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Birding the Central Atlantic Coast of Florida in November, 2020 (Thanksgiving Weekend) (2 Viewers)

lgonz1008

Well-known member
Marking the last multiday trip I can make for 2020 (also hopefully the last one that marks a year I cannot bird outside of my home state), my family and I took a quick trip up the Florida coast to spend some relaxation times and hopefully find something new for me in my state or life list (turns out both of these would get something). The main goal of the trip was to visit the Blue Springs State Park which is well known for the large number of wintering West Indian (Florida) Manatees, but along the way, seeing what other species we could add to the list.

November 27: Traveling from Miami to Orange City and birding Merritt Island NWR

The drive upstate started early enough and as it is recommended from Florida in the winter, roadside birding gave a chance of seeing many great, albeit common, species. Quickly the species list racked up with Wood Stork, Cooper's and Red-shouldered Hawk making up some of the highlights among the dozens of egrets, herons and vultures seen.

We arrived to Merritt Island NWR around 10 AM and between it and birding the coast, I was able to add some of the best birds of the trip. The drive in to the Cape Canaveral Seashore, provided with views of a pair of one of my favorite birds in the world in the form of Florida Scrub-Jays right by the road, sadly no other good birds would be seen until we got to the beach. Once on the beach, this quick stop provided me with views of Northern Gannets flying close to shore among the surfers, a lonesome Ruddy Duck behind the waves, and a variety of common shorebirds like Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet and Black-bellied Plover. Driving back into the refuge, the birding truly kicked up with a juvenile Bald Eagle pretending to be a vulture in a kettle, and the multiple rafts of ducks around the park giving views to many charismatic ducks alongside the more common Blue-winged Teals and Northern Shovelers. Some of the other duck species included Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Northern Pintail, and my lifer Greater Scaup in the form of a pair that the female was kind enough to show off better than the male. Other roadside stops along the Wildlife Drive gave close up views of Caspian Terns, Tree Swallows and all of the common wading birds with a single Reddish Egret and Roseate Spoonbill being the clear winners. Not much other wildlife was seen except for a Gopher Tortoise near the beach area and a few American Alligators (baby gators were also heard at one point). From there is was time to go to town for lunch. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S76757443)

Lunch was average at best with sightings of two Sandhill Cranes close to the road being much more enjoyable. In the late afternoon, we took a quick trip to Fort Mellon Park and Marina and while there was not much there to see (both birding and normal tourism wise), I still managed to add some trip birds like Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks, Limpkin and Yellow-throated Warbler. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S76771744)

November 28: Blue Spring SP

As could be expected of a vacation with a family, early rising is not always on the table, so we arrived to the state park well after 10:30, the park has a strong history for the water springs that keep the waters warm in the chilly winters that the manatees love, however with a temperature of 81F that day, it came to no surprise that only one lonesome manatee was seen as opposed to the dozens that normally winter here. Thankfully other wildlife like Yellow-bellied Sliders and American Alligators kept my family interested, but for me, I had one target in the park, and sadly I missed it, in the form of Carolina Chickadee, while this bird wouldn't be a lifer, it would have been a state first along with being my 300th bird in Florida, instead I am stuck with 299 birds as for December, 2020. Due to the popular nature of the park, the trails were full of people (many of which were forgetting to wear masks or give space to each other) and as a result, the birding was slow. With the only bird of note being a Blue-headed Vireo that came in to some pishing. Around midday, my brother and I decided to do some kayaking to better enjoy the park and this drastically boosted my species count from 14 to 26 species, highlights coming in the form of sunbathing Anhingas, territorial Little Blue Herons and a pair of calling Barred Owls. Overall, not a great park if you want to see birds, but one enjoyable enough for a family outing, a quick stop back to the hotel before lunch also gave me views of a fun year bird in an Orange-crowned Warbler. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S76805955 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S76807454)

Once again for the afternoon, my family wanted to walk back in the Fort Mellon Park and Marina (mostly because there was nothing else to do in Orange City), so we went back and this gave me the last new bird of the trip in the form of Muscovy Duck, I wish I was kidding. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S76821556)

The 29th was a drive back to Miami and a somber reminder that while we can still enjoy the places around our home states/countries, the best/new birding experiences are still out there and hopefully, 2021 will be the year we can all slowly but surely, go back to birding those places that are full of unique species that so far we have only seen in our field guides.

Thank you for everyone who read this report, hopefully the images taken and placed on the checklists were well received and if you need any detailed logistics let me know.
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Many thanks for posting. Interested to hear that the manatees do not necessarily winter in the hot springs if the sea is still warm. The sis a bucket list destination for me and you've highlighted he need to make sure the manatees are really there! I'm often birding with family or around work commitments so I appreciate hearing about what worked for you when hardcore birding was simply not an option.

Best wishes for a December surprise to hit your 300 species target!

Cheers
Mike
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
Many thanks for posting. Interested to hear that the manatees do not necessarily winter in the hot springs if the sea is still warm. The sis a bucket list destination for me and you've highlighted he need to make sure the manatees are really there! I'm often birding with family or around work commitments so I appreciate hearing about what worked for you when hardcore birding was simply not an option.

Best wishes for a December surprise to hit your 300 species target!

Cheers
Mike
Glad it was enjoyed, it was surprising to us too, but considering we went there in shorts and short-sleeved shirts at the end of November, it's no surprise to say that are having a hot winter in Florida (again). The manatee we saw also had a tracking and when we asked the park rangers, they informed us that it was an orphan rescue brought in from Orlando, so if it wasn't that the little guy was lost to begin with, no manatees would have been seen!
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
Glad it was enjoyed, it was surprising to us too, but considering we went there in shorts and short-sleeved shirts at the end of November, it's no surprise to say that are having a hot winter in Florida (again). The manatee we saw also had a tracking and when we asked the park rangers, they informed us that it was an orphan rescue brought in from Orlando, so if it wasn't that the little guy was lost to begin with, no manatees would have been seen!
My wife and I just returned from five days in the Big Bend of the Florida Gulf Coast, specifically St. Mark's NWR. Unlike your overly warm weather, we had three mornings of frost and several windy days which dampened the songbird activity as does unusually high temps. Finicky creatures, aren't they? 😄 Lots of ducks in the various impoundments, the star attraction being the long-staying American Flamingo.
On our way back north, we stopped at Wakullua Springs, seeing four adult manatees and one half-pint. It was cold there also so another short bird list.
Wonderful state to visit, so geographically tall and diverse, the birding opportunities seem endless!

Steve
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
I forgot to mention Hontoon Island SP just a few miles north of Blue Springs and also on the St John's River. Much fewer people and probably better birding. No car access; a 5 minute free ferry takes you across the river.

Steve
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
I forgot to mention Hontoon Island SP just a few miles north of Blue Springs and also on the St John's River. Much fewer people and probably better birding. No car access; a 5 minute free ferry takes you across the river.

Steve
If I had known of such a spot, I would have convinced my family to go there.

St. Marks is high on my list for Florida, the Panhandle overall is the only part of the state I haven't birded yet and the American Flamingo makes it tempting.

If you want songbirds though, I highly recommend to drive all the way down to Miami, where we are the proud record holders for most birds in the CBC of which 45+ species are wintering Neotropic migrants, so lots of warblers to see along with the more common Catbirds, Gnatcatchers and the odd Thrush sp.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
Miami is a two day drive for us. Limited to a week, St Mark’s was as far as we could go. Next Florida visit will likely be in early May when we’re signed up for camping in the Tortugas. Wonderful assortment of species there including migrant songbirds.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
Miami is a two day drive for us. Limited to a week, St Mark’s was as far as we could go. Next Florida visit will likely be in early May when we’re signed up for camping in the Tortugas. Wonderful assortment of species there including migrant songbirds.
Might be a bit late for the best fallout chances but Dry Tortugas is definitely my go to hotspot in Florida in that time of the year. Hope you can find some great birds, maybe a Black Noddy or two?
 

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