Everglades Birding Festival
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2023 Festival Highlights Report
Our 14th Annual Festival — 161 species
Jan 12-16, 2023

Event Coordinator: Paddy Cunningham

Expert Leaders: Paddy Cunningham, Jim Eager, Lois Gles, Mariah Hryniewich, David Simpson

Co-leaders: Steve Kaplan, James Pascatore

Love Patrol (Food): Steve Pascatore, Nick Pascatore, James Pascatore

Participants from 12 states and 2 countries

Just wanted to say thank you again for putting on an amazing birding fest. The Everglades Birding Festival was the best I have ever done. Especially the food. My only regret was not staying the full time. What made it so good was the love, care, and enthusiasm you and your colleagues all brought. And of course the marvelous species both plant and animals. Thanks again!
      Emily Gaman, Charleston, South Carolina  

I was so happy to be part of your festival this year. I really learned a lot and the guides, participants and birds were terrific!  I am sure I will never attend another birding festival where there was so much loving hands-on attention!”
      Jennifer J. Kalb, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I returned to a gray and rainy Chicago; I am already missing the sunny days we enjoyed during the festival. Thank you for the fantastic experience-not only for guiding us so expertly but I learned so much about Florida and its different ecosystems. As we were flying north along the coast, I was thinking about the saucer and the ridges and watching for the canals. I am amazed at how much we saw and did in 4 days. I added 29 lifers--and the burrowing owl was so special.
      Nancy Pinchar, Chicago, IL.


15 species of warblers: Prairie, Magnolia, Northern Parula, Orange-crowned, Ovenbird, Pine, Palm

17 species of raptors: including White-tailed and Snail Kites, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, American Kestrel and Accipiter-Copper's & Sharp-shinned, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Broadwing Hawk

13 species of waterfowl: including Fulvous & Black bellied whistling Duck, Gadwal, Northern Shoveler

5 parakeets: Mitred, Monk, White-eyed, Blue-crowned, Yellow-chevron

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2023 Festival Award Winners: Charles Zafonte-Homing Pigeon-2nd time at festival, Most Life Birds 34 species, Paddy Cunningham, Festival Event Coordinator, Micheal Yoo-Eagle Eye Award-Best Birder, Jeff Schram-Least Amount of Life Birds,

Welcome new leaders Luis Gles and Mariah Hryniewich

Mariah Hryniewich is a Wildlife and Nature Photographer and an avid naturalist from Port Charlotte. Mariah is passionate about most things in nature leading her & Luis to show others the wonder of our world through their tour company, Woodstars Birding & Nature Tours.  Mariah has also been working for the Florida Keys Hawkwatch the past 3 fall migrations and has been doing multiple bird surveys for ARCI-Avian Research & Conservation Institute. She is the birding & social media manager for PhoneSkope and a Kowa Sporting Optics representative.

Luis Gles is a Naturalist from Colombia, currently living in Miami, and is a well-known member of South Florida’s birding community. He is lead hawkwatcher for the Florida Keys Hawkwatch and volunteers at the Cape Florida Banding Station. He is a founding member of Valley of the Colors, an organization focused on developing ecotourism in Colombia and Florida and coordinating with bird tracking agencies. Luis is a co-founder and tour guide of Woodstars Birding & Nature Tours, a company based in Florida. He leads tours to North America, the Caribbean, Central America and Colombia. He is also a Kowa USA ambassador and avid digiscoper.

BROWARD HOT SPOTS - 29 species
It always amazes people how close you can get to a Burrowing Owl at Brian Piccolo Park. It is a great way to start the festival. They can easily be found with a little patience popping out of the ground dwelling burrows usually surrounded by purple flowers. American Kestrels hovered hunting along the wide expanse of the powerlines. An uncommon Red-tailed Hawk soared over head, along with the festival’s only sighting of a Peregrine Falcon. It was great to be able to compare the two falcons in hunting strategies and field marks. Falcons have a consistent wing beat, usually flying in a straight line, as I say ‘in a hurry to go to work’ versus the soaring pattern of Buteo hawks with wide wings and wide tail. Monk Parakeets were seen close on the ground, showing their beautiful turquoise wing patches welcoming everyone to subtropical Florida atour first stop.

Burrowing Owl Photo by Jim Eager

A quick stop at Embassy Lakes gave many their first view of the now countable Egyptian Goose. Expected wetland species Snowy Egret, Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons were seen. Also seen, American Coot and Common Gallinule and Anhinga and Double-crested Cormorants for study comparisons.

Northern Cardinal by Brian Hill                                                                             Gray headed Swamphens

     Chapel Trail Wetlands is one of the most consistent places to see Gray-headed Swamphen, a newly countable species. Called by some Purple Gallinules on steroids due to their large size. Usually found close to the entrance, we had to walk further out to find them along the boardwalk. A mixed flock of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers fed in the hedges with a Northern Cardinal.

     Awaiting us at Long Key Nature Center was a pleasant surprise. The island rookery in the small pond by the entrance was once again attracting a large collection of night roosting wading birds. The birds were back after many years of absence due to the destruction of some of the trees from a hurricane. A variety of herons were found, White Ibis, Cattle and Great Egret. It was one of the reasons Long Key was originally selected for the opening reception.

     The opening reception started with a fun game of human bingo of bird related questions for people to get to know each other quickly. A hearty dinner of smoked barbeque chicken made with love by Paddy’s husband Steve set the stage for her evening talk. Event Coordinator, Paddy Cunningham gave her hometown native understanding of the unique geology and natural history of the Florida peninsula. She discussed the integrated ecosystem of the Everglades and the variety of plant communities that will be visited during the festival’s field trips and the special birds that would be found there. Also, Paddy gave a discussion of her 12-strategy approach for better bird identification and increasing advanced birding skills. This is an important focus of the festival. The small group to guide ratio maximizes the opportunity for birders to learn how to identify the species and where to find them from the best Florida guides-Paddy Cunningham, Jim Eager, Lois Gles, Mariah Hryniewich and David Simpson.


     Birders flock to South Florida to find birds not found in other parts of the U.S. Heading to South Miami is required if you want to add exotic birds to your life list like Red-whiskered Bulbul, Mitred Parakeet, and Scaly breasted Munia. The ebird hotspot, Kendell Baptist Hospital area is a good place to start. Across the street from the hospital, the older neighborhoods have flowering tropical trees, providing the food they need. Driving around the streets we listened for the lilting “Cheery, Cheery”, which is almost Robin like in sound. Quickly stopping, two Bulbuls flew up on the nearby telephone wires. Their acute black crest silhouette is a standout and with careful scope looks you can see the contrasting red accents and brilliant white breast.

     Raucous calls from the sky alerted us that to a flock of Mitred Parakeets which flew by twice. Driving over to the Baptist Hospital, unfortunately, they didn’t stop to rest on the ledges and roof, but we saw Egyptian Goose and wading birds in the small lake next to the road.

     The Miller Drive Exotic Roost can be hit or miss, and the only standout was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. But close by at a house on S.W. 58th St we hit the mother lode. Flying around and landing on the feeder was a nice flock of 10 Yellow-chevron Parakeets. Twenty-five Egyptian Geese were seen along the lake and an out of place Bald Eagle flew over the South Miami neighborhood.

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     Heading north to A.D. Barnes Park, one of the most popular birding hotspots in Miami. It is great for wintering warblers and spring migration. Often Spot-breasted Oriole can be found in the morning and White-crowned Pigeon towards dusk. The Live Oak hammock saved from the ravages of hurricane Andrew has a dense canopy and we were happy to get a Black-throated Green and Northern Parula warblers. But we had come to see an uncommon Rufous Hummingbird which we found, along with a Ruby-throated.


        Rufous Hummingbird                       Photos by Jim Eager                             Bronzed Cowbird

     Birding in Miami at it’s finest (LOL) in the parking lot among the dumpsters and cars at Cortadito’s Cuban Restaurant were our two target birds-Common Myna and Bronzed Cowbird. The red eye and extra feathers on its nape make it a striking bird, even if it is only a cowbird. They have amazing behaviors of fluffy those feathers up into a ruff, and hopping up into a hover when females are around. The Common Myna was seen coming out of a hole in a metal pole with their bright yellow eye liner.

    Blackpoint Marina is the best place to TRY for the Mangrove Cuckoo. We have gotten it only twice during the 14 years of the festival but had no luck this day. Seeing a Short-tailed Hawk flying close over head was a great consolation prize. Our yummy picnic lunch was held along the waterway going out to Biscayne Bay. Muscovy Ducks joined us for a handout.

     Our final stop was Pinewoods Park and it turned out to be the best saved for last. Hoping to see the tiny Scaly-breasted Munia among the tall grasses, unfortunately Paddy only saw one in the windy conditions. But one of the birds we were all hoping to see in its glorious black and orange was pair of Spot-breasted Orioles. I can honestly say it was one of the best times I have ever seen them. They were seen very close in a shrub, on the ground and on top of the tree. Being a life bird for many birders who came running when it was first called out. It was so amazing to see them so close, and we finally had to walk away which usually never happens with this sneaky species. All the exotics we had targeted were found, plus a lot more species. It was a really great day of birding.

     Spot-breasted Oriole (Eager)            Short-tailed Hawk          Scaly-breasted Munia (ebird)


     Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s 2-mile boardwalk wanders through a forest of giant, virgin Bald Cypress. Cypress knees poke out of the still water like periscopes giving the sodden roots stability. The understory is lush with a variety of ferns and flowering swamp lilies. Walking along brings you back to a primordial age with smells of oozy rich soils created by the leaves and needles shed over the eons of time. Barred Owls hooted who cooks for you.

   A small pond in the middle of a forest

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     With the possibility of approaching showers, David and Lois led everyone out for an adventure. Corkscrew is a great place to see woodpeckers and Red-bellied, Downy and Pileated were found. The hoped for wintering warbler flock was located with American Redstart, Palm, Pine, Yellow-rumped, Yellow-throated warblers and the uncommon Black-throated green warbler. Both Northern and the less common Louisiana Waterthrush and White-eyed and Blue-eyed Vireos moved with the group. Tufted Titmouse, an uncommon south Florida species was found calling peter-peter-peter. Anhinga, Limpkin and Black-crowned Night Heron fished by the pond. A quick shower left everyone running for shelter to view this exquisite national treasure in the mist.

               Pileated Woodpecker            photos by Brian Hill              Anhinga                                                         

Visiting Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary | A Cinematic Tour | Naples, Florida, WANDER FLORIDA   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWEJvrjkX38


     Snake Road travels along the border between two major ecotones-Big Cypress and the true Everglades, River of Grass. Along the way up to the Miccosukee Indian Reservation it opens to large agricultural open prairies with many opportunities to see Crested Caracara which we did. Crested Caracara can be found in kettles with vultures with white wing patches and even walking along in the fields. They are related to falcons and found on Mexico’s flag. I call them the matadors of the bird world with their short black cap and stately manner. A great variety of wading birds were located too including Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons and Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets. Also, Wood Stork was seen.

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     Photo from Hendry Glades Audubon                                                                           Photo from SCDNR


     To help clean agricultural fertilized laden runoff, the Stormwater Treatment Areas were developed to reduce excessive pollutants from reaching the Everglades. In the expansive impoundments, the plants uptake the nutrients and flourish. It creates much needed wetland habitat for wading birds and wintering waterfowl. This was our first visit to STA 1, previously for years going to STA 5 and we were not disappointed. Seeing the huge flocks of ducks in flight again was thrilling.

     It was the coldest morning of the festival, so getting out of the vans onto the open dikes and blowing wind was invigorating.  There were many Gray-headed Swamphens along the banks and a large variety of wading birds to see and compare. The sky-blue patches of 200 Blue-winged Teals flashed against the green swaying cattails in a swirl of flight. More than 300 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks lifted up across the sky in an immense display. The rarer Fulvous-whistling Ducks were found in a smaller group hiding in the massive wetland, the rusty tan color showing off this elegant bird. Sora was found (photo-Charles Zafonte)

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     Northern Harriers tilted and glided over the marshes searching for prey by listening with their asymmetrical ears and facial discs like owls. The highlight was a very quick spotting on the much-desired Snail Kite hovering down to snatch an apple snail. White Pelicans and Roseate Spoonbills flew overhead.


     At Okeeheelee Nature Center, we were targeting one species, Painted Bunting. It has a wonderful bay window with an indoor bench to relax and watch the feeder. A single brilliant green female showed up to delight us without competing with the elaborate colored male. I raced around the center to find everyone because two males showed up at feeders in the front of the building. Staying on the porch gave the males the confidence to come out to show off their red, blue and yellow array. Striking!!!

     Peaceful Waters Sanctuary was a first for the Everglades Birding Festival and it will not be the last. It was impressive to see how many species we saw there including the Painted Bunting not at a feeder but in the grass which is very unusual. In the back fenced pond was a collection of waterfowl including Green-winged Teal, American Shoveler, Gadwall, Mottled and American Wigeon. We got an amazing look at the illusive Wilson Snipe which can be very difficult to find due to their camouflage. Some other great birds we saw were Sora, Short-tailed Hawk and a very close-up view of a Prairie Warbler in a close hedge.

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Tamarac Exotic Pond, T.Y. Park-Parakeet Roost, Hagen Park, Biltmore Golf Course, Miller Dr. Exotic Roost (Brewers Park)

     The Tamarac Exotic Pond has many interesting species to see, but most are not countable like Red-crested Pochard, Chestnut Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Mallard, Mandarin Duck, Ringed Teal, and Mute Swan. Non-domestic species included Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Wood Duck, Redhead and Cinnamon Teal.

          Photos by David Simpson

     T.Y. Park is one of the most consistent places in Broward County to find parakeets. The sprawling limbs of the large Live Oak trees provide cozy places for perching and plenty of acorns for food. Parakeet species found included Blue-crowned, Mitred and White-eyed. Mitred Parakeets are a countable ABA species. For birders who haven’t made it to the tropics before to see them in their native habitats, it’s fun to see up to 36 different exotics species in Broward. Merlin was seen hunting in a nearby tree. At Hagen Park in Wilton Manors, 30 Blue-crowned Parakeet were in a large flock.

          White-eyed Parakeet                        MERLIN                               Blue-crowned Parakeet  (David Simpson)

     The chance to see a Code 5, Red-Legged Honeycreeper was too much to pass up and so the trip headed down to South Miami. Miller Dr. Roost (Brewer’s Park) has a great reputation as a place to find a variety of exotic species in the evening. The birds come to roost for the night after a day of feeding among the tropical fruiting trees in the nearby older neighborhoods. The Honeycreeper was not located but they did find for the festival Cedar Waxwings, and a Neotropic Cormorant. A quick visit to the historic and beautiful Biltmore Hotel and Golf Course provided the final exotic species, a Red-masked Parakeet which was great to see in order to compare it the previously seen Mitred Parakeet.



     The local birders call it Lucky Hammock and the surrounding Frog Pond Wildlife Management Area just outside the national park is a great first place to start your birding day. It was living up to its name when an early morning Barn Owl flew by for everyone to see. Raptors sightings were abundant with many views of Northern Harriers, including the beautiful male grey ghost as he is called. They titled and glided over the open fields hunting. A striking male American Kestrel in the emerging sunlight showed his rusty tail as he hovered looking for breakfast This is a unique hunting style for the falcons.

                 Photo by James Pascatore                                                  White tailed Kite   Photo by Jeanette Rawls

     A far-off view of a White-tailed Kite and his gull like appearance and flight was spotted by Jeff Schram. This is a striking but not a common bird, except for here. Just Lucky! Common Ground Doves showed their rusty wings when flying away were life birds for a few of the participants. Migrating American Robins, maybe trash birds in your neck of the woods made the South Florida birders happy.

     Across the street, we walked down to the hammock, a small tree oasis plucked in the middle of now fallow farm fields. A Red-shouldered Hawk alarmed with our presences flew into the hammock carrying nesting material. Right at 9:00 o’clock as Paddy had predicted in her talk on Birding by Season, all the Turkey Vultures lifted up and began kettling overhead. One Black Vulture was found as he does some flapping to keep up with his bigger winged relative. But we searched and eventually found a high-flying dark morph Short tailed Hawk that will fly with circling vultures, often at the very top of the kettle. Two joined a dark and white morph swooping together in a free dive maybe a show of early courtship behavior.


     Everglades National Park is home to the most endangered and threatened species in the continental U.S. At the Ernest Cole Visitor Center, Paddy gave a talk at the beautiful tile mosaic about the South Florida/Everglades ecosystem, tying in all she had previously discussed at the opening reception. What everyone had seen and explored over the past 4 days was all coming together in a better understanding of this recognized “International Biosphere” a truly unique environment and dynamic ecosystem.

Photo by James Pascatore   

     Heading down to Flamingo on a sparrow and shorebird mission, we saw only Savannah Sparrow and a Spotted Sandpiper. A Bonaparte’s Gull flew by at the campground amphitheater. The sandbar was above Florida Bay for a change, and it was filled with Terns-Royal, Caspian and Forester’s. There were hundreds of Black Skimmers and a variety of gulls-Laughing, Ring-billed and one Great blacked-back. Both Brown and White Pelicans were on the sandbar, along with many Willets.

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      Another wonderful thing about Flamingo is the opportunity to see two endangered animals and we saw them both. Flamingo is the most consistent place to find American Crocodile. Its habitat is brackish water and can be told from an alligator by its lighter gray color. It rides lower in the water and has teeth on the outside of its jaw. Everyone was so excited to see the Manatee swimming among the docks. Nature’s blimp

     Long Pine Key picnic area and campground is the best place to find Brown-headed Nuthatch. It took the group some time, but we finally found some. They are very tiny and fly high in the open canopy. Like all nuthatches they can climb down a tree or branch. The Brown headed Nuthatch also spends a lot of time feeding on the pinecones. Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers pecked among the Dade County Slash Pines. The warblers moved in a mixed flock of Yellow-rumped and Palm. Pine Warblers with their special mustard like green color sang like a chipping sparrow, along with the Eastern Towhee’s ‘Drink your tea’.

     The wonderful day in the Everglades ended with Lois and Mariah finding Western Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher along the road near Lucky Hammock. Loggerhead Shrikes hunted from the telephone wires. Their black mask makes them a true bandit efficient in catching lizards and dragonflies with a hooked beak and impaling their prey on bob wire and thorns. We ended the night at Robert is Here famous for their tropical fruit milkshakes-papaya, key lime, mango, strawberry, passionfruit and more. It is fun to see all the local fruits and vegetables the Redlands produces. There are also unique South Florida jams, jellies and coconut products. A very unfortunate incident occurred in parking area with the vans, a first for the festival. But we were rewarded with a rare citing of a Lesser Nighthawk. They is a variety of exotic bird species and farm animals to see. But it is all about the MILKSHAKES. 



     The Florida Keys specialties are exactly that, species found in only a few places and difficult to locate in the deep shade of the rare tropical hardwood hammocks of North Key Largo. Although we dipped for the first time on White crowned Pigeon and Cuban Yellow Warbler, it was a striking beautiful day with cool temperatures in the 70’s and scattered puffy clouds on a bright blue sky. This is what we call WINTER in South Florida, and we were in THE KEYS.

     At the base of the Card Sound Bridge is the best I know to try for the Cuban Yellow Warbler. Today it was alive with numerous sightings of wintering warblers. The loud metallic chip of the Northern Waterthrush got everyone excited as it walked along the mangrove water edge. It played hide and seek in and out of the arching prop roots of the Red Mangrove. The roots acting like the buttresses of an old gothic church, stabilizing them from the constant changing of the tides and torment of hurricanes. It was a delight to see the rolling bob of the Northern Waterthrushes’ tail and to discuss differences in waterthrushes.

                      Photo by James Pascatore                                                photo by Brian Hill

     Still hoping for the Yellow Warbler, for a consolation prize we were blessed with extremely close views of Prairie Warbler, a common resident of this brackish mangrove habitat seeing its brilliant yellow breast with black side streaks. Also seen were two gleaning warblers who walked along the branches looking for insects among its bark. The famous Black and White Warbler is the only warbler who can walk down a branch like a Nuthatch thrilled us. Seeing yellow, black and white alerted us to the presences of the Yellow-throated Warbler.


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     Traveling over the high Card Sound Bridge, it presents you with one of the most breathtaking views of the Florida Keys. Laying before you are the Crocodile Lake and North Key Largo National Wildlife Refuges. The broad expanse overlooking the sound and land is home to some of the rarest animals in the U.S. Endemic to North Key Largo is the Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly, and Key Largo Wood Rat. Explore this area by plane https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV11F0s0uls&t=29s

    Also, the rare tropical hammock plants cannot be found in the same numbers anywhere else on the continent. Going down the road we saw a nice group of White Pelican feeding in the mangrove lakes. There is always a chance for a White crowned Pigeon to fly across the road with great speed from one side of the hammock to the other. Look for a more upright head posture in comparison to a Rock Pigeon.

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 photo by Jeanette Rawl

     Dagney Johnson Key Largo Botanical State Park can be hit or miss, but we are always hoping for a sight of the extremely hard to find Mangrove Cuckoo. The hike started great with a high-flying sighting of the two of the most sought-after birds in the keys Magnificent Frigatebird and Short-tailed Hawk. Short-tailed Hawk was seen on almost every trip during the festival including dark and white morphs once together. Along the asphalt trail David and Paddy pointed out the interesting trees and ecology of this unique environment including the Fish Poison or Jamaican Dogwood tree and Poisonwood with its black oozing sap. Protected in the keys, the Poisonwood tree is the favorite fruit for the White crowned Pigeon and is related to Poison Ivy and Mango. Looking through the dense shady canopy was White eyed Vireo, Northern Parula and Prairie warblers. Emily Kim found an Ovenbird ahead on the trail sifting through the fallen leaves.


Alabama Jack’s Photo by Michael Yoo

     There is no better way to the end the festival then to have lunch at the famous Alabama Jack’s. The conch fritters are THE BEST IN THE KEYS. Its open-air waterside bar has the Jimmy Buffet appeal you are hoping for and looking for in the Keys. Don’t make the out-of-town rookie mistake by calling it nothing other than “KONK” when ordering the Conch Fritters. Sitting there awaiting platters of fried fish, crab cakes and conch is a great to tell stories and remanence about what happened during the 5 days of the festival. A final checklist is gathered from all the leaders and birders from the various trips. We were all excited by all the birds we saw rare and common, and the total was 161 species. Eleven above our average. Another wonderful Everglades Birding Festival was enjoyed by one and all. See you next year - Jan. 11-15.


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Birding Adventures
Paddy Cunningham

5181 SW 27th Terrace
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33312
(954) 805-6810