Visit the Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park
The Florida Keys Hawkwatch welcomes visitors of all ages and interests. The project operates daily each fall – rain or shine – from September 15 through November 2, 9am to 4pm (Eastern Daylight Saving Time) at Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.5 (ocean-side) on the Overseas Highway, Middle Keys Florida.
Curry Hammock State Park is located at Little Crawl Key, Florida (24º 44’ 50” N, 80º 59’ 00” W, elevation 2 masl.),
56200 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Florida 33050. 305-289-2690.
Be aware that Curry Hammock State Park is a fee area. We love to have visitors at the hawkwatch at any time, and one way to support the project is by supporting the park. Please call 305-289-2690 for updates on park fees.
The hawkwatch takes place from the second floor of the bathhouse on the campground at Curry Hammock State Park. Please be aware that this area is typically restricted for campers only, and the park makes a kind exception in allowing hawkwatch visitors to enter the area; so be mindful of campers and their privacy. Visitors should not park in the campground area, but in the “day use” area parking lot, and make the short walk back to the campground bathhouse, either along the driveway and a path next to the white gate, or along the beach. Please don’t ask for campground codes; these are restricted to campers. If any of this is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask park officers; they will be very helpful in guiding you to the hawkwatch. Please click the image below for a larger view.
There is much to do at Curry Hammock State Park, other than experiencing the wonderful raptor migration phenomenon. The park also attracts migratory song birds, and can be a great place to see warblers in the fall. Ask for a park map at the front office and consider a hike through the nature trail at Fat Deer Key. The park also attracts good numbers of shorebirds and waders, and may have more than a dozen species feeding on the beach wrack line durning mornings and afternoons.
If birds are not your thing, the park offers a great beach for swimming and snorkeling. The mangrove edges of the park are a great place to kayak. And kiteboarders flock to the park when the winds are right.
The Florida Keys Hawkwatch is operated entirely by volunteer coordinators and counters. This project would not be possible without the help of people dedicated to the cause. If you’d like to help monitor raptor migration, experience identifying birds and doing field work is important, but no expert raptor ID skills are required. A training session is provided on-site. Come join us at the southernmost migration site in the U.S. anytime between September 15 and November 2. The site counts an average of 20,000 raptors per season, including Short-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites, and is the highest daily Peregrine Falcon count in the world. If you are interested, please contact Rafael Gálvez at TASpublisher@gmail.com, 305-804-6003.
Visitors of all ages are welcome at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch monitoring site every day at any time. No registration or advanced contact is required for walk-in visitors.
Below is a set of Frequently Asked Questions regarding volunteering and participating at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, with their respective answers. Please don’t hesitate to call or email if your question or concern remains unanswered.
Q: 1 – What does volunteering at FKH entail?
A: Willing participants are needed to assist the official FKH counters in monitoring the migration of birds of prey from the observation deck at Curry Hammock State Park. Volunteers may choose to participate for as short as a single day, or for several days. The monitoring consists of continually scanning the skies for birds of prey engaged in migratory movement. Although many birds can be observed without the aid of optical equipment, binoculars are an imperative tool for the detection and identification of most birds. Spotting scopes become necessary in the identification of very distant or high altitude migrants. The observed birds are logged into data forms, where they are categorized according to species, including age, sex and other details whenever possible. Additionally, flight distances and climactic conditions are logged and incorporated into the data set.
Q: 2 – How good of a hawkwatcher does a volunteer need to be?
A: Volunteers of ANY skill level are welcome – from beginners to experienced! Most important is that all participants are enthusiastic about being part of this important research. “Citizen Science” participation has been crucial in the success of keystone bird monitoring projects such as the Christmas Bird Count and the North American Migration Count – which have granted the scientific and conservation communities with crucial data for the assessment of populations trends for hundreds of bird species. The participation of citizen scientists during the Florida Keys Hawkwatch gives the project greater feasibility. Our full-time counters – who will be present during the monitoring, along with volunteers – will be staring at the sky for 45 days straight, 7 hours each day, and we need fresh eyes to relieve their monitoring. There are tasks at the site for anyone that wants to help.
Q: 3 –Will volunteers receive some kind of training or orientation?
A: Yes! In order for the data gathered during each season to be effective and consistent with historic monitoring data at FKH, counters must closely follow a set of guidelines. The training entails going over site protocols – how we establish whether birds are or are not engaged in migratory activity, how we enter data sheets and how we keep a standardized format of monitoring – and familiarization with the site’s topography and flight patterns. The successful identification of raptors in flight is important to this project, therefore the official counters will always be willing to share I.D. tips and species information with volunteers and visitors. Regardless of a participant’s level of experience, there is always much to learn at a hawkwatch. Additionally, interpretive material will be available at the site.
Q: 4 – What do volunteers need to bring to the hawkwatch?
A: All volunteers should have their own pair of binoculars. These will be important for spotting migrating raptors flying high. Spotting scopes will be available at the observation deck for all volunteers, but volunteers are encouraged to bring their own if they have any. Although the observation deck is mostly under shade throughout the day, volunteers are encouraged to bring a hat or cap, sunglasses, sun block, and a water bottle. A compact folding beach chair could be helpful for those participants that might need one, but considering the relatively tight space on the observation deck, we must limit their number. If you have a favorite field guide, bring it – FKH will have a number of books and field guides on site, along with additional literature to help volunteers and visitors with raptor identification.
Q: 5 – What is available at the FKH monitoring site?
A: The FKH observation deck is at the Curry Hammock State Park campground bath-house, on the second floor. We count from the wooden deck, part of a breezeway with plenty of shade most of the day – except the first 3.5 hours of the count day – and with cold water fountain and bathrooms (with showers). Limited parking is available next to the bathhouse, and a full-access ramp is available for those having trouble using the stairs. Curry Hammock State Park is made up of a group of islands in the Middle Keys, with public access to a beach and swimming, a playground, picnic tables and grills on the ocean side of Little Crawl Key. The hardwood hammocks found on these tropical islands support one of the largest populations of thatch palms in the United States. Mangrove swamps, seagrass beds and wetlands provide vital habitats for tropical wildlife.
Q: 6 – Does FKH provide housing in the Keys for volunteer counters?
A: FKH is providing housing – free of charge – at the Keys Marine Laboratory (KML) for registered and verified volunteers. Please contact Rafael Gálvez at TASpublisher@gmail.com for more information about future seasons. Housing is dormitory style at one of KML’s comfortable and attractive living facilities. Seeing that FKH will most likely be stationed there along with other research groups, volunteers will be roomed according to gender. Registered volunteers will be given a bed – with basic linens , a pillow, and a towel – and drawer space, in a housing facility with shared kitchen, bathrooms, living room and balcony overlooking the water. Volunteers will need to purchase or bring their own food; market options are available in nearby city of Marathon. Coin washing machines are available within the premises. WiFi is available within the premises, but no computer is provided. Keys Marine Lab is located at 68486 Overseas Hwy, Layton/Long Key, FL 33001 – 12 miles from Curry Hammock State Park, where FKH runs operations. To view images of the KML housing follow this link: KML Housing.
Q: 7 – If I have registered as a volunteer with housing, what do I need to bring with me to participate at FKH?
A: Please review questions 4 – 6 for essentials. Although KML provides a bed and basic linen, overnight volunteers should bring necessary personal amenities to make their stay comfortable and pleasurable. Unlike a hotel or an inn, no complimentary shampoo or soap is provided to guests. Additionally, each participant must provide his/her own food, which may be purchased at markets in the nearby city of Marathon. The fully-equipped kitchen in each of the housing facilities has a large refrigerator and cupboards that may be shared.
All registered volunteers must call Rafael Gálvez upon arrival to the Middle Keys, to coordinate a meeting location, depending on the time of day. Volunteers that fail to do this will not have immediate access to living facilities. All volunteers need to go through FKH orientation first.
The following rules and regulations must be followed by all participants staying at the Keys Marine Lab dormitories. These rules ONLY apply to the KML living facilities, and not to the hawkwatch site:
- The Keys Marine Laboratory is a joint operation of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It was founded to provide a full service marine station in the Florida Keys for research and education. All marine equipment and laboratories are off-limits to FKH participants,
- Only those registered as part of FKH may enter the living premises. No personal guests or unplanned visits will be allowed,
- No children are allowed within the dormitories,
- The Keys Marine Lab is a state operation and alcohol is not allowed on the premises,
- No pets are allowed at the Keys Marine Lab facilities,
- No smoking is allowed at the Keys Marine Lab facilities,
- No recreational fishing is permitted from KML property,
- All exterior gates are to be locked when entering or leaving the premises,
- FKH participants are responsible for leaving the premises cleaner than they found them. All trash and recyclables must be taken out to bins prior to departure. Failure to cleaning premises will result in an additional charge to the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.
Q: 8 – If I would like to volunteer at FKH, but would prefer exploring other housing arrangements, what are my options?
A: FKH cannot make other housing arrangement for volunteers that opt from using the KML facilities. However, several nearby options are available:
- Curry Hammock State Park is fully equipped for tent and RV camping, and a beautiful location. The fall season is typically a popular time to camp, so inquire about site availability with anticipation.
- The White Sands Inn is the official Inn of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, and is offering a $70/night special for FKH volunteers and visitors. With a cozy and fresh atmosphere, access to the ocean and a pool, the White Sands Inn is an ideal destination for any traveler through the Keys. Located in Grassy Key only a mile from Curry Hammock. 57622 Overseas Highway. People need to identify themselves with FKH – rate is on a space-available basis. Contact Rachel at 305-731-6368.
- There are two hotels in the immediate area of the Keys Marine Lab. The Lime Tree Bay Resort is next door to the lab and can be reached at 305-664-4740. The Edgewater Lodge is located on Long Key about a mile from the lab and can be reached at 305-664-2662. Additional options may be available in the city of Marathon.