Places to bird in the Keys

September 19, 2009 

Any park or refuge is a good place for birding, and we have plenty of both to choose from in the Keys.

We’d welcome more detail about your favorite spots, particularly from the Middle and Upper Keys. Just send the info to kquist@keynoter.com, and we’ll expand this list.

In the Upper Keys, state parks Dagny Johnson, John Pennekamp and Windley Key are good places to start. And don’t forget the Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, one of the Keys’ four nonprofit organizations specifically working to rescue and rehabilitate birds.

In the Middle Keys, Curry Hammock State Park on Grassy Key and Crane Point Hammock in Marathon are prime spots. In addition to the wild open space of Curry Hammock, ideal for raptor spotting, the park has a significant hammock on the bayside where you can spot other kinds of birds as well.

The National Key Deer Refuge, headquartered on Big Pine Key, offers a list of spots that span the Lower Keys:

  • Bahia Honda State Park (MM 37.5): An entrance fee is required. Continue through the gate, go right, and then park in the lot on the left. Walk the beach for shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Go to the parking area on the right — warblers may be seen in trees near the old store. Other birds can be found along the beach at the east end and along the road past the camping area.

  • East end of West Summerland Key (mile marker 34.9): just west of the Bahia Honda Bridge, turn north and follow to the “doughnut” (a manmade cove). This is a good area for shorebirds, terns, and gulls. Snowy plovers have been seen here.

  • Big Pine Key (MM 32.9): just after entering onto the Key, turn south onto Long Beach Drive and stop along the road at any convenient spot. Ovenbirds, warblers, waterthrushes, siskins, buntings and orioles may be present during migration and in winter.

  • Big Pine Key (MM 30.2): turn north at the traffic light and then an immediate left onto Key Deer Blvd. (the Refuge office is in the shopping center on the right). Short-tailed hawk and turkey vultures may be observed soaring overhead. At the Blue Hole, pied-billed grebes and green herons may be present. The masked duck and least grebe also have been seen here so it is worth a visit. Opposite the Blue Hole, travel onto Big Pine Street and then left onto Koehn Boulevard. Shorebirds may be present at the mud flats near the end of the road and at the boat ramp.

    To go to No Name Key go east on Watson Boulevard, and follow the signs over the large bridge to No Name Key. Yellow headed blackbird, dark-eyed junco, cave swallow, and Swainson's warbler have been found here. The end of the road is also a good location for mangrove cuckoo and black-whiskered vireo.

    Before leaving Big Pine, a good spot to look for antillean nighthawks is in the vicinity of the west end of Watson Boulevard and along Narcissus Avenue. Antilleans are frequently present late in the day during spring and summer.

  • Summerland Key (mile marker 25): Take the first left after the bridge and a salt pond is on your right. Ibis and egrets can be found here. Take a right onto Margaret St and then the next left. A fresh water pond is on the left. Ducks, least bittern, sora rail, and white-crowned pigeon are found here. Moorhens nest here.

  • Sugarloaf Key (mile marker 17): Turn south at traffic light and drive slowly to the end of the road. Hawks, harriers, woodpeckers can be seen along here. There is the possibility of ducks on the pond on the right and pine siskin, indigo bunting, and grosbeak in the pine trees after crossing the bridge.

    Key West

    Sarah Goodwin-Nguyen, a volunteer at the wildlife rescue center in Key West, offers five top birdwatching spots in the Southernmost City.

  • Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park (1801 White St.): This designated refuge features plants native to Keys’ soil. The freshwater pond comes courtesy of the Audubon Society, which hosts monthly birding walks in the park. Commonly seen are red-shouldered hawks, American kestrels, anhingas, white crowned pigeons, purple gallinules, scarlet tanagers and belted kingfishers. The Key West Wildlife Center is on site to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured local wildlife.

  • Fort Zachary Taylor (Southard Street /Truman Annex): From magnificent frigates, black skimmers and brown pelicans off the beach to red-bellied woodpeckers and broad-winged hawks on the nature trails, “Fort Zach” is a birder’s paradise. In March 2007, the Loggerhead Kingbird, never before spotted in North America, showed up in the canopy.

  • Little Hamaca Park (end of Government Rd.): This 10-acre park boasts a mangrove swamp, a salt marsh, a buttonwood wetland and a hardwood hammock, ending at a canal. Within these various ecosystems, you may spot anything from nesting peregrine falcons to flocks of white-crowned pigeons.

  • Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens (5210 College Rd, Stock Island): This 7.5 acre park is home to many threatened and endangered species of plants. The garden has two freshwater ponds, and is currently building a gigantic fresh-water pond that will be visible from the sky, attracting birds as they pass through for migration.

  • Dry Tortugas National Park (70 miles west of Key West): No serious birder should visit Key West without taking the ferry to the Dry Tortugas for a day. Out here are nesting sites for pelagic birds like the northern gannet, magnificent frigatebird, brown booby, black noddy, and sooty tern just to name a few.

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