Florida - Birding Tips

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I like to plan ahead next year for a trip to Florida to do some bird photography - I've never been, so reaching out here for tips on when and where I should go to get the best experience for bird photography, and as well, what sort of birds would I be looking for.

Thanks!
 
I don't live there but we go every February when the birds are there. Seems they spend the winter there. We like Merritt Island, Wakodahatchee, Green Cay and this year going to Orlando Wetlands as well. Summers are quiet there for birds, to hot I suppose. I think generally the best time for birds is maybe late October to maybe late April! Like I said we go every February and have never been disappointed!
 
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We will traveling to Florida in January 2024. We have been there already twice but very interested in suggestions of nice places for bird photography we don't know or never been.
 
I don't live there but we go every February when the birds are there. Seems they spend the winter there. We like Merritt Island, Wakodahatchee, Green Cay and this year going to Orlando Wetlands as well. Summers are quiet there for birds, to hot I suppose. I think generally the best time for birds is maybe late October to maybe late April! Like I said we go every February and have never been disappointed!
Thanks - so what kind of birds did you see when you were there at those destinations?
 
Thanks - so what kind of birds did you see when you were there at those destinations?
Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Green Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Eagles, Osprey, Kingfisher, Reddish Egret, Red Tail Hawk, Little Blue Heron, Anhinga's, White Pelicans, Cattle Egret and probably a bunch I can't remember at the moment also. Lots of chicks with parents feeding them.
 
I like to plan ahead next year for a trip to Florida to do some bird photography - I've never been, so reaching out here for tips on when and where I should go to get the best experience for bird photography, and as well, what sort of birds would I be looking for.

Thanks!
Hi Kenny, I live in Florida and my job takes me all over the state so I know a lot of places to go. George gave some good tips but it depends on what kind of birds you want to photograph where I would recommend. It also depends on where you are staying. If you can narrow it down I’ll be happy to make some sugestions.
 
We will traveling to Florida in January 2024. We have been there already twice but very interested in suggestions of nice places for bird photography we don't know or never been.
Hi Tom. See my previous post on this thread. I know places where you can fine birds not at the usually mentioned places such as Spoonbills, Oystercatchers, Snail Kites, Black Skimmers, Burrowing Owls, Purple Gallinules, Reddish egrets… Let me know your particular interest and I’ll be happy to make some suggestions.
 
My best trip to Florida was with Captain Dave. We went to the Everglades. However as far as I know Captain Dave doesn't do trips any more. I go to two lakes with Dick Vautrinot. I also like the Alligator Farm.
 
@Rooky Roy Very interested in shore birds, waders, terns and especially Black skimmers. All birds that are difficult or impossible to see or find here. and always have been my favorites.
 
A number of years ago in the film era I spent a winter in Everglades National Park; in several of the hot spots the birds are so accustomed to people that I used a 90mm lens for some species. Anhinga Trail has a boardwalk where you can walk through the marsh for up-close-and-personal views of Anhinga, Purple Gallinule and American Bittern among others.

Mrazek Pond is a roadside borrow pit that was created when the road to Flamingo was constructed, often with dozens of herons and egrets, ducks, Black Skimmers and spoonbills. One problem I encountered there was isolating a bird for good composition, the pond was crowded with birds & alligators. Across the road from Mrazek Pond, Coot Bay Pond can be worth a look.

At Flamingo, the end of the park road, Eco Pond can have rarities as well as warblers and the iconic wading birds.
 
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Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Green Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Eagles, Osprey, Kingfisher, Reddish Egret, Red Tail Hawk, Little Blue Heron, Anhinga's, White Pelicans, Cattle Egret and probably a bunch I can't remember at the moment also. Lots of chicks with parents feeding them.
Thanks George! That's a long list of subjects indeed - most which I've never come across, so this is quite enticing!
 
Hi Kenny, I live in Florida and my job takes me all over the state so I know a lot of places to go. George gave some good tips but it depends on what kind of birds you want to photograph where I would recommend. It also depends on where you are staying. If you can narrow it down I’ll be happy to make some sugestions.
Hi Roy - thank you for reaching out. Great to meet and have someone locally that can speak to Florida. My interest is the larger birds such as shore birds - perhaps more than just Egrets and Herons. Burrowing owls sounds very interesting - I watched a documentary once. Is there a certain area in Florida that has the most concentration of shore birds while be close to other areas for observing and photographing birds?
 
Just returned from Florida actually back to the UK. Hope these will help a bit (all photos with full GPS on Z9 except for Key West):

Everglades: https://www.flickr.com/photos/197038872@N08/albums/72177720312649637
Key Biscayne: https://www.flickr.com/photos/197038872@N08/albums/72177720312651321
Key West: https://www.flickr.com/photos/197038872@N08/albums/72177720312662637

The Tropical Audubon Society have been of immense help and suggested the range of species will only increase in late winter, early spring.
 
I live in New Smyrna Beach and would suggest November thru April. That is most comfortable weather and most birds. I have photographed birds from St. Marks NWR south of Tallahassee, around Gainesville, Central Florida around me, center part of the state between Orlando and Lake Okeechobee, southwest part of state including Sanibel, Lee County, and Collier County. The Tampa Bay area has great birding as well, just never spent much time there. Whether you want to walk or drive is also important.
 
Thanks George! That's a long list of subjects indeed - most which I've never come across, so this is quite enticing!
Great! The two best places for me (just my opinion) in February would be Wakodahatchee Wetlands and Merritt Island (Blackpoint wildlife drive) but there are several more (Orlando Wetlands, Viera Wetlands) and more. Roy would be a better person to listen to since he lives there! I also forgot to list Burrowing Owls, I really love photographing them and will in February. I saw loads of them (once again in February) at a place called Brian Piccolo Sports Park which is in Pembroke Pines, FL and also saw lots at Vista View Park in Davie, Fl. You can do both the same day very close to each other. These parks are on the East Coast near Ft Lauderdale. Also lots, maybe more, on the west coast in Cape Coral where they are all over the pace!
 
My best trip to Florida was with Captain Dave. We went to the Everglades. However as far as I know Captain Dave doesn't do trips any more. I go to two lakes with Dick Vautrinot. I also like the Alligator Farm.
I second Tom's advice on the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine. And Dick Vautrinot is a guide who takes clients out on his boat near Gainesville, Florida: Dick Vautrinot Wildlife Some days on the lake are better than others; it depends upon the birds. If you decide to book a trip with Dick, tell him that Tom sent you his way. If you tell him I sent you, he may charge you extra! :LOL:

I'll also add Fort Desoto State Park near Clearwater. The only drawback to state parks is that they typically don't open until well after dawn; to get the best morning light, you'd have to camp within the park. Wakodahatchee Wetlands can be really good, but gets so crowded that some of the photographers I know rarely go any more, choosing to go to other parks in the area. I used to like the Circle-B-Bar Reserve near Lakeland, but the last time I went was a bust as the water level was too low and they had done some questionable maintenance in some areas. If you have enough time, I'd give it a try though.

Over all, I haven't read of one recommended place in this thread that I disagree with. One species that I suggest that you go after is the Florida Scrub Jay. There are places on the east coast where you are more likely to encounter them. I'll check with a biologist friend about where he'd suggest you go to find them. (Another option is to look online for locations of bird species encounters and sort on the Florida Scrub Jay. Or just do a web search for where to find them.) Just a notice, though. If you find them and are still and quiet, they may land on your equipment or on you. Go with someone else with a camera so that if that happens, you get a copy of that shot!

By the way, when in January are you going to be in Florida, and for how long? There are several of us forum members who live in Florida and might be able to meet you during your trip. My January is not looking good, and I live way out west, near Pensacola, but if the time worked out just right, I might be able to make a trip east and south.
 
What many people don’t understand about the birding situation in FL is that literally any place where one sees water, they will almost certainly see birds. It’s as close to a sure thing as one can get. Of course there are areas that are more photogenic than others (like all of those listed above and hundreds more), but birds are literally everywhere in the state. I should clarify my remarks a bit by mentioning that my preferred bird species for photography are water birds and raptors. There are hundreds of smaller birds that live in FL, (jays, buntings, cardinals, tits, etc), but I prefer the bigger critters.

As others have mentioned, if you desire useful info for a planned trip, you really do need to narrow down where you’ll be and what you want to see. It’s a large state area wise and unless you want to waste valuable time driving around, it’s probably best to narrow your trip to a relatively small area and then seek out those in the neighborhood who have hands on experience. I live in Sarasota on the west coast and I could keep you busy in a 100 mile radius for at least a week. Don’t try to see it all.

And, of course, if you do find yourself on the west coast of FL, don’t hesitate to pm me. I’d be delighted to set up some great itineraries.

Oh - I agree that Nov - April is generally the best time here for birding, but truth is there are birds here all the time, but hanging around outdoors between May and October is just plain unpleasant.
 
By the way, when in January are you going to be in Florida, and for how long? There are several of us forum members who live in Florida and might be able to meet you during your trip. My January is not looking good, and I live way out west, near Pensacola, but if the time worked out just right, I might be able to make a trip east and south.

I am with Dick 2/18-2/24 flying in and out of Orlando. Hop on!
 
I used to visit Florida to see in-laws that lived in Ft Myers, since passed away. Sanibel Island is a favorite, but it may not be an option yet due to the hurricane that hit it last year. Worth looking into, however. Ding Darling Wildlife preserve is a must for Roseatte spoonbills, anhingas, and many many other species. The beaches of Sanibel are amazing (not weekends though). On early morning walks, the tern flocks would number in the 100s and let you walk right through them, barely giving you a glance. See attached photos. Also along the beaches of Sanibel, we saw porpoises hunting fish in the shallows. They'd swim very close to shore right by us chasing fish up inlets, then do a 180 turn making roostertail waves in their spin. I could look them in the eye as they went past.

Other recommendations;
Six Mile Cypress Slough near Ft Myers. https://www.leegov.com/parks/parks/sixmilecypress
Ding Darling: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/jn-ding-darling
Corkscrew Swamp near Naples: https://corkscrew.audubon.org/. A bittern was right next to the boardwalk.
Bunche beach Ft Myers: https://www.leegov.com/parks/beaches/bunche

I suggest using eBird to your advantage. Perhaps you already are familiar with how to search within eBird? If not, go to https://ebird.org/region/US-FL?yr=all , then zoom into the map, look at hotspots and see what people are seeing. You can narrow your search to specific times of year, use the bar chart function, or specific species.

I was not into photography back then, but here are a few not good quality photos. I've mostly explored around Ft Myers, but it may not yet be accessible, I don't know. The Everglades are amazing too.
Good luck and have a great trip. Florida is an amazing place. Completely different ecologically from my native CA.
--Alan
 

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Made a list of places to visit for waders, ducks, shorebirds, black skimmer, osprey. and terns: Merritt Island, Sebastian inlet, Honeymoon island, St. Marks, Fort de Soto, Siesta - Lido and Longboat Key. Will be in Florida for 5 weeks starting beginning of January. Suggestions appreciated !
 
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Joe Overstreet Landing south of Orlando is a great place as well as Three Lakes WMA in that area. Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive is my best freshwater driving location. Lake Woodruff NWR in DeLand is a hidden gem for walking. Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesille is a great walking location.
 
@Rooky Roy Very interested in shore birds, waders, terns and especially Black skimmers. All birds that are difficult or impossible to see or find here. and always have been my favorites.
Hi Tom, for shore birds my favorite is Fort Desoto Park near St. Petersburg. Other good places for shore birds include Bunche Beach (Fort Myers), Huguenot Memorial Park (Jacksonville) and Honeymoon Island (Dunedin). If you decide on any of these let me know and I can give you specific locations in the parks. If you happen to come in late June I can direct you to locations where you can photograph Black Skimmer colonies with hatching chicks.
 
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