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Birding the Gulf Coast of Florida in July, 2020 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
United States
While that title alone sounds like the making of a bad birding trip due to the location and being in the middle of COVID-19, overall the Gulf Coast of Florida at this time of the year is good for certain Floridian specialties along with giving a good chance to use a family vacation to fulfill a birding need you can't get from home.

The trip overall was pretty casual with only serious birding on three separate mornings but getting a total of 84 bird species and 6 mammal species, I'd say it wasn't too bad. The itinerary below will summarize what was done each day, some of the highlight species and the eBird checklists for each day.

July 4, 2020: Traveling from Miami to Captiva Island

Leaving the Miami area around midday clearly did not give much roadside birding to be done and making a small stop on Marco Island looking for the Burrowing Owls found on the island turned out to be a dip but other highlights like half a dozen Swallow-tailed Kites, Gray Kingbirds and the only Red-shouldered Hawks of the trip proved to be a good experience for casual birding in the early afternoon. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71126825)

Around late afternoon we arrived at our location in Captiva Island, South Seas Island Resort, not exactly a prime birding location but still birdy enough to give you something to look at for the next few days. A total of 39 species were seen in the resort grounds for that afternoon and the next few days which outside of the ubiquitous Ospreys, Brown Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants, the resort was also home to a pair of active Pileated Woodpeckers, multiple Royal and Sandwich Terns and almost every species of egret/heron found in the US. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71132669 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S71140340)

July 5, 2020: Birding the Resort

Today was mostly a rest day but birding was done in the early morning after some rains and in the afternoon. Overall, most of the birds were the same as the day before with finding an occupied Anhinga nest while looking at 3 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons being a nice surprise. Something else to note is the resort has in the grounds healthy populations of Marsh Rabbits and the waters around the island has more Bottlenose Dolphins than I would care to count, just know the number of individuals for both species seen in the days there exceeded a dozen by the end. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71153500 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S71171726)

July 6, 2020: Birding Babcock-Webb WMA, Prairie Pines Preserve and J.N Ding Darling NWR

Small side note for anyone keeping track of life lists and the like, this trip was mostly a family trip for me, so I had no expectations to get any new lifers as I had almost every possible species that can be found in Florida at this time of the year, instead I wanted to mostly use this trip to photograph species I have only gotten a chance to see once before and never capture with my camera. One such species is the Red-headed Woodpecker, one of my personal favorite birds and one that I tried for in multiple sites without much luck, I did get my other target species so it was good progress overall on that aspect.

I started birding early morning in Babcock-Webb WMA with the main targets being any possible pineland species I could get me eyes on and while Northern Bobwhite was very vocal, it was impossible to set my eyes on one and woodpecker variety was low that day for me with the main highlight being my first sighting of Hairy Woodpecker in Florida. Other noteworthy species were my first photographs of Eastern Bluebird and a flyover Least Bittern on the way out of the reserve. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71189093)

I decided to stop by Prairie Pines Preserve to try my luck with the recently reported Red-headed Woodpecker families in the place but similar to Babcock Webb, it was not meant to be. Instead the highlight sightings would go to some very vocal Loggerhead Shrikes and a flyover Limpkin seen as I entered the preserve. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71190726)

Final stop of the day came to be J.N. Ding Darling NWR home of a large variety of wading birds no matter the time of the year, and while the numbers were low, I still got a welcoming variety of wading birds including Roseate Spoonbill, Tricolored Heron, and my first of many Reddish Egrets for the trip. Late afternoon birding was also done around the resort. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71196061 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S71210249)

July 7, 2020: Resting Day around the Resort

Due to the lack of any big hotspots left to hit and the fact I was moving locations tomorrow, today was mostly a resting day with the only thing to note was a sighting of West Indian Manatee in the resort's marina and a lonesome Magnificent Frigatebird moving in the area. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71223550)

July 8, 2020: Traveling from Captiva Island to Siesta Key

Today was a day of moving locations but still time was made to search for a previously dipped target in the Cape Coral Public Library and their Burrowing Owls. The city of Cape Coral is well known for their extensive number of Burrowing Owl colonies, to the point that they are considered the city's mascot and by stopping on one of the most famous hotspots to find these birds it was not difficult to see 3 of them between breaks of rains. From there it was a drive further up the coast to Siesta Key where the only new birds of note were a pair of House Finches and Nanday Parakeets, two exotic species in Florida, but still more welcoming than European Starlings. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71257034 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S71264266)

July 9, 2020: Birding Siesta Key Public Beach and Sarasota

Today was probably one of the most active birding mornings I've had in a while and the experiences reminded me why I both love and dislike this hobby at times.

An early morning walk from my hotel in Siesta Key led me to walk little over 3 miles around the Siesta Key Public Beach area, a place known for being the best beach in the US but also for it being a migrant trap to shorebirds and gulls (more on that later). While it was still too early in the year for many noteworthy migrants, sightings of Marbled Godwit and a close-up Western Sandpiper in mostly breeding plumage were highlights, as were having Snowy Plovers walk close to my feet as well as seeing a variety of Larids like Least and Forster's Tern and Black Skimmers. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71280940)

After a brief stop in the room to change clothes, I took a chance into Oscar Scherer SP in the search for Florida Scrub-Jays and once again Red-headed Woodpeckers which were reported to be breeding in the Blue Trail. Both species were dipped on and the combination of sandy footing, Florida sun and no wind, soon made me regret the near hour I spent looking for these birds with the only highlight being the sighting of a Northern Flicker. As a last ditch measure, I decided to Carlton Reserve where once again the reports of nearly a dozen Red-headed Woodpeckers made it seem impossible for me to miss this bird, yet somehow I still did. Were it not for a vocal family of Carolina Wrens in the parking lot and the most confiding pair of Northern Bobwhites on the way out, I would be complaining about my experience even now! Instead, I can happily say I spent roughly 10-20 minutes moving my car slowly next to a beautiful pair of Bobwhites until they crossed the road in front of me and went deep into the forest from there. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71283684 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S71285220)

Surprisingly though, even though my luck seemed to have run out with the sighting of the Bobwhites, it looked like I had another chance of great birding moments when just outside my hotel in Siesta Key, I managed to find the first year Greater Black-backed Gull that had been reported in the area roughly a week prior and I kept seeing this bird for days to come. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71301199)

July 10, 2020: Birding Fort de Soto

Today was my last day of serious birding for the trip and an early morning drive to the legendary migrant trap of Fort de Soto in the off-season was as good a place as any to do it at. The targets within the park were the great variety of shorebirds that spend their lazy summer with the local breeders instead of choosing to go north. Highlights included sightings of nearly 20 Semipalmated Plovers, Red Knots, Black-bellied Plovers and some early migrant Short-billed Dowitcher and Black Tern along with local wading birds such as Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish and Snowy Egret and whopping total of 29 Magnificent Frigatebirds! That afternoon, the juvenile Greater Black-backed Gull greeted me close to the hotel with not much else to note. (eBird Checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71316380 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S71331240)

July 11 & 12, 2020: Resting Day and Drive Home

After the last two days of moderately hard birding, I decided to take the day off in preparation for the drive home the next day with the only highlight being once again the Greater Black-backed Gull close to the hotel along with over 50 Royal Terns resting on the beach. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71367283)

On the final day home, nothing interesting to note was seen on the drive until a brief stop was made already in Miami at the West Kendall Baptist Hospital Area where I was greeted by the last 2 new birds of the trip in the form of Monk Parakeet and Common Myna. Overall a fitting and very laid back way to finish this laid back trip on this difficult year. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71402338)

Thank you for everyone who read this report, hopefully the images taken and placed on the checklists were well received and if you need any detailed logistics let me know.
That's a good read! Nice report! Our month-long visit to the relatives in FL been compromised by the pandemic but hoping to get it done next year. Spent most of the time building the Wrangler during the lockdown, good thing the parts from buyauto and 4Wheelonline arrived on time. If all goes well, we could visit Audubon next week.
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