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Sunbird – Itinerary

2017 tour price £2,100

  • Plus flights estimated at : £620
  • Single Room Supplement : £420

South Florida, the Keys and the Dry Tortugas

Saturday 22 April to Saturday 29 April 2017*
Saturday 21 April to Saturday 28 April 2018*
with Gavin Bieber and Evan Obercian as leaders

* In-country dates

Maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.

The long-toed Purple Gallinule, the perfect lily pad bird, is common in south Florida wetlands. Photo: Chris Wood

Late April is a wonderful time to visit South Florida. Migrants augment the resident birds, and all of South Florida’s special breeding birds have arrived. We’ll visit the most interesting of the everglades, pine forests, prairies, and cypress swamps in peninsular South Florida, including the Big Cypress Preserve, the sandy lagoons of the southwest coast, and Everglades National Park.

The Keys are at their best at this time of year as well, and we’ll explore areas known to us looking for the sought-after southern Florida specialities such as Mangrove Cuckoo and White-crowned Pigeon. We’ll also take a day trip to the fabulous Dry Tortugas. Even though we’ll have just four hours on Fort Jefferson, it’s enough time to appreciate the magnificent seabird colony and see most of the birds for which the area is justly famous. On good years the thickets and isolated trees around Fort Jefferson can be filled with resting migratory birds, an excellent complement to the thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies wheeling overhead. We’ll conclude in the Miami area, where elements of a huge parrot fauna - and several other exotic species - have become naturalized. Add the chance of a vagrant from the Caribbean, and it’s easy to see why South Florida in late April is so appealing.

Note that our sister company WINGS run many other tours in North America not listed on our website. You can find full details by visiting the WINGS website. All WINGS tours can be booked through the Sunbird office.

Day 1: The trip begins this evening near Fort Myers. Night near Fort Myers.

Day 2: We’ll leave early to drive north to Port Charlotte and the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management area, a large tract of Slash Pine and marsh whose inhabitants include the celebrated pinewoods trio of Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman’s Sparrow. Sandhill Cranes nest in the area, and roadside ditches sometimes hold Limpkin or King Rail. Just a bit north, on the outskirts of Punta Gorda, several clusters of the curious and social Florida Scrub-Jays have prospered for years and we’re almost certain to find them. 

It’s hard to know exactly how much time it will take to find and fully absorb these four North American endemics. If we accomplish our goals with dispatch, we may travel south and spend the afternoon along the coast near Sanibel Island. Or if we’re well into the afternoon before leaving the jays, we’ll return to Fort Myers, stopping at various wetlands en route, some of which often hold Snail Kites. It would be surprising not to see Swallow-tailed Kite. Night in Fort Myers.

Day 3: We’ll leave early for the beaches of Fort Myer’s with a stop to look at active Burrowing Owl colonies en route. Shorebird diversity can be good here, and we generally see a fine mix of birds at very close range, from electric pink Roseate Spoonbills to the somewhat more cryptic Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers. After sorting through the waders we’ll drive inland to the Big Cypress Preserve, a delightful sanctuary with an elevated winding boardwalk through stands of tall Bald Cypress to a sawgrass marsh. Thehuge cypress lend a somewhat primeval feel, and although the preserve is an experience as much as a birding spot, we hope to find Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, and a collection of warblers perhaps including Yellow-throated. After lunch, we’ll drive south and east across the Everglades, looking for Snail Kites as we go, to Florida City and the gateway to Everglades National Park. If time allows, we’ll visit the northern part of the park in the late afternoon. Night in Florida City.

Day 4: We’ll drive to Flamingo, the terminus of Everglades National Park’s main road, stopping at such well-known places as Anhinga Trail, where the common glades residents are often just a few feet off the boardwalk, and Mahogany Hammock with its collection of tropical hardwood trees, colorful land snails and often a collection of migrant warblers. At Flamingo, we’ll scan mudflats for shorebirds and terns, possibly including Marbled Godwit and Gull-billed Tern among many others. Eco Pond, a few hundred feet from the end of the road, has a small island favoured by roosting waterbirds often including Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis, and the pond itself often has a surprise or two. For the past several years small numbers of Shiny Cowbirds have frequented the parking lot area, and with luck we’ll have excellent views of this scarce invader from the Caribbean. With real luck we may also encounter an American Crocodile or West Indian Manatee lurking around Florida Bay. We’ll return to Florida City midday to check out of our hotel and start the 120 mile drive to Key West, making a few stops along the way before arriving in the late afternoon. We’ll eat dinner early, then venture out again at dusk to look for and listen to Antillean Nighthawk. Night in Key West.

Day 5: We’ll sail at 8:00 am for the Tortugas aboard the Yankee Freedom II. Our route will take us swiftly and directly to the Tortugas, where we’ll arrive in the late morning. We’ll have about four hours to watch the great Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy spectacle, to look for Black Noddy and other rarities, and to thoroughly search Fort Jefferson for migrants that can include thrushes, buntings, orioles, and up to 20 species of warblers. The Tortugas inevitably produce surprises: Cave Swallows around the battlements of the fort, perhaps a Chuck-will’s-widow inside the old powder magazine, or a Short-eared Owl perched in one of the trees on the parade ground.

On the way back to Key West the boat captain generally diverts to nearby Hospital Key where a newly established colony of Masked Boobies resides. We’ll also check the buoys for loafing Brown Boobies or Roseate Terns, We’ll return to Key West in the late afternoon arriving about 5:00 pm for a great seafood dinner by the harbour. Night in Key West.

Day 6: Among the principal landbird attractions of the Lower Keys, White-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo are widespread and conspicuous. Mangrove Cuckoo, however, is neither, and we’ll spend the morning on Sugarloaf Key and several other locations looking for this handsome bird. In some years we’ve had good views of cuckoos within just 15 minutes of exiting our vehicles; in others we don’t see them at all. Elsewhere in the Keys we’ve often seen ‘Cuban’ or ‘Golden’ Yellow Warbler, a subspecies group that may be destined for full-species status, and we’ll look for this specialized bird, too. We’ll continue up the Keys, stopping at shorebird roosts or migrant traps along the way. As the tour winds down, we’ll search for any rarities that might be present in the area, or end the day watching parrots fly to roost in Miami. Night in Miami.

Day 7: This will be a flexible day. We’ll look for species that we might have missed, such as Snail Kite or Smooth-billed Ani, and we’ll also look for well-established exotics such as White-winged Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Spot-breasted Oriole. There may also be rarities, such as Western Spindalis, within relatively easy striking distance, and we’ll add them to the mix when determining how to spend this day. Night in Miami.

Day 8: The tour concludes this morning in Miami.

This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS

Updated: 20 January 2017