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June 22nd - June 28th 2003 - South Florida and Florida Keys

Brown Noddy This trip was a combination Bird trip / vacation for a week. We flew to Miami on the Saturday evening and spent the night in Miami. Then the next morning, after sorting out a very cool Mustang convertible for the week we began the trip south. Birding from a car without a roof is great! Nothing like watching Magnificent Frigate Birds as you're cruising down Hwy1!
One night was to be spent half way down into the Middle Keys, 3 nights in Key West, one more night halfway back up then the last night again in Miami. I use the ABA's Bill Pranty Guide for info on Birding spots and his reference to Mile Markers are very helpful.
My birding starting in the suburbs of South Miami. I had limited time so had pre-planned birding stops along the route. The first stop, at around 8am was at the Baptist Hospital in Kendall for White winged and Yellow chevroned parakeets. (formerly both one sp.- Canary Winged Parakeets) Within a few minutes I was able to locate the WW Parakeets as well as Monk Parakeets in the trees across the street from the hospital. Shortly after this 2 Red Whiskered Bulbuls flew over the car! 2 lifers. No luck with the Yellow Chevroned PA.
Onto the next stop which was just a few miles away - the "Tennis Courts," a well know spot for the Bulbuls and also Spot breasted Orioles. Didn't find either of those but DID get two Yellow-Chevroned Parakeets!
Next I stopped at Mathesson Hammock but no lifers there. Did hear a Screech Owl however. Onto to HWY 1 south through Homestead and along the highway saw a Common Myna (not countable) on the rd. side. Also 3 Gray Kingbirds on the wires - Countable! 4 lifers so far and its only 10:45am!
We then had to get down into the keys as our second night was about half way down in Marathon, so south we headed. We took "Card Sound Rd". off of Hwy 1 in Homestead which is a quieter rd and takes you though mangrove hammocks. The key birds I wanted here was the Black-whiskered Vireo & the sub-species "Cuban" Yellow Warbler. We stopped to have lunch at the well known biker restaurant there and just out side there before the bridge was a Yellow warbler singing away! Futher down the road (CR-905) I got the Black-whiskered Vireo, just where the "Pranty" guide said it would be. (Pg-246/247). Lifer #5. There were many Vireos throughout the trip.
After this we pretty much headed for Marathon with a quick stop a the Florida Wild Bird Center to get the Great "White" Heron sub sp. of which there were two! In the evening at around 8:30 we headed for the Marathon airport for the Antillian Nighthawks, 3 of which were seen almost immediately, calling away and chasing each other. It was still just light enough to see the white wing patch. Lifer #6! Not bad for one day of birding :-)
The next day was heading down to Key West for 3 days. I made several stops along the way at well known spots productive for Mangrove cuckoos and did hear one, but did not see it. I did get several White-crowned Pigeons though in Big Pine and Sugarloaf keys. Lifer #7. The next morning we were headed for the Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom, a 2 1/2 hr boat ride out there with about 4 hrs on the tiny "Garden Key." Here we could snorkel and laze on the beach, but not before I got some birds! The main bird for me here was the Brown Noddy and I got thousands of them on entering the dock! Cha ching! Lifer #8. They nest here along with thousands of Sooty Terns. A Black Noddy had also been seen but had not been reported for about a month. I scanned for it through all the Brown Noddies but did not see it. I find out the next DAY that someone DID see it LOL! Grrrr! Thats birding for you! I'll just have to return again :-). Hundreds of Magnificent Frigate birds circled overhead along with least terns and Br. pelicans & a couple of Ruddy turnstones but other than that the island was quiet. April/May is the best time by far. We had a great time snorkeling the coral and the water was a beautiful turquoise blue with white sandy beaches. I'd definitely recommend this day trip to anyone.
The next few Days we relaxed in Key west and I tried to get Roseate Tern off of Fort Zackery Taylor SP in Key west but no luck. It was now Thursday and we were heading back up the Keys towards Miami. We would stay one more night in the keys on the way up. Again I tried for the M. Cuckoo with no luck. They're there, just did not want to be seen!
Our last full day was our drive up to Miami. I made a quick stop off of the FL Turnpike in Homestead for the West Indian race of Cave Swallow, of which there were hundreds. Then on to Kendall again where I tried once more at the Tennis Courts for the spot breasted Oriole. And there he was! Feeding from a Mimosa type tree as though he'd been there all along! So this was my last lifer for the trip bring the total lifers to 9. A good trip but I'll be ready to return again to get the ones I missed - Mangrove Cuckoo, Black Noddy and Roseate Tern, as well as a trip into the Everglades for other species such as Flamingoes and Shiny Cowbirds. Its a great state for birding, not cheap, but great!
As I was not here during peak migration time the birds where not in the numbers they would have been a month or so before. However Sooty terns, Brown Noddies and Frigate birds were in the thousands & the snorkling was great! :-)

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
The beautiful clear water was excellent for snorkling.
Magnificent Frigatebird
Frigate bird
Hundreds flying around...
Brown Noddy
Brown Noddy
There were thousands of these sitting on the coaling docks. They breed here along with Sooty terns.

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