The Florida Keys Curry Hammock State Park
September 23 marks the autumnal equinox in the
northern hemisphere, despite summer-like conditions persisting in Florida.
Even so, bird and butterfly migrations signal a seasonal change is "in the
air." One of the most dramatic of bird migrations occurs each fall in
the Florida Keys. Thousands of falcons, hawks, kestrels and other
North American raptors (birds of prey) funnel through the island chain en
route to warm wintering grounds in Central America and South America.
To witness the river of birds, plan a fall visit to Curry Hammock State
Park., near Marathon. Between mid-September and early November, this
1000-acre park hosts staff from HawkWatch International. They monitor
more than 15,000 migration raptors including nearly 2,000 peregrine falcons,
the highest count for this species in North America.
Curry Hammock is a site on the Great Florida Birding
Trail. In addition to raptors and other seasonal specialties, expect
to see more common year-round populations of wading birds, shorebirds,
pelicans and osprey. White-crowned pigeons, mangrove cuckoos and
black-whiskered vireos are sought-after rarities. The park plays a key
role in the annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival, scheduled
this year for October 12 through 14.
While birding is excellent, park visitors enjoy
paddling, swimming, snorkeling, bicycling, seasonal camping and fishing.
A section of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail creates a scenic route
through the park for bicyclists, incline skaters, walkers and runners.
Try a peaceful paddle in canoe or kayak and skim over shallow seagrass flats
and nose into narrow mangrove creeks. Spotted rays, nurse sharks, bait
fish, and the occasion al porpoise or manatee are spotted in and
around the park. A 1.5-mile nature trail winds through a rare rockland
hammock, lush with tropical trees and shrubs typical of the Caribbean,
including the largest population of thatch palm s in the U.S. Schaus
butterflies, tree snails, and other rare wildlife depend on these hammocks.
Curry Hammock is a part of the Circumnavigation
Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,500-mile sea kayaking route that follows the
Florida coastline. For information, visit dep.state.fl.us/gwt/paddling/saltwater.htm.
An oceanfront campground is open November 1 through
May 31. For more information, visit floridastatepark.org.