Ten birders, including visiting birders from Georgia, Idaho and Washington, joined Paul Bithorn and me for this weekend's tour to Florida's Keys and the Dry Tortugas, which began and ended at Doc Thomas House. Our first stop on Friday was at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, where we spent an hour or so searching for the four Caribbean vagrants (Thick-billed Vireo, Bahama Mockingbird, Bananaquit and Western Spindalis) that have been attracting hordes of birders all week. Though birders would find all four species at some point during the day, none were spotted during our stay, so we headed south to Key Largo. Stops before lunch at the Buzzard's Roost included Card Sound Bridge, Crocodile Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Carysfort Circle, Gulfstream Drive and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.
After lunch, we continued south, making stops at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, Sea Oats Beach, Channel Two Bridge, Layton Trail on Long Key, Grassy Key, Key Colony, Marathon Airport, Marathon Government Center, Ohio Key and Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key. Though we ended our drive at sixty-four species, only a handful of migrants were among them.
Upon arrival in Key West after a long, hot day, we checked into our hotel (the Ibis Bay Beach Resort), then headed to the Hogfish Grill on Stock Island for dinner. Before retiring for the night, we stopped at Key West Airport in search of nighthawks, but found none. The brisk winds that we experienced at the airport continued for the rest of the weekend.
All of Saturday was spent in the Dry Tortugas. On the ride out, winds were at our back, making for a relatively smooth ferry ride. Such was not the case on the return to Key West. Other than the large flock of Masked Boobies on Hospital Key, few birds were seen on the ride out to the national park, but the birding picked up considerably once we arrived at Garden Key. Most of the action was at the fountain inside Fort Jefferson, where we enjoyed visits by a nice variety of warblers, thrushes, tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks and orioles. The south coaling dock hosted at least a dozen Roseate Terns while up to five Bridled Terns were found among the Brown Noddies at the north coaling dock. A perched Antillean Nighthawk was a nice surprise in a tree in the brickpile area. This bird would be ABA # 700 for one of our participants. Back at the fountain, a Dickcissel was spotted just before we had to re-board the Yankee Freedom. After a bumpy ride back to Key West, the group had dinner at the Stoned Crab at Ibis Bay.
Sunday began with breakfast at Goldman's Deli, followed by a visit to Ft. Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and Indigenous Park on Key West. Migrants continued to be scarce, so we were soon began our drive back to Miami. Stops along the way included Boca Chica Beach, Saddlebunch Key and Big Pine Key, where we saw several Key Deer. Lunch was at Porky's in Marathon. After battling heavy traffic in Islamorada and leaving the Keys behind, we made a couple of stops in south Dade before sunset. We still needed Mangrove Cuckoo (we had a flyover on Saddlebunch, only seen by me), so a visit to Black Point Park provided our final chance for this elusive species. Two cuckoos were heard and one was finally seen by most in the group. We passed by Cutler Wetlands on our return to Doc Thomas House, a large flock of White Ibis passing overhead was the only highlight there.
According to my count, we tallied exactly 100 species during the tour. If I missed anything, I encourage participants to add to my list:
Little Blue Heron
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Yellow Warbler (northern race)
Yellow Warbler ("Golden" race)