Florida Trip, 2012
I flew into Miami via United, burning frequent flyer miles, and rented a car from Dollar based on a good experience in 2011. If you're in the Miami area I suggest that the SunPass EZPass-like toll option is worth the additional $ at rental since some of the Miami area expressways do not accept cash. You don't want to move around Miami on just local roads. I lost the advantage of the early start (6:05am departure) because Jacksonville air traffic control had an outage so we sat on the tarmac for 1:30 while they got themselves restarted. There was also a line at Dollar car rental which did not endear itself to me this time around - other rental companies were more efficient, at least judging from the lines.
This trip was different than my usual FL trip because it was designed to mop up many of the species that I traditionally miss while on my Feb/Mar trips. I also incorporated a trip out to the Dry Tortugas for breeding birds there.
Down in Flamingo it was not all that difficult to find the cowbird flock near the marina, mostly Brown-headed Cowbirds with one or two Red-winged Blackbirds. Also present were three SHINY COWBIRDS: two in glossy blue-purple adult male plumage, and one more mottled - perhaps a late molting male. That's USA #646. Common Ground-Doves were also feeding in the middle of the parking lot. Laughing Gulls and Ospreys were around the marina area. While attempting to get photos of the cowbirds I found out just how aggressive the biting insects are down in Flamingo in the hotter months - they were on me in seconds and not especially deterred by the 40% DEET I had applied. I had sprayed myself, but not enough, and once the mosquitos had a bead on me I was surrounded. Nobody in their right mind would camp there in summar. I also committed an act of rank stupidity and locked the keys in the trunk - the base model Pontiac G6 I had doesn't have a trunk release on the dashboard but thankfully Pontiac's construction quality is poor enough that once the initial panic had died down I managed to force my arm between the back seat panels and retrieve the key that way. Didn't make that mistake again, for obvious reasons - it would have taken a long time for Dollar or a locksmith to be induced to come all the way down to Flamingo.
Headed back north out of Flamingo, nursing the bruised arm and mosquito bites, I stopped at Paurotis Pond - usually a Wood Stork colony - and found no storks at all. Either they have finished breeding or did not use this site in 2012. Anhinga and several Tricolored Herons were at this location instead. I stopped at Mahogany Hammock briefly to listen for Black-whiskered Vireo but hearing nothing I merely added Red-shouldered Hawk to the trip list. After the experience at Flamingo I had no desire to walk back into the hammock. Notably there was a fair amount of water below the boardwalk here - normally when I visit it's dry. Instead I headed north through some torrential rain storms that made me slow down to 30mph to handle the water covering the road. For the first few days of the trip a strong line of storms often covered the Upper Keys and Everglades area. I emerged from the storm before Anhinga Trail/Royal Palm and decided to check that out - it's usually very productive during the drier winter months bit I expected it to be slow. In fact there were two herons (Green Heron; immature White Ibis) and Eastern Kingbird.
Exiting the Everglades and after pausing at the Robert Is Here fruit stand (Purple Martin, House Sparrow) for a shake I checked the rear of the Burger King in Florida City for Common Myna. No sign of them here (this is where I saw them in 1999/2000 and is not a bad spot for them still). I headed into Key Largo via Card Sound Road and stopped at South Carysfoot Circle to listen/look for Mangrove Cuckoo. As would be a pattern for the entire trip there were none but I did hear Yellow-billed Cuckoo. White-eyed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher were also present and after a little patience a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO moved from its hidden song perch to a more exposed one, giving decent views. USA #647. Further down the road at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park (no really, that's its official name) I found a lot of biting insects again but nothing of additional interest. Here nothing much was singing in the afternoon heat beyond a single White-eyed Vireo and something that might have been a distant Yellow-billed Cuckoo call. Given that I've seen these as migrants in late May in Louisiana last year, some of these cuckoos may not even be resident birds.
The relatively late hour made me just head for Marathon at this point. It takes a while to travel down the Keys, given that there's a single road (A1A/US Route 1) and it's single lane in each direction at some points. Even when there are two lanes, the severe lack of lane discipline by Floridian drivers makes it slow going - it will often be two lanes going pretty much the same speed in each direction. You'll also inevitably get stuck in a "lowest common denominator" line in the single lane sections where a long line of cars is stacked up behind someone that cannot even manage to go the speed limit. This is the way it is in the Keys and there are no alternative routes. The minor saving grace is that there are relatively few traffic light stops outside of Key Largo (there are a few in Tavernier and Marathon and quite a few in Key West) so the traffic does tend to keep trundling along.
Traveling down the Keys I did see Magnificent Frigatebird, Double-crested Cormorant, Gray Kingbird and a possible Bald Eagle. Notably Common Grackle replaced Boat-tailed Grackle in the Keys and to a certain extent the Everglades - you might expect Boat-tailed to be dominant, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Despite the fact that I had seen only one Gray Kingbird before they were relatively widespread and found on many roadside wires and in shopping centers etc. I probably also saw White-crowned Pigeon but on the drive down I was headed into the sun so large dark pigeons were a source of confusion with Rock Pigeon. White-crowned were more numerous than Rock Pigeon on this trip, however. Finally I made it to Marathon and checked into my hotel for the next three nights. I headed out immediately to the Marathon Government Center which as advertized held both Least Tern and smaller numbers of Roseate Tern nesting on the roof tops. Towards sunset I headed to Marathon Airport and from the free terminal parking area I heard and saw two ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS hunting over the runway. USA #648.
I took a nap in the model after the morning's heat and then headed north to the Upper Keys for an afternoon's searching. A COMMON MYNA flew past me in Islamorada, being USA #649 now that they are a countable species (I'd seen them in Florida City over a decade earlier). Carysfoot Circle held the same species as the previous day, plus Common Ground-Dove but the storms spreading into the Upper Keys from the direction of Cuba meant that birding here was not as extensive as it might have been. Parts of the storm were torrential and after deciding to backtrack down to Tavernier I found that it had also blanketed the shopping mall that both species of nighthawk had been seen at recently. I returned to Marathon, finally clearing the storm en route, but it was after sundown before I reached Marathon Aiport and while I heard 2-3 Antillean Nighthawks calling I could not see them. Another Common Myna was seen in Islamorada while headed south, in the middle of the storm.
After docking I stashed my gear underneath a picnic table - there's no restrooms on the Dry Tortugas and no water/food is allowed in the fort, so camping here is not the most desirable option. The ferry gets to Fort Jefferson at 10:30am by which time the sun is already very high and you're staring into the sun looking from the fort toward Bush Key where the terns and noddies nest. Interesting and slightly unexpected at the fort were: Turkey Vulture; Eurasian Collared-Dove; Cattle Egret (several); Great Egret; Snowy Egret; Great Blue Heron. There were a few shorebirds milling about but Ruddy Turnstone were the only ones definitively ID'd. Hundreds to thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddys were present on Bush Key. A few tens of Frigatebirds and one smaller (Brown) Boody were perched on the dead trees on Bush Key. I started sorting through terns for Bridled and noddys for Black with no success but the light was very high contrast - every Sooty looked a little brownish and every noddy looked rather blackish. Sadly very few clouds in the sky, but when one passed briefly in front of the sun the viewing conditions improved markedly. Either pick a cloudy day to visit, camp or use the sea plane option (presumably much more dinero than the $165 for the ferry) to get better light in morning/evening. A friendly birder called me back to the fort to look at a Black Noddy - and certainly this was a suggestive bird with a sharply demarcated black cap and smaller size. The downside was that: it showed difficulty moving around; it appeared to interact with a Brown Noddy; it appeared to have a short tail. So it gave the appearance of being a Brown Noddy chick by structure, although the whitish well-defined cap was anomalous. Ultimately I left it off my life list, although a Black Noddy was reported that same day in better light perched on nearby vegetation, and this might have been the bird. With the bad contrasting light it was so difficult to tell. Similarly my search for Bridled Tern came up empty, even though I sorted through a lot of Sootys for birds with paler underwings. There were a lot of juvenile Sooty's around - either most of the terns had fledged quite a while ago or these were first year birds. I did find a couple of Roseate Terns also. Scoping the rather distant Hospital Key I got about the same quality view of Masked Booby as I did from the moving boat. I also saw them shallow-angle diving off the east end of the island.
At 2:45pm the ferry departed, and on the way back out of the Tortugas passed a channel marker with several juvenile Brown Boobys on it. Little to nothing was seen on the return trip into port, apart from a possible Brown Booby a fair way out from the boat and two birds flying away that looked reminiscent of Jaegers but which never turned broadside. Leaving Key West I stopped at Sugarloaf Key in the late afternoon on the way back to Marathon and found the usual set of birds. An immature Little Blue Heron was hunting at low tide in the inlet and now we were up to two chickens at the end of the road. In Marathon itself I saw a Common Myna but despite decent weather at sunset the Antillean Nighthawks were a no-show at the airport.
At a gas station on Key Largo two Common Mynas were in the forecourt, the male being particularly vocal. Checking Carysfoot Circle and Dagny Johnson Botanical Park on Key Largo produced the inevitable bird species, so I went out of the Keys to check into the hotel for the night. I returned once more to Flamingo in the Everglades, narrowly missing a large storm along the road. At the entrance booth the darkness of the passing storm had lured several Common Nighthawks to hunt over the road in the late afternoon. Down at Flamingo the cowbird flock had taken to hunting along the entrance road, a location that precluded any sort of photographic opportunity - traffic is not bad, but you are not permitted to park on the grass. However there were numerous White-crowned Pigeons milling around the parking lot, which provided a few limited photo opportunities.
Toward sunset I headed back into the Keys and down to Tavernier once more. A the Town(e) Center shopping mall near MM91 in Tavernier several Common Nighthawks and two Antillean Nighthawks were hunting over the spotting center at sunset, vocalizing and giving display dives. More than once I saw Antillean Nighthawks chasing Common Nighthawks quite aggressively (determined by call - I find these birds essentially identical when looking at them in the air). I never saw Common chasing Antillean. Also present in the shopping center were Gray Kingbird and there were some fly-by White-crowned Pigeons. After sunset I left the Keys to stay overnight at the Motel 6 at Cutler Ridge.
Unenthused by exotics I did the least imaginative thing possible and went down to Flamingo to see if I could get shots of Shiny Cowbird. Finally I saw a Common Myna in Florida City, en route. Although I'd dodged the Everglades storms previously this time I got there 20 minutes too late, and it started raining literally as I reached Flamingo. The cowbird flock was still favoring the entrance road section so it would have cost me a lot of mosquito bites to get any photos, and after waiting 45 minutes to see if the storm would clear, I left for Anhinga Trail. Along the road I saw the first and only Eastern Meadowlark of the trip. Anhinga was relatively slow again, with few birds, and I ended up spending most of my time repacking my bags before returning the rental car to Miami airport and flying back to Newark.
|Masked Booby||Sula dactylatra||Hospital Key, Dry Tortugas, Life bird|
|Brown Booby||Sula leucogaster||Dry Tortugas|
|Brown Pelican||Pelecanus occidentalis||widespread immatures|
|Double-crested Cormorant||Phalacrocorax auritus||widespread, locally abundant|
|Magnificent Frigatebird||Fregata magnificens||widespread on Keys|
|Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias||a handful, incl Great White Heron|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba||a handful|
|Snowy Egret||Egretta thula||Everglades|
|Little Blue Heron||Egretta caerulea||one at Sugarloaf Key|
|Tricolored Heron||Egretta tricolor||numerous at Paurotis Pond, Everglades, uncommon elsewhere|
|Reddish Egret||Egretta rufescens||one in Long Pine Key|
|Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis||especially agricultural areas, Florida City|
|Green Heron||Butorides virescens||Anhinga Trail|
|White Ibis||Eudocimus albus||widespread, common|
|Black Vulture||Coragyps atratus|
|Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura|
|Swallow-tailed Kite||Elanoides forficatus||Everglades|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus||primarily Everglades|
|American Coot||Fulica americana||Paurotis Pond, Everglades|
|Black-bellied Plover||Pluvialis squatarola||Long Pine Key|
|Killdeer||Charadrius vociferus||Marathon Airport|
|Willet||Catoptrophorus semipalmatus||Sugarloaf Key|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Actitis macularia||Tavernier|
|Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres||Dry Tortugas|
|Laughing Gull||Leucophaeus atricilla||widespread abundant|
|Royal Tern||Sterna maxima||immatures at southern end of Islamorada|
|Roseate Tern||Sterna dougallii||Marathon Government Center, Dry Tortugas|
|Least Tern||Sterna antillarum||various Keys locations|
|Sooty Tern||Sterna fuscata||Dry Tortugas, Life bird|
|Brown Noddy||Anous stolidus||Dry Tortugas, Life bird|
|Rock Pigeon||Columba livia||infrequent except in urban areas|
|White-crowned Pigeon||Columba leucocephala||widespread in Keys|
|Eurasian Collared-Dove||Streptopelia decaocto||widespread|
|White-winged Dove||Zenaida asiatica||Florida City|
|Mourning Dove||Zenaida macroura|
|Common Ground-Dove||Columbina passerina||Flamingo, Key Largo, Sugarloaf Key|
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus americanus||present at all "Mangrove Cuckoo" locations|
|Common Nighthawk||Chordeiles minor||Everglades, Tavernier|
|Antillean Nighthawk||Chordeiles gundlachii||Marathon, Tavernier|
|Red-bellied Woodpecker||Melanerpes carolinus||widespread|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||Myiarchus crinitus||widespread in hardwood hammocks and mangroves|
|Eastern Kingbird||Tyrannus tyrannus||Everglades|
|Gray Kingbird||Tyrannus dominicensis||widespread in Keys|
|Loggerhead Shrike||Lanius ludovicianus||Florida City agricultural|
|White-eyed Vireo||Vireo griseus|
|Black-whiskered Vireo||Vireo altiloquus||Keys at low density|
|Blue Jay||Cyanocitta cristata||one in Miami|
|American Crow||Corvus brachyrhynchos||Everglades|
|Purple Martin||Progne subis||Florida City|
|Cave Swallow||Petrochelidon fulva||Culver Ridge|
|Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica||Dry Tortugas, Sugarloaf Key|
|Northern Mockingbird||Mimus polyglottos||fewer than expected, mainly mainland|
|European Starling||Sturnus vulgaris||widespread|
|Common Myna||Acridotheres tristis||Marathon, Islamorada, Key Largo, Florida City|
|Prairie Warbler||Setophaga discolor||widespread|
|Northern Cardinal||Cardinalis cardinalis|
|Red-winged Blackbird||Agelaius phoeniceus|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||Everglades|
|Common Grackle||Quiscalus quiscula|
|Boat-tailed Grackle||Quiscalus major||mainly agricultural|
|Shiny Cowbird||Molothrus bonariensis||3 at Flamingo|
|Brown-headed Cowbird||Molothrus ater|
|House Sparrow||Passer domesticus||limited to urban|