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Where to See Florida Birds

The Anhinga Trail boardwalk, one of my favorite birding locations in all of Florida

For decades the birding hotspot for viewing wading birds in all of America has been Everglades National Park, the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the continental United States .

  

Another excellent birding site is the 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Southwest Florida, just north of Naples, owned and operated by the National Audubon Society.

In Central Florida, the Black Point Wildlife Drive is a top spot for wintering wildfowl from December though February.

Florida Keys

  

The Florida Keys are also an excellent spot for finding birds not only on land but offshore, in the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Steam flows into Florida from the Caribbean, bringing with it many pelagic species that are rarely if ever viewed from shore.

In the Keys, the Gulf Steam may be as little as 5 or 10 miles from shore, but the problem is getting there: organized pelagic birding trips are rare. Unless you can afford to charter a boat of your own, the best way to get to the Gulf Steam is aboard a "party" or "head" boat filled with bottom fishermen.

You might as well bring along a rod with the binoculars. There are no guarantees of success, so a half-day trip is the best way to approach the matter. Party boats leave from Islamorada, Marathon and Key West.

 

Visit A Heronry

In spring and summer, one of the best ways to see large numbers of birds is to visit a heronry, where both white and great blue herons often congregate in the hundreds and sometimes thousands. Be sure to bring binoculars or a spotting scope since you're allowed to get only so close to a heronry.

The great blue heron often shares its nesting territory with the tri-color heron, little blue heron, green heron, the yellow-crowned and black-crowned night heron, the snowy egret, the great egret, anhingas and sometimes even wood ibis.

  

In South Florida , these species may be joined by what are sometimes called "big white herons." These actually are great blues in a white phase. The body is totally white; the bill, legs and feet are yellow; and the eye has a bluish-green patch around it. This white phase is peculiar strictly to South Florida .


 One of the easiest nesting bird colonies to reach is at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida . It's located at the end of the wildlife drive (closed Fridays) where egrets, great blue herons and several other varieties are perched on fragile-looking limbs over the water. Avoid weekends since this is the most visited refuge in the nation.

Canoe trips into the backcountry are easy to arrange. For information, call 813/472-1100. This is also an excellent area to see many other different types of Florida birds and reptiles. Some people claim Ding Darling is almost as good as the Everglades.


The number of active heronries in a single season at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is staggering: over 250 in good years. Each heronry differs dramatically in the number of birds. Some are small, but others contain thousands of nesting herons, egrets and ibis. Many of the rookeries are difficult to reach, but the one behind the refuge office on Marsh Trail seems like it was placed just for the benefit of visitors. Expect to see as many as a thousand birds present at the peak of the nesting season. Take I-95 to the Boynton Beach Blvd. exit and go west to U.S. 441.

The islands at Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge, located about a two hour drive north of Tampa, contain one of the largest heron nesting grounds anywhere in the South. Boat tours are easy to arrange, and a few operators specialize in trips for birders. Contact the Chamber of Commerce at 904\543-5600.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville is one of the Southeast's great nesting grounds for herons: tri-colored, great blue, little blue and green herons, plus ibis and egrets. This location is considered to have the best assembly of all the different species anywhere on the entire U.S. East Coast. Check at the refuge center for location of the most accessible nests; 407/867-0667. This is also a great place for wintering waterfowl, beginning in November and peaking in January.

  

To Everglades Birding Sites

To Birding at Corkscrew Swamp