Nine birders joined Paul Bithorn and me for Tropical Audubon’s annual three-day birding tour to the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Though we only encountered a couple of brief rain showers during the tour, we had to deal with brisk winds throughout. While the cool breezes made for comfortable birding conditions on land and even on the ferry ride to the Dry Tortugas, such was not the case on the return voyage to Key West. Sustained northeast winds of 20 mph made the passage through Rebecca Shoals a real roller coaster ride!
Day One of the tour began at Doc Thomas House, where participants saw the first of nineteen species of warblers tallied during the tour. En route to the Keys, we tried for Mangrove Cuckoo at Black Point Park, but none cooperated. Stops in Key Largo included the Card Sound Bridge, Carysfort Circle and Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park. Around Marathon, we birded Grassy Key, Marathon Airport, Sombrero Golf Course, Marathon Government Center, Ohio Key and No Name Key. Several Key Deer were spotted at the latter location. After checking into our Key West hotel and dinner on Stock Island, we made a visit at dusk to Key West Airport, where an Antillean Nighthawk flew across the road inches from the lead van!
Dry Tortugas National Park was our only stop on Day Two. The relatively smooth ride out allowed for excellent sea watching conditions. Pelagic species seen along the way included Northern Gannet, Brown Booby, Audubon’s Shearwater and Bridled Tern; flocks of Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy appeared as we approached the national park. The ferry passed close enough to Hospital Key to allow for spectacular looks at the Masked Booby colony. Once on Garden Key, we scoured every patch of foliage both inside and outside Ft Jefferson, producing a nice selection of neotropic migrants still lingering from a front-related fallout a few days earlier. A cooperative Antillean Nighthawk was photographed inside the fort, another was later found near the north coal docks. An immature White-throated Sparrow, first spotted by Paul and later photographed at the new bird fountain, was the most unexpected find of the day. After several scans for Black Noddy at the north coal docks, we finally hit pay dirt an hour before departure! Though rough seas on the return to Key West minimized sea watching opportunities, eagle-eyed Russ Titus still managed to spot a couple more Audubon’s Shearwaters.
Our morning on Day Three was spent at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park and Indigenous Park on Key West, where we added a few more migrant songbirds to our trip list. A stop at Boca Chica Key Beach added several shorebirds to our list, including White-rumped Sandpiper. A pre-lunch stop on Sugarloaf Key failed to produce a Mangrove Cuckoo; a possible Acadian Flycatcher was heard while searching. An afternoon stop at Marathon Government Center added Roseate Tern, missed on Day One. We weren’t as lucky at Sombrero Golf Course, once again failing to find a Burrowing Owl. Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker were spotted along the 18-mile stretch between Key Largo and Florida City. A late-afternoon return to Black Point Park finally produced Mangrove Cuckoo, the last Keys specialty we still needed. Two Egyptian Geese were at the Cave Swallow spot at SW 216 Street and Florida’s Turnpike, our last new bird of the tour and a lifer for two participants!
The following 131 species were tallied during the tour:
Great Blue Heron (white morph)
Little Blue Heron
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
“Cuban” Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler