusive Northern Bobwhite or a displaying Wild Turkey. In the late afternoon we’ll finish off our journey to Fort Myers where we will spend the next 3 nights. On our first tour to the area, way back in 2005, we spotted a Crested Caracara along the drive to Fort Myers.
Day 8 – Our explorations will take us to various hotspots in the Fort Myers area today, beginning with a trip out to Sanibel Island and the famous Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. From the causeway as we cross to the island we should see Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls sailing on the breeze. The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is about 5200 acres, and protects one of the largest remaining tracts of mangrove forest in the USA. Shallow lagoons here are attractive to shorebirds and we will watch for species such as Dunlin, American Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher and Willet amongst many others. Wading birds also abound at Ding Darling with the likes of White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Snowy Egret, and Reddish Egret all highly likely. The mangrove forests of Ding Darling are attractive to migrant warblers, vireos and other species in passage. Though not to be expected, we could encounter a Mangrove Cuckoo here. At any point during our tour if a rarity shows up such as a Western Spindalis or a Zenaida Dove within easy striking distance, we will most likely try to see any vagrants. Later on in the afternoon, if time permits, we will visit Fort Myers Beach where more shorebirds hopefully await including Wilson’s, Snowy and Piping plovers, American Oystercatchers and our namesake American Avocets. Night in Fort Myers.
Day 9 – We’ll visit a vast wilderness area covered in forests of pine trees, located northeast of Fort Myers. We will explore these pine forests which are home to the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, as well as other specialties such as Brown-headed Nuthatch and another pine specialist, the Bachman’s Sparrow. In addition to these highly sought-after species, other fairly common ‘eastern’ species such as Eastern Towhee, Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike and Brown Thrasher are year-round residents here. To finish off our dayfinish off our day we will explore a park home to Florida’s only endemic bird species, the Florida Scrub-Jay. In addition to the scrub-jay we’ll also be on the lookout for birds like the stately Sandhill Crane, the USA’s national bird the Bald Eagle, and the shy Northern Bobwhite. Night in Fort Myers.
Day 10 – Our final morning in Florida, we’ll travel from Fort Myers back to Miami today, with one or two birding stops along the way. We’ll aim for a mid-afternoon arrival in Miami for anyone catching early evening flights back home.