Florida - April 6th – 17th 2009

Published by Alan Whitehead (alanwhitehead56 AT yahoo.co.uk)


Masked Booby


The purpose of this report is to provide updated information for Birders found in Bill Pranty’s excellent Birder’s Guide to Florida. I visited many sites found in the book (and some that weren’t). My visit concentrated on seeing new ABA birds for my list (some of which were Lifers), but also to simply enjoy the wonderful birds of Florida. I would debatably be too early for some of my targets but most had occurred during my time slot in past years.

The time spent birding was mainly early morning and late afternoon and only certain habitats would be visited. The reasons for this were twofold. 1. To be fair to my very patient and wonderful fiance. 2. The heat!

My ABA total stood at 610, I was hoping to make 625 at least. All birds have been seen since 2000 during holidays to Texas at Easter (8 visits), Arizona/California in Summer (3 visits) and Alaska in 2007.


Target birds in bold
Target birds seen in bold capitals
Noteworthy Birds(subjective) in Capitals…i.e Good Birds I had already seen in the U.S.

6th April

First focus was on the Miami area countable exotics. I decided to try various sites recommended by Pranty. Summarizing my info’ the Kendall Baptist Hospital seemed to be the best current location to try for all 3 of my targets i.e. Red-Whiskered Bulbul, Spot-breasted Oriole and White-winged Parakeet. The estate across the road was also suggested by many people as a good spot for all three, especially between 87th and 91st Avenues back to 85th St. Having tried around the Hospital for a while I decided to walk around the estate. After about an hour of searching a RED-WHISKERED BULBUL popped up on a wire if only for a few conclusive seconds. This was the only sighting I had of this species despite searching the estate twice more for the other targets. Also found a pair of WHITE-CROWNED PIGEONS here.

7th April

Started off today at The Welding Association (where else!!), 550 LeJeune Road, south of the Miami Airport, in search of White -winged Parakeet. I had been given some information to say this was the most reliable site (“Primo Location!”), or used to be! No luck with the Parakeet but I stumbled into a cracking male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER in the parking lot! Just goes to show birds can turn up anywhere.

Next I tried the Miami Springs area north of the airport for Spot-breasted Oriole. Followed the info in Pranty but no joy. However, I managed to fluke a cracking male BOBOLINK on a wire for 5 seconds on Apache Drive. This is a bird that I have missed in Texas on a few occasions and was the only one I saw the whole trip. Despite trying many sites suggested in Pranty, and by birders on the mailing lists including Royal Palms Tennis Club, Doc Thomas House (not much help) and Art and Betty’s (knocked down!) I still needed Spot-breasted Oriole and White-winged Parakeet. Luckily I would be passing back through Miami later in my holiday and that would give me another chance.

A quick note here on the Elementary School. A birder contacted me to say he scored quickly here with Spot-breasted Oriole by hanging cut oranges from trees in the garden! I didn’t have time to test this tactic out.

Moved on after lunch to Markham C.P. a prime site for Snail Kite. After some problems finding the best vantage point i.e. crossing the drain…best done near the entrance gate, you should see the ramp. I scanned Water Conservation Area 2B for a good while but no joy. Maybe water levels weren’t conducive.

Visited Fort Lauderdale then drove up to Kissammee.

8th April

Today we went on an Airboat ride at Southport Park on Lake Tohopikilaga south of Kissimmee…FANTASTIC experience (get the private one it goes faster!). Having said that the ‘pilot’ also slowed it right down frequently so you could view the wildlife, which included fantastic views of one of my most desired…a SNAIL KITE. He drove the boat to within 30 yards of this bird which was totally unconcerned.


Great views were also had of BALD EAGLES, OSPREYS, WILD TURKEY amongst other more common species. Saw my only TUFTED TITMOUSE here, probably near the southern limit of their range? We stayed here till dusk and this tactic paid off with a fly-by BARRED OWL.

9th April

Day off today as we visited EPCOT. Well nearly…got great views of PURPLE MARTINS at their nest boxes!

10th April

A “twitch” was in order today as we drove east to the Kennedy Space Centre. After spending a few hours here (plenty of nostalgia) we drove south to Port Canaveral Jetty Park in the hope of catching the lingering Purple Sandpiper. A 15 minute walk took me out to the end of the jetty (very busy) were I scanned the rocks on the breakwater through the fishermen. Lots of Turnstones, more Turnstones, then, asleep on a rock PURPLE SANDPIPER. This was a bonus tick as I thought it would have flown north by now. Drove late into the night to St Petersburg…quite a drive!

11th April

Never thought I’d be chasing a BUDGIE! We drove north to Hernando Beach to check out the usual locations. A combination of Pranty and e-mails took me onto Gulf Winds Circle. Half an hour later I was looking at this bird outside number 3126. Forgot the Trill as well! Special thanks here to Bev Hansen. Also saw my only EASTERN BLUEBIRD here.


They all count, right!

12th April

Started out at Gulfport Municipal Marina, St Petersburg. The target here was (BLACK-HOODED PARAKEET) not yet countable but definitely worth an insurance tick. Within 10 minutes I had located my target.

We then moved on to Fort de Soto Park (get there early, especially at weekends as the traffic gets heavy…(it was Easter Sunday I suppose!). Most of you will know this is a renowned migration hotspot. Like any such place you need to be there at the right time…this wasn’t. It was very quiet, so we moved on after a couple of hours. Worth mentioning here was that we saw quite a few more (BLACK-HOODED PARAKEETS) at this location.

We drove south along the coast to Naples. I was going to try the wildlife drive at “Ding” Darling NWR on Sanibel Island for Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo but time of day and distance to travel meant that we decided to give it a miss. We then drove across the Tamiami trail east to Miami. We tested out another airboat ride along the trail which took us through some excellent Red Mangrove habitat…Mangrove Cuckoo! Long shot and not a sniff.

Spent the last hour at Miami University (following up strong information from Susan Daughtrey) hoping for Spot-breasted Oriole and/or White-winged Parakeet. I concentrated on Stanford Drive but I was a little late arriving and neither species were seen. One sighting worth mentioning was a pair of huge (BLUE-AND-YELLOW MACAWS) flying over the lake making an unbelievable noise!

13th April

As already mentioned my best bet still seemed to be Miami University. I left my good lady in bed and returned to Stanford Drive at dawn. I was rewarded when almost immediately a male SPOT-BREASTED ORIOLE appeared and started singing in the top of the dead tree by the bridge near the lake. AT LAST! Thanks again Susan.

Spot-breasted Oriole

Everglades National Park was the main destination today. Before we ventured into the park however, a brief stop in Florida City…Burger King to be exact. This would hopefully bring me an ABA tick in the form of COMMON MYNA. Sure enough, within 5 minutes I had 2 in the kiddies play area. Not exactly an aesthetic moment to treasure but there you go.

Recent Hurricanes have changed the look of the Park, especially around Flamingo. I visited 16 years ago and it was hardly recognizable! I was hoping for a Shiny Cowbird but all I saw at the Campground in 2 hours were some Starlings! An excellent sighting on the way out was a SWALLOW-TAILED KITE which we followed along the road for a mile or so. Unfortunately I couldn’t nail a decent photo.

Stopped off at the Anhinga Trail for the last hour hoping for a sight of a Whip-poor-will. No luck but got some great shots of yes…an Anhinga!
Also had another BARRED OWL here.

14th April

Not a person to give up while there’s time and/or light! I had one last chance to score with White-winged Parakeet. I returned again to Stanford Drive at the University at dawn. Within 10 minutes BINGO! I had a pair of WHITE-WINGED PARAKEETS in the same tree as the ORIOLE!!!

White-winged Parakeet

Pity they weren’t there yesterday, I could have had a lie in! So after many attempts I had finally seen all three Miami countable exotics…4 if you count the recently added COMMON MYNA I guess. Give yourself time for these birds! Special thanks here to Louise.

A brief stop was in order near our Motel to see the (WEST INDIAN CAVE SWALLOWS) at Cutler Ridge. Info in Pranty is spot on.

Then a long drive down the Keys during the heat of the day. Spent the last hour at Key West Airport hoping for an early Antillean Nighthawk. Stayed till 8.15 (thanks to a very friendly and patient warden) when we had to leave as the gates had to be locked. Saw a couple of birds but no calls heard.

15th April

Today was our trip to the Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom 2. Hopes were obviously high. The sea was pretty calm (there had been a major thunderstorm last night…phew!) and the sun was shining…life is good! Some targets were guaranteed, some maybe’s and a few miracles needed. As it turned out I was lucky. The weather was favourable and had dropped many migrants on Garden Key.

Managed a couple of BRIDLED TERNS on the way out but unfortunately missed a lone Shearwater, presumed Audubon’s seen briefly by a fellow Brit (while I was fiddling with my camera!). Didn’t get a sighting all day.

As we approached the Islands a lone BROWN BOOBY was located in flight, again this was the only one seen all day! I also had a PARASITIC JAEGER.

On reaching Garden Key I found Louise a shady spot (95 F) and decided to add a couple of easy ticks in the forms of SOOTY TERN and BROWN NODDY. ‘Scoped the birds at the North Coaling Dock for a Black Noddy but no joy, interestingly Larry Manfredi found one a few days later on Bush Key. To give you an idea how tame these birds are some snorklers inadvertently surfaced right in the middle of them at the north coaling docks and none of them even flinched, leading to the bizarre sight of them being photographed from point blank range!

Have to mention the amazing sight of MAGNIFICANT FRIGATEBIRDS floating almost constantly over the Fort. Also MERLINS hunting for tired migrants.

After lunch on the boat which as well as breakfast was excellent, I decided to move inside the Fort to try for migrants. I joined a group of other Birders who were scouring the trees and bushes. After a while I reckoned the best and coolest spot was by the Fountain. The action here was continuous and we enjoyed an excellent 90 minutes racking up an impressive list of species. Unfortunately I didn’t add to my list but still had a fantastic time, the numbers were amazing, Louise even enjoyed it!. Best/rarest bird was a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO.

Eventually it was time to leave and we made our way out of the dock. I had spoken to the Captain on the way there regarding seeing a MASKED BOOBY. He informed me they now resided on Middle Key and he would gladly take the boat close by on the return journey! Sure enough that’s exactly what he did.

This is the boat to take for a day trip, ‘scoping from Garden Key is a waste of time.

Tried Stock Island on our return for Antillean Nighthawk. Again had a sighting, but again, no call!

16th April

Up early again! Off to Sugarloaf Key to try for the very elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. I had arranged to meet my fellow Brit and we tried the famed spot for 2 hours but not a peep. I did have a BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER and an AMERICAN REDSTART at the end of the road where the track starts. Also I SAW my first EASTERN TOWHEE having heard one in Texas.

Spent the evening at Fort Zachary Historic State Park looking in vain with about 20 other birders for a ***Loggerhead Kingbird that had been found by Carl Goodrich (nice guy) a few days previous. Amongst the group was Greg Cook (another nice guy) a Texas birder from Arlington who I had birded with previously. He got me my LIFE Rusty Blackbird…small world!

I did score massively however with this CARIBBEAN SHORT-EARED OWL, (great spot by the finder as you can see!) arguably the rarest bird I saw and the first SEO of any race I’d seen in the States!

Caribbean Short-eared Owl

Also saw (GREAT WHITE HERON). Had sightings of Nighthawks again but no noises! VERY Frustrating!!

17th April

Spent the first 2 hours in the company of Carl Goodrich amongst others trying to locate the Loggerhead Kingbird again. Tried Indigenous Park and Fort Zachary Historic State Park but no luck.

Time to move as we had a plane to catch at 5pm. I was given a site by Greg Cook…Key Largo (Botanical State Park) for Black-whiskered Vireo but due to heavy traffic I gave it a miss. I’ll just have to come back!


I received lots of help from Birdbrain and Miami Birdboard contributors…thanks to you all. I have e-mailed everyone I can remember, if I overlooked contacting you…I thank you here.

Excuse the self-indulgent part (feel free to skip) but below is the lists of targets seen and missed. On reflection I was too early for the main influx of some of these targets I feel. I don’t see the point of reeling of a full list of species (as many are common and easily seen). I have mentioned what I consider notable birds in the text.

Targets achieved

Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra)
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)
Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata)
Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)
Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus)
Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)
White-winged Parakeet (Brotogeris versicolurus)
Short-eared Owl (Caribbean race)
Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus)
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Spot-breasted Oriole (Icterus pectoralis)

ABA 625…just made it!

Targets missed

Roseate Tern
Cape May Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Mangrove Cuckoo
Whip-poor-will – heard but not seen
Antillean Nighthawk – had been reported in previous years from the 4th
Black-whiskered Vireo – seen later the same day at Sugarloaf Key and Key Largo Botanical Gardens by Greg Cook
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow – had arranged to go to Honeymoon Island with David Gagne but I couldn’t make it that day
Shiny Cowbird – bird seen on the Dry Tortugas by Larry Manfredi’s group

Rarities present or arrived just after I left!

Loggerhead Kingbird
Bahama Mockingbird
Black Noddy
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Stop press…Fork-tailed Fly on 24th!


Thoroughly enjoyed my trip as always, I love birding in the States. Weather was hotter than I anticipated due to southerly winds with many days in the 90’s with high humidity especially in Miami and Key West. Met some interesting and generally helpful people and received excellent advice on the mailing lists, you can’t beat current information. Big thanks obviously to Bill Pranty. If you search Birdbrain and Miami Birdboard you will find all my postings and correspondence. Special thanks to my wonderful fiancé Louise who tolerates my obsession…I did push it a bit on this trip!

My dates were at the start of migration and connecting with some species was always going to be ‘close’. I was pleased with what I saw although slightly disappointed a didn’t connect with at least one ‘MEGA’. I’ll be back!

Alan Whitehead, York, England