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The Florida Keys Free Press

Excerpts of articles from the Florida Keys Free Press; Wednesday, September 18, 2013, Volume 26, Number 44 Issue. The articles are republished below as they appeared on the printed publication.

By Josh Gore

Much like any outdoor adventure involving nature, birding takes a great deal of patience and also knowledge. About an hour before sunrise Sunday along the Layton Trail, birdwatcher Rafael Galvez, armed with a flashlight, dodges spider webs in a quick trek to the edge of Florida Bay. Standing there, he documents birds without seeing them. It is an ideal spot with still, glassy water.

“Much of what birding entails is listening, not just seeing,” said Galvez, a Homestead resident who heads the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. He will spend the next two months in the Middle Keys documenting the annual migration birds take on their way to South America. Galvez will also serve as the keynote speaker at next week’s 15th annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival.

While on the quiet trail Sunday morning, Galvez uses his iPhone recorder to document the calls he hears. As daylight approaches, he begins noting birds on a clipboard log. Birders hear about one in every 10 birds, he says. Cautious throughout the hike, Galvez makes an effort to avoid disturbing even the smallest insects.freepress_Page_26

Just south from the Layton Trail, Galvez makes his next stop at Long Key State Park. With prior approval from park rangers, birders may be able to access the area before the park opens at 8 a.m. Though it comes with an entrance fee, the park offers a trail as well as a boardwalk with stairs up to an overlook. There, Galvez notes cloud cover, visibility as well as wind direction for his logbook. From the towering position, an osprey could be seen hovering a couple hundred yards away.

During the trek, Galvez records hundreds of warblers, a very small and quick bird that can sometimes only be audibly detected. Other small songbirds noticed along the hike are ovenbirds. These tiny olive-colored singers stick close to ground. Shorebirds, including the long-legged willet, are also seen migrating.

Songbirds migrate at night in order to avoid hawks and other predators. Raptors can be seen flying any time during the day.

Also found darting around the trail’s hammocks are white-crowned pigeons, a year-round inhabitant that’s threatened in Florida.

While tackling the trail, mosquito repellant, binoculars and proper footwear for flooded areas are essential. After Long Key, the experienced birder moved on to Curry Hammock State Park to document and track hawks.

Susan Sorensen, a Lower Matecumbe Key birder, finds Long Key attractive for birdwatching because of the island’s geographic makeup.

She says the best places to see birds are in areas of low land concentration between Long Key and Big Pine Key.

“The Keys are such a great tropical highway,” she said.

She is also awaiting the return of a Cooper’s hawk that visits her home every fall. The peak of raptor migration isn’t until mid to late October.

In the Upper Keys, Audubon researcher Pete Frezza says his favorite birding comes early in the morning on the bayside just north of Founders Park in Islamorada.

Other places Frezza recommends is Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Frezza said these places offer quiet, heavily-forested areas that attract many migrating birds. Getting off the islands to watch the migration can bring its own thrills, he added.

“It’s really fun to paddle out on a full moon and you can sometimes see the songbirds, ”Frezza said. “I really think the best is on Florida Bay.”


Read more.

The Key Noter

Excerpt from “Keys Birding Festival adds fun events”  Friday, September 20, 2013 article published on The Key Noter.


Whether you’re a longtime local or an occasional visitor, organizers of the 15th annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival know there’s something that will capture your interest on the festival’s list of nearly 40 field trips, happy hour talks and workshops.
“We encourage you to take this opportunity to get outdoors and experience the natural beauty of the Florida Keys. Our trip leaders are experts in their field, and they’ll strive to make every event fun, engaging, and educational,” festival coordinator Kristie Killam said. “We guarantee a great adventure that will amaze your senses and energize your spirit. What are you waiting for? Get outside and live a little like you are on vacation.”

From Key Largo to Key West and from the Everglades and Biscayne Bay to Dry Tortugas national parks, the Tuesday through Sunday festival offers guided bird and butterfly walks, happy hour talks, wildlife photography workshops, a family-friendly wildlife fair, boat and paddle trips and a birding and photography excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Spending some time on the path less traveled is an excellent way to get a fresh perspective on our much-beloved chain of islands. It doesn’t take a hardcore birder to appreciate that, though they’re sure have a great time, too.


Keynote speaker Rafael Galvez is leading a series of walks, workshops and talks that will spotlight the variety of birds that travel through the Keys at this time of year, from the smallest of warblers to the largest birds of prey.

There’s a reason the festival’s motto is “Witness the Magnificence of our Spectacular Fall Migration,” said Galvez, a talented illustrator and organizer of the annual two-month-long citizen science project known as the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

Take the migratory journey of a warbler, for example: “It weighs less than two dimes put together. Yet, flying at night, it migrates all the way from the North Atlantic to South America. In order to refuel for this journey, it stops in, of all places, the Florida Keys,” he said.

Four of Galvez’s walks begin before sunrise. “Those morning trips are going to be special,” he said, because that’s when those fly-by-night songbirds “plunge into the vegetation and feed like crazy.”

Just hearing the sound of all that activity in the woods around you is a thrill, Galvez said. And there’s always the possibility of spotting a rare species, like last year’s encounter with a lemon-yellow Bullock’s Oriole on a Long Key State Park trail. That’s a sighting that had the birding world abuzz, said Galvez, who counts it among his favorite birding-in-the-Keys moments.

“We see excellent birds,” Galvez said. “We see some birds that have to be reviewed by the Florida Ornithological Society because they’re not known to be in Florida.”

Backstage pass

Guided by birding, butterfly and photography experts from throughout South Florida, festival participants get a backstage pass to many of our natural gems, including a half-dozen state parks, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, the National Key Deer Refuge and the waters of the Upper Keys backcountry. Stuck in the 9-to-5 grind? You can join keynote speaker Galvez for one of those early morning walks in Key Largo, Long Key or Big Pine Key or attend one of three talks set for happy hour in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West.

Curry Hammock

For the past three years, the Homestead-based Galvez has organized the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, the southernmost migration monitoring project in the continental United States. From its perch at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon, the largely volunteer effort documents as many as 25,000 birds of prey of 18 species and more than 120 species of waders, shorebirds and songbirds as they migrate through the Keys in the fall. The festival is partnering with Hawkwatch to provide festival goers with daily opportunities to participate in citizen science. Combine that with opportunities to spot migrating songbirds and rare endemic bird and wildlife species in the beautiful subtropical habitats of the Florida Keys and you have the ingredients for a fantastic adventure. Galvez kicks off his walks at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. Later in the day, he joins Audubon’s Pete Frezza for “Wading Birds of Florida Bay,” the festival’s opening evening event at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo. Friday evening’s reception at the Marathon Garden Club, “The Spectacular Fall Migration over the Florida Keys” also features Galvez, as well as refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. Among other festival highlights: — Florida State Parks biologist Janice Duquesnel leads three walks in Dagny Johnson, Windley Key and Indian Key state parks that will provide insight into our islands’ unique history – both natural and manmade. — Local photographer Chad Anderson and Through the Lens Gallery’s Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez share their secrets with budding nature photographers during workshops and field trips. — Joy Tatgenhorst of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary guides mangrove kayak expeditions around Curry Hammock. — Key West birding guide Mark Hedden introduces “The Magnificent Seven: Seven American Birds You’re Unlikely to See Outside the Florida Keys.”


Two of the festival’s perennial favorites are slated for the weekend. — Bring the family to the Wildlife Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at Curry Hammock and enjoy free park admission. The fair features folk music by Grant Livingston, dozens of booths, a scavenger hunt, hands-on kids’ projects and burgers and dogs benefiting Friends of Islamorada Area State Parks. Visit the traveling Sheriff’s Animal Farm. Go on self-guided kayak expeditions and beach hikes. Round out your day with a free evening astronomy program with Elizabeth Moore, NASA Solar System educator. — Birding guide Hedden and photographers Fortune and Lopez lead two groups on a daylong trip via ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, a favored bird stopover 70 miles out from Key West. “There is something for everyone at this year’s festival,” Killam said. “We encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in the Florida Keys.” Advance registration is required for many events. For the full schedule and registration details, visit You can also register by calling Kristie Killam at 305-304-9625. The Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is sponsored in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

Read more.

The Key Noter

Excerpt from “Osprey sparks lifetime interest” Friday, September 20, 2013 article on The Key Noter


Rafael Galvez still has the science fair project he did when he was 13. It was a study of water birds, compiled and illustrated by the budding young citizen scientist who now runs the southernmost U.S. raptor migration monitoring project, the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

“I had just arrived in Miami, and I had never seen so many water birds,” said the Peruvian-born Galvez, the keynote speaker for this year’s Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival. He liked to draw, so he started drawing the birds that caught his eye.

An osprey on a nearby lake was his “spark” bird – the term birders use for that special species that first sparked their interest in the hobby. Then his father picked up a 1930s-era Roger Tory Peterson guide at a neighbor’s yard sale. “When I saw a bird and knew I could refer to [the guide], I was hooked.”

Galvez hopes that kind of inspiration strikes some of the participants of the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival, which starts Tuesday, Sept. 24. He’s leading several bird walks and workshops, as well as giving two evening talks. “It takes that one bird to awaken your curiosity,” he said.

The talented illustrator is a member of the Miami-based Tropical Audubon Society board of directors, for which he focuses on Everglades conservation issues, and is the publisher of the organization’s print publication. His current work focuses on strengthening the monitoring of migratory birds throughout Important Bird Areas in the region.

Galvez has participated in conservation and education projects in Florida, Latin America and Eurasia. He serves on the Florida Ornithological Society’s records committee, in charge of evaluating reports of birds documented in the wild, and updating the official record of species for the state.

He is a contributor to the Hawk Migration Studies Journal, published by the Hawk Migration Association of North America. Galvez’s bird and habitat illustrations have appeared in numerous publications, and are featured in his field guide to Raptors and Owls of Georgia (Caucasus); they were instrumental in a campaign to deter the illegal poaching of birds of prey in that region.

Galvez lives in Homestead, where he’s close to birding meccas like Everglades and Biscayne national parks and, of course, the Florida Keys.

Four the past three years, Galvez has organized the Keys Hawkwatch. The volunteer effort documents as many as 25,000 birds of prey of 18 species and more than 120 species of waders, shorebirds and songbirds as they migrate through the Keys in the fall.

Galvez’s work on Hawkwatch began Sept. 15 and will continue into November at the count site at Curry Hammock State Park. He’s up early each morning doing flight surveys or transect counts in the Middle Keys. When not out in the field, he’s teaching workshops on bird and habitat painting.

Last year, the Hawkwatch counted a record-breaking number of peregrine falcons traveling through the Keys on their way to South America. It was one of the highlights of his birding life.

“It’s something spectacular that few people get to see in their lives, and it’s right here,” he said.

Read more. 

The Key Noter

Excerpt from “The world’s fastest bird – ‘a remarkable comeback'” Friday, September 20, 2013 article on The Key Noter


The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a powerful falcon that hunts medium-sized birds. They are the world’s fastest bird and can fly at speeds over 200 miles per hour.

The peregrine is a crow-sized bird that weighs just over 2 pounds and has a wing span of about 3 feet. It has a notched beak that is used to kill prey by severing the spinal column at the neck.

An adult peregrine has a dark grey back and crown, dark bars or streaks on a pale chest and abdomen, and heavy stripes on the side of the face.

Immature peregrines are buff in front and have dark brown backs; adults are white or buff in front and bluish-gray on their backs. Females and males are identical in appearance, but the female can be a third larger than the male.

Once on the federal list endangered species because of the use of pesticide DDT, the peregrine falcon has made a miraculous comeback in population size since the 1970s. These magnificent creatures are one of the success stories of the Endangered Species Act; peregrines were officially delisted in 1999.

Peregrine means “wanderer,” and that they do; they may travel as far north as the Arctic tundra to raise their young, and then back to South America to winter.

Don’t miss a chance to see this awesome, awe-inspiring species migrating through the Florida Keys. Nowhere else on Earth have peregrine falcons been documented in higher numbers during migration than in Curry Hammock State Park, when Florida Keys Hawkwatch counted 651 peregrines in a single day (and 3,836 total) in 2012.

Sources: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Florida Keys Hawkwatch

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