You already know about great fishing in the Florida Keys; but are you aware of the winged riches there? The National Audubon Society has just recognized Florida’s Everglades and Biscayne Bay as “Globally Significant Important Bird Areas,” measured by a set of peer-reviewed, scientific criteria.
In the occasional freshwater ponds, tidal lagoons and in the undisturbed Florida Bay by Everglades National Park, resident and migrating warblers, vireos, tanagers and thrushes share the habitat with white-crowned pigeons, year-round tidal waders and spring-nesting sea birds. And that’s just for starters.
Living only an hour north of the Keys, I often escape for a weekday or two to enjoy nature both under and above the water. The Gulf and the Atlantic — and the mangroves between — are magnets for birds as well as sea life. And to pull it together, the 12-county, 116-site Great Florida Birding Trail opened in 2006 and was renamed the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail in 2011.
The South Florida segment of the trail includes a dozen Keys native habitat stops such as the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Long Key State Park and Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote birders’ paradise located 70 miles off Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. (For trail information, visit here.)
In the Lower Keys, the National Key Deer Refuge‘s 9,000-plus acres of mangrove forests, freshwater and salt marsh wetlands, pine rockland forests and tropical hardwood hammocks are an annual stopping point for thousands of migratory birds, and a winter home to many North American bird species. The refuge lies off U.S. Highway 1 at mile marker (MM) 30.5 bayside on Big Pine Key.
At Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, located on Route 905 at MM 106 bayside, birders can view breeding populations of black-whiskered vireos as well as migrating species such as warblers, white-crowned pigeons, terns, noddies, boobies and other unique Keys shorebirds and songbirds. Rare sightings of the LaSagra’s Flycatcher, thick-billed vireo and Zenaida dove also have been reported.
At Long Key State Park at MM 67.5, you can explore mangrove swamp, mudflat, rockland hammock, beach and coastal berm habitats. At low tide, the Roseate Spoonbill may be spotted dipping its round-tipped bill into the shallows searching for a meal, joined by reddish and other egrets.