Murtha Family vacations are usually looked upon as not vacations, but crazy adventures. This trip, however, had a fair amount of vacation mixed in, because in all the places we went, we were still in balmy Florida where there are great birds at backyards and beaches, roadsides and restaurants, NWR’s and National Parks. Our plan was a crazy one, one that would take us to many corners of south Florida and some areas off the map for most people. The only downside was how rushed we were, but without that element we couldn’t have seen everything we did and anyway, I will definitely be coming back to sweep up and spend more time in some of my favorite areas. All in all,Florida was all it is worked up to be- awesome.
A travel day- after a stopover in Cinncinatti we arrived in Miami around 9 and drove down to Florida City where we were staying the first night.
We managed to pack in a lot to day 1, where or plan was to drive down from FL City all the way to Marathon Key, where we were staying. After getting my life Eurasian Collared Dove (and year Boat-tailed Grackle) in the Hotel parking lot we began our drive south. After passing through the urban boundaries alongside Route 1 we briefly passed through some swampy area where I saw my life Anhinga alongside the road plus birds like Little-blue Heron.
Since we had a lot of time to make stops, once on Key Largo we stopped at John A. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for our first taste of Florida flora and fauna. On our way in we saw our first White-winged Doves, Prairie and Palm Warblers which would all become very common birds throughout the trip. In the State Park we started with a mangrove boardwalk which produced some more migrants including Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, and Great-crested Flycatcher.
After that particular loop we walked around onto a sandbar that cut through some of the crystalline waters and mangroves. Ruddy Turnstones, Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans and Green Herons made themselves very prevelant and we saw our first Magnificent Frigatebird soaring overhead, an ABA lifer (I had seen them before in the Dominican Republic) and already a better view than my previous looks in the Carribean. Little did we know these seabirds would become very common in later days….. Besides birds the sandbar provided views of many tropical fish and even a Southern Stingray swimming in the shallows.
On leaving the park we got great views of a Louisiana Waterthrush foraging in the brush on the side of the road.
After eating lunch at a glorious seaside resturaunt we arrived in Marathon. After checking into our hotel we rented Kayaks and set off to explore the north coast of Marathon Key. It was a wonderful afternoon as we paddled through mangroves and across the shallow bay, coming up to some of the small islands scattered around the offshore waters. We saw many of the same birds we had already seen (including more Frigates), and we saw a nice Wurdemann’s Great Blue Heron, an unusual hybrid between a Great-white and a Great Blue. By far the most numerous birds on the water were DC Corms there were quite a few colonies on the small islands.
For sunset we hauled food to the gorgeous Sombrero beach where there were Least Terns, Willet, and Fabulous looks at Brown Pelicans in the fading light.
Overall, Day 1, although not very birdy, was a great Intro to Florida fauna. However, It was nothing compared to the next day- the Dry Tortugas!