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South Florida & the Dry Tortugas

Swallow-tailed Kite South Florida is home to a number of species found nowhere else in the North America, including Mangrove Cuckoo, Black-whiskered Vireo, Short-tailed Hawk, Shiny Cowbird, Smooth-billed Ani, Snail Kite and Florida Scrub-Jay. During our six days of land birding we’ll search for all the specialties as well as the Miami “exotics” – Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Hill and Common Myna, Yellow-chevroned and White-winged Parakeet. We visit dry and wet prairies, wetlands, the pine flatwoods and scrub-oak habitat of south-central Florida, and search the mangroves and West Indian Hardwood hammocks, that make up this wonderful sub tropical paradise. In doing so, we hope to come across a Caribbean stray such as Western Spindalis, Cuban Pewee, LaSagra’s Flycatcher, Zenaida Dove or Key West Quail-Dove.

We will also take a 3-day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park and historic Fort Jefferson, located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida at the height of spring migration. These 7 tropical islands are home to a seabird colony of thousands of Sooty Tern and Brown Noddies, and lesser numbers of Magnificent Frigatebirds, Masked Boobies and Brown Pelicans. Sometimes seen in the vicinity of these islands are Brown Booby and Roseate Tern as well as the rare Black Noddy and Red-footed Booby. Highlights of the trip include possible large numbers of passerines and other migrants that use these islands as a stopover point on their journey to the mainland, as well as the possibility of a visitor from the Caribbean, such as Yellow-faced Grassquit that was seen 2002, Red-legged Honeycreeper (2003) and Bahama Mockingbird (2007). Close-up views of warblers, tanagers, vireos, nightjars, shorebirds and other passerines make for an exciting three days of birding. Snorkeling and sightseeing of historic Fort Jefferson add to the many activities that make up a Dry Tortugas experience.

Focus: Birds, Butterflies, Reptiles, Culture, Scenery, Photography

“You have the best coverage for getting all the Florida specialties, and you allow extra time to ‘get the birds’.” – Barbara Carlson, CA


  • Tour Cost
  • Number of Days (Length of Tour)
    10 days / 9 nights


    Dates & Cost

    April 17-26, 2019

    approx: $2995.00 per person, based upon double occupancy, from Miami, FL.


    Single Supplement
    If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to get a roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $310.00 will be assessed.

    NO SINGLE ROOMS AVAILABLE ON THE BOAT.  Note: the accommodations aboard the “Playmate” for 3 nights are shared between 11 people in 4 rooms.


    What is Included / Not Included in the Cost
    Cost includes pick-up/drop-off at Miami Airport, all ground transportation and accommodations (6 nights on land/ 3 nights on the boat, “Playmate), entrance fees, permits and professional services of your leader. All meals aboard the “Playmate” while in the Dry Tortugas. 


    You will be responsible for purchasing all meals on the land portion of trip (a continental breakfast is included with our hotel stay); making your flight arrangements; trip insurance; gratuities to the “Playmate” crew;


    $500.00, check, paypal or credit card, along with your completed Registration Form


    How to Book
    In order to hold your space, you must complete the Registration Form found on-line, and submit it to us on-line, or download a copy and mail it to us, along with a $500.00 deposit per participant.


    Final Payment
    Full payment, by check, is due 120 days prior to the departure date

  • Itinerary
  • Brief Itinerary:

    Day 1 : Afternoon arrival in Miami

    Day 2 : East Coast Wetlands

    Day 3 : Central Pinelands

    Day 4 : Central Scrub Prairie

    Day 5 : The Keys

    Day 6 : The Dry Tortugas

    Day 7 : The Dry Tortugas

    Day 8 : The Dry Tortugas

    Day 9 : Everglades

    Day 10 : Miami vicinity. Early afternoon departure from Miami


    Note: The order of the itinerary is subject to change, but it will not effect our targets. 



    Day 1 ~ Arrive in Miami

    Upon your arrival at Miami International Airport, you take the airport shuttle to the hotel, checking in any time after 2PM.


    Day 2 ~ Miami; Pembroke Pines; Wakodahatchee Wetlands

    We begin in the south eastern part of the state looking forany Caribbean stray that may have turned up along with a species that has declined dramatically this decade, the Smooth-billed Ani. We’ll get close up views of Burrowing Owl as they keep watch besides their burrows and visit a wetland where a rapidly expanding population of Purple Swamphens exists.


    We’ll finish the day at a couple of wonderful man made water treatment facilities, Wakodahatchee Wetland and Green Cay. While walking the 1/2mile and 1 mile boardwalks respectively, we will encounter Mottled Ducks, Coots, Moorhens, Green Herons and an astonishing number of Least Bitterns, all feeding young. Least Terns are pairing up, Purple Martins are nesting, Limpkins walk the dikes and Purple Gallinules can be seen balancing precariously on the stems of fireflag.


    Day 3 ~ 3 Lakes WMA and vicinity

    Today we head north into the dry prairie and lake region of south central Florida, where we’ll look for the Florida race of Grasshopper Sparrow, Sandhill Crane and Crested Caracara. In the Slash and Long-leaf Pines our target species are Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow but we will also see the southern race of Eastern Towhee, Pine Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Great-crested Flycatcher as well as the stunning Zebra Swallowtail butterfly.


    Day 4 ~ Tiger Creek; Archbold BS; Fakahatchee Strand; Shark Valley

    After breakfast, we search Tiger Creek for Short-tailed Hawk, followed by a visit to Archbold Biological Station for Florida Scrub-Jay, which are found in small family groups amongst the scrub oak. Heading south we’ll no doubt encounter the graceful Swallow-tailed Kite before reaching Shark Valley, the northern entrance to the Everglades, where we’ll scan the sawgrass for Snail Kite’s as they hunt for apple snail. If time permits we’ll end the day at a parrot roost in Miami, where anything is possible!


    Day 5 ~ The Everglades

    Should any rare species be reported within the area, we’ll make an effort to locate it, otherwise it is an all day visit to the Everglades National Park where we’ll explore a variety of habitats, including the ‘River of Grass’ where the endangered ‘Cape Sable’ Seaside Sparrow breeds. Bald Eagles are likely; a lingering Greater Flamingo would be a bonus and a plethora of shorebirds, waders, terns and pelicans can be seen, including American White Pelican, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Caspian and Gull-billed Tern. The endangered American Crocodile can often be found by the marina; Alligators are common inland and butterflies are plentiful, including Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritillary, White Peacock and Ruddy Daggerwings. At night we will return to look for Chuck-wills-widow, Barred and Barn Owl and who knows, we may come across a Bobcat or be extremely lucky and see a Florida Panther!


    Day 6 ~ The Keys

    As we work our way down the Keys we’ll come across Gray Kingbirds and search the West Indian Hardwoods and Mangroves for Black-whiskered Vireo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Yellow Warbler and White-crowned Pigeon amongst the numerous White-eyed Vireos. Various mudflats and beaches will hold Black-bellied Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Wilson’s Plover, Reddish Egret, ’Great White’ Heron, while Osprey, Double-crested Cormorant, Laughing Gulls will be common over the turquoise shallow waters as we cross the many channels between Keys. In Key West we’ll look for Shiny Cowbird and any reported rarity before our dusk vigil for Antillean Nighthawk. We then board our boat for the journey to the Dry Tortugas.


    Day 7 ~ The Gulf Stream; The Dry Tortugas

    Daybreak will find us out in the Gulf Stream (weather permitting), where pelagic birding should reward us with Bridled Tern, Audubon Shearwater, northbound Pomarine Jaegers and there is always the chance of a White-tailed Tropicbird (don’t count on it!) Roseate Terns often are seen on the buoys, as are Brown Boobies. Nearing the Dry Tortugas, Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies and Magnificent Frigatebirds will become a common sight. This is the only place in North America where these 3 species nest along with Masked Boobies. Once we reach the 15-acre Garden Key, the second largest of the 7 islands that make up the Dry Tortugas, most of our birding will be done within the remains of the impressive 19-century brick Fort Jefferson. Here amongst the sea grapes, cottonwoods and Geiger trees we should encounter a wide variety of migrants, including Eastern Kingbirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Red-eyed Vireo, and numerous warblers including Blackpoll, Cape May, Black-throated Green, Palm and Magnolia. For those who are patient enough to sit by the water fountain, the only source of freshwater on the island, the rewards should be great, as all passerines will eventually make their way down for a drink or to bathe.


    Day 8 ~ The Dry Tortugas

    Garden Key will be explored for additional passerines that may have dropped in. The campground often holds Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, Common Nighthawk and Black-and-White Warbler. We’ll visit the largest of the islands, Loggerhead Key where the Caribbean race of Short-eared Owl known as the “Arawak Owl” can sometimes be found. The vegetation here is different, and Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Common Yellowthroats and Bobolinks can often be found hiding amongst the low scrub trying to avoid one of the many raptors such as Merlin or Peregrine that can be seen perched on one of the few trees. During our stay we will visit Hospital Key to see the Masked Boobies as they return to this small sand key from fishing forays; take a skiff ride to see Magnificent Frigatebirds nesting up close; view nesting Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies from the spit adjoining Garden and Bush Key; check the coaling docks for Black Noddy and go for a moat walk at Fort Jefferson, after dark, to view some of the marine life that can been seen in these tropical waters.


    Day 9 ~ The Dry Tortugas; Return to Key West; The Keys

    After breakfast, we’ll make a short visit to Garden Key to check for any overnight migrants before heading back to Key West. Along the way we should encounter Brown Boobies perched on buoys along the park perimeter boundary; Bottle-nosed Dolphins; Loggerhead Turtles and Gannets, Royal, Sandwich and Roseate Terns, as we get closer to our destination. We expect to return to Key West approximately 5PM and then head back up the Keys, picking up anything we may have missed on our way down.


    Day 10 ~ Miami

    We begin our final morning by visiting a nesting colony of the Caribbean race of Cave Swallows, before spending the remainder of our time in the Miami area looking for all the exotics that make this part of North America unique. Red-whiskered Bulbul, Spot-breasted Oriole, Yellow-chevroned & White-winged Parakeet, Hill & Common Myna will all be encountered. The tour concludes at Miami airport at 12 noon.


  • Accommodations
  • Land Accommodations
    6 nights. Good standard motels on the mainland portion of the trip with en-suite facilities.


    Boat Accommodations

    3 nights on the boat for the Dry Tortugas portion of the trip, the accommodations are bunk beds in four shared compartments.


    Our Boat





    - Our motor vessel, M/V Playmate, is 60 feet long with a twenty foot beam.

    - The vessel, a Gulfstream, is U.S. Coast Guard Inspected and powered by twin 8v92ti Detroit Diesel engines.

    - Experienced and well-seasoned crew of 3 to 4, (2 licensed Captains)

    - She sleeps 11 guests in four separate air conditioned staterooms. There are two bathrooms with showers.

    - Cuisine is prepared from the finest quality produce, meats and of course the freshest seafood you can get!

    - Sundecks Fore and Aft

    - Shaded back deck

    - Ice maker

    - Fresh water maker storing 250 gallons

    - Dual Engines and generators

    - Satellite phone for emergencies

    - TV DVD/VCR and Stereo

    - 1100 Gallon fuel capacity

    - Emergency oxygen and first aid equipment

    - USCG Ceritified each year (stability rating is "excellent")

  • Additional Info
  • National Geographic Birds of NA 6thRecommended Field Guide:

    National Geographic Birds of North America

    (6th Edition, 2011, national Geographic)

    by Jon Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer

    - Covers the most likely of possible Caribbean strays



    This trip is for non-smokers only. Smoking is not permitted at any time during our tour.


    Trip Insurance is required for the boat, and highly recommended for the land portion of the trip