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A Guide to John Audubon's visit to the Florida Keys 

 

 

 

 

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AUDUBON IN THE FLORIDA KEYS


 

 

INDEX

  
AUDUBON


INDIAN KEY
1832


CORMORANT


ROSEATE
TERN


GRAY
KINGBIRD


REDDISH
EGRET


LOUISIANA
HERON


SANDY KEY


WHITE IBIS


WILLET

 
ZENAIDA
DOVE


WHITE
CROWNED
PIGEON


THE AUDUBON HOUSE IN
KEY WEST


AUDUBON'S
KEY WEST


KEY WEST AFTER
AUDUBON


ROSEATE
SPOONBILL


GREAT
WHITE
HERON


GREAT
BLUE
HERON


KEY WEST
DOVE


FLAMINGOS


BLUE-
HEADED
QUAIL DOVE


FRIGATE BIRD


BROWN
PELICAN


MANGROVE
CUCKOO


TORTUGAS


SOOTY
TERN


BLACK
HEADED GULL


BROWN
NODDY


CAYENNE
TERN


BROWN
BOOBY


SANDWICH
TERN


NIGHT
HERON


GREENSHANK


GREAT
MARBLED
GODWIT


MANGO
HUMMING-
BIRD


TROPIC
BIRD




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Sandy Key and Audubon

 

map of Florida Keys and Key West 

 
 

 


 

 

 

Audubon travels to Sandy Key from Indian Key and back over several days - end of April 1832

 

April Morning

In Audubon's "The Florida Keys I " section of the Ornithological Biography Volume II, Audubon writes about reaching Sandy Key. A part of which appears below:

"The next morning was delightful. The gentle sea-breeze over the flowery isle, the horizon was clear and all was silent save the long breakers that rushed over the distant reefs. As we proceeded toward some Keys, seldom visited by man, the sun rose from the bosom of the waters with a burst of glory that flashed on my soul the idea that power which called into existence so magnificent an object. The moon, thin and pale, as if ashamed to shew (show) her feeble light, concealed herself in the dim west. The surface of the waters shone in its tremulous smoothness, and the deep blue of the clear heavens was pure as the world that lies beyond them. . . . "

"Twenty miles our men had to row before we reached "Sandy Island," and as on its level shores we all leaped, we plainly saw the Southernmost Cape of the Floridas (Cape Sable). The flocks of birds that covered the shelly beaches , and those hovering overhead, so astonished us that we could scarcely believe our eyes. The first volley procured a supply of food sufficient for two days' consumption. . . . our first fire among a crowd of the Great Godwits laid prostrate sixty-five of these birds. Rose-coloured Curlews stalked gracefully beneath the mangroves; Purple Herons rose at almost every step we took, and each cactus supported the nest of a White Ibis. The air was darkened by whistling wings, while, on the waters, floated Gallinules and other interesting birds. We formed a kinds of shed with sticks and grass, the sailor cook commenced his labours, and were long we supplied the deficiencies of our fatigued frames. The business of the day over, we secured ourselves from insects by means of musquito-nets, and were lulled to rest by the cracklings of the beautiful Purple Gallinules!

In the morning we rose from our sandy beds, and-" 

Next Morning - April 1832 - Sandy Key

Audubon continues writing about his Sandy Key experience in " The Florida Keys II " section of his Ornithological Biography, Volume II. A portion of what he writes is below:

"I left you abruptly, perhaps uncivilly, reader, at the dawn of day, on the Sandy Island, which lies just six miles from the extreme point of South Florida. I did so because I was amazed at the appearance of things around me, which in fact looked so different then from what they seemed at night, that it took some minutes' reflection to account for the change. When we laid ourselves down in the sand to sleep, the waters almost bathed our feet; when we opened our eyes in the morning, they were at an immense distance. Our boat lay on her side, looking not unlike a whale reposing on a mud-bank. The birds in myriads were probing their exposed pasture-ground. The great flocks of Ibises fed apart from equally large collections of Godwits, and thousands of Herons gracefully paced along, ever and anon thrusting their javelin bills into the body of some unfortunate fish confined in a small pool of water. Of Fish-Crows, I could not estimate the number, but from the havoc they made among the crabs, I conjecture that these animals must have been scarce by the time of the next ebb. frigate Pelicans chased Jagger, which himself had just robbed a poor Gull of its prize, and all the gallinules ran with spread wings from the mud-banks to the thickets of the island, so timorous had they become when they perceived us.

Surrounded as we were by so many objects that allured us, not one could we attain, so dangerous would it have been to venture on the mud; our pilot . . . spoke of our eating, and on that hint told us that he would take us to a part of the island where "our breakfast would be abundant although uncooked." Off we went some of the sailors carrying baskets, others large tin pans and wooden vessels, such as those used for eating their meals in. Entering a thicket of about an acre in extent, we found on every bush several nests, and all hands fell to gathering . The birds gave way to us, and ere long we had a heap of eggs that promised delicious food. Nor did we stand long in expectation, for kindling a fire, we soon prepared, in one way or another, enough to satisfy the cravings of our hungry maws. Breakfast ended, the pilot looking at the gorgeous sunrise, said: "Gentlemen, prepare yourselves for fun, the tide is acoming." 

"Over the enormous mud-flats, a foot or two of water is quite sufficient to drive all birds ashore, even the tallest Heron or Flamingo, and the tides seem to flow at once over the whole expanse. Each of us provided with a gun, posted himself behind a bush, and no sooner had the water forced the winged creatures to approach the shore, than the work of destruction commenced. When it at length ceased, the collected mass of birds of different kinds looked unlike a small haycock. . . . "

While Audubon and his band skin the birds, the pilot goes fishing and brings back a 100 pound "dewfish . . . (jewfish) and a few balacoudas" and later in the day the group leaves at full tide to return to Indian Key with stops along the way at various Keys looking for rare birds, their nests, and eggs. On the way back they encounter a hurricane.

Next Day - April 1832 into May

Audubon returns to Indian Key and writes,

"Next day the Marion proceeded on her cruise, and in a few more days, having anchored in another safe harbour, we visited other Keys, of which I will, with your leave, give you a short account."

". . . We were a hundred miles or so farther to the south. gay May like a playful babe gamboled on the bosom of his mother nature, and every thing was replete with life and joy.

Audubon then provides an account of traveling to a mangrove island by pushing and hauling several boats over the mud flats upwards of nine miles in a quest for certain birds specimens. He also writes about an unprofitable trip to the Mule Keys.

In Volume III of Ornithological Biography, Audubon describes the White Ibis and gives an account of Sandy Key. That description is part of the White Ibis web page.

 

Sandy Key Today 

The shape of Sandy Key has changed since the days of Audubon's visit to the Florida Keys. The shape changed as a result of several hurricanes: Hurricane Donna in 1960 and an earlier hurricane in 1925. Sandy Key is now smaller in size and the old western end of the island is now named Carl Ross Key. For a time a few families lived on Carl Ross Key after having to leave the Everglades, but Sandy Key and Carl Ross Key are now protected by the National Park Service. Carl Ross is accessible to visitors and serves as a camp site.

 

 


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