South Florida: Corkscrew Swamp, Everglades National Park, and Dry Tortugas National Park; 13-19 May 2010

Participants: Blake and Dimi Mathys; Kenneth Elgersma and Ai Wen

Report by Blake Mathys (Questions? email blakemathys@hotmail.com)


Dimi and I had traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula for a wedding (click here for Yucatan trip report), and decided we would meet up with Kenneth and Ai in South Florida and and do some birding for about a week. Dimi, Kenneth, and Ai had never been to South Florida, and I wanted to show them where I used to spend time when I worked for the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow Project. Kenneth defended his Ph.D. dissertation on May 11th, and then they drove down to meet us at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Highlights:

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Short-tailed Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite, Green Anole eating dragonfly

Everglades National Park: Smooth-billed Ani, Swallow-tailed Kite, Least Bittern, Shiny Cowbird, White-crowned Pigeon, Stilt Sandpiper, Black-whiskered Vireo, Reddish Egret (including white morph), Roseate Spoonbill, Barred Owl (an unseen pair calling back and forth in the afternoon at Anhinga Trail), Manatee, American Crocodile, Southern Toad, Cottonmouth, Florida Softshell Turtle, Florida Gar, Box Turtle, Five-lined Skink

Florida Keys: Roseate Tern (at Marathon Government Building)

Dry Tortugas National Park: Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Bridled Tern (nesting), Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Grey-cheeked Thrush, 7 warbler species, Black-whiskered Vireo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Camping:

We camped for our entire trip. I've put together the following table with locations and prices.
Campground NameLocationPriceNotes
Koreshan State Historic SiteSomewhat close to Corkscrew Swamp$28.86/nightNice place, quiet. A Chuck-will's-widow woke us up in the middle of the night. Took over 30 minutes to get to Corkscrew Swamp
Long Pine KeyEverglades National Park$16/nightNice, but annoying loud people woke us up the first night we camped here. The second night was much more relaxing. Brown-headed Nuthatch in the campground
FlamingoEverglades National Park$16/nightNo fee envelopes, I think a lot people didn't pay. Nice place, of course mosquitoes can be bad. We didn't have any mosquito issues until the sun went down, then they were pretty bad.
Leo's CampgroundStock Island, right beside Key West$61.88/nightNot great camping, on gravel and concrete, and very near the road. Also seemed over-priced, but we had to be at the Tortugas ferry at 6:30 a.m., so it worked. Bathrooms nice
Garden KeyDry Tortugas National Park$3/person/nightI highly recommend camping for at least one night if you visit the Dry Tortugas. You get a lot more time out there, and a lot of that time the island is nearly empty (of people). Must bring your own water, food, etc.

General Wisdom:

The Tropical Audubon Society website is a very, very useful resource for birding South Florida; there is a bird board with up to date reports and separate pages on where to find specialties and directions to birding locations. Any questions you have about birding South Florida should start at that site

Yankee Freedom website (ferry to Dry Tortugas; can walk around on deck, unlike the Fast Cat, which is the other regular ferry)

We only saw two Short-tailed Hawks on the trip, one light-morph at Corkscrew Swamp and one dark-morph while driving across Tamiami Trail/US41

Robert is Here (on your way to Everglades National Park) has great milkshakes (I recommend Strawberry/Key Lime)

Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park is supposedly a good site for Mangrove Cuckoo. I'm sure that is true, but don't be disappointed if you miss them there and don't see very much. I've been to this site between 5 and 10 times, and have never seen a Mangrove Cuckoo there. We did find a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on this trip, but there wasn't much to see otherwise.

Don't wait until the middle of May to go to South Florida; we ended up with 10 warbler species, but two weeks earlier the numbers for all migrants would have been much higher.

The Wreck & Galley Grill at mile marker 59 in the Keys has great chicken wings (the whole wing, mind you). They can make 'em really hot, but the mild are still very enjoyable.

Bridled Terns now breed at Dry Tortugas; I had no idea, as it has started since my last visit there in 2006. They were just barely visible from the top of the fort looking out past Bush Key where it connects to Long Key (see picture link below). We were told to look for them there, and I was able to initially locate the area by finding one in flight and following it until it landed. If you want to be absolutely sure of identification at that distance, watch one until it flies and then focus on the tail.

Roseate Terns were at the Dry Tortugas, but we found the Marathon Government Buildings to give better looks. If you follow a dead end road around to the west of the buildings, they can be seen perched on a dock. It becomes unclear when trespassing begins, so take a scope and stop before you pass any signs (you can park in the government building parking area and walk around to the back).

Birding areas we stopped at in Everglades National Park: Anhinga Trail, Paurotis Pond, Mrazek Pond, Eco Pond, Flamingo Marina area (and we canoed from the marina to Coot Bay), Mahogany Hammock, Snake Bight Trail

Canoe rental is available at the Flamingo Marina: $22/canoe for 4 hours. We originally intended to canoe out on Florida Bay and look for flamingoes in Snake Bight, but the winds were very strong and the tides were at inconvenient times. Buttonwood Canal was a lot of fun, and we saw crocodiles and a couple of manatees, although it wasn't horribly birdy. It took us about 3 hours to canoe up to Coot Bay and back to the marina, without trying to go too quickly, of course.

We found Shiny Cowbirds in Flamingo, near the marina/visitor's center. We saw a mixed flock of Shiny and Brown-headed, with three or four male Shiny. I've seen them in that area before; it seems like anywhere from directly in front of the visitor's center to any of the area in front of the marina is where the small flock of cowbirds hangs out (i.e., the parking lots/roads between the marina/visitor's center and Main Park Road).

Snake Bight Trail had mosquitoes, even during the day. It was the only place we encountered in South Florida which had notieceable mosquito levels during the day (i.e., we got really lucky with mosquitoes on the trip; middle of May could be much worse). We wore mosquito jackets on Snake Bight Trail.


Click here for pictures from the trip


Full species list:

Not all locations are recorded for each time a species was observed. This is just meant to highlight interesting or unusual species (and species I can remember)

Species
Corkscrew Swamp
Everglades NP
Florida Keys
Dry Tortugas
American White Pelican
x
Brown Pelican
x
x
Magnificent Frigatebird
x
x
Masked Booby
x
Brown Booby
x
Northern Gannet
Anhinga
x
Double-crested Cormorant
x
Least Bittern
x
Great Blue Heron (inc. Great White and Wurdemann's)
x
x
Great Egret
x
Snowy Egret
x
Reddish Egret (inc. white morph)
x
Little Blue Heron
x
Tricolored Heron
x
Cattle Egret
x
Green Heron
x
Black-crowned Night-Heron
x
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
x
Glossy Ibis
x
White Ibis
x
Roseate Spoonbill
x
Wood Stork
x
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
x
x
Swallow-tailed Kite
x
x
Red-shouldered Hawk
x
Short-tailed Hawk
x
Bald Eagle
x
Common Moorhen
x
Limpkin
Black-bellied Plover
x
Semipalmated Plover
x
Wilson's Plover
x
Black-necked Stilt
x
American Avocet
x
Spotted Sandpiper
x
x
Willet
x
Ruddy Turnstone
x
Dunlin
x
Western Sandpiper
x
Least Sandpiper
x
Stilt Sandpiper
x
Laughing Gull
x
x
Royal Tern
x
x
Sandwich Tern
x
Roseate Tern
x
x
Least Tern
x
Sooty Tern
x
Bridled Tern
x
Brown Noddy
x
Black Skimmer
x
Species
Corkscrew Swamp
Everglades NP
Florida Keys
Dry Tortugas
White-crowned Pigeon
x
Mourning Dove
Common Ground-Dove
x
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
x
x
Smooth-billed Ani
x
Barred Owl
x
Common Nighthawk
x
x
Chuck-will's-widow
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
x
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
x
Pileated Woodpecker
x
Great Crested Flycatcher
x
Eastern Kingbird
x
Gray Kingbird
x
x
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
x
Black-whiskered Vireo
x
x
Blue Jay
x
American Crow
Barn Swallow
x
Cliff Swallow
x
Purple Martin
Brown-headed Nuthatch
x
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
x
Eastern Bluebird
x
Gray-cheeked Thrush
x
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Parula
x
x
Black-throated Blue Warbler
x
Palm Warbler
x
Pine Warbler
x
Prairie Warbler
x
x
Blackpoll Warbler
x
x
Black-and-white Warbler
x
American Redstart
x
x
Common Yellowthroat
x
Northern Waterthrush
x
Northern Cardinal
x
Eastern Towhee
x
Eastern Meadowlark
x
Bobolink
x
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
x
Shiny Cowbird
x
Species
Corkscrew Swamp
Everglades NP
Florida Keys
Dry Tortugas


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