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FLORIDA 2003

We started on Merritt Island and under the shadow of the space centre quickly saw Florida Scrub-jays. Moving down the coast to the Fort Lauderdale area the fabulous new reserve at Wakodahatchee Wetlands greatly overshadowed Loxahatchee although a very confiding family of Limpkins did oblige at the latter site. Markham Park gave us the amazing sight of 26 Snail Kites in the air together whilst Fort Lauderdale Airport came up trumps with Smooth-billed Anis and Spot-breasted Orioles. The suburbs of Miami contain numerous exotics and we managed to see all the countable ones in the form of Red-whiskered Vireo and Monk and White-winged Parakeets. Mattheson Hammock Park gave us the first of many Black-whiskered Vireos and Swallow-tailed Kites, plus eleven Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, and the (West Indian) Cave Swallows were still under the bridge at Homestead.

The Everglades were relatively mosquito free except for Snake Bight Trail, I think that this will be my last visit there!! Three of the colonising Shiny Cowbirds were seen at Flamingo and two extremely-distant Caribbean Flamingoes were picked out. Our journey down the keys to Key West was extremely productive with multiple sightings of White-crowned Pigeons, a Peregrine eating a pigeon just a few feet away and the most amazing views of Mangrove Cuckoo. Our first Magnificent Frigatebirds greeted us on Key Largo and, when we arrived on Key West, Roseate Terns were a nice addition to the list.

Our day out on the Dry Tortugas can only be described as a wonderful experience. Breakfast on board, a calm crossing of the most amazing blue seas and then the seabirds! As the islands neared we started to see Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns.Then came the Brown Boobies before the captain pulled in as close as he dared to Hospital Key to see the Masked Booby colony. On Garden Key we had amazing views of the nesting seabirds plus a good selection of migrants: Cape May and Prothonotary Warblers, Ovenbird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Merlin, Common Nighthawk and Blue Grosbeak to name a few. Back on the Keys, an Antillean Nighthawk was seen in comparison to a Common Nighthawk before we headed back to the mainland. Marco Island provided an excellent wader experience with many of the peeps and plovers totally fearless. Snowy Plovers were a nice find here. Nearby at the new Eagle Lake reserve, we found some late wintering Bronzed Cowbirds but the real spectacle were the herons and waders.

Corkscrew Swamp was rather quiet because the staff had been forced to remove the feeders because of problems with a young bear! We were satisfied with our River Otters, three fluffy Eastern Screech-owls and point blank views of Pileated Woodpecker however! Although it rained on Sanibel Island there was very little that we needed there and the next day was dry and clear for Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman's Sparrow at Babcock-Webb WMA.

Northern Caracaras started to occur as we entered central Florida but the Short-tailed Hawks continued to elude us. Our last full day was spent in the Three Lakes area seeing Wild Turkeys, Sandhill Cranes and Northern Bobwhites. A (Florida) Grasshopper Sparrow was a nice find, then at the last gasp a few members of the group saw a dark-phase Short-tailed Hawk. Sadly, it did not re-appear. As we headed back to Orlando for our last night we were met by a torrential downpour, apparently four inches of rain fell in half an hour! Our last morning was spent getting final looks at Wood Storks and Sandhill Cranes.

Florida Scrub-jay

Florida Scrub-jay