Florida: Central, South, and the Keys Birding Loop

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Florida: Central, South, and the Keys Birding Loop

Florida is a popular destination for birdwatching, because of the many species that can be found in the state at various times of the year. According to the International Ornithological Union Florida’s current birdlist contains 525 species, which include Bald Eagle, Northern Crested Caracara, Snail Kite, Western Osprey, American White and Brown Pelicans, sea gulls, Whooping and Sandhill Cranes, Roseate Spoonbill, Florida Scrub Jay (state endemic), and others. One subspecies of Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo osceola, is found only in the state of Florida. The state is also a wintering location for many species of eastern North American birds

Please note that the detailed itinerary below cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
Itinerary (10 days/9 nights)
Day 1. Tampa
We’ll collect you from Tampa airport and take you to the hotel for the night. We’ll go over the trip and give you your checklists and itineraries for the trip.
Overnight: Tampa

Day 2. Tampa to Ft. Myers
We begin early working our way down to Fort De Soto Park. This park is the first major landfall for many migrants, and we’ll check the woods for early passerine migrants looking to fatten up from the long, energy-sapping trip across the gulf. This is also a great place for shorebirds, and we’ll check several spots for Long-billed Curlew, Grey Plover, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers, Sanderling, and several more Plover species like Snowy and Wilson’s. The rare Nanday Parakeet (an established population from escaped stock) can also be found here.
From here we’ll continue south to Oscar Scherer State Park to look for the largest population of the endangered Florida Scrub Jay, Florida's only endemic bird species. It can be found year-round throughout much of the peninsula at sites with well-managed oak scrub or shrub-scrub habitats. Florida Scrub Jay forms cooperative family units, which work together as a team to raise the young. The family will post a sentinel, which perches from a high vantage point to keep an eye out for predators, while the rest of the family forages for nuts, berries, and insects. The Florida Scrub Jay is listed as vulnerable, and recent estimates indicate the current population is approximately 8,000 individuals
Once we’ve found our target here we’ll continue south to the Fort Myers area, looking for Snail Kite and check Harns Marsh Preserve for several wading birds like Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egret, and possibly a rail in the marshy scrub.
Then we’ll make our way over to the Babcock-Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area to look for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker before dark, when they come in to roost. While scouting the area we’ll look for Brown-headed Nuthatch and King Rail as well. We might also hear an owl or nightjar here if we are lucky.
Overnight: Ft. Myers.

Day 3. Sanibel Island and Shark Valley
Today we drive across the causeway to J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Here we’ll park at the entrance and walk the Indigo Trail, where we’ll check for Mangrove Cuckoo. We’ll also hit the Baily Tract. This area contains thickets and marshes and is good for Grey Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, and Black-necked Stilt.
From here we head back to the mainland and south to Shark Valley. The drive along the Tamiami Trail reveals some scenic vistas of the Everglades. Just past the 40-mile bend there is the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. We’ll make a stop here for Snail Kite, which can be seen over the marsh to the north of here.
When we get to Shark Valley we’ll stop for lunch and then check the boardwalk for several wading species like Limpkin, Tricolored Heron, and others, as well as Anhinga and possibly even an American alligator. Snail Kite is also possible here. If we stay till dusk around 7:30pm, this is a good time to check the Snail Kite roost back at the Indian reservation, but if we’ve already seen them before this won’t be a big concern.
From here we’ll continue east to Florida City for the evening.
Overnight: Florida City

Day 4. Everglades National Park
Today we bird the Anhinga Trail, the Gumbo Limbo Trail, and the Mahogany Hammock Trail in the Everglades National Park. We’ll start by driving to the Mahogany Hammock Trail along the main park road to check the reeds here for singing “Cape Sable” Seaside Sparrow; we need to get here early, then we can have our best chance to find a male singing. Snail Kite is also seen around here. We’ll then head back to the Gumbo Limbo Trail, where we’ll walk the woods, looking for migrant warblers, thrushes, and tanagers, before heading over to the Anhinga Trail and walking along the boardwalk. Birds here are accustomed to visitors, so you can get great views of Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons, Least Bittern, Anhinga, American White Ibis, Double-crested Cormorant, and Purple Gallinule, and overhead we should get a good chance at Swallow-tailed Kite and possibly Short-tailed Hawk.
On the way back to Florida City we’ll stop by “Robert is Here” for some famous fruit smoothies and pick up some fruit snacks. We’ll also be checking here for Common Myna as well, before we begin our long drive down to Key West, about three hours. We’ll stop at Sugarloaf Key for Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo. Once we’ve checked into our lodgings we’ll head over to Little Hamaca Park in Key West for White-crowned Pigeon, and on the way back to the hotel we’ll check the airport for Chuck-wills-widow and Antillean Nighthawk.
Overnight: Key West

Day 5. Dry Tortugas Pelagic Trip
We need to be prepared to leave early to find parking and be on time for orientation aboard the boat. For our boat trip to Fort Jefferson we board a large vessel with ample deck space and a covered indoor area that serves breakfast and lunch.
Travel time at sea is about 2.5 hours each way. We will scan for sea birds en route, with hopes of seeing species like Masked and Brown Booby, Audubon’s Shearwater, Roseate Tern, Bridled Tern, and Band-rumped Storm Petrel.
Once we arrive at Fort Jefferson we’ll have about four hours to watch the Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy colony at the old coal pilings and thoroughly search for migrants and shorebirds. There is the possibility of some vagrants like Red-footed Booby and Black Noddy too. Magnificent Frigatebird hovers close over the fort, and from the top of the ramparts you can get great views of these birds as they drift on the wind.
Wood, Swaison’s and Grey-cheeked Thrushes, Indigo Bunting, Shiny Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, and up to 20 species of Warblers, including Swainson’s, Blackpoll, Worm-eating, Tennessee, Magnolia, Palm, and Pine, as well as American Redstart and Ovenbird, may be seen on a good day, and very close views are often possible, as this is one of the first landfalls for many species as they cross the gulf. The bird fountain is one of the best places to see birds close as they come to drink and bathe. We’ll leave around two o’clock to take the boat back to Key West.
After dinner we might try again for Antillean Nighthawk if we didn’t find one the night before, or we can try for Chuck-wills-widow at Fort Zachary Taylor.
Overnight: Key West

Day 6. Key West to Miami
We make our way up the keys to Miami, birding along the way at some migrant traps and shorebird roosts as well as some of the reedy areas around Lower Sugarloaf Key for Clapper Rail, arriving in time for lunch. After lunch we’ll check West Kendall Baptist Hospital for Hill Myna, Spot-breasted Oriole, and Red-whiskered Bulbul, and then continue north to Fort Lauderdale for Red-crowned Amazon and White-winged Parakeet. We of course scan around the area for anything we may not have seen yet, before getting to the hotel for the evening.
Overnight: Miami

Day 7. Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Okeechobee
We head north to Wakodahatchee Wetlands today. We’ll start near the hotel in a spot for Cave Swallow, which roosts under a nearby highway bridge. We’ll scan for them from across a small waterway. Once we’ve had good looks at them we’ll continue north to Wakodahatchee Wetlands. The boardwalk will give us a chance for species like Mottled Duck, Purple Gallinule, Least and American Bitterns, Sora, Virginia Rail, Wood Stork, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Fish Crow, and Tricolored Heron. From here we’ll cross over to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and check the Marsh Trail for similar species, but also for Glossy Ibis, Limpkin, King Rail, and Black-necked Stilt. We’ll have some time this afternoon to check for any local species we may have missed, before we continue north to Okeechobee.
Overnight: Okeechobee

Day 8. Okeechobee to Tampa
This morning we head north to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, which is a great area to look for King Rail. Bachman’s Sparrow is abundant here, along with the much more endangered “Florida” Grasshopper Sparrow, an endangered subspecies found nowhere else in the world. White-tailed Kite, Northern Crested Caracara, and Sandhill Crane (the resident Florida subspecies breeds here) are all possible. Much of the area may often be flooded, so we’ll check the park conditions before we go. In the afternoon we’ll make some stops around Lake Wales to look for Short-tailed Hawk. There will also be good chances for other raptors, including Swallow-tailed Kite, Bald Eagle, the Florida subspecies of Red-shouldered Hawk, and Northern Crested Caracara; other species include Limpkin, Sandhill Crane, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Bachman’s Sparrow. If we’ve missed Red-cockaded Woodpecker so far, we’ll check the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area for this endangered bird before heading back to Tampa.
Overnight: Tampa

Day 9. Honeymoon Island State Park
Today we head to Honeymoon Island State Park, where we’ll take the Osprey Trail, checking the slash pine woods for Grey Kingbird, “Florida” Prairie Warbler, Western Osprey nests, and Great Horned Owl. At the end we’ll walk west along the shoreline, searching in the Spartina grass for Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows. Once back at the car we’ll walk across the grounds west to a pond, where we’ll check for rails. Then we can continue to the end of the peninsula to look for shorebirds, including Piping Plover, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Willet, and others.
We’ll now continue north to Hernando Beach, but we’ll first stop at Weeki Wachee to check the open areas for Henslow’s, Le Conte’s, Savannah, Grasshopper, and Swamp Sparrows. We’ll also have a chance at several duck species here, including Mottled Duck and possibly Common Merganser. Warblers include Prairie, Pine, Palm, and Myrtle. Northern Parula and Common Yellowthroat can be found here too.
We’ll get back to Tampa around 5:00pm in time for a farewell dinner.
Overnight: Tampa

Day 10. Departure
Today our flights leave for home.

Duration: 10 days
Limit: 4 – 6
Date: 27 April – 6 May 2015
Start: Tampa
End: Tampa
Price: $2427.00 per person sharing
Single supplement: $540.00

Price includes:
Guiding fees
Entrance fees
All transport while on tour

Price excludes:
International flights
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts
Alcoholic drinks
Personal insurance

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