South Florida & The Keys Apr 28—May 03, 2012

Posted by Louise Zemaitis

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Louise Zemaitis

Louise Zemaitis is an artist and naturalist living in Cape May, New Jersey where she is a popular field trip leader teaching birding workshops as an Associate Naturalist wi...

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When birding South Florida in springtime we always hope for the right mix of ingredients to bring us a good showing of migrants: southerly winds giving songbirds a push on their way north from the West Indies, and rain over Florida causing them to stop and seek shelter. Such ingredients fell into place perfectly on this year's South Florida and The Keys tour. The rain did not make for the most comfortable birding, but boy was the birding spectacular! Those who witnessed this "fallout" will remember it as being one of the best in recent history. It was a privilege to witness such a rare ornithological event.

The first migrants we noticed were a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo in suburban Kendall—in these migration events, the larger, faster birds usually show up first. Then, during lunch at Bill Baggs, we noticed warblers in the trees near the restaurant's restroom. The fallout had begun! While we walked in the rain we found tired birds that had recently made landfall after their harrowing journey over the open sea. Prairie, Black-and-white, and Blackpoll warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Bobolinks all showed brightly despite dreary conditions. American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Cape May Warbler dominated the mix of species. An Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, and Veery all sharing one binocular view were particularly memorable. The next day in the Everglades there were hundreds of Indigo Buntings along the roadsides.

Once in The Keys, we began to realize the breadth of the event. Dagny Johnson State Park was full of warblers. Cape May, Black-throated Blue, and American Redstart continued to dominate the mix. A small puddle of perfect depth enabled us to have great views of several warbler species, plus a beautiful little female Painted Bunting. Our entire time in The Keys was filled with migrants. No stop was without a sighting. Some particularly memorable moments include an American Redstart feeding at the high tide line at Bahia Honda State Park, an absolutely gorgeous Kentucky Warbler at Fort Zachary Taylor, and the "magic fig tree" filled with birds on Sugarloaf Key.

The rain that brought us all of these wonderful migrants made it a challenge to find some of the resident species that had wisely taken shelter. We did, however, enjoy great views of Orange-winged Parrots eating fruit at Fuch's Park in Miami, and in Kendall we found a large flock of Mitred Parakeets clinging to the leeward side of Baptist Children's Hospital. We missed Snail Kite on our excursion out the Tamiami Trail, but our perseverance was rewarded with excellent views of two Limpkins. And we later had excellent views of a male Snail Kite hunting along Route 1 while en route to The Keys. The always spectacular Everglades held a fledgling Barred Owl at Pa-hay-okee Overlook, hunting Swallow-tailed Kites along the roadside, and a fabulous flock of shorebirds in Flamingo. More shorebirds on Ohio Key, a flock of White-crowned Pigeons feeding on figs, and a last-stop "Great White" Heron were favorites in The Keys.

We experienced great birding in a fun, compatible group. Some noteworthy non-birding moments included the fish at Islamorada Fish Company (both on our plates and in the water), the variety of fruits and milkshakes at "Robert is Here," and sampling key lime pie at different restaurants.