See specialties like Gray Kingbird and Caribbean Short-eared Owl and trans-Gulf migrants at Florida's southernmost state park.
By Carl Goodrich | Published: 12/21/2006
Location makes Fort Zach a migratory-landbird trap. In the spring, northeast fronts bring in Caribbean migrants while northwest winds carry trans-Gulf migrants. One day, I saw 19 species of warbler, including Swainson’s, Kentucky, chat, Prothonotary, and Worm-eating, in a hardwood hammock less than an acre in size. Many of the warblers visited temporary drip fountains that I persuaded the park to set up. Sitting near one, I studied birds at close range for hours.
Many of the migrants stay for a few days until winds back around to the south, although some birds disperse up the Keys. Other typical migrants can be found with regularity, including such Florida specialties as Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, Shiny Cowbird, White-crowned Pigeon, and Caribbean Short-eared Owl. In the past two years, I have found Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, and Red-legged Honeycreeper (not yet ABA-countable). The hammock also attracts many migrants in the fall.
The park includes a sandy beach with Australian pines (whether to cut them down is controversial), a large open area with sparse vegetation, and a fort surrounded by a saltwater moat. I usually check all three areas. The pines act as a beacon for incoming migrants. The moat can have waterbirds, including white-morph Great Blue Heron, and migrant landbirds perch in the nearby bushes. Last spring I found a Lincoln’s Sparrow here (rare in the Florida Keys). The open field attracts sparrows, Dickcissels, and Bobolinks and is often where the Caribbean Short-eared Owl can be found.– Carl Goodrich
Carl Goodrich is a winter resident of Key West and a summer resident of Cape Cod. He has more than 50 years of experience birding in Massachusetts and has traveled to Central and South America, Africa, and Europe in search of birds.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates to view location:
Key West, Florida
Varied: Small hardwood hammock, open field with scrub vegetation, and brackish water moat, all bordered by sandy oceanfront.
Flat and easily accessed. Trails, paths, and roadways cover most of the property.
Florida specialties, including Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, Shiny Cowbird, White-crowned Pigeon, and Caribbean Short-eared Owl. Swallows, flycatchers, warblers, buntings, tanagers, orioles, and other trans-Gulf migrants. Waterbirds, sparrows, Dickcissels, Bobolinks. Rarities: Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, and Red-legged Honeycreeper.
When to go
Florida specialties April through October. Swallows, flycatchers, warblers, buntings, tanagers, and orioles during migration. Greatest variety of birds mid-March through early May (peaking in second and third week of April), and September through October. Strays may occur at any season.
Snack bar, toilets, picnic tables, even outside showers.
State park. Admission $1.50 per pedestrian or bicycle, $3.50 per car with one occupant, $6 per car with two occupants. (Add $0.50 for each additional occupant.) Parking ample at fort. Open 8 a.m. to sunset.
Shorts and t-shirts OK year-round. No bug spray necessary. Excellent opportunities for photographing passerines as the tree growth is relatively short. The vegetative cover is thin, and the weather is usually sunny.