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In search of Florida spring migrants April 2018 (1 Viewer)


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I’ve long had a fascination with North American Warblers and Thrushes, where I’ve been fortunate enough to see 5 species of New World Warbler in the UK, along with 4 Grey-cheeked Thrushes, one of which I found myself on the Isle of Scilly. So when my wife asked what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday, I requested a trip to Florida in search of spring migrants.

On Sunday 8th April, my wife and I flew from Manchester to Orlando with Thomas Cook and spent our first night at the Hyatt hotel within the airport terminal, before catching a flight the next morning with Silver Airways to Key West, at the end of the Florida Keys.

Accommodation was for 5 nights at the Southern Most Point Guest House (highly recommended) and we hired bicycles to get around and explore Key West.

Tue 10/04/2018:

The morning of the 10th April found me at Fort Zachary State Park, which is a 5 minute bike ride from our accommodation. My plan was to bird here each morning and the park is open from 08:00 ($2.50 entrance fee).

On entering the park, I took the bike trail on the right, to the fort and on pulling up at the bike rack, I was greeted by a Prothonotary Warbler and Louisiana/Northern Water Thrush, both just a few feet away! Considering that Prothonotary Warbler was a target species for the trip, I was thrilled by this productive start! The next couple of hours were spent exploring the various trail paths on foot; by far the most productive area was the tree line between the fort moat and parking lot. Birds encountered here included: Palm Warbler (5), Ovenbird, Tennessee Warbler (3), Hooded Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black Whiskered Vireo, White-eyed Vireo and a female Painted Bunting.

ebird site link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L127449

Other birds encountered to and from the park included Magnificent Frigate Bird, Brown Pelican, Royal Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gull, Osprey and White-crowned Pigeon.

Wed 11/04/2018:

Today we took a prebooked boat trip to the Dry Tortugas, which is 70 miles off Key West; this trip I was really looking forward to, as it looks spectacular and is a bucket list spot for many US birders.

The trip takes 2.5 hours and is run by: https://www.drytortugas.com/

ebird site link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L127452

We were well looked after including both breakfast and lunch provided, plus with 4+ hours in the park. As we approached Fort Jefferson, 30 pairs of Masked Booby could be seen on one of the smaller islands, along with huge numbers of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddy, both of which breed on Bush Key, which adjoins Fort Jefferson. Magnificent Frigate Birds were also constantly overhead.

On landing at Fort Jefferson, I initially checked the bushes on the outside of the fort; however things were quiet here bird wise, with only a single Hooded Warbler and American Redstart encountered. On entering the fort, the birding picked up significantly, where the fort enclosed grounds contains some mature trees. Over the next several hours the following birds were encountered: Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Merlin (4 picking off exhausted birds), Eastern Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Rough Winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Worm-eating Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler (commonest Warbler), Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting and Orchard Oriole.

A truly stunning and magical place, which is right up there with my best ever birding trips!

Thu 12/04/2018 - Sat 14/08/2018:

Repeat visits were again made to Fort Zachary Taylor each morning, with most of the following birds encountered on each visit: Turkey Vulture, American Coot, Common Ground Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Cliff Swallow, Eastern Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-White Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Cape May Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Painted Bunting.

On Saturday afternoon we took a flight from Key West to Tampa, where we picked up a hire car with Hertz, before driving south for an hour to Anna Maria Island. This was to be our base for the next 7 nights, in a rented property through Anna Maria Vacations.

We’ve stayed on Anna Maria previously in the spring, so I was already aware of Leffis Key, which is a good spot for migrating birds. The site also has some regular and very friendly local birders.

ebird site link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1541051

Mon 16/04/2018:

The previous day was very unsettled including strong winds and rain, so I was keen to get down to Leffis Key first thing, to see if anything had been blown in? Bird numbers weren’t huge; however birds encountered were good and included: Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Wood Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ovenbird, Yellow-throated Warbler (plus commoner warbler species) and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Whilst birding the site, a couple of birders recommended that I visit Fort De Soto Park, as it normally throws up some good birds, following bad weather. So with this information, we headed back north towards Tampa and 50 minutes later, we’d entered the park ($5 entrance fee per car).

ebird site link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L127332

First stop was the historic fort area, which included some open space with scattered Southern Live Oak trees. Birding was difficult due to the continued strong winds (the guy who took the $5 entrance fee, declared ‘it was a mighty fine day to fly a kite!’); however it was immediately apparent that there had been a good fall of birds, as there were both Summer Tanagers (30+) and Scarlet Tanagers (20+) everywhere, along with a group of 40+ Indigo buntings and a stunning male Painted Bunting. Other birds encountered around the fort area included Loggerhead Shrike (6), Baltimore Oriole (2), Eastern Wood-Pewee, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo (3), Red-eyed Vireo (5), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (5) and various warblers, including a possible female Cerulean Warbler, which frustratingly only showed briefly and high in the tree canopy.

Another birder present informed us that good numbers of Warblers had also been seen on the nearby Arrowhead Trail, including both male Cerulean and Golden-winged Warblers! With this news we headed straight to the Arrowhead area of the park and began to explore the trail. Unfortunately neither of these warblers were seen by us, although the Golden-winged, was relocated after we left. Birds we did see here included: Yellow-billed Cuckoo (2), Wood Thrush (4), Swainson’s Thrush (3), Grey-cheecked Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded warbler, American Redstart, Black-throated Green warbler and Palm Warbler.

Tue 17/04/2018:

On returning to Anna Maria the night before, I’d discovered that a Veery had been seen at Leffis Key in the afternoon, which was a bird that I was desperate to see (mythical UK rarity)! With this in mind I was at Leffis Key, just after first light and as I entered the main path, a bird immediately dropped down in front of me and sure enough it was the Veery!

Following this great find (for me anyway!), I continued with my usual morning circuit, where the usual warblers and vireo species were seen. The only other bird of note was a Common Nighthawk, which I flushed from one of the paths.

After lunch we visited another recommended migrant spot, which was Pinecraft Park near Sarasota and where a Black-billed Cuckoo had been seen the day before.

ebird site link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1877656

The park is in a semi urban area and is full of mature trees by a river. Being of a smallish size, the park is very easy to bird and birds encountered included: Barred Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Purple Martin, Blue-winged Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Norther Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (plus the usual warbler species), Summer Tanager and Scarlet Tanager.

Wed 18/04/2018:

Another early morning circuit of Leffis Key produced the usual warbler species, Orchard Oriole, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak an unexpected Sora on a dry dusty hillside and a singing Northern Waterthrush. On completing several circuits, I bumped into another birder, who told me she’d had a Swainson Warbler near the entrance. She took me to the exact spot and told me to listen for it continuously flipping over leaves; sure enough a few minutes patience and the tell-tale leaf flipping sound was heard and great views of the bird followed, which was only several feet away!

Thu 19/04/2018:

Today we decided to head back to Fort De Soto, with the deal being that I dropped my wife on North Beach, whilst I headed off to explore the Arrowhead Trail again. The usual Warbler, Vireos, Tanagers, Orioles and Thrushes were again seen, which also include a Veery, 2 Northern Waterthrush and 2 male Blue-winged Warblers, chasing each other through the mangroves. The other highlight was 2 immature Bald Eagles overhead.

On returning to meet my wife at North Beach, I decided to go and try and pin down Marbled Godwit and after a short swim over to a very large/visible sandbar, I started to explore and without my binoculars. All birds encountered were clearly used to humans and could easily be approached to within just a few feet. Birds encountered included the hoped for Marbled Godwit (24), Wilsons Plover (2), Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone (8), Sanderling (100+), Dunlin (200+), Least Sandpiper (40+), Short/Long-billed Dowitcher (17), Willet (40), Least Tern (30), Royal Tern (200+) and Reddish Egret (plus other herons). Many more birds were present on the sand bar and with a bit more patience, other waders were waiting to be ticked.

Before exiting the park we also drove to the Eastern tip, where smaller numbers of the above mentioned waders were also seen on the shoreline. Of interest 20+ Upland Sandpipers had also been seen here on the turning circle, earlier in the day.

Fri 20/04/2018:

Final morning visit to Leffis Key, where the all the usual suspects were seen along with Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Semipalmated Plover and Brown-headed Cowbird added to the trip list.

The early morning trip to Leffis Key was supposed to be my last birding of the holiday; however late afternoon we took the free trolley bus to the North of the Island to visit the pier and have a leisurely stroll along the beach. Whilst walking we passed through Bayfront Park and it became immediately obvious that the sea grape and pine trees boarding the beach were full of migrating birds............. 2 hours later, I was back in the car and armed with the binoculars, where a quick 30 minutes birding proved fruitful. Blue-winged Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Palm Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and 2 Bobolinks were all encountered. It’s seems likely that birds which have been feeding in nearby gardens, will congregate here, before pushing on to cross Tampa Bay during the hours of darkness? I feel that this spot is both under watched and underrated, as is the nearby Bean Point; should I return in the future, I will definitely give both sites more attention.

ebird site link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1853751

Sat 21/04/2018 to Tue 24/04/2018:

The last few days were spent in Orlando, where no active birding was carried out, I did however encounter: Swallow-tailed Kite, Sandhill Crane, Spotted Sandpiper and a frustrating Chuck Will’s Widow, which I listened to, whilst lay in bed one night.


A most enjoyable trip, including 25 species of warbler and 4 species of thrush, plus plenty of other good birds. The Dry Tortugas was truly magical and I will definitely look to repeat the above itinerary in the next few years. Most of the birding was restricted to early mornings only, as I had to consider my non-birding wife and should more time have been spent in the field, a lot more bird species were waiting to be found.

I was disappointed to miss out on Cerulean Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler, but that’s just another excuse to go back. It’s worth noting that at no point did I feel that I was missing my scope and birding with Binoculars at all sites visited, was perfectly adequate. Also regarding car navigation, rather than hire an extortionate satnav from Hertz, I found the NavMe iPhone app with GPRS (and US map downloaded), to be a great tool for getting to and from all sites.

Trip Species list:

1 Red-breasted Merganser
2 Magnificent Frigatebird
3 Masked Booby
4 Double-crested Cormorant
5 Anhinga
6 Brown Pelican
7 Great Blue Heron
8 Great Egret
9 Snowy Egret
10 Little Blue Heron
11 Reddish Egret
12 Cattle Egret
13 Green Heron
14 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
15 White Ibis
16 Turkey Vulture
17 Osprey
18 Bald Eagle
19 Sora
20 American Coot
21 Black-bellied Plover
22 Wilson's Plover
23 Semipalmated Plover
24 Whimbrel
25 Marbled Godwit
26 Ruddy Turnstone
27 Sanderling
28 Dunlin
29 Least Sandpiper
30 Short-billed Dowitcher
31 Spotted Sandpiper
32 Willet
33 Laughing Gull
34 Ring-billed Gull
35 Lesser Black-backed Gull
36 Black Skimmer
37 Brown Noddy
38 Sooty Tern
39 Least Tern
40 Caspian Tern
41 Forster's Tern
42 Royal Tern
43 Sandwich Tern
44 Rock Pigeon
45 White-crowned Pigeon
46 Eurasian Collared-Dove
47 Common Ground-Dove
48 White-winged Dove
49 Mourning Dove
50 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
51 Barred Owl
52 Common Nighthawk
53 Chimney Swift
54 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
55 Belted Kingfisher
56 Red-bellied Woodpecker
57 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
58 Downy Woodpecker
59 Merlin
60 Nanday Parakeet
61 Eastern Wood-Pewee
62 Great Crested Flycatcher
63 Eastern Kingbird
64 Gray Kingbird
65 Loggerhead Shrike
66 White-eyed Vireo
67 Yellow-throated Vireo
68 Red-eyed Vireo
69 Black-whiskered Vireo
70 Blue Jay
71 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
72 Purple Martin
73 Tree Swallow
74 Barn Swallow
75 Cliff Swallow
76 Veery
77 Gray-cheeked Thrush
78 Swainson's Thrush
79 Wood Thrush
80 Gray Catbird
81 Northern Mockingbird
82 European Starling
83 Ovenbird
84 Worm-eating Warbler
85 Northern Waterthrush
86 Blue-winged Warbler
87 Black-and-white Warbler
88 Prothonotary Warbler
89 Swainson's Warbler
90 Tennessee Warbler
91 Orange-crowned Warbler
92 Kentucky Warbler
93 Common Yellowthroat
94 Hooded Warbler
95 American Redstart
96 Cape May Warbler
97 Northern Parula
98 Magnolia Warbler
99 Yellow Warbler
100 Chestnut-sided Warbler
101 Blackpoll Warbler
102 Black-throated Blue Warbler
103 Palm Warbler
104 Yellow-rumped Warbler
105 Yellow-throated Warbler
106 Prairie Warbler
107 Black-throated Green Warbler
108 Summer Tanager
109 Scarlet Tanager
110 Northern Cardinal
111 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
112 Blue Grosbeak
113 Indigo Bunting
114 Painted Bunting
115 Bobolink
116 Orchard Oriole
117 Baltimore Oriole
118 Red-winged Blackbird
119 Brown-headed Cowbird
120 Common Grackle
121 House Finch
122 House Sparrow
123 Black vulture
Some really good birds, Neil! I am yet to experience a true spring passerine fallout, but have seen many lists and some photos too. Glad you connected with a good deal of your targets.
Thanks for reading.

I spoke to someone who claimed to have had over 100 yellow-billed cuckoos, following a thunderstorm a few years back; now that is a fallout!
Yes thanks for sharing Neil, it looks like you had a great time. Like you, I to am looking forward to clapping eyes on Cerulean Warbler....you've just got my juices flowing. :t:
I share the dream of one day seeing a major fall of American migrants. I was nearly there at the same time this year ... but circumstances changed and I went to Argentina instead (which was ok!)

Good read, Neil. It's been a while since I did some major birding in Florida, and it brought back memories.

If you ever find yourself in eastern Pennsylvania in breeding season, let me know. I've got a couple reliable spots for breeding Ceruleans about 15 miles from my home. Golden-wings are also available, but a bit further afield in the northern Poconos.
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