Southern Florida is filled with great places to bird, and this garden is no exception. It lies behind a chain-link fence on a dirt road in Key West and attracts birds, butterflies, and mammals. My husband and I stumbled upon it just as we were leaving the city’s traffic and crowds.
We had the place almost to ourselves. Although it’s advertised primarily as a botanical garden, we found a variety of birds in the fig trees, limes, and coco plums lining the paths. Our day’s list included Bald Eagle, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, a distant kite, Palm Warbler, Muscovy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Egret, and two Common Gallinules swimming in and out of the weeds. An Anhinga spread its wings to soak in the sun, and Yellow-rumped and Yellow-throated Warblers flitted through the leaves high overhead. We also encountered lots of beautiful blue-patterned butterflies.
Resident species include White-crowned Pigeon. Black-whiskered Vireo is present spring through fall. During migrations, fallouts of tanagers and other songbirds occur. The garden is one of the stops on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, and the trail guide describes it as “one of the richest birding experiences in the lower Keys.” I heartily agree. — Shirley L. Ruhe
Shirley L. Ruhe is a former reporter and an avid birder. She also wrote about Monticello Park, Alexandria, Virginia, Hotspot Near You No. 191, and Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, No. 199.
Tropical forest with two of the last freshwater ponds left in the Florida Keys. Giant mahogany trees, Cuban palms, orchids, two butterfly gardens, and native plants.
Flat paths. 70 percent of grounds wheelchair-accessible.
190 species. Muscovy, Masked, and Ruddy Ducks, American White and Brown Pelicans, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Magnificent Frigatebird, Common and Antillean Nighthawks, Belted Kingfisher, Black-bellied and Wilson’s Plovers, White-crowned Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, White-winged and Mourning Doves, Common Ground-Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tree, Bank, Cave, Barn, and Cliff Swallows, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Shiny Cowbird, 36 warblers, nine vireos. Rare: Bahama Mockingbird.
When to go
Best during migration: March through April and September through December.
Raised boardwalk. Eight self-guided tours. Small visitor center offers short introductory video and has bird list, bottled water, and restrooms.
Publicly owned botanical garden. Fees: adults $7, seniors $5, children under 12 free. Parking free. Open 10-4 daily; to enter earlier, call 24 hours in advance. Closed July 4, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Paths generally shaded, but sunny spots can be hot. Wear a hat and bring water.