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Birding in Florida by Robert Wilson HEADING_TITLE

We took the unusual route to fly to Miami via Milan on Alitalia airlines probably the worst decision we have ever made. The Italians have an excellent grasp of customer relations( only kidding) and very good sense of humour( think not). We found the staff rude and arrogant and probably the worst airline we have ever come accross.

I would not reccommend that route to anyone again so please be warned. The flight was over 11 hours and when we arrived at Miami International we were all totally exhausted. We were quite pleasantly surprised to pass through both passport control and customs very quickly. The hire car was a nightmare and took near 3 hours to book out from Alamo. We finally loaded the gear and two children Roanna and Sammy into our Grand Cheerokee and set off for our first nights stay at Unniversity inn Best Western at Bocca Raton.

On leaving the airport we took several wrong turns and ended up in a very undesirable area of south Miami. I made a quick U turn and headed north but somehow managed to get lost again but this time we passed by some very interesting parts including  an area near the beach and soon started seeing Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Turkey and Black Vultures to name a few.

Sunday April 01 2007  We started the day with a black face parrot in the grounds of the motel and watched TURKEY VULTURES drifting overhead. COMMON CRACKLE, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD and MOURNING DOVES also present in and around the grounds.

We had decided to start the day on the beach and while Jill and the Girls took in some sunshine i found a nice spot to do some birding at Ocean inlet Park of route 1a just north of Boynton Beach. In the next couples of hours  i saw two GREEN BACKED HERONS, OSPREY, RING BILLED GULL,GREAT BLACK BACKED GULL,SANDERLINGS, RUDDY TURNSTONE, BROWN PELICAN,COMMON and BOAT TAILED CRACKLES.

I had read about the Wakodahatchee Wetlands and thought it might be an interesting place to spend the evening.The sight is situated to the east of Jog road just north of Lake Ida Road. The next couple of hours we had crippling views of many speices TRICOLOURED HERON, BLUE WINGED-TEAL,MOTTLED DUCK, GREAT EGRET, SNOWY EGRET, LIMPKIN, GREAT BLUE HERON, LEAST BITTERN, AMERICAN COOT, at least 9 AMERICAN PURPLE GALLINULE, EASTERN SCREECH OWL, NORTHERN HARRIER, SOLITARY SANPIPER, BLACK NECKED STILT, PURPLE MARTIN,WILSON'S SNIPE,at least 6 SORA and plenty of RED WING BLACKBIRDS, GLOSSY AND WHITE IBIS, ANNIHGA. The locals were all very friendly and gave us plenty of help and both Jill and myself were so impressed we decided to return the next morning before moving north to Merritt Island and Cocoa.

Monday 2nd April 2007 We had a reasonable early start at  Wakodahatchee Wetlands and saw many of the birds we had seen the day before and added YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER,PALM WARBLER and CATTLE EGRET and WOOD STORK. The site was again amazing with birds showing down to within a few feet and some so close you could almost touch  them.

We obtained information of another site which we should find BALD EAGLE. The Viera Wetlands are located approximately two miles west of the traffic circle at the intersection of Wickham Road and Lake Andrew Drive. You should leave I-95 at  Exit 191 heading west for approximately 2.5 miles. We didn't have directions and we nearly didn't find the site but whilst driving around saw 3 KILLDEERS, several LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES and SANDHILL CRANES in most of the surrounding fields.

The wetlands were impressive with BALD EAGLE sitting in full view allowing incredible photographs to be taken. There was a large raft of AMERICAN COOT trying to keep out of the way of the numerous Alligators basking in sun in the fringes of the lagoons. BELTED KINGFISHER and RED BELLIED WOODPEKERS both perched on trees in the lagoon. BLUE WINGED TEAL and GLOSSY IBIS both very common. We could have spent far longer but we needed to head to our accomadation. We did add SAVANHAH SPARROW just before we left the site.

Tuesday 3rd April 2007

We were spending the day at Cape Kennedy Space Centre and we did a spot of birding around the motel before leaving adding BLUE JAY and CARDINAL with another RED BELLIED WOODPECKER. On route to Merritt Island we came across a large flock of BLACK VULTURES by a roadside kill and had a pair of RED SHOULDERED HAWKS roosting on roadside wires. In the  space centre carpark a number of LAUGHING GULLS were roosting and several NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS were sitting on the fencing. The Space Centre visit took most of the day and after leaving we headed to the Mantee watchpoint which we had read about before our trip started. When we arrived we found a couple of Manatee straight away as surfaced close to the side of the river. Whilst watching these magnificent mammals ROYAL and CASPIAN TERNS flew by plus several OSPREYS and GREAT BLUE HERONS. On route back to Motel we found a small pool with BLACK CAPPED NIGHT HERON, ROSEATE SPOONBILL,GREAT EGRET, WOOD STORK, SNOWY EGRET 2 SORA RAIL 

Wednesday 4th April 2007

We were spending the day on Merritt Island and then moving to our next stop at Orlando. The day started well with BALD EAGLE and at least 30 OSPREYS fishing on roadside lagoons. We visited the local information centre for Merritt Island to get any information that might help. We were heading for the beach and set out to track down a flock of ROYAL TERNS that could be seen distantly from one of the many carparks. The Girls had decided to sunbathe whilst i setoff up the beach. I was a little concerned that the group may get flushed by the many people walking along the shoreline. It however was amazing as all the birds remained despite all the disturbance. I found over 100 Royal terns with laughing gulls and 1 LESSER BLACK BACKED GULL. I spent over a hour watching and photographing. The coastal dunes held a variety of passerines including GRAY CATBIRD and BROWN COWBIRD

We left Merritt island late afternoon and setoff for Orlando along US route 528 to davenport to pick up the keys for the next three nights accomadtion. It was an interesting drive as we saw our first SWALLOW TAILED KITE drfting over the road. We were staying in a rented house which we had found on Expedia  and was close the major theme parks.

Thursday 5th April 2007

This was an non bird watching day as we were off to Sea World which turned out a very enjoyable day with many worthwhile attractions. I must admit the Sesame Street  show was a little annoying probalbly for the age group from 5 to 9 but the highlight was Shamu the Killer whale. We did sit a liitle too close and got soaked when he splashed the audience.

Friday 6th April 2007

This was probably the best day of the holiday as we visted Epcot and visited the many attractions. We had been advised to try a do the test track first so we raced to get in line. The ride was quite incredible as we raced around the various parts of the track. The track was very clever as you experienced the different conditions that a car may go through. We then did Space Mission  which the family sat in a simulator which we experienced different amounts of G force. We stayed to see the firework display which finished the day off in Style.

Saturday 7th April 2007

The wife and girls had decided to viist Universal and i had went out birding for the day. I setoff for Kissimmee state park and on route photographed EASTERN MEADOWLARK, AMERICAN KESTREL and LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE. On arrival at the park i asked where FLORIDA SCRUB JAY could be found.  It was a short walk from the entrance and after a few minutes the Bushs were full of Jays. I saw PRAIRE WARBLER, NORTHERN PARULA, BLUE GRAY GNATCATCHER, RUFOUS SIDED TOWHEE, BLUE JAY, NORTHERN FLICKER. The drive back to Orlando i added EASTERN BLUEBIRD,WILD TURKEY,several more SWALLOW TAILED KITES and a  Nesting BALD EAGLE. I also flattened a roadside sign as i reversed into by accident but luckily did no damage to the hire car. I was late picking up the Girls from Universal as the traffic was a complete nightmare.

We decided that we would head south via Kissimmee State Park the following day.

Sunday 8th April 2007

We left our accomadtion early after breakfast and dropped the keys off on route to Kissimmee back tracking the previous days route on canoe creek road US route 523. We stopped at Cypress lake and i waded out for photographs of Forsters Tern. We didn't stop long but had distant views of BALD EAGLE and several  OSPREYS. On the drive back out to the main road we saw an immature CRESTED CARACARA and a small group of WILD TURKEY and were also fortunate to spot a BOB WHITE QUAIL by the roadside. On route to Kissimmee State Park we noted several more SANDHILL CRANES and SWALLOW TAILED KITES. We arrived at the park and within a couple of minutes the SCRUB JAYS were landing on our hands expecting to be feed. ( please note it is actually an offence to feed the Wildlife with possible heavy fines imposed). We also had brief sighting of an ARMADILLO as it rushed back underground. Jill even had a RUFOUS SIDED TOWHEE land on her hand in search of food. The birds were much the same as the day before and the girls enjoyed seeing the JAYS. We had a long drive ahead as we were heading southwest for our stay at Naples via US route 27 and US route 29. The journey took nearly 3 hours of tedious driving as we finally arrived at our hotel.The accomadation was excellent but the beds were a bit on the small size.

Monday 9th April 2007.

After an excellent breakfast we headed for Sannibal Island and the Ding Darling nature reserve. On our way over the bridge we had our first Magnifcent Frigate birds drifting overhead. The traffic was a nightmare and after short while we finally arrived at the Ding Darling nature reserve. We found this a little disappointing as the tide was out and many of the waders were distant. We did add BLACK BELLIED PLOVER and plenty of SHORT BILLED DOWITCHERS with WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS. The YELLOW CROWNED NIGHT HERONS  proved to be easy and gave excellent photographic oppurtunties. We decided that we would try Bunchee beach back on the mainland where the girls could catch a few rays. On the drive back we had an excellent view of a PILEATED WOODPECKER  perched briefly by the road

Bunchee beach was an excellent spot as there were a few small flock of waders that took no notice of me photographing from very close range. They included WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS, WILLETT and SHORT BILLED DOWITCHER. There was also a large flock of BLACK TAILED SKIMMERS roosting further down the beach with LAUGHING GULLS. I met the local park ranger who was amused as i had walked out into the sea fully clothed to get my photographs. We had along chat about the local reserves and he suggested we visit Six Mile Cypress Slough. As we left the beach we had excellent views of an adult raccoon which we fed with dry biscuits.

We headed for Corkscrew Swamp but unfortunately were held up by a forest fire beside the US state 75. We did see 3 SWALLOW TAILED KITES on route. When we arrived at Corkscrew we were disppointed to find that the reserve closed at 5.30pm. We decided that we would then head to Six Mile Cypress and after about hour driving and getting lost we finally found the entrance to the carpark. The weather changed for the worst with light drizzle so many of the warblers and songbirds had gone to roost. The reserve was excellent and would have liked to have had more time to explore.

Tuesday 10th April 2007

We booked on one of the local Everglade trips in the morning and setoff early after Breakfast. The price included a nature trip after the airboat ride so we decided to do both. The airboat was a little disppointing as the the water levels were really low and not much was observed except for BELTED KINGFISHER and several EGRETS.

The nature trip was however amazing as we saw incredible views of at least 15 Mantee some with young and dozens of large ALLIGATORS. We also had more distant views of SWALLOW TAILED KITES. We left the airboat ride and headed down to Everglade City and again saw at least 6 SWALLOW TAILED KITES and excellent views of a PILEATED WOODPECKER. We had planned to visit Corkscrew so we setoff to spend the last couple of hours going around the boardwalk. We arrived about 4.00 and went around the reserve like headless chickens. WE added NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, COMMON YELLOWTROAT, PAINTED BUNTING, INDIGO BUNTING and many of the usual such AS GREAT EGRET AND SNOWY EGRET. WE also had CAROLINA WREN and GRAY CATBIRDS

Wednesday 11th April 2007

After checking out of our excellent accomodation we setoff for Marco Island and Tigertail beach just south of Naples. We had a very pleasant surprise as jill quickly shouted look look an owl. It was a BURROWING OWL watching over its nest site in area of someone front garden showing very well and highly photographic. The nest site was on the right handside of the road just before turning down Hernado Drive to the Beach. The baech was excellent as we had PIPING PLOVER, SEMI PALMATED PLOVER and WILSONS PLOVER also more WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS. Jill and myself walked up the beach to get away from the people and while walkiing in the shallow water small sharks about 1 to 2 feet long kept bumping into our legs. I concentrated on the waders while Jill photographed  BROWN THRASHER and a pair of CARDINALS and OSPREY. We also had PALM WARBLER feeding along the shoreline with the waders. We left the beach and headed through the everglades along US Route 41 the Tamiami trail.

We had a long drive as we were now heading for Key West and this would take most of the day to drive. We had several stops on route seeing KILLDEER at the oasis ranger station but missing Snail kite as we had been there in the midday sun.

The drive to Key West was amazing as we passed over the many bridges and causeways linking the different keys. The state park on Long Key was interesting as there were signs warning of poisonous snakes which we kept well away from. There was a female RED BREASTED MERGANSER about 20 PALM WARBLERS and a few MOURNINGS DOVES.

We finally arrived at the Key West and checked in to the Best Western called the Ambassadeur. We had a very early start the following morning as we were taking the boat trip to the Dry Tortuga's and visiting Fort Jefferson.

Thursday 12th April 2007

We setoff early for the Quay and our 2 hour boat journey to Fort Jefferson. We had no idea what we would see but on the way over the weather conditions worsened and we meet high winds and rough sea conditions. The weather cleared as we came to the fort and we soon started seeing SOOTY TERNS and BROWN NOODY. The next 4 hours were quite amazing with birds dripping from the all the trees. We had warblers everywhere and started with a SWAINSONS WARBLER, YELLOW RUMPED WARBLER, PRAIRE WARBLER, a very confiding WORM EATING WARBLER, HOODED AND KENTUCKTY WARBLERS, PROTONTARY WARBLER BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER , OVENBIRD, YELLOWTHROAT,NORTHERN PARULA and PALM WARBLER. Quite amazing to compare the different birds in their bright summer plumage. We had  a massive rain storm and as soon as the sky cleared we had many more arrivals which included SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERS, female ORCHARD ORIOLES, BLUE GROBEAK,ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAK at least 30 YELLOW-BILLED CUCKCOO and one elusive MANGROVE CUCKCOO. To be honest i missed several of the birds present as there was so much to see but did get views of WOOD THRUSH, SWAINSONS THRUSH, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD. We also had  SHORTED EAR OWL ,AMERICAN KESTREL ,PEREGRINE, WHITE WINGED DOVE. It was a dissapointment to leave but on the way back we had MASKED BOOBIES and missed red tailed tropic bird.

When we arrived back at Key west we changed accomodation as the BEST WESTERN STAFF tried to overcharge for the next couple of nights. We left and checked in at the Days Inn a couple blocks down the road which to be frank although cheaper was much better. We then went to the Botanical Gardens and added several new birds which included SCISSOR TAILED FLYCATCHER, WESTERN KINGBIRD and GRAY KING BIRD. There was a large number of BLACK VULTURES circling over the golf course.

We left the botanical gardens and headed towards Fort Zacherry where there had been a fall of warblers the previous day. It was a bit disappointing as we only had a female COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and female AMERICAN REDSTART. We also had Red bellied Woodpeker and Sharp Shinned Hawk. The sunset was beautiful and to be honest would love to live there permantly.

Friday 13th April 2007

We booked a fishing trip out of Keywest which the whole family took part and was a little disappointing with very little caught. After arriving back on land we again visited visited Fort Zachary which was fairly quite. Whilst eating our evening meal we saw a Yellow Crowned Night Heron feeding by the shoreline next to the restaurant.

Saturday 14th April 2007

Our last day in Florida with a long drive back up to Miami. We had a quick visit to the botanical gardens where we had good views of a number of American warblers including Northern Parula and Praire.

We left around 10 and headed north and planned to get to the airport around 2:00. We had a couple of stops on route photographing Royal Terns and Double Crested Cormorants. We stopped to refuel the car before dropping off and had very good views of Common Myna and a number of Swallow tailed Kites. We arrived back at Miami International Airport and dropped off the car at Alamo. This is when the fun began as there was a long delay in getting our transit bus to the departure lounge. On arrival we discovered that the flight was overbooked and they were bouncing 38 people. This meant a night in a Miami Hotel paid for by the Airline which were not best pleased.

For more information, please visit this articles web page.
This article was published on Wednesday 21 May, 2008.
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