Florida Everglades and Keys Birding Tour
Nature and Birding Tours with Naturalist Journeys
April 20-27, 2013, with optional extension to the Florida Keys/Dry Tortugas, April 27-May 1, 2013
From a past Florida Birding Tour participant: “I saw 30 new birds and reached my 500 ABA lifer milestone. This was my 6th trip with Greg: he’s great and always leads a wonderful trip!” - Ellen Lahlum
As a birding tour, Florida is a top destination for it puts one immediately into a naturalist’s paradise, the only subtropical wilderness in the continental U.S. Join our expert Florida birding tour guide Greg Smith to explore this rich mixing ground of tropical and temperate species -- birds, butterflies, unique plants, and more! Caution – we suggest you sign up for this year’s Florida birding tour early – this is one of our most popular tours and space fills quickly!
The Florida birding tour begins by going north of Ft. Lauderdale to habitats of the endemic Florida Scrub Jay, then crosses the state to spend time near Fort Meyers, specifically visiting Florida birding tour hotspots at Sanibel Island and Naples where wading birds abound. In the Everglades National Park, we travel by boat through mangroves to search for American Alligators, Saltwater Crocodiles and a lush array of wading birds. Walk through tropical hardwood “hammocks” – isolated tree islands that are among America’s rarest habitats – to search for Pine Warblers, Barred Owls and colorful endemic tree snails. Shoreline tidal habitats of Florida Bay and nearby Eco Pond host Roseate Spoonbills, Purple Gallinules, and both Least and American bitterns.
For the Florida birding tour extension we spend one night in Miami, followed by three nights on the Florida Keys in lodgings with lush gardens and a wonderful, relaxing atmosphere. We have a grand time exploring and birdwatching. At a bird rehabilitation center, we have a great time photographing wild White Ibises, herons, and egrets attracted in by the noise of birds on the mend. Several migrant Florida birding tour hotspots can be just hopping! At Bahia Honda, walk a white-sand beach. One of the highlights of the trip is a full day boat tour out to the Dry Tortuga Islands where we hope to find both Brown and Masked boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Bridled and Sooty terns, Brown Noddies. The ecotourism experience is not complete without sampling local foods. Throughout our time in the Keys we enjoy local cuisine, from simple “crab shacks” to elaborate seaside dining.
Sat., April 20 Arrival in Fort Lauderdale
Our Florida birding and nature tour begins! After gathering at the airport by 2:00 PM, we leave and head north to Juno Beach in Palm County. April is a wonderful time to visit South Florida. Migrants augment the resident birds, many of the special plants are in bloom and South Florida’s breeding bird specialties have arrived from winter homes in the Caribbean and beyond. After settling in at our accommodations, we enjoy sunset and dinner.
Accommodations in Juno Beach (D)
Sun., April 21 Florida Specialties Birding
Today we explore several ecological gems that are city, regional and state parks with a mix of habitats ideal for finding birds. While swaying coconut palms and sweeping white-sand beaches are symbols of the region, we search out Florida specialties. We look for Gray Kingbirds on the wires as we search local parks for the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay. As we drive west through South-central Florida we will be scanning for Short-tailed Hawks and other raptors that may be on the move. Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys are all subject to mobbing by the much smaller but bold American Kestrels. Merlins and Cooper’s Hawks come through in good number. We should see Crested Caracaras perched atop trees or on the ground taking advantage of a meal along with groups of Black Vultures as we move west. The other specialty we will look for is the Limpkin. The flooded wetlands along this route are ideal for spotting this sometimes rare wader.
By late afternoon we reach our accommodations at Fort Meyers, and those that wish can stretch their legs and on a boardwalk close to our hotel see wading birds close at hand.
Accommodations in Ft. Meyers (B,L,D)
Mon., April 22 Babcock -Webb WMA / Venice Rookery / Florida Scrub Jay Haunts
We start the day early heading up to Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area. This area is home to numerous pairs of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the rare Bachmann’s Sparrow and the equally rare Brown-headed Nuthatch. While locating these species we will also be looking for the Florida’s resident race of the Sandhill Crane.
We also visit the Venice Rookery, fabulous for viewing colorful waders. Depending on what areas we hear is productive for seeing the jays this year, we may visit an area over by the Colliers, or explore a few other locations. It’s a search that takes in of pine woodlands habitats not normally thought of as signatures of Florida, where beaches and palm trees reign.
Accommodations in Ft. Meyers (B,L)
Tues., April 23 Audubon's Corkscrew Sanctuary / Cape Coral
This morning we explore a two-mile boardwalk trail through an almost mythical stand of ancient Bald Cypress. Trees are draped with ferns, epiphytic orchids and bromeliads. Anhingas preen their elegant plumage on the knees of these giants and Swallow-tailed Kites attend to nesting and courtship. Northeast of Naples, the National Audubon Society has preserved 11,000 acres of pine and swamp habitat. They have recently revamped the Visitor Center to expand its educational offerings. Corkscrew is nesting home for the largest remaining colony of endangered Wood Storks in the U.S. Their story is compelling and reveals the complexity of water flow so vital to the region. We should enjoy good looks at waders and songbirds alike. While we are not likely to see them, the fact that both Florida Black Bear and Florida Panther have been recorded here speaks to its ecological integrity. www.corkscrew.audubon.org
In the afternoon we spend time looking for wild orchids that peak in bloom at this time of year. We visit several wet prairies. We also visit Tigertail Beach on Marco Island to observe Black Skimmers and other shorebirds. We then head to Cape Coral to look for an active Burrowing Owl colony that the local neighborhood has protected.
Accommodations and meals in Ft. Meyers/Naples area (B,L)
Wed., April 24 Ding Darling NWR / Fakahatchee Strand / Shark Valley / Everglades City
This morning, we head over to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, which are barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Sanibel is home to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (www.dingdarlingsociety.org) a vitally important area for migrant birds and resident wading birds. The 6000+ acre refuge has mangrove habitat, Cabbage and Sabal palm woodlands as well as wetland habitats. Close to 240 species of birds have been recorded, along with 50 types of reptiles and 32 species of mammals. The refuge’s Education Center has exhibits and information and a tram system allows us to explore a four-mile scenic drive. This refuge is treasured by wildlife photographers for spectacular views of Roseate Spoonbills and other large wading birds.
After time at the refuge, we head east across the southern part of the state, and then veer south to the Homestead area, gateway to Everglades National Park. En route we walk the boardwalk trail at a fragment of a forest once known as the “the Amazon of North America.”. Today Fakahatchee Strand, stands as a twenty by five mile wide reminder of ancient Bald Cypress forest. Flowing fresh water moves through as a slow and shallow river. This slough effect buffers climatic extremes and several rare plants of tropical origin can be found here. Unique here is the presence of native Royal Palms amid the cypress. Over forty species of native orchids have been recorded and in line with a subtropical theme -- 14 native bromeliad species. Learn more about Florida panthers and the struggle to secure their populations.
We have lunch in Everglades City, seeing our first glimpse of the “glades” and its extraordinary species. In the late afternoon, we enjoy an open-air tram ride through Shark Valley – a unique part of the Everglades and the widest expanse of the “sea of grass.” Park naturalists provide a relaxing introduction to the Everglades’ major vegetation types and we have an excellent chance of seeing Boat-tailed Grackles, Snail Kites, other raptors, White-tailed Deer, American Alligators, and some striking tropical butterflies.
Afterward seeing these diverse areas, we drive to our lodgings near Homestead, passing through agricultural lands where canals provide refuge for Blue-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Mottled Ducks and more.
Accommodations in Florida City (B,L,D)
Thurs., April 25 and Fri., April 26 Everglades National Park
From Homestead it is a short ways to the park, and our first stop is at a boardwalk trail from which we hope to get excellent looks at Purple Gallinules, Anhingas, possible Limpkins and of a variety of herons and egrets that feed in the aquatic realm.
We have two full days to explore this part of the Everglades and a lot of great places to explore! Examples include Eco Pond and Florida Bay, where we look for secretive Least Bitterns as well as brilliant White Ibises and Roseate Spoonbills which pass right overhead. Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen feed in the shallows, and with luck we may find a bold American Bittern. Osprey nest here and tolerate our observations.
On one of our mornings, we take an estuary boat trip to explore the mangrove ecosystem. This unusual “forest” provides fantastic food resources that draw wading birds like magnets. We should see the two color phases of Little Blue Herons, many Great and Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons and both Black and Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Overhead, we watch for the chevrons of American White Pelicans and Roseate Spoonbills in flight. At the freshwater/saltwater margin we may find a unique combination: American Alligators close to Saltwater Crocodiles. In shallow pools we hope to see the archaic-looking Wood Storks feeding on small schools of fish.
On land, we explore a fine selection of short trails that highlight the important habitats of the park. Here, just a few inches of elevation can make all the difference in the world. At the edge of the bay we find flocks of wintering shorebirds, including Red Knots and a variety of “peeps” you CAN learn to identify! Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter here, as do Belted Kingfishers, and a good number of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks. At Mahogany and other “hammocks” (isolated tree islands) we explore a mix of broadleaf trees that create a very tropical atmosphere – Gumbo Limbos, Coco Plums, and more. This is one of North America’s rarest habitats. Here we look for colorful, endemic tree snails, and butterflies such as Zebra Longwings, Red-spotted Purples, and Orange Julias.
On drier ridgeline trails we walk under fast-growing, fire-friendly Slash Pine, where we may find a great variety of birds: Red-shouldered Hawks; flocks of wintering warblers such as Black and White, Ovenbird and Northern Waterthrush; and over-wintering flycatchers such as Eastern Phoebes and Great-crested Flycatchers. Here we also hope to find the woodpeckers, the more common being Northern Flickers, Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Even an occasional Pileated or Red-headed woodpecker is a possibility! The understory of Saw Palmetto seems almost out of place and time. We will also visit coastal prairies, and with luck we may find both Prairie and Palm warblers, highly specialized Snail Kites, or possibly Short-tailed Hawks in this habitat.
Geologically this is a new world, consisting primarily of oolitic limestone and prehistoric coral reefs raised up since the last Ice Age. Mammals we may encounter include Raccoons, Bobcats, and River Otters. White-crowned Pigeons frequent the area; in deep woods we may find a remarkably tame Barred Owl.
On the first night dinner is at your leisure. On the final night we celebrate our adventures at a favorite local restaurant.
Accommodations in Florida City (B,L both days and dinner the 16th)
Sat., April 27 Departures from Fort Lauderdale
For those not going on the extension, we will arrange a group shuttle, covered in the cost of your journey, to take you to the airport by 10:30 am. We do highly recommend the extension while you are here, but if you must return home, please schedule your flights out at noon or later.
FLORIDA KEYS EXTENSION
April 27-30, 2013
Sat., April 27 Miami – Tropical Birds and Gardens
For those staying on for the extension, we will begin by spending the morning exploring residential areas in greater Miami searching for a fun list of oddities – introduced species that thrive in the lush gardens and defacto woodlands created by urban plantings. The list includes such things as Monk Parakeets, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Common Mynas, Spot-breasted Orioles, and other introduced exotics. Birding at the famous Fairchild tropical botanical Garden (www.fairchildgarden.org) gives us a chance to find some great birds while learning about tropical plants from around the globe. We end ourday by visiting an active parrot roost at dusk. Dinner tonight is at one of our favorite local restaurants.
Accommodations in the Hotel Indigo, Miami (B,L,D)
Sun., April 28 Upper Florida Keys
We get an early start today to head down the highway that runs the length of a chain of islands known as the Florida Keys. There are some lovely gardens and parks along the way, and a number of birding spots to investigate. On phone wires we find Gray Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and inquisitive Northern Mockingbirds.
A bird rehabilitation center is an excellent place to photograph wild species attracted to the cacophony of noise created by birds on the mend. Lunch is a quick stop, where you have choices for your meal.
In the afternoon we stop at either Windley Fossil Reef Park or Long Key State Park to search for migrant warblers and Black-whiskered Vireos. Walk the trails as we look for: Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, Yellow, Yellow-throated, Pine warblers and other species. Dinner tonight is relaxed and on your own; choose from a nice selection of restaurants featuring local cuisine tonight, with a highlight being fresh seafood, often served with a Caribbean flair. For dessert: Key lime pie of course….
Accommodations in the central part of the keys (B)
Mon., April 29 Lower Florida Keys
We spend much of the morning at stunning Bahia Honda State Park which has a great little nature center, a protected beach for birding and scenery that rivals any in the world. Butterflies at this park rival the birds. Here, and on towards Key West, we look for Common Ground Doves, Smooth-billed Anis, Key West Quail Doves, and possibly Yellow-billed and/or Mangrove cuckoos.
We return in time for you to swim, get your lunch, and to enjoy our lodgings. In the afternoon, we go back out as bird activity increases to search for additional migrants. Tonight is a free night for dinner and you can choose a restaurant that appeals to your tastes and budget. There are many excellent ones to choose from.
Accommodations in the central part of the keys (B)
Tue., April 30 Dry Tortugas
This morning, early, we drive down to Key West where we meet our boat for the trip to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. This is a spectacular day trip on which we have a chance to see both Brown and Masked boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Bridled and Sooty terns and Brown Noddies. This group of seven small islands is vitally important to migrant songbirds heading north as a stopover place to refuel. We have several hours on the largest island where we search for songbirds among the ruins of Fort Jefferson. This is a full day and we arrive back at the harbor late afternoon. We then head to our lodgings to freshen up and venture out to a nearby dinner for a celebratory evening.
Accommodations in the central part of the keys (B,L,D)
Wed., May 1 Departures
This morning we drive back to MIAMI, where you can book flights out after 1:00 PM. We plan to get an early start to arrive at the airport by 11:30 AM. If you need to fly out of Fort Lauderdale to get the best fair, there is a shuttle between airports, just book a late-afternoon flight (B)
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COST OF THE JOURNEY
Cost of the main journey is $2290.00 per person, based on double occupancy, from Ft. Lauderdale, FL (FLL), departing Miami (MIA). This cost includes: accommodations for 7 nights, most meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), airport welcome and transfer or hotel shuttle, land transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
Cost of the extension Keys/Dry Tortugas is $985.00 per person when booked with the main tour. This is based on double occupancy, and includes an all-day boat tour to Ft. Jefferson, Dry Tortugas. Cost of the extension booked on its own is $1095.00.
Single supplement for the main journey is $545.00 and for the extension is $285.00.
Cost does not include: round-trip airfare to and from Ft. Lauderdale, departing Miami, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or personal services. With fewer than 6 participants, a small-group surcharge (typically $100-200 per participant) may apply, or we may request that you pick up the cost of a few additional dinners in lieu of this surcharge.
The arrival airport for this tour is the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL), departing from Miami (MIA). Most major airlines serve Ft. Lauderdale including Southwest, US Airways, American, Delta, Continental, Air Canada and Frontier Airlines. If on Southwest, you will likely have to return to Ft. Lauderdale (shuttle between airports is available, allow time). Other airlines should allow flight into FLL and out of MIA with no extra charges. Please plan to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale no later than 2:00 PM on April 20. Please plan on departures after NOON, Monday, April 27 for the main tour, or after 1:00 PM on May 1, if going on the extension. Those going on ONLY the extension should plan to fly in and out of Miami (MIA).
We find that Fort Lauderdale is a small and user-friendly airport, prices at airport hotels are cheaper for those arriving early, and we find it much less crowded than nearby Miami. There is shuttle service between the two airports if needed.
Group Size: This is a birding and wildlife trip, maximum of 8 and minimum of 4 participants. If co-hosted by a non-profit group with an additional leader, we may take up to 12 persons, maximum is 12 participants if so.
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