Florida Trip, 2008
This was a half-birding, half-vacation trip. There are some analogies between this trip (with Deborah) and my first ever FL trip (with Allison). Things got off to a messy start with a snow storm the previous night into the morning of departure - US Airways out of Philadelphia did not help by canceling our scheduled flight into West Palm Beach for reasons that were clearly all to do with $$$$ and not with the weather. The return from Fort Laudedale a week later went more smoothly, however with additional baggage restrictions I don't see compelling reasons to fly US Airways in future compared to the better equipped and in general more professional Continental.
After lunch in Naples we went to the Big Cypress Boardwalk of Fakahatchee Strand where we heard but did not see Barred Owl, but did see Bald Eagle at the expected nesting site. Great Crested Flycatchers were vocal and moderately cooperative, as were Blue-gray Gnatchatcher. There were in fact quite a few gnatcatchers but only one other warbler - a Black-and-White. A Red-shouldered Hawk was quite vocal as we were leaving the trail. These first few days in FL were warmer than usual and quite humid, making for sometimes unpleasant going on the trails.
After Big Cypress we went down to Everglades City for dinner, but apart from our first Brown Pelicans did not see anything else of note. At Port of Islands for the second night of three, this time in a better, smoke-free room.
After breakfast in Naples we went out to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary which proved to be very dry indeed - there was water only in the deeper pools and much of the other swamp was down to the soil. A few Swallow-tailed Kites were good finds here, but wader activity was low (Great Egret, Little Blue and Tricolored Heron, one White Ibis and one Great Blue Heron). A mixed warbler flock turned up the expected Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatchatchers but also a Yellow-throated Warbler and a Northern Parula. Not much else otherwise except one or two White-eyed Vireos. There were the usual posing Red-shouldered Hawks but this time outside the visitor center. No Barred Owls, and in its dry state probably not worth the $10/each entrance fee. The feeders at the visitor center were not maintained and the ones further down the trail were quiet.
Later in the day we went to Naples Pier but the prospect of a good sunset were quashed by heavy low cloud rolling in. Nevertheless Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans milled around the pier in the gloom, Sanderlings and Willets were on the beach, and small flocks of Black Skimmer passed by - ultimately two were roosting on the beach.
After lunch we headed to Sanibel Island where we stayed at the Kona Kai for the following two nights. Sunset was spent at Bowman Beach at the recommendation of the staff there.
The wildlife drive at Ding Darling NWR was moderately productive, with decent numbers of waders including one large flock of Roseate Spoonbill and a nice mix of shorebirds (Dunlin, Red Knot, Least Sandpiper, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher). The first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron of the trip was almost exactly where I saw my original life bird several years ago. The Shell Mound Trail still showed the affects of the hurricanes with all of the canopy gone but the understory was regrowing - we skipped this location since it was already late in the morning and headed for lunch.
After a leisurely afternoon not doing much of anything we took another run around Ding Darling - an impending storm front had made it cloud up, but it didn't make a great deal of difference since bird diversity and numbers were low. We added Mottled Duck to the morning's list, and the flock of Roseate Spoonbills had moved locations. At Bowman Beach for another unspectacular sunset I saw a distant flock of Roseates presumably heading off too roost, but it might not have been the Ding Darling flock. Overnight at the Kona Kai on Sanibel again.
In view of the light we jettisoned ideas of doing Ding Darling for another morning and decided to leave Sanibel. Initial plans to tour the Edison/Ford Estate in cool temperatures were changed when we balked at the entrance fee ($20/person) so we went onto Cape Coral instead. At the sports fields mentioned by Pranty we were able to find Burrowing Owl in the burrows on the south side and without too much extra effort found a small group of Monk Parakeets nesting in the light fixtures and feeding on the fields.
After Cape Coral we went on an exploratory journey onto Pine Island, which seemed a lot less developed, much more agricultural, and without obvious merit as a birding location. After a quick trip down to Naples for lunch and a visit to FedEx we went to ???? to look for Red-cockaded Woodpecker. A Limpkin was seen along the entrance road, Eastern Towhee and Eastern Bluebird near the active shooting range, and Pine/Palm/Yellow-rumped Warblers in various groups but no Woodpeckers of any shape or form. Overnight Port of Islands again. The main reason for going back to this place such a lot was that it was relatively inexpensive, given the season, because it's a little further out of town. In this instance it was a good staging point for the drive east the following morning.
Then we headed east to Shark Valley in Everglades NP. A brief stop at the traditional Snail Kite roost failed to yield any, at least in part because of windy conditions and the relatively late hour (8:40am). Shark Valley was fairly productive although the temperatures were quite cool - several Purple Gallinules, a fly-over Swallow-tailed Kite (surely migrating), several herons including the first Green Herons for the trip. Carolina Wrens, White-eyed Vireos and Northern Cardinals were singing in various places. Skipping the tram ride we had a mediocre lunch at the Miccosukee Indian Restaurant before heading to Miami and south toward the Keys.
At Tavernier we stopped at the Wild Bird Sanctuary - a rehab place - which had the usual flocks of wild birds loafing around for a free meal as well as all the injured birds in various states of rehabilitation. A Brown Booby was a very interesting bird to see in one of the cages along with the more common birds and the unreleasable injured raptors. We decided to skip feeding time (3:30pm) which can yield the interesting sight of many Brown Pelicans piling into the feeding area with something bordering on reckless abandon. There was a Great White Heron (white morph of Great Blue) off the boardwalk but no Wurdemann's Heron (intermediate morph).
A stop at Pennebaker State Park was disappointing at least in part because most of the facilities were closed and the park was in a state of disrepair that was only very slowly being fixed. There really wasn't much of anything here unless you like lounging on the beach (not really the thing for either of us). Instead we headed back north of of the Keys and headed to Anhinga Trail. We stopped first at the visitor center and tracked down the juvenile Great Horned Owl. Apparently this bird had fallen out of at least one tree, which didn't auger well for its future survival. We didn't see any adults while we were there.
Anhinga Trail wasn't particularly notable at dusk, so there was nothing much to stop us heading back to Florida City to stay overnight there.
Pa-hay-okee overlook didn't have anything interesting, but we took a look around Mahogany Hammock and found a typical mix of land birds including Prairie Warbler. We searched for, but did not find, any traces of Great Horned Owl. On down the road - Paurotis Pond had a small heronry including Wood Stork, Mracek Pond held pretty much nothing, we decided to skip the potential of being lunch for the mosquitos at Snake Bight trail and wound up at Flamingo for late lunch. The place is still recovering from the hurricane strike and the main restaurant was not open - however the small cafe at the marina served a decent burger, if you're willing to keep the Boat-tailed Grackles off them while sitting outside. On the way out of the Everglades we didn't revisit any sites, but we did stop at the "Robert Is Here" fruit stand for a shake and fruit.
Because of an early start the following morning we checked in fairly early to the hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
|Pied-billed Grebe||Ding Darling|
|American White Pelican||various locations|
|Magnificent Frigatebird||Tigertail Beach/Marco Island|
|American Bittern||Eagle Lakes|
|Great Blue Heron|
|Little Blue Heron|
|Reddish Egret||coastal locations|
|Great Black-backed Gull|
|Great Horned Owl|
|Great Crested Flycatcher|
|Bronzed Cowbird||Eagle Lakes|
Myakka River State Park
The park is located 9 miles east of I-75 in Sarasota along State Road 72, Sarasota, FL. (941) 361 6511. Entrance fees were $3.00 per vehicle 1/2006 (just me). Open everyday, 8:00 AM until Sunset. About 60 miles south of Tampa; 15 miles east of Sarasota, 9 miles east of I-75. Best locations are the spillway off the tram/concession overflow parking lot, and the shoreline before the Clay Gully bird boardwalk.
Oscar Scherer State Park
1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL. (941) 483-5956 Oscar Scherer State Park is located on U.S.41, south of Sarasota. Heading south on I-75 take exit 198 (rt 681) and follow signs to Osprey. Heading north on I-75 take exit 195 (Laurel Rd). About 10 miles south of Sarasota. The park opens 8am, closes sunset. $4 fee per vehicle.
The Venice Rookery is on Route 41 in Venice a short block west of Jacaranda Blvd and south of Rt-41. (south-west of Jacaranda/Rt-41 intersection). The entrance road is an Annex between a Florida Highway Patrol (police) building and the Sarasota County Courthouse. About 15 miles south of Sarasota. To reach the Venice Rookery from Interstate 75, take exit 193 at Jacaranda Blvd. Travel southwest for about five miles along Jacaranda and turn right onto Route 41 heading west/north. As soon as you complete that right turn, get into the left lane and make the first left turn. You'll enter a small street called the Annex between the Highway Patrol building and the courthouse. Proceed for several hundred feet and the rookery will be on the right side. Parking is in a paved lot on the left. There is now a covered picnic structure on the site. Best at dawn.
Ding Darling NWR, Sanibel Island (and Ding Darling Society)
Wildlife Drive - five miles; one-way drive with interpretive signs. observation tower and pavilion. Open to pedestrians and bicyclists sunrise to sunset every day except Friday. The front gate opens to vehicles 7am or 7:30am and closes sunset (5:30 or 6pm in Feb/Mar). $5 entrance fee (free with Golden Eagle, Duck Stamps), CLOSED FRIDAYS. Sanibel accessed via Fort Myers/Cape Coral via Summerlin Rd (avoid McGregor) with connections to Rt-41 and I-72 via Cypress Parkway/Daniels Parkway, Cypress Lake Parkway. DO NOT TAKE McGREGOR which is much slower.
Lighthouse at the southern tip of Sanibel Island good at dawn and perhaps dusk. Turn left after causeway at 4-way stop sign. Parking is $2/hour. There tends to be a lot of beach activity starting fairly early in the morning.
Ding Darling Bailey's Tract: South on Tarpon Bay Road from Bailey's Store (corner Periwinkle Way/Tarpon Bay Rd). Entrance on right approx. 1/2 mile. Clapper Rail, Sora, Sedge Wren, Wilson's Snipe at Ani Pond and Sanibel Gardens.
Estero Lagoon/Ft. Myers Beach
To reach Estero/Ft. Myers beach, go north on Hwy 41 to Bonita Beach Road (about 15 miles north of Naples) and turn left. Or get off at exit ?? (old #18) on I-75 and head west. Estero Beach Lagoon is located behind the Holiday Inn. (Park across the street in the winter if the parking lot seems full). You would never guess that one of the top birding spots in Florida is 100 yards away as you drive down this congested road. There is an extremely wide beach to the north and a lagoon to the south. The beach may have 200+ Skimmers in the winter. Also look for Sandwich and Royal Terns. The traffic around here can be moderately hellish.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
375 Sanctuary Road West, Naples, FL. Telephone: 941-348-9151. $10 fee. Hours December 1 through April 30: 7 AM to 5:30 PM About 10 miles east of I-75 Naples via Immokalee Rd (846?), or from north of Ft Myers as SR-82 into Immokalee and south out of Immokalee on Rt-846. Wood Storks nesting off boardwalk in 2006 resulted in some boardwalk closure.
Briggs Nature Center
Hours Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. On Rt 951 south of I-75 just after it turns east. Adults $7.50; (Admission is good for both the Briggs Nature Center and the Naples Nature Center if visited within seven days.) No longer definitive for Shiny Cowbird, so there's no compelling reason to visit here.
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is located on Janes Memorial Scenic Drive, just west of Copeland on S.R. 29. Copeland is north of Tamiami Trail between Naples and Shark Valley. The Big Cypress boardwalk is actually off Tamiami Trail in the general vicinity of Everglades City.
Arthur R. Marshall Wilderness (Loxahatchee) is off Boynton Beach Blvd.
West of the Turnpike then south on 441, turn at Lee road
Hours - every day except xmas from sunrise to sunset. Visitor center is 9am-4pm weekdays, -4:30pm weekends. Reserve itself is 5am-6pm. Some hurricane damage in 2008.
The Wakodahatchee Wetlands are located in suburban Delray Beach on the east side of Jog Road between Woolbright Road and Atlantic Avenue (Exit Route 95 onto Atlantic Avenue West; continue to Jog Road; turn right; park is on the right) The site is on the southeast side of Palm Beach County Water Utility Department's Southern Region Operations Center at 13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach. The wetlands are open to the general public from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. No admission charge.
Another filter marsh about 1 mile NW of Wakadohatchee. Called Green Cay (proun. "key"), it's much bigger and more open, attracting an interesting mix. Same boardwalks, etc., and a nature center. Located at 12800 Hagen Ranch Road about a mile and a half south of Boynton Beach Boulevard, or 2 miles north of Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Open sunrise to sunset. No admission charge.
Okeeheelee Park nature trails. 7500/7715 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33413. Shark Valley/Everglades
Anhinga Trail/Everglades National Park Service hours etc. Mracek Pond, Mahogany Hammock, Eco Pond/Flamingo - back in 2008 there were fairly extensive closures in effect at Flamingo at the sw terminus of the road. I'm not sure how much this applies these days. The main entrance is open 24 hours per day.
FL Keys Wild Bird Center, 93600 Overseas Highway, Tavernier - rehab place that attracts some wild birds (e.g. Wurdemanns).
Brian Piccolo Park - no current dedicated website
9501 Sheridan St., Cooper City, FL 33024. Tel: (954) 437-2600 As of 2002: Winter Park Hours 8 a.m.-6 p.m. beginning the last Sunday in October.
From I-95, exit at Sheridan (about 2 exits south of Ft. Lauderdale airport) and head west for probably 4-5 miles. You'll see signs for the park. From I-95, exit at Sheridan (about 2 exits south of Ft. Lauderdale airport) and head west for probably 4-5 miles. You'll see signs for the park. It's a big multi-purpose park with lots of open fields. The burrowing owl burrows are clearly marked and cordoned for their protecton. Naturally, despite the fact that this is an open public parkground, normal bird photography etiquette applies. They collect $1 per person entry fee on weekends.
The campus of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton is locally famous for its population of Burrowing Owls. I believe the Burrowing Owl is the schools's mascot. Images of the little critter appear on all kinds of Florida Atlantic things. Their burrows can be found in the fields all around the perimeter of the campus.
Burrowing Owl Locations from 2002 article
Shamrock Park in Venice also has Florida Scrub-Jay. Follow Rt-41 north/west out of the rookery site. Shortly before Rt-41 and Rt-41 Business split, take Shamrock Drive to the west (left). Follow this for about 1.7 miles to the Shamrock Park Nature Center on the right. Taking Center St to the west off Jacaranda should put you into Rt-41 just north of Shamrock Dr.
Eagle Lakes community Park se of Naples: Bronzed Cowbirds in 2/2004. Shiny Cowbirds in 2/2002. From the junction of C.R. 951 (Collier Blvd.) and U.S. Rte. 41 in Naples, go north on U.S. Rte. 41 for approximately one mile until you see the sign for the park on your right. Park near the sports field. Walk east until you see the mitigation impoundments. There are three total with the best one being the one with the Bald Cypress trees in it.
Bachman's Sparrow: in Ocala State Forest Riverside Island & around Lake Delancy in the northern part of the forest are really good for Bachman's. Also anywhere there are trees marked for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers is usually good habitat. I've heard them singing as early as mid to late February. Make sure you know the song beforehand.
Apopka Kingbird roost: Directions: From S.R. 441 (Orange Blossom Trail) between Apopka + Zellwood, turn south C.R. 437. Continue going South CR-437 past Lust Rd, 0.9 miles Hooper's Farm Nursery on right. Kingbird roost on left along Power lines in back of field. (DeLORME p.79). Park and pull off between Orange grove and field. Birders beware, road is 55 m.p.h! Scope needed for good viewing. Fork-tailed Flycatcher seen 5:15-5:40 PM as of mid-Jan. Birders please stay along road as not to disturb the birds coming to roost. Ash-throated Flycatcher seen at Lust Rd gate to Apopka. May also see birds a little north of the roost across from Harmon Rd. I-4 to Turnpike north to Ocoee/SR-429 (toll), follow SR-429 north to Apopka, left onto SR-441 and left within the next mile or two onto CR-437. SR-429 is not shown on older maps (e.g. my DeLorme).
Orlando Wetlands park: A water reclamation system east of Orlando off SR50 with a small reception area. Large open ponds with extensive fresh water marsh. From Orlando, drive east on SR-50 to Christmas. Go north 2.3 miles on Fort Christmas Road (CR-420), then 1.5 miles east on Wheeler Road (an unpaved road). The parking area is on the left. Another neat place is the little parking lot across the street from the entrance to OWP - the Seminole Ranch property.
Disney Wilderness Preserve (Nature Conservancy). Over 11,000 acres of wetlands, flatwoods, scrubs, creeks, lakes, and trails. Phone (407) 935-0002 - Entrance is at Scrub Jay Trail, off Pleasant Hill Rd., 1/2 mile west of Poinciana Blvd. Go left on Scrub Jay Trail to Visitors Center and parking. From I-4: exit onto Hwy. 535 and head south. Follow 535 to Poinciana Blvd. Turn right (south) onto Poinciana Blvd. Follow Poinciana Blvd. approximately 15 miles until you reach the intersection of Poinciana Blvd. and Pleasant Hill Road. Turn right onto Pleasant Hill Rd. Approx 1/4 mile, turn left onto Old Pleasant Hill Road from a left-hand turn lane. Watch for these landmarks: sign for Old Pleasant Hill Rd., green "The Nature Conservancy," sign and a large Poinciana sign on stone work on the right-hand side of the road opposite of the turn. After turning left, go a 1/2 mile to Scrub Jay Trail. Turn left and follow Scrub Jay Trail to The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Learning Center.
Brinson Park Drive south on US17/92 into downtown Kissimmee then east onto CR525 Neptune road, the park is shortly reached and is the area where the highway bisects two areas of water, the large Lake Tohopekaliga is to your left. (Snail Kite, Limpkin).
Cypress Lake Road: located approx. 15 miles south of Kissimmee off highway 523 (Canoe Creek Rd). An area of rough grassland, mixed pine forest, boat ramp overlooking lake. Crested Caracara, Sandhill Crane and Loggerhead Shrike. Joe Overstreet Road: this area is located a further 5 miles or so south of Cypress Lake off Highway 523 (Canoe Creek Road) a similar habitat to that of the Cypress lake plus grazed farm land leading down to Lake Kissimmee. (Caracara etc) This is the road to Three Lakes WMA.
Threelakes Wildlife Management Area): Habitat of scattered pines over a vast area with large tracts of open land. Specialities: Red-cockaded woodpecker - nesting clan at the entrance gate - look through the scattered pines for trees with white rings painted around them then just wait from a sensible distance, Crested Caracara, Bachmans Sparrow - best seen in a large open area about 3/4 mile into the reserve. Take US441 south east out of Kissimee then CR523 south at St Cloud on Canoe Creek Road for approx. 23 miles to find the entrance to your right (sign posted). Route also passes road to Cypress Lake and Joe Overstreet. [Alt directions: From Kenansville, take Florida Highway 523 (Canoe Creek Road) 9 miles northwest. Park entrance is on the left (west).]
Boggy Creek Airboat: 192 East to Poinciana Blvd. Make a right on Poinciana Blvd and go 19 miles south until it dead ends. (Poinciana will change names to Southport Rd.) (Snail Kite). This seems to be just below the Disney Preserve.
Honeymoon Island (HMI), Gulf coast north of Tampa. Shorebirds and landbird migration.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker: Ocala NF, crossroads of CR-314 and FR-88 approximately three miles south west of Salt Springs. At Three Lakes WMA: fed noisily along the Florida Scenic trail approximately 100 yards from the entrance to Prairie Lakes (see map Pranty p.155)
Lake Kissimmee State Park (Pranty p.158) (Reddish Egret, Scrub-Jay)
Sea-watching at Turtle Mound on the Atlantic coast (Pranty p.175)
Clay Island, west side of Lake Apopka, had many Snipe along Canal section on 1/24.
From trip report: Collier Co Rt 92 into Marco Island for Mangrove Cuckoo (unspecified pull-offs). Mangrove Cuckoo at Rowdy Bend in Everglades. Mangrove Cuckoo also reported from Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda (4000 W. Marion Avenue) in mangroves near the flats [Pranty p. 188].
Ft. Lauderdale site for Smooth-billed Ani: From Ft Lauderale take the Griffin Road exit from I-95 - just south of I-595. Go east on Griffin Road over the bridge, then go to the first traffic light and turn left into I believe its Beltway Park? Follow the road in and back to the parking lot, park here and then walk north to the fence of the park. Here you will be looking towards the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, look up or down the fence and hedge of the airport for the birds. If you don t see them this way walk east on the paved walking path until you do see them. Sometimes the birds are in the park itself.
Spot-Breasted Orioles can often be found in the Native Planting area of Kenwood Elementary School. From U.S. 1 in South Miami, turn west on Kendall Drive (also called SW 88th St.), go 0.3 mile and turn left on SW 79th St. Go about 0.2 mile to the Kenwood Elementary parking lot on the right, and park. Walk south between the two white school buildings and enter the Native Planting area. Look for the Oriole, and also Red-Whiskered Bulbuls, in the vicinity. The Oriole is also commonly found at A.D. Barnes County Park, located at Bird Road (SW 40th St.) and S.W. 72nd Ave. ALSO: Spot-breasted Oriole Tropical Audobon society grounds in Miami.
Baptist Hospital area in Kendall for exotics such as Spot-breasted Oriole, White-winged Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul. (see Pranty).
Lucky Hammock: officially the Frog Pond WMA, local birders call the area "Lucky Hammock" because of the good fortune we have had birding there. From the end of the Turnpike at Florida City, take SR-9336 toward the main entrance of Everglades NP (follow Everglades signs). From Krome Ave, it is 8 miles to Aerojet Rd. Aerojet Rd is about 1/2 mile before the park boundary and 1/2 mile past the C-111 canal. There is a big sign for the Southern Glades Youth Camp. Turn left (south) on Aerojet Rd. Lucky Hammock is about 1/4 mile on the right. Bird the hammock and the shrubby area across the street. Check the fields. When you are done there, head further south to the sign for the Southern Glades WEA, which marks the end of Frog Pond WMA. The "Annex" is the area between the Southern Glades WEA sign and the gate just beyond the youth camp entrance. It also has good birding. The area further south of the gate only recently opened up.
BB and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks at STA-5 is south of Clewiston on the NW corner of Rotenberger WMA. From Miami: Get to Alligator Alley (I-75). Go west to Government (Snake) Road at the Miccosukee gas station. Take Government Road north to SR-832. Follow SR-832 west, north, and west to Blumberg Road. Take Blumberg, which quickly turns south, for about 9 miles to the STA-5 turnoff (dirt road). Go south for another 2 1/2 miles on the dirt road to the STA-5 entrance gate. Park before the gate in the area to the right. Alternate route: From I-75, take US-27 north to South Bay. Contiue west on US 27 from South Bay toward Clewiston for about 13 1/2 miles. Look for Evercane Road (CR 832) and the J & J Ag. Products sign. Continue south on CR 832 for about 9 1/2 miles to Blumberg Rd (at the second bend in the road). Turn left onto Blumberg and continue another nine miles to the STA-5 turnoff (dirt road). Go south for 2 1/2 miles on the dirt road to the STA 5 entrance gate. Park before the gate in the area to the right.
Sarasota Celery Fields: Snipe, Sora etc