Florida: April 1997

Jill & I left Cambridge Bus Station at 0700 and we arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 0945. We departed Heathrow on BA 293 1230 to Miami. We travelled on a Boeing 747-400, an amazing experience. Plane called ‘City Of Westminster’.

While I’m writing this page the pilot has informed us that we are travelling at 35,000 ft at a cool 575mph. After 40 minutes in the air we had cleared the west coast of Ireland and were well and truly USA bound.

Jill and I spent 2 hours on the flight deck with the captain and first officer. As we approached the first sight of American land the captain pointed out landmarks such as The Canadian border, Cape Cod and Long Island. 

We arrived in Miami at 1730 local time. We got our hire car and off we went! 

We left the airport at approx 1825 

DAY 1        14/04

We joined the US1aka Florida Turnpike, and headed south towards Cutler Ridge to meet Bill & Susan Smith. 

The following species were noted en-route.

We arrived at Cutler Ridge and met Bill and Susan Smith. We followed them to Cutler Ridge Boulevard, the only site on the American Mainland where you can see nesting CAVE SWALLOW. There were a few American Coots nearby too.

A few miles down the road we stopped and waited until dusk and heard several Common Nighthawks calling as they flew over. After a further 5 minutes another crippler was in the bag – courtesy of Bill’s monster torch! EASTERN SCREECH OWL - A small, thick set, reddish owl about size of Little Owl but more squared head profile. Small ear tufts noted, bright yellow eyes and small pale bill. This fearless bird came to within 10 feet of us and gave excellent views in Bill’s torchlight. 

We stayed the night at a nearby Motel at Florida City. We were in need of plenty of food anda good nights sleep after our hectic first day! 6 lifers in our first hour in the field!

DAY 2        15/04 

National 6 Motel, Florida City 0645 start

Eastern Everglades area – 0700 -1030

Amazing! Over 20 lifers in our first 2 hours birding in the Everglades.





NORTHERN BOBWHITE Colinus virgianus


RED BELLIED WOODPECKER Melanerpes carolinus


AMERICAN REDSTART Setophaga ruticilla


RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD Agelaius phoenicus


COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlyipis trichas


GRAY CATBIRD Dumetella carolinensis


Key Largo Hammocks Reserve 1040-1230.


18 Mile Stretch – Homestead



Bill & Sue’s Garden, Homestead – Lunch stop!



Homestead – local area


While Bill had an afternoon nap Jill and I went for a walk around the local park with Susan. It was very productive with 5 more lifers!



Eastern Everglades area


We spent the afternoon checking the farmland and more importantly the fences around Homestead. After about 20 minutes we located a group of birds on a distant wire fence. We slowly drove along the side of the field and from the cover of a small group of trees set a scope up on the group – 3 WESTERN KINGBIRDS!



WESTERN KINGBIRD Tyrannus verticalis


As we watched the group feeding they were joined by another bird, which had flown in low from the fields. Unable to see it properly we moved along and YES, there it was, a SCISSOR TAILED FLYCATCHER!!!!!!!





One of many ‘target’ birds Jill & I wanted to see on this holiday.

Also in this area:



Everglades National Park 1500-1900


We entered the National Park and started our journey south towards Flamingo, the southernmost point of the Everglades. This slow journey along this very scenic roadway produced some fantastic birds.



Eco Pond, Everglades NP



Flamingo area, Everglades NP



Anhinga Trail, Everglades NP


We arrived at this famous reserve at about 1900 and as we walked along the boardwalk Great Blue Herons stood motionless only a few feet away; 100’s of Cattle Egrets were roosting in large bushes and trees while Common Nighthawks hawked overhead with their now familiar “kwik” call.


After about 200 yards our first sight of the mythical ANHINGA, well 10 to be precise, roosting with wings outstretched showing the very beautifully patterned upperwings and delicately barred tail, and what about that bill!



ANHINGA Anhinga anhinga



BROWN PELICAN Pelecanus occidentalis



BURROWING OWL Athene culicularia


As dusk was now falling we drove to a hardwood plantation where there were at least 20 Common Nighthawks flying around on our arrival. Then the moment we had been waiting for, that magical sound “chuck wills widow…. chuck wills widow”, we could hear at least 2 ?’s flying and calling this amazing call. A good description indeed!


We started to head back to Homestead along the reserve track and at least 5 more 

Chuck-wills Widow perched on the road illuminated by that monster of a torch again!


CHUCK WILLS WIDOW Caprimulgus carolinensis

We had a Mexican meal with Bill and Sue in the evening at Homestead. A superb day with 54 new birds seen!


DAY 316/04


Eastern Everglades area 0600- 0730



      ROYAL TERN Sterna maxima




Key Largo


We had started our journey proper south through the Florida Keys. We kept seeing familiar roadside birds such as:



Then Jill saw something ‘interesting’ on a telegraph wire. I quickly managed to pull off the road and we set up a scope…..Oh Wow… BELTED KINGFISHER! 


BELTED KINGFISHER Ceryle alcyon – Another of our target species.


Islamadora Key



Bahia Honda Key – State Recreational Park


As we walked from the car towards the beach it was fairly obvious that there had been a fall. Jill and I slowly worked our way along the heavily vegetated main path and saw some quality stuff:



Moments later while watching a Palm Warbler, a warbler landed on the beach and I can only describe the next 30 seconds as incredible. My hands were shaking, it was such a crippler and what’s more I knew exactly what it was – a stunning adult 



A real crippler of the highest degree. Pale grey upperparts, black crown, wings and tail, 2 broad white wing-bars, thick black flank streaking on white underparts, broad white supercilium, triangular black facial patch and the brightest yellow throat you’ve ever seen!



? YELLOW THROATED WARBLER Dendroica dominica


As Jill had popped off to the ladies I ran to fetch her but when we returned to the area everything had gone; the Palm Warblers, Indigo Buntings, the YT Warbler had all moved on – I couldn’t believe it!


As we walked a little further another surprise was waiting for us. A Chimney Swift was moving along the beach – we watched it for several minutes whizzing back and forth before it too eventually moved off purposefully north – This was visible migration, and we were witness to it!


After walking another 100 yards we found a feeding flock of waders and other waterbirds. We carefully checked through them and the following species were noted.



We spent 2 hours here and then headed down to Key West, where we arrived at 1800. We had been advised to check the area between Sunshine Drive and White Street as earlier there had been a fall. Taking our evening meal on the hoof we checked the local area and the results were stunning!



ORCHARD ORIOLE Icterus spurius


?NORTHERN PARULA Parula americana


RUBY THROATED HUMMINGBIRD Well what can you say? Trying to keep your bins on a hummer is hard work but immense fun and eventually we enjoyed close up views when it settled in a nearby fruit tree. The description is self-explanatory!




Another of our real target species under the belt!


Junior College Boulevard


We checked the area around the college but there was no sign of any Antillean Nighthawks. We may have been too early by about a week!



Returning to the car I flushed a LBJ from waste ground nearby. I watched it land and scurry away, Jill & I slowly tracked it down and the following description was taken


A small chunky passerine, and very likely an American sparrow. Mainly buff breast and underparts, flat head, small thin bill for a sparrow. Obvious pale median crown stripe with open-faced appearance together with clear pale eye-ring. Upperparts heavily streaked. Relatively short tail noted. Pale pink legs.


We flicked through the National Geographic and only one species of sparrow possessed all the above features. It was a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW and after a few minutes it flew off towards the college. Excellent!


GRASSHOPPER SPARROW Ammodramus savannarum


As we had an early start the following morning we hit the sack in the Youth Hostel in Key West. We were shattered, this our 3rd day of the holiday had bought the species total to 101 with 77 lifers for me, and a few more for Jill!


We had to leave Key West at 0800 the next morning to head for the Dry Tortugas! 


DAY 417/04


Journey on Catamaran from Key West to Fort Jefferson





SOOTY TERN Sterna fuscata



BROWN NODDY Anouos stolidus





Our journey also included fantastic views of flying fish. A memorable experience!


Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park



























This aerial photograph shows just how isolated the Dry Tortugas are. They are over 75 miles west of Key West in the Mexican Gulf.


As we waited for the skipper to moor the catamaran I scanned the nearest Sea Grape tree and it was dripping with birds! The first was an immaculate adult 

? PROTHONATORY WARBLER, nearby 2 ? American Redstarts flashed their brilliant red and black tails, a crippling ? Black and White Warbler crept about. Also in this tree 5 Ruby throated Hummingbirds and a dapper ? HOODED WARBLER.

Hang on – we haven’t even got onto the island yet!



? PROTHONATORY WARBLER Protonotaria citrea



? HOODED WARBLER Wilsonia citrina

When we eventually moored we walked along the jetty towards the fort, Sooty Terns flew overhead uttering their piercing “wacky-wack” calls, Magnificent Frigatebirds drifted over with no effort whatsoever and I was mesmerised by the fact the tree in front of me was alive with birds!


Suddenly there was a flash of blue on the jetty handrail – there, only 5 feet away was a stunning adult ? CERULEAN WARBLER - What a crippler!


? CERULEAN WARBLER Dendroica cerulea


Nearby, Jill spotted another crippler, a ? BLACK THROATED GREEN WARBLER




Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any better we arrived at the next Sea Grape tree, which held the following:



SCARLET TANAGER Piranga olivacea


SUMMER TANAGER Piranga rubra


We walked into the fort and at a ‘drip’ set up by local photographers there was a lot of excitement; we went over to investigate and a SWAINSON’S WARBLER had just been found. Not the most colourful but one of the rarest birds on the island, and great to watch as it crept about in the leaf litter at point blank range


SWAINSON’S WARBLER Limnothylpis swainsonii


Several other species joined the Swainson’s at the ‘drip’, these included:



After a short break for a drink we headed on into the fort. The Sea Grape trees inside the fort were teeming with birds!


Here we watched the following at point blank range:



ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK Phoeticus ludovanicus



BLACKPOLL WARBLER Dendroica striata


The next bird was a stunning ? BLUE-WINGED WARBLER which showed for 5 minutes and then vanished.


? BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora pinus


The next few minutes produced a flurry of activity, which produced several more superb new species for us.




?BLUE GROSBEAK Guiraca caerulea



YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO Coccyzus americana


?TENNESSEE WARBLER Vermivora peregrina



YELLOW WARBLER Dendroica petechia

In the shade of the vast fort walls a group of 4 WOOD THRUSH fed furiously and gave superb views. They were very soon joined by a real crippler!


WOOD THRUSH Hylocichla mustelina



OVENBIRD Seirus auricapillus


Common in the states they may be but our first views of this plump little warbler were simply unforgettable. The golden centred crown contrasts with the broad black crown stripes, white underparts heavily streaked with black, bold white eye-ring and bubblegum pink legs noted. Excellent!


Nearby another small group of birds were feeding out in the open, these included:




VEERY Catharus fuscescens


This is a species which is high on the wish list of many a British Twitcher. The first for Britain was in 1970 and the second was on Lundy in 1987 and there hasn’t been one since!





Having enjoyed excellent views of these ground feeding species we moved on to another set of trees and bushes. On our arrival a flash of blue caught my eye and seemed worthy of further investigation. It was indeed!


?BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Dendroica caerulescens

What a stunning bird, with black face and upper flanks and ink-blue upperparts and rear flanks. All this contrasting with the otherwise wholly white underparts. We watched it as it darted round the bush picking off insects.


At a nearby drinking fountain another stunning bird was busying itself at point blank range – a personal favourite of mine, the superb Black and White Warbler.



Hanging from a nearby Sea Grape tree was another brightly coloured warbler, the Cape May Warbler.  We had seen several of these earlier in the trip but this individual gave astounding views at point blank range.


CAPE MAY WARBLER Dendroica tigrina


As we left the fort a group of birds landed nearby. Most were clearly Indigo Buntings

But there was a species with them which was very special indeed, DICKCISSEL


?DICKCISSEL Spiza Americana


To our annoyance the Dickcissel decided not to hang around and flew off after 2 minutes. The views although brief were still excellent.


We moved on to the outside of the fort where there were still birds arriving all around us, they included:



As we neared another little Gully a flash of yellow caught my eye. I thought it was just going to be a Palm Warbler or maybe a Prairie Warbler. NO not either of these!


It was a stunning bird and one I had seen in Britain in February 1989. A corking adult 

? Golden-winged Warbler. Surely one of the best of all the wood warblers.


GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora chrysoptera




The warbler soon flew out of the gully and onto the beach to feed on the sandhoppers. It was soon joined by an adult Spotted Sandpiper in full summer plumage, and the Gray-cheeked Thrush and bizarrely the three fed together at a few yards range.



SPOTTED SANDPIPER Actitis macularia


GRAY CHEEKED THRUSH Catharus minimus


With only 40 minutes left on the island we decided to have a sit down and relax as the past 3 hours had been mind-blowing and it produced our second sparrow of the trip – a rather confiding SAVANNAH SPARROW


SAVANNAH SPARROW Passerculus sandwichensis


And our time on the island wasn’t over yet!


One of the birds of the trip had just been found, a WORM-EATING WARBLER!


WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorus  


What a stonker! Large billed with broad black and yellow crown stripes. The many photographs and illustrations of this bird just do not do it justice. It has to be seen to be believed. An incredible bird on an incredible day!


Back on the beach another very showy Palm Warbler had been joined by 2 more Spotted Sandpipers, another Gray cheeked Thrush and 5 EASTERN KINGBIRDS!


EASTERN KINGBIRD Tyrannus tyrannus


Our last 10 minutes was spent watching the ? Golden-winged Warbler and a very obliging Common Nighthawk perched out in the open as well as:


We missed another lifer, a Kentucky Warbler by a few seconds but we had to tear ourselves away.



?INDIGO BUNTING Passerina cyanea




COMMON NIGHTHAWK Chordeiles minor


Jill summed today up well. She described it like being in a sweetshop and not knowing which way to turn next. In this incredible 4-hour period we had seen 50 species including 22 warblers. We both said we would come again!!!


On the return journey we went via Hospital Key where another Florida speciality is found. The rare MASKED BOOBY has 3-5 pairs here and we obtained excellent views as we cruised past. Other highlights of the return journey included a single Leatherback Turtle as well as numerous Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies and of course flying fish.


We had enjoyed a fantastic day and one I haven’t beaten since for sheer enjoyment.

We got incredibly sunburnt today, the blue sea, the blue sky and 95ºc temperatures proving a very powerful combination.


Once back on dry land we headed back north to Florida City as we were meeting Bill and Sue for another day’s birding.




DAY 518/04


 Card Point, Dade County




AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN Pelecanus erythrorhrynchos



CLAPPER RAIL Rallus longirostris


Key Largo Botanical State Preserve



The main reason we had come to this site was to see the ultra elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, a species many birders fail to see when visiting the area. Bill had come prepared with a recording of the call – a very crow like cawing but after 20 minutes the cuckoos were having none of it. 


Bill decided to give it one last blast on the tape before moving onto another site and Bingo! A stonking MANGROVE CUCKOO perched out in the open for 2 minutes!



MANGROVE CUCKOO Coccyzus minor


We headed off to Bill and Sue’s for a well-earned lunch break. We sat in their garden and noted the now familiar ‘backyard’ birds:



Just as we were walking indoors Bill pointed to his bird feeders and there right in front of us was a beautifully multicoloured Bird. ?PAINTED BUNTING



?PAINTED BUNTING Passerina ciris


We watched the bunting feeding with a Blue Jay, which is itself pretty superb as shown below.


BLUE JAY Cyanocitta cristata


We spent the afternoon driving around the open dry fields and headed out towards Miami. 2 hours in this area produced 3 more lifers and a superb mammal tick!


Our first new bird of the afternoon was a skulking ? RUFOUS SIDED TOWHEE, which eventually gave itself up and showed out in the open for several minutes.


? RUFOUS SIDED TOWHEE Pipilo erythropthalmus


As we sat watching the Towhee we were surprised to see a large mammal bounding along one of the field edges, imagine our total amazement when Bill announced it was a BOBCAT! Unfortunately it soon vanished but we were amazed to have seen our first ‘big cat’ ever. A very special moment.


Our next new bird was something, which looked very familiar – NORTHERN HARRIER, recently split from Hen Harrier it is separated by much longer legs and very rufous colouration in juvenile plumage. This bird was an immature or adult ?.


NORTHERN HARRIER Circus hundsonius


The main reason Bill had decided to spend time in this very wild area was to see a real Florida speciality. The one species that every visiting birder wants to see – and after another 20 minutes searching we were not to be disappointed!


SWALLOW-TAILED KITE Elanoides forficatus


What a superb bird! Graceful, elegant and absolutely stunning with dark grey upperparts, white underparts and underwing coverts contrasting with the wholly black tail and flight feathers. Fantastic!!!


Miami area


We spent the afternoon searching the area south of Miami where we managed to chalk up 6 more new birds.




GREAT HORNED OWL Bubo virginianus



BLUE-HEADED VIREO Vireo solitarius



FISH CROW Corvus ossifragus


Time spent in the suburbs of Miami also produced several exotic species, which appear to be thriving. These are:


Our final stop in this area was spent looking for the rare Spot-breasted Oriole but we couldn’t find any. Ample compensation was found with the very smart and noisy bird, the RED WHISKERED BULBUL. No picture available.


Other species seen here included:



Today was rounded off with an authentic Southern style Bar B Q at Shorties in Miami. A good end to another superb day.



DAY 619/04


Spanish River Park, Boca Raton



? NORTHERN CARDINAL Cardinalis cardinalis


Smith Sundy Road



We arrived at an area, shown to us on a map by Bill. He was fairly confident we could pick up 2 more species here. The first was RED-TAILED HAWK a fairly common raptor in the area; this was seen within a few minutes with 3 adults in the air together. However the second was a local rarity with only a few breeding pairs in Florida… 


RED-TAILED HAWK Buteo jamaicensis


Sure enough after scanning across the open weedy fields, I located a perched adult male WHITE-TAILED KITE. One of the contenders for bird of the trip. 


WHITE-TAILED KITE Elanus caerulescens


Loxahatchee State Refuge 





LIMPKIN Aramus guarauna



LEAST BITTERN Ixobrychus exilis


This evening we had excellent views of American Alligator. But not too close!






DAY 7                    20/04


Loxahatchee State Preserve






Jill and I followed a boardwalk into a damp area of coniferous forest. The next bird we saw was fantastic – A PILEATED WOODPECKER!





We watched the woodpecker for about 10 minutes. We then headed towards another part of the marsh. This produced the following species:






Savannah’s State Preserve




PINE WARBLER Dendroica pinus


SANDHILL CRANE Grus canadensis


DOWNY WOODPECKER Picoides pubescens


Jack Island State Recreational Park – North of Fort Pierce



This was a good opportunity to study Laughing Gulls in full summer plumage. A plumage I have not seen in Britain.




Adult-summer LAUGHING GULL Larus atricilla


DAY 8       21/04 


Joe Overstreet Road



Adult BALD EAGLE Haliaeetus leucocephalos


Also here:





CRESTED CARACARA Polyborus plancus



WILD TURKEY Meleagris gallopavo




Lake Kissimmee



WHOOPING CRANE Grus americana


?BOBOLINK Dolychonix oryzivorous


Three Lakes Management area  

Only one target species here. The rare and endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. As we had been up early we had a 20-minute nap in the car before we ventured out into the hot and dry forest. When we woke up there was a tapping sound nearby, imagine our surprise when it revealed itself!




Yeehaw Junction SR 441



Avon Park USAF Base area


FLORIDA SCRUB JAY1 very smart bird. Endemic to Florida.



FLORIDA SCRUB JAY Aphelocoma caerulescens



Lake Wales Ridge State Forest


Like the previous site it was very hot and dry here but it produced another 4 lifers as well as lots of quality padders:




HAIRY WOODPECKER Picoides villosus


BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER Polioptila caerulea



CAROLINA WREN Thryothorus ludovicianus


TUFTED TITMOUSE Parus bicolour


Today was an excellent day although very warm with temperatures hovering around 85oc all day. It ended with very close views of an Armadillo on the forest floor. 


We have chalked up another 12 lifers today. Our running total is now 182 of which 136 have been new for me.



DAY 922/04


Palmdale area



SHORT-TAILED HAWK Buteo brachyurus


Archbold Biological Station


Our main reason for coming here was to see the colourful but somewhat elusive Red-headed Woodpecker. After about an hour we found a huge area of dead trees, which looked perfect for Woodpeckers. But was it?


Yes, it was and we enjoyed excellent scope views of 2 birds chasing each other around the trees. Presumably a pair, they showed well for 10 minutes. 

Also here:

Rainey Slough

 We watched the Cooper’s Hawk for a while then our attentions were drawn to another accipiter mobbing a Black Vulture.

Surely this was a smaller bird than Cooper’s with a shorter squared tail it also lacked the contrast between the crown and upperparts shown by Cooper’s. 

It was a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK – The North American equivalent of our Sparrowhawk. Both accipiters at the same site!

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK Accipiter striatus

We left the area after about 20 minutes and headed westwards. Our next stop was on the coast at Fort Myers. A long drive but one we were hoping would bring us many new species.

Espero Beach, Fort Myers

DAY 10       23/04

South Fort Myers Beach 

Sanibel Island

I was very pleased with this one. The yellow iris, brownish mantle, thicker squared bill profile and pale legs all firm identification features. Another of our ‘target’ species.

JN Ding-Darling Wildlife Refuge

DAY 1124/04

We had an early breakfast at 0700. We left Fort Myers at 0730 and drove the 2 hours to our last official Nature Reserve of the trip.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

WOOD STORK Mycteria americana

On our journey across to Miami an OTTER ran across the road and was a lifer for us both. Fantastic views of up to 8 SNAIL KITES – A very rare bird indeed!

Miami Airport area

Well, this fantastic trip had to come to an end and we reluctantly boarded the Jumbo that would take us back to Heathrow, and back to normality with a big bump!

Jill and I travelled over 1300 miles in 11 days. We saw 201 species of bird. Of which 144 were new for me and 157 were new for Jill.


Sample from Florida: April 1997