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Birding in Florida - Mid February.

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Old Sunday 30th December 2018, 00:33   #1
mskb
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Birding in Florida - Mid February.

Hello Everyone,

We are planning a birding trip to Florida the mid-second to third week of February for about 8 days. I was wondering if you have any thoughts/suggestions on the sites to visit. Our main goal is to get a sense of Florida wildlife, wintering birds and any other rarities that we might not come across so much in the North East. So far, from looking around the forums, and other websites, we are thinking the following:

Merrit Island & possibly Ritch Grissom : 1 day
Lake Apopka : 1 day
Fort De Soto & possibly Cockroach Bay : 1 day
Ding Darling : 1 day
The rest of it we are not sure at all!
Corkscrew sanctuary/Stormwater treatment area/Frog Pond WMA/Flamingo Visitor Center/Everglades?

Any advice would be greatly helpful!

Thanks,
Kumar
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Old Sunday 30th December 2018, 00:51   #2
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You definitely want to visit the Everglades
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Old Sunday 30th December 2018, 14:35   #3
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I think your real challenge here I going to be crafting an 8-day itinerary. If you're planning on driving from one point to the next, don't underestimate the distances between North Florida, Central Florida and South Florida. You can probably hit most of the great birding spots in the state in 8 days, but it's going to be grueling. On the other hand, if you want a more leisurely trip, I'd suggest focusing on one region (and if you're only going to focus on one region, it should probably be South Florida and the Keys)

If you can fit it in to your trip, Dry Tortugas would be a great addition, but it's going to be out of the way if you're primarily touring the rest of the state. I'd also recommend Green Cay Wetlands in Palm Beach County, but you aren't likely to spot much there that you aren't going to see elsewhere. Hope you have a great trip!
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Old Monday 31st December 2018, 14:35   #4
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Thank you very much @KCFoggin and @Proavis. Everglades is definitely in our plan now, and Proavis’s comment gives a lot to think about. I thought one way to restrict the choices would be to look for (a) top sites that offer relatively more non-overlapping sets of species compared to other smaller sites, which might offer the same species we have come across already during our trip. And (b) spots that allow relatively closer access to birds both for viewing pleasure and photography if needed. Any insights? Thank you so much!
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Old Wednesday 2nd January 2019, 19:12   #5
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If you're going to be passing down to Everglades, and through the Palm Beach County area, February would be a prime time to stop by Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. It's a primary rookery spot, and will have hundreds of nests by that time (great blue herons, cormorants, anhinga are already nesting now, wood storks will be coming in the next week or two, with great egrets, cattle egrets, ibis, green heron, tricolor heron, all following shortly). Proximity is amazing - often the nests are within 5-10 feet of where you are walking. Another wetland, Green Cay, is just a mile away, so you can easily hit both in a short afternoon...with the two, you get a good sampling of wintering birds and some nice species that may be hard to find elsewhere - American and least bittern, sora, Virginia rail, roseate spoonbill, and a decent selection of wintering warblers, vireos, and buntings.
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Old Thursday 3rd January 2019, 02:36   #6
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I agree with most of the above, especially the thought about not covering too much ground. Hard to build a big list when you are spending lots of time on the road.

The east side of south Florida has a great deal to offer; all of that 8 day period could be spent without crossing over to the west or going very far north. Is there anything on the west coast that's not on the east or would be worth traveling that distance for? SE Florida will have wintering warblers and most of those "only in Florida" species. The Miami/Homestead area alone warrants 3-4 days to cover all the hotspots well. Some would require a second visit to find specific target birds. I understand the plan to visit varied habitat types to avoid overlapping species. Are there any birds you have in mind that frequent habitats not found in SE Fla?

If you want to target rarities, you'll likely have to pay attention to eBird or the Florida listserv to know what is around, whether it is within reach of your time frame and worth chasing. We came back just yesterday from 8 days in around Gainesville and Deland, getting the Smooth-billed Ani at Little Talbot Island near Jacksonville by watching the reports from those resources.

I don't think the Dry Tortugas would have much to offer in February; my wife and I went this past year during the more traditional time frame of late April/early May which is when the Florida specialty breeding birds have arrived and the migrants are passing through.

I haven't been to Wakodahatchee Wetlands yet but did visit Loxahatchee NWR. If they're anything alike, there's a whole day of gawking there.

My two cents worth from someone who used to live there, loves to visit but doesn't get the chance often enough.

Steve

Last edited by Hamhed : Thursday 3rd January 2019 at 02:37. Reason: spelling
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Old Friday 4th January 2019, 03:31   #7
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Thanks for the very informative responses Justin & Steve!

So far, this is what we have as our plan, but your recommendations on the East & South East Florida appear quite attractive.

2 days: {Merrit, Vierra Wetlands, Lake Apopka}
4 days: {Fort De Soto, Ding Darling, Corkscrew swamp sanctuary area}
2 days Big Cypress/Shark Valley & Flamingo area
Last day before boarding flight, possibly through Wakodahatchee Wetlands?

Does this seem reasonable or would you say focus just on East & South East Florida? Looking back, I think we ended up planning along the West Coast because we came across Fort De Soto & Ding Darling first, when we started our research for this trip.
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Old Sunday 6th January 2019, 22:50   #8
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Without a target list, it would be hard to guess what you would find on the east coast that you would not find on the west. Just want a break from MD weather or collecting a big list? What type of trip is this? Remember, some of those days are going to actually be half days when travel is accounted for.
For that "got our toes in the tropics" feeling, you might want to consider dipping down into the northern Keys, stopping at Robert Is Here (https://www.robertishere.com/pages/m...-and-smoothies) on the way and put in some time in the Miami area for some of the exotics, unless they don't interest you. Nothing like flyover Yellow-headed Amazons to spice up a trip list.
You could do a much better job of covering eastern FL if you saved the west coast for another trip. Some states require more than one visit.
Then, there's the Panhandle, one of my favorite places...

Steve
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Old Sunday 6th January 2019, 23:27   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamhed View Post
Without a target list, it would be hard to guess what you would find on the east coast that you would not find on the west. Just want a break from MD weather or collecting a big list? What type of trip is this? Remember, some of those days are going to actually be half days when travel is accounted for.
For that "got our toes in the tropics" feeling, you might want to consider dipping down into the northern Keys, stopping at Robert Is Here (https://www.robertishere.com/pages/m...-and-smoothies) on the way and put in some time in the Miami area for some of the exotics, unless they don't interest you. Nothing like flyover Yellow-headed Amazons to spice up a trip list.
You could do a much better job of covering eastern FL if you saved the west coast for another trip. Some states require more than one visit.
Then, there's the Panhandle, one of my favorite places...

Steve
Exactly!
Florida requires a leisurely approach, rather than the 'smash and grab' style birding that vacation schedules seem to mandate. Settle into Cape Canaveral and points South, enjoy the Keys and the beaches, pick up a few birds and wonderful memories. When work and the budget allow, spend time on the west coast, eventually do the Panhandle.
Florida is a wonderful state, you cheat yourself by speeding through it.
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Old Monday 7th January 2019, 14:10   #10
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Thanks Steve, and @Etudiant.

We have only just recently begun birding ourselves, so beyond just experiencing what Florida has to offer in terms of birds and wildlife, we do not have a major target wish list for birds.

Given all of your responses, we are definitely going to revise our plan significantly. I will write back when I make some progress in this regard, or if we have any further questions. Thank you so much!
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Old Monday 7th January 2019, 16:01   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mskb View Post
So far, this is what we have as our plan, but your recommendations on the East & South East Florida appear quite attractive.

2 days: {Merrit, Vierra Wetlands, Lake Apopka}
4 days: {Fort De Soto, Ding Darling, Corkscrew swamp sanctuary area}
2 days Big Cypress/Shark Valley & Flamingo area
Last day before boarding flight, possibly through Wakodahatchee Wetlands?
Since you mention you're really just starting out with birding and don't have a 'hitlist', I don't think you need to worry as much about trying to fit in east and west coasts - the birds you'll find on both sides mostly overlap but for a few oddball things that might be more prevalent on one side or the other. There are two types of birding spots common to Florida:
1. The first type is the small, densely packed birding hotspots that are usually rookeries, with birds that are quite accustomed to seeing people and allow you to get very very close. I think you may be better off focusing on these types of spots for your first trip - hit just a few of these hotspots and you can fill your 'lifer' list to nearly 100 species in just a few hours at each spot. It's a good way to get started with birding and get a ton of species. Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Green Cay Wetlands, Ding Darling, Viera Wetlands, and Anhinga Trail would be examples of these types of spots - where you can get very close to birds and where you don't need to do a lot of searching or walking around to find dozens of species. At Wakodahatchee this past Saturday, in 1/2 mile from 4:30pm to 5:15pm, and shot 37 species, 20 of them in flight and sitting.

2. The other type of spot is a more wide open area, with birds spread out, often a little more skittish, requiring much more walking and close observations to get the rewards. Often the birds in these spots can be very dependent on time of day, with dozens of species in the morning and none in the afternoon, for example. These places can reward with some cool species, but you often must cover a lot more ground, and spend a lot more time, to notch 6-12 species, and often you'll need good strong binocs or a big telephoto lens, as the birds don't always let you get as close. Arthur Marshall, Fort DeSoto, Lake Apopka, Corkscrew, and Big Cypress would be examples of this type of spot.

Personally, I think you'd do just fine to stick from central east Florida down the east coast through S. Florida and down to Everglades/Miami area. You of course have other things you can do aside from birding if you choose, from theme parks to beaches...but that would let you hit some really dense populated birding spots like Gatorland, Merritt, Viera, Wakodahatchee, Green Cay, Key Biscayne, and Anhinga Trail/Everglades...and with any free time in between, there are dozens of smaller hotspots and wetlands parks you could add in along the way (Orlando Wetlands, Winding Waters, Grassy Waters, Peaceful Waters, Wellington Wetlands, Evergreen Cemetery, the STAs (Stormwater Treatment Areas), Markham Park, and so on.

If you decide to go west coast, you could put together a similar itinerary - so I'm not endorsing one over the other...I just happen to live on the east coast so I'm more familiar with what's on this side of the state.
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Old Friday 11th January 2019, 17:01   #12
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Hello Justin, thank you so much for your very helpful post above that gives us a broad-perspective on Florida wildlife! It certainly helps me a lot and I am sure, it will do the same to other new people who are considering Florida birding for the first time. We are taking all of this into consideration as we continue planning. Thank you.
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Old Sunday 13th January 2019, 01:11   #13
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If you do go to Ft DeSoto be sure you hit east beach turnaround, area to south of gulf pier (look around the corner of sea wall, lots of birds can hang there) The problem with Ft DeSoto is many of the shorebirds now hang out at outback key which is just offshore. You can find some wintering birds but would check ebird for an idea of whats hanging out. Spring migration is the best time to be in Ft D area. And don't underestimate the traffic. Traveling from St Petersburg to Ft Myers can be a nightmare during the day because of winter residents. I agree with others stick to one coast at this point in time. Plus east coast can be great birding this time of year down around Miami and the Everglades. Again check ebird

Randy
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Old Monday 14th January 2019, 16:32   #14
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It's picking up around S. Florida - this past Saturday, I hit Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands starting at 1:30pm and shot through 5:15pm...in that time I photographed 43 species of birds and 6 species of reptiles. Just over 3 hours and just casually walking over 2 1/2 miles between the two boardwalk loops. Wood storks, great blue herons, and ibis numbered around 800 - 1,000 birds.

Just FYI!
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Old Thursday 17th January 2019, 18:02   #15
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Lake Apopka is a good choice. The Wildlife Drive is an excellent place to see upwards of 60 species on an average day. Just make sure that when you schedule for this one, it's on a Fri/Sat/Sun, as it's closed the other days of the week. You can still hike/walk the North Shore Restoration Area and have access to see the same stuff - but it will take a LOT longer. If you do go, refer to ebird for known continuing rarities. And if you have any questions about it or just want an update as to what's going on just prior to your visit, ping me here and I'll be happy to provide additional info.
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Old Friday 1st February 2019, 13:05   #16
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Decided to jump in if thats okay instead of starting a new post. Same idea for me and the wife for Florida except we won't be driving once their. Any hotels to stay at that are near one of the large nature reserves so we can take a bus/cab/ or even a tour daily from the hotel. Thanks for any info.
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Old Tuesday 12th February 2019, 14:34   #17
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JTF, Florida is not pedestrian-friendly. In some areas it is possible to arrange a bus (usually with long mandatory stops for souvenir shopping) from your hotel to a beach or park, or use a taxi service. Once at the park you will again have very limited options for navigable trails. Southern Florida is mostly swampland. In some places there are dikes with trails along the top, and parts of the coast allow long beach walks, but in general you'd be wading through alligator-infested muck with impenetrable vegetation. However, if you can rent a canoe or kayak, or take an airboat tour, you can get very close to a great deal of interesting wildlife.

PS I've just posted a few bird photos from Merritt Island, mostly taken a few days ago from on the Wildlife Drive or adjacent trails:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/nartreb/

Many more to follow on my personal website (link below), whenever I get some free time to post them.
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Old Tuesday 12th February 2019, 19:14   #18
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Decided to jump in if thats okay instead of starting a new post. Same idea for me and the wife for Florida except we won't be driving once their. Any hotels to stay at that are near one of the large nature reserves so we can take a bus/cab/ or even a tour daily from the hotel. Thanks for any info.
As mentioned above, you're probably not going to find many of the key wildlife or wetlands spots that have hotels located close enough to walk. But you'd be within easy range for a cab, Uber, etc. Bus service is less reliable in Florida, so probably not accessible by standard bus services. Or you could just rent a cheap small car to get around.

Probably one of the very few exceptions would be Sanibel Island, where you could feasibly walk to Ding Darling park from a few beachfront hotels. And a few of the larger wildlife reserves have camping available onsite, which could put you within reach of some sites from a tent or RV - though not many people fancy tenting in Florida except a few weeks out of the year when the temps aren't running in the upper 80s or 90s and humid with carpets of mosquitos everywhere.
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