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Gulf Coast USA roadtrip birding hot spots? (1 Viewer)

Hello fellow bird lovers!

I'm planning a road trip from Kansas City to the Florida Keys in early June. Hoping to hit the coast near New Orleans and take the coastal route the whole way. We’ll rent a car from home and fly back to KC from Miami, giving us a pretty solid two weeks.

I’m looking for recommendations for must-see birding spots. I will be with four non-birders so unfortunately I can’t make every stop a birding stop. 😊 I’ll have to prioritize and pick a few. It’ll be my first time birding the SE coastal region so many of the birds will be new to me.

Any favorite state or national parks?

Thanks in advance for your advice.
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
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Hi there and a warm welcome to you from those of us on staff here at BirdForum (y)
We're glad you found us and thanks for taking a moment to say hello. Please join in wherever you like ;)

I hope you get some great suggestions. Having been there I can promote the Everglades in Florida. A great number of birds I added to my lifer list ;)
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
United States
Make sure you make a list of all the new birds you come across on your road trip and let us know even if it seems a few to you. Good luck ;)
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
If you're going the whole of Florida to the Keys, there are a few great places to bird even in the heat of Florida in June.
  • Fort de Soto is good even in summer with a variety of shorebirds like Red Knot, American Oystercatcher and a variety of plovers in the beach. You can also catch up with Reddish Egret and Nanday Parakeets without much effort in the park
  • Siesta Key Public Beach access is decent in the morning, with the main target to look out for being the breeding residents of Black Skimmers, Least Tern and Snowy Plover
  • Celery Fields in Sarasota has a decent variety of wetland specialties with Mottled Duck, Purple Gallinule and Limpkin both being readily available even in the summer months
  • JN Ding Darling NWR can be decent, best birds would probably be the waders like Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, along with Magnificent Frigatebird and Swallow-tailed Kite if you've somehow missed them so far
  • Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area will do wonders for you in the early morning, I've had there everything from Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman's Sparrow, to more widespread species like Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Northern Bobwhite and King Rail
  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is decent but only if you have missed Barred Owl and Swallow-tailed Kite elsewhere
  • Miami area is a mixed bag but if you want exotic birds you would be hard pressed to find a better place outside of Hawaii in the US, everything from Red-whiskered Bulbuls to Scaly-breasted Munia, to Indian Peafowl, a large variety of parakeets (Mitred, Red-masked, White-eyed and Blue-crowned) with 2 species of macaw (Blue-and-Yellow and Chestnut-fronted) and even one parrot species (Orange-winged). Plus searching the wires in the evenings in some parts will give you White-crowned Pigeon and any parking lot will give you Gray Kingbird and Common Myna if you haven't seen one already
  • I cannot recommend the Everglades with a clear conscience at this time of the year unless you want to see the scenery, the alligators and American Crocodile (which is easier to be seen in Key Biscayne), the mosquitoes will come for you and the water levels make the bird numbers and variety very low. Maybe in the Shark Valley area you would have a chance of seeing Snail Kite but again, the water levels will make that difficult
  • Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Gardens would be good if you want/need White-crowned Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo
  • If you go further down and are fine with snorkeling, I highly recommend taking a boat trip from John Pennekamp SP and if you reach Key West and have a bit of extra cash, a trip down to Dry Tortugas would be great even if you will only get the nesting seabirds, the fort and the snorkeling in shallow water
A few of these places are birders only kind of spots, but many can be happily be taken with nonbirders and they can enjoy the beach, the scenery, etc. while you enjoy the birds.

If you have any questions or even want help around the Miami, Everglades and Key Largo area, let me know, this place is my backyard and I've seen it at it's best times and the worst times too.
 
W
If you're going the whole of Florida to the Keys, there are a few great places to bird even in the heat of Florida in June.
  • Fort de Soto is good even in summer with a variety of shorebirds like Red Knot, American Oystercatcher and a variety of plovers in the beach. You can also catch up with Reddish Egret and Nanday Parakeets without much effort in the park
  • Siesta Key Public Beach access is decent in the morning, with the main target to look out for being the breeding residents of Black Skimmers, Least Tern and Snowy Plover
  • Celery Fields in Sarasota has a decent variety of wetland specialties with Mottled Duck, Purple Gallinule and Limpkin both being readily available even in the summer months
  • JN Ding Darling NWR can be decent, best birds would probably be the waders like Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, along with Magnificent Frigatebird and Swallow-tailed Kite if you've somehow missed them so far
  • Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area will do wonders for you in the early morning, I've had there everything from Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman's Sparrow, to more widespread species like Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Northern Bobwhite and King Rail
  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is decent but only if you have missed Barred Owl and Swallow-tailed Kite elsewhere
  • Miami area is a mixed bag but if you want exotic birds you would be hard pressed to find a better place outside of Hawaii in the US, everything from Red-whiskered Bulbuls to Scaly-breasted Munia, to Indian Peafowl, a large variety of parakeets (Mitred, Red-masked, White-eyed and Blue-crowned) with 2 species of macaw (Blue-and-Yellow and Chestnut-fronted) and even one parrot species (Orange-winged). Plus searching the wires in the evenings in some parts will give you White-crowned Pigeon and any parking lot will give you Gray Kingbird and Common Myna if you haven't seen one already
  • I cannot recommend the Everglades with a clear conscience at this time of the year unless you want to see the scenery, the alligators and American Crocodile (which is easier to be seen in Key Biscayne), the mosquitoes will come for you and the water levels make the bird numbers and variety very low. Maybe in the Shark Valley area you would have a chance of seeing Snail Kite but again, the water levels will make that difficult
  • Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Gardens would be good if you want/need White-crowned Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo
  • If you go further down and are fine with snorkeling, I highly recommend taking a boat trip from John Pennekamp SP and if you reach Key West and have a bit of extra cash, a trip down to Dry Tortugas would be great even if you will only get the nesting seabirds, the fort and the snorkeling in shallow water
A few of these places are birders only kind of spots, but many can be happily be taken with nonbirders and they can enjoy the beach, the scenery, etc. while you enjoy the birds.

If you have any questions or even want help around the Miami, Everglades and Key Largo area, let me know, this place is my backyard and I've seen it at it's best times and the worst times too.
Wow! Thank you so much! At this point I’m hoping to have dedicated birding outings at Dauphin Island, Sanibel/Ding Darling, and then in the Keys. That should give me some good variety. I will consult this list as I plan, thanks! 😊
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
Dauphin Island is great, although it is best-known as a migration hotspot. There will be less to see bird-wise in June, though the last few years there have been Gray Kingbirds in the parking area by the pubic beach, and it's a pleasant, family friendly area, with an estuarium exhibit on the east side of the island.

Just to plug a few ideas for Mississippi, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge visitor's center and a short trail is less than a mile off of I-10. The refuge was established to protect the Mississippi subspecies of Sandhill Crane - no guarantee of seeing them along the visitor's center trail, there are random neighborhood areas that are more reliable, but it's a pleasant and convenient stop.

Also consider heading down to the coast in Biloxi or Gulfport to see some of the densest Least Tern colonies in North America, and early June would be prime time to see them. Typically the colony across from the Beauvoir House in Biloxi is the largest, with 600+ pairs and sometimes breeding Black Skimmers. I work for Audubon Mississippi, so if that is of interest, feel free to pm me sometime in May when the colonies set up and I can give you up to date information.
 
Dauphin Island is great, although it is best-known as a migration hotspot. There will be less to see bird-wise in June, though the last few years there have been Gray Kingbirds in the parking area by the pubic beach, and it's a pleasant, family friendly area, with an estuarium exhibit on the east side of the island.

Just to plug a few ideas for Mississippi, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge visitor's center and a short trail is less than a mile off of I-10. The refuge was established to protect the Mississippi subspecies of Sandhill Crane - no guarantee of seeing them along the visitor's center trail, there are random neighborhood areas that are more reliable, but it's a pleasant and convenient stop.

Also consider heading down to the coast in Biloxi or Gulfport to see some of the densest Least Tern colonies in North America, and early June would be prime time to see them. Typically the colony across from the Beauvoir House in Biloxi is the largest, with 600+ pairs and sometimes breeding Black Skimmers. I work for Audubon Mississippi, so if that is of interest, feel free to pm me sometime in May when the colonies set up and I can give you up to date information.
Thank you! Wonderful suggestions. I’m going to try to see the terns. I really appreciate your suggestions. If Dauphin isn’t great in June, do you have a beach suggestion on the Mississippi Coast? I’m trying to satisfy two teen daughters who want some beachy stays.😊
 
Thank you! Wonderful suggestions. I’m going to try to see the terns. I really appreciate your suggestions. If Dauphin isn’t great in June, do you have a beach suggestion on the Mississippi Coast? I’m trying to satisfy two teen daughters who want some beachy stays.😊
I’m sure you get that I mean beachy Mississippi spots that might be birdier in June.😊
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
I’m sure you get that I mean beachy Mississippi spots that might be birdier in June.😊
Right! For general beach experience, Dauphin Island will be far nicer to be honest. The mainland beaches of Mississippi are not on the Gulf proper, but on the Mississippi Sound, which receives a lot of silty freshwater influx, and all the beaches are man-made and backed by a seawall and a busy highway. On the other hand, you could take one of the ferries from Biloxi or Gulfport out to Ship Island, which is a scenic and natural barrier island that is typically surrounded by clearer water in the summer. You might see rays in the shallows and almost certainly dolphins on the ferry ride. You could see Snowy and Wilson's Plover, and American Oystercatchers.
 

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