By Nicholas Block
Grant Belton, James Douglass, Tim Perkins, and I (all students at Rice University in Houston) recently completed a whirlwind road trip of Florida on which we targeted specialities and thus spent little time working on a big trip list. Aside from introduced species, we were largely successful, especially considering how little time we had to devote to each species. The following is a brief outline of our travels and the highlights from each location.
Saturday, March 3rd, 2001
Drove all day from Houston to Jacksonville. Night - Motel on north side of Jacksonville
Sunday, March 4th, 2001
Fort Clinch State Park - The main target here was Purple Sandpiper, and we were definitely not disappointed. Seven PURPLE SANDPIPERS were located first on the beach with RUDDY TURNSTONES, and they later fed along the jetty allowing extremely close looks. A very satisfying lifer for all of us. Other hoped for targets we found here included a first-winter GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL at the end of the jetty, an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL that flew by, and at least four NORTHERN GANNETS seen flying offshore (1 adult, 1 immature, 2 first-winter). Some unusual birds seen from the pier were an AMERICAN ROBIN sitting way out on the jetty, a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER seen flying toward land along the jetty, and an adult SWALLOW-TAILED KITE seen flying toward land from over the ocean. This was definitely the last place we expected to see a kite, and I also think this is rather early for them at this latitude, right?
State Road A1A - Nothing unusual was seen along this road in the region, but we found our target COMMON GROUND-DOVES (quite a bit darker than the ones here - pretty cool) and GLOSSY IBIS, plus a great shorebird flock.
Guana River State Park - The main target was Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and we were again very successful. We found at least five SALTMARSH SHARP-TAILED SPARROWS in the marsh on the left side of the dirt path (entering from the parking lot). They were rather uncooperative at first but then sat up nicely in response to pishing. Also seen here were a single SEASIDE SPARROW and at least three CLAPPER RAILS (one seen, two more heard).
Night - Camping in Ocala National Forest next to Doe Lake
Monday, March 5th, 2001
Ocala National Forest - Our two targets here were Henslow's Sparrow and Florida Scrub-Jay. We camped right next to the field where the Henslow's were being seen before we left (at least I assume it was the right spot). Unfortunately, the field only yielded some SAVANNAH SPARROWS, a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, a SWAMP SPARROW, and some SEDGE WRENS. We were successful in locating three FLORIDA SCRUB-JAYS along the road near the lake, though.
State Road 42 - We had pretty good luck with raptors on the short stretch of this road south of the national forest. The best bird was an adult light-morph SHORT-TAILED HAWK seen for a frustratingly short time. Other raptors included BALD EAGLE and SWALLOW-TAILED KITE.
Merritt Island NWR - We didn't really have any specific targets here but enjoyed the birding. I remembered why I loved this place the first time I visited it. Hundreds of wading birds, shorebirds, and ducks - always amazing.
Night - Motel in West Palm Beach
Tuesday, March 6th, 2001
Loxahatchee NWR - I guess we were hoping to see Smooth-billed Ani here but didn't really expect to. We mostly went just to enjoy the inevitable good birding, and we weren't disappointed. The main highlight was the huge swallow flock working the first Marsh Trail impoundment. Among the thousands of TREE SWALLOWS, we located a few NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS and, the big highlight, at least a couple CAVE SWALLOWS of the West Indian fulva race. We were not expecting this species until later in the day in Homestead. How unusual are they this far north? Other highlights included a PRAIRIE WARBLER and a GREAT BLUE HERON displaying right above our heads (incredible!).
Fort Lauderdale Airport Greenbelt Park - The target at this park on the south side of the airport on Griffin Road was Smooth-billed Ani. On our first walk through the park, we were unable to locate any anis or much of anything other than a small passerine flock. But just before returning to the car, we located a flock of five SMOOTH-BILLED ANIS which allowed incredibly good scope looks and photos.
Greynolds Park - This began our string of bad luck in the Miami area looking for exotics (which was partially due to the bad afternoon timing and a lack of really specific information). We did not locate the hoped for Spot-breasted Oriole or much else. I saw a single WHITE-WINGED PARAKEET fly over, but of course I was the only one that didn't need it for a lifer.
Miami Springs Nursing Home - We saw MONK PARAKEETS and almost nothing else.
Kendall Area - Despite searching the neighborhoods around the tennis courts and elementary school, we could not find a single Red-whiskered Bulbul. James located a group of four SPOT-BREASTED ORIOLES, but we could not refind them later for the rest of the group to see. And again, I managed to be the only one to see a flyover parakeet, this time with it being a YELLOW-CHEVRONED PARAKEET. We also saw several more MONK PARAKEETS and a sizable flock of MITRED PARAKEETS in the area.
Homestead - We saw two COMMON MYNAS on a street sign as we drove by the Burger King. U.S. Highway 1 between Homestead and Key Largo - A LIMPKIN was spotted alongside the road at 55+ MPH. Night - Camping at Boyd's Campground on Stock Island
Wednesday, March 7th, 2001
Boyd's Campground - A pair of WHITE-CROWNED PIGEONS were seen while we were packing up - nice start to the day.
Dry Tortugas National Park - This place is amazing! I can't wait to go back just to camp and enjoy the peacefulness. The boat ride over yielded a pair of MASKED BOOBIES and a small, unidentified tern that was not a Royal. The buoy on the border of the national park held a few juvenile BROWN BOOBIES, which we were able to get decent looks at. The park itself was a wonderful experience. Although there was a serious lack of landbirds, despite the western front that had just blown through, we were content with the seabirds. Bush and Long Keys were teeming with SOOTY TERNS, BROWN NODDIES, and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS. We got excellent scope looks at everything, and I was especially excited about seeing a couple male frigatebirds with their throat pouches inflated. MASKED BOOBIES could be seen in the distance around Hospital Key. Also present was a first-winter GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL among the HERRING GULLS, which is quite rare for the park according to the checklist.
Key West - We saw four more WHITE-CROWNED PIGEONS on the wires while walking around town for a short time after the ferry returned.
Night - Camping at Long Pine Key Campground, Everglades NP
Thursday, March 8th, 2001
Long Pine Key Campground - Best bird here was a nice male MERLIN seen by James and Tim while Grant and I were still sleeping.
Anhinga Trail - Lots of awesome looks at common species here, including PURPLE GALLINULE, GREAT WHITE (BLUE) HERONS, and ANHINGA young. Raptors were SWALLOW-TAILED KITE, RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, and a pair of soaring COOPER'S HAWKS that I saw.
Mahogany Hammock - There wasn't too much moving here around noon, but we did see an OVENBIRD and a GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER. The marshes around Mahogany Hammock were parched, and we were not able to locate any "Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrows.
Snake Bight Trail - With virtually no mosquitos, this was an excellent trail. Warblers seen were NORTHERN PARULA, PRAIRIE WARBLER, WORM-EATING WARBLER, OVENBIRD, AMERICAN REDSTART, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, palmarum PALM WARBLER, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, "MYRTLE" YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, and a heard-only NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. It was also nice to see a WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, the mudflats did not hold any Greater Flamingos, but we were still impressed by the large number of shorebirds. Thousands of DUNLIN, WILLETS, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, LEAST SANDPIPERS, WESTERN SANDPIPERS, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS, a single SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER and AMERICAN AVOCET, and more were present. Among the gulls were an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL and an adult GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL.
State Road 9336 - Another light-morph SHORT-TAILED HAWK was seen from this road in the park soaring quite high.
U.S. Highway 41 on the Miccosukee Reservation - Several BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS flew over the road around dusk, and we did not quite make it to the Snail Kite roost before it was too dark. Night - Camping at Midway Campground, Big Cypress National Preserve
Friday, March 9th, 2001
North side of U.S. 41 a bit west of the Miccosukee Indian Restaurant - The main goal here of course was the Snail Kite roost. We later realized that we actually were further west than the spot mentioned in Pranty's guide (we were at the next water control structure west), but we were definitely not disappointed. We arrived shortly before dawn; the wading birds were up and flying around but no kites. However, a quick scan of the trees and snags yielded several roosting SNAIL KITES. After it warmed up a bit more, many of the kites started hunting over the marsh and allowed awesome scope looks. There were at least 14 present. We also heard a KING RAIL in the reeds right below us.
Midway Campground - We returned to pack up our stuff, but did not intend to really do any birding. However, the BARRED OWL that flew across the road right as we were leaving decided we should do otherwise. A small flock of passerines was harassing the owl and it quickly left, but there was nothing notable in the flock. We also had two more GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHERS calling while packing up.
Briggs Nature Center - We successfully located our main target, seeing one male SHINY COWBIRD and at least three females around the feeder in front of the nature center. The local introduced scrub-jays were very cooperative, and we should have some great shots of them. There was also a single WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW under the feeder. What is their status in south Florida?
Ponce de Leon Park, Punta Gorda - We didn't find the local pair of Mangrove Cuckoos, but it's not like we really expected to in the afternoon. The mangrove trail held some PRAIRIE WARBLERS and that was about it. A COMMON LOON off the beach was a new trip bird, and I saw my life Mangrove Buckeye.
Hernando Beach area - This was the most frustrating stop of the trip by far. We arrived in the early evening and it was raining - not a good combination when looking for psittacids. So continuing our luck with exotics, we did not find a single Budgerigar in about 45 minutes of searching before dark. Argh.
Night - Motel in Tallahassee
Saturday, March 10th, 2001
I-10 Rest Area near Crestview - This brief stop added our final three trip birds: HOUSE WREN, CHIPPING SPARROW, and WHITE-THROATED SPARROW. Drove back to Houston. Night - Rice University.
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
"Great White Heron"
Little Blue Heron
Greater White-fronted Goose
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Horned Owl
Northern ("Yellow-shafted") Flicker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cave Swallow (Caribbean race)
Yellow Warbler ("Golden" Warbler)
Yellow-rumped ("Myrtle") Warbler
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Total Species: 166
Bold = Florida specialty
Italics = Uncountable exotic