Courtesy of James P. Smith
After a chilly start, the sunshine state more than lived up to its reputation providing us with almost two weeks of bright, virtually cloudless days and beautifully warm temperatures. We targeted bird species found only in Florida and the south-eastern USA and we did very well in finding most of them with Mottled Duck, Masked Booby, Wood Stork, Swallow-tailed and Snail Kites, Limpkin, Brown Noddy, Sooty Tern, White-crowned Pigeon, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Scrub-Jay and Bachman’s Sparrow among the species seen well. Indeed, everywhere we went, we marveled at how absurdly tame many of the Florida birds appeared to be and as a result, the photographers had what felt like a birthday!
As in previous winter tours, mega-rarities featured on the trip. This time our focus was the Florida Keys where the local hotlines provided us with Key West Quail-dove and Black-faced Grassquit, both new to the tour. Finding them could not have been more contrasting, the grassquit was hopping around in rubble behind a campsite bathroom on Bahia Honda Key, whilst the quail-dove was among the most difficult to find species that we’ve ever had on a Florida trip. The bird was lurking in coastal hardwoods just off the Golden Orb trail on Long Key, and needed two visits to secure. It was ultimately brilliantly spotted by tour participant David Hutchings late on our second visit when most of the American twitchers had packed up and left!
Roger Terrell, Mike Baker and Suk Trippier generated considerable enthusiasm for fauna outside of the birding realm with mammals including Eastern Wood-rat, West Indian Manatee, American River Otter and the bizarre Marsh Rabbit. We also listed over 30 species of butterfly and 15 species of reptile and enjoyed healthy discussion over the identification of American Alligator and American Crocodile… we saw them both very well indeed.
We recorded 190 bird species on this tour, our highest on a winter trip thus far. Of these, four exotics are not currently countable under ABA listing rules. However, as with the now countable Purple Swamp-hens and Common Mynas seen on this trip, this could change in the near future.
Gracious thanks go out to all of our tour participants this year. We enjoyed great humour and group camaraderie throughout the trip which certainly makes the trip a lot more pleasurable to lead.
James P. Smith, Northfield, MA, USA