Picture yourself on a large sand bar, with tired warblers at your feet and 1000s of screaming terns overhead.
Welcome to the Dry Tortugas! Now, picture yourself on a winding boardwalk surrounded by Anhingas and alligators (at a safe distance). Welcome to the Everglades! And now, picture yourself enjoying such special birds as the White-crowned Pigeon, Black-whiskered Vireo, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Snail Kite. You are birding in southern Florida with Paradise Birding!
-Your Host and Lead Guide, Stephen Shunk
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Our adventure begins in the sprawling metropolis of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale,
although we will quickly leave the city to explore the more rural parts of southern Florida.
We will meet the evening of April 7 at the Best Western motel—Fort Lauderdale Airport, and we will hit the road after breakfast the next morning. We will spend the next three nights among the Gulf Coast and inland habitats around Fort Myers; followed by three nights near the southern tip of the mainland, in Florida City, gateway to the Everglades; and our final three nights at the southernmost point in the United States, Key West.
Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers
After leaving Ft. Lauderdale, we will head toward the southern reaches of Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states. En route, we may stop to scan flooded agricultural fields for shorebirds and raptors. We will then bird a couple of key spots along the lakeshore before having lunch in the town of Belle Glade. After lunch, we will head north to Lake Wales Ridge, where we will visit the Archbold Biological Station—home of one of the highest concentrations of Florida Scrub-Jays. After birding around the station, we will head south and then west down the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers, on the eastern shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
Fort Myers will be our staging area for two full days of birding, from the Gulf Coast to the interior, including Sanibel Island, Tigertail Beach, Corkscrew Swamp, and Six-mile Slough.
Among the many highlights of the Fort Myers/Naples region, we will watch
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at their roost sites, with Brown-headed Nuthatch and Pine Warbler in the canopy and Bachman’s Sparrow in the grassy understory. On Sanibel, we will take a private, guided tram-tour through the mangrove wetlands of Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Just inland, the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will offer some of the best boardwalk birding anywhere, with wading birds, swamp birds, raptors, and more. Around the region, we will watch for Limpkin, Wood Stork, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Short-tailed Hawk as we go from beach to pine barren to cypress swamp.
Fort Myers to the Everglades
To begin our fourth full day, we will head south past Naples, with morning birding on the Big Cypress Boardwalk at Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. We will then head south to Everglades City at the northern boundary of Everglades National Park. This wind-swept town can offer some excellent birding before we enjoy one of our favorite lunch spots overlooking the Barron River. We will take the afternoon to drive east across Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades Wildlife Area, where we may make several stops to search for Snail Kites in the expansive wetlands. We will spend the next three nights at our base in Florida City, from which we will explore the Everglades and the urban habitats of Miami.
We will hire a local guide to help us navigate Miami’s urban jungle, as we search for several fun exotic birds such as the Egyptian Goose, Common Myna, Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and White-winged Parakeet. We will stop at a mall to look for Purple Swamphen, followed by a break from the city at the migration hotspots on Key Biscayne. Our second full day will take us into Everglades National Park, where another world-famous boardwalk will put you eye-to-eye with more alligators that you can count and where amazingly unwary waterbirds wander around at your feet. We will enjoy lunch in the remote village of Flamingo, where we may see Gray Kingbird and Shiny Cowbird. The marina here may also offer our best chances to see West Indian manatee and American crocodile.
Everglades to Key West
The final leg of our trip will give you a true taste of the Caribbean. We will spend the travel day island-hopping down the Florida Keys to sunny Key West, where we will spend our last three nights. Before leaving the Florida Peninsula for Key Largo, we will search for “Golden” Yellow Warbler and Black-whiskered Vireo on Card Sound Road. Various stops along Highway 1 will give us a great sampling of resident waterbirds and migrant songbirds.After stopping for lunch at Steve’s favorite seafood spot, we will pass through the Key Deer and “Great White” Heron refuges, with excellent chances to see both of these endemic gems. If we arrive in Key West with time for some exploring before dinner, we will search for our first White-crowned Pigeons.
Despite its touristic appeal, Key West offers some excellent birding, and we will spend one full day scouring the shores and inland habitats of the island. We will search for Mangrove Cuckoo, Roseate Tern, more White-crowned Pigeons, and any specialty migrants or rarities being reported. Of course, Key West also serves as our jumping off point for a full adventurous day on Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park.
(Tour Summary continued above)
The legendary Dry Tortugas
In 2014, we discovered the premium way to bird the Dry Tortugas: by float plane! Most birders travel to Garden Key by boat—some on the tourist “ferry”, which takes over 2 hours, and some on the slower charter boats, which take over 5 hours, each way. Instead, we will enjoy an amazing low-altitude tour of the crystal-clear Caribbean waters, with sharks, sea turtles, shipwrecks and more seen from your private window of our 10-seater plane. After a comfortable 45-minute flight, we will “ski” into the harbor at Garden Key and spend a full 8-hour day birding on the main island of the park (the tourist boat spends only 4.5 hours on the island).
Garden Key has multiple attractions, including two distinctive birding phenomena: spring migration fallout and nesting seabird colonies. Millions of tiny songbirds leave Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula in April on their routes to northern breeding grounds; many of them rest and refuel on the tiny Dry Tortugas. You will be distracted by Palm and Prairie warblers running around at your feet, while your partner next to you calls out, “Worm-eating Warbler at eye level!” As you enjoy jaw-dropping looks at a *flock* of Summer Tanagers in the same tree, another birder will exclaim, “Blackburnian and Black-throated Blue in the same field of view!” All of this will be happening while Gray Kingbirds, Orchard Orioles, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos hide in the scattered trees and shrubs from the hungry Merlins. And what is that amazing background symphony?
If you can pull yourself away from the migrants for a few minutes, you will become immersed in cacophonous swarms of seabirds, with thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, plus Brown and Masked boobies, and displaying Magnificent Frigatebirds. In case the birds of the Dry Tortugas aren’t enough to keep you busy, you will have ample time to explore the fascinating civil-war-era Fort Jefferson.
Those who get a little warm in the tropical sun might also take a dip in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Our plane ride even includes snorkeling gear for those who wish to swim among the Goliathgroupers and other coral-reef inhabitants around the island. Key West to Miami/Fort Lauderdale After breakfast on our final morning in Key West, we will drive back to Miami for returns to your respective airports. (See note below regarding departures).
Check out this Florida Tour photo album from the 2014 tour made by our tour co-leader Chuck Gates (large PDF file may take a while to open but worth it!)
VIEW COMPLETE FLORIDA TOUR DESCRIPTION PDF
Tour Fee – $4,950 single/$4,225 double
Your tour fee includes: all meals, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages; 10 nights lodging; transportation from Fort Lauderdale; seaplane trip to the Dry Tortugas; park fees, licenses and permits; local guide fees and gratuities; service-related gratuities; and the instruction and leadership of your guide(s). The fee does not include guides’ gratuities, which are never expected but always appreciated based on your satisfaction with our service.
Space is Limited! Space is limited to 6 participants.
Fill out your Reservation Form here and send in with your $95 deposit. Balance due by February 7th.
It was a great trip. I loved spending time in the Everglades and The Big Cyprus Swamp, as part of the trip. We saw a lot of Southern Florida from east to west coast, and the Florida Keys were a special bonus for me. I got 23 "lifers" on the trip, including all the endemic species I wanted to see. Steve runs a great, fun tour.
- Homer Bludau, Newport Beach CA
Awesome trip and incredible views of birds. I will remember the Tortugas ( and de plane) forever!
- Susan Hons, San Carlos CA
You guys are the best! I'd go birding with you anytime!
-Wendy Peterson, Sebastopol CA