America's 'Sunshine State' offers excellent winter birdwatching for those looking to escape the gloom of winter in Britain. This is arguably the best time to see Florida's exciting birds, when resident species are joined by numerous winter visitors.
Birdwatching is undertaken in comfort with the oppressively hot and humid summer having given way to temperatures in the low 70's. This pleasant climate enables many warblers to winter here which would otherwise move further south, including Parula, Yellow-throated, Black-throated Green, Prairie and Black-and-white. Large numbers of waders, ducks and larger shorebirds can be found, ranging from the delightful little Piping Plover to the majestic Sandhill Crane. Herons are particularly abundant; we can expect to see no less than eleven species including the rare Reddish Egret and the striking Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Photographic opportunities are unsurpassed, with many species being quite fearless of people.
All of south and central Florida's habitats can comfortably be explored from just three centres, namely St Cloud, Fort Myers and Homestead. Our first base, at St Cloud, just south of Orlando is ideally placed for us to explore the pine flatwoods, oak scrub, cypress swamps and fresh water marshes of central Florida. From here we will also visit the world famous Merritt Island National Wildfowl Refuge on the Atlantic coast at Cape Canaveral.
On day five we will drive south-west to the Gulf coast at Fort Myers, our home for the next three nights. We will visit the J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Corkscrew Swamp, Six Mile Cypress Slough, a wild West Indian Manatee reserve and various coastal sites.
On day eight we will drive east to Homestead, a town situated close to the eastern Everglades. We will spend our last four nights here, concentrating on this famous bird-rich area as well as visiting the Florida Keys to look for Magnificent Frigatebird. Numerous birds occur in these areas which we are unlikely to have seen already, providing many surprises and maintaining interest to the last day.
We shall spend the first four nights at St Cloud, giving us an unhurried, but bird-filled introduction to Florida.
Our first full day will find us birdwatching at East Lake Tohopekaliga, on the doorstep of our hotel. In waterside vegetation birds include Common Yellowthroat, Swamp Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Boat-tailed Grackle and Northern Cardinal. On the lake we can watch Anhinga, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis and perhaps Least Bittern. Sandhill Cranes are common and can be seen at close quarters feeding on acorns from majestic oak trees. The Snail Kite, a speciality of the area, can often be found along the shore.
At nearby Brinson Park birds are even more numerous, with good numbers of wildfowl including Canvasback and Lesser Scaup. Large wading birds abound. Great Blue Herons, Tricoloured Herons, Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons are all very evident. Even the skulking Green-backed Heron can be easily seen here.
Our last port of call today will be Southport Park, at the south end of Lake Tohopekaliga. Raptors are particularly numerous here. Bald Eagles nest and give good views, and other species present include Crested Caracara, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey and Northern Harrier. We even saw a Bobcat here on one visit.
The following day a change of habitat will take us to Merritt Island on the Atlantic coast. This is an excellent wetland where numerous species of wildfowl and waders find an ideal winter home. We can expect to see huge numbers of American Coot as well as American Wigeon, Pintail, Blue-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebe. The striking Hooded Merganser is easier to find here than elsewhere on the tour. Large wading birds should include the endangered Wood Stork and rare Reddish Egret as well as more numerous egrets and herons. Waders occur in small flocks on the lagoons and should include American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot and Short-billed Dowitcher. These will be rubbing shoulders with gulls and terns including Bonaparte's Gull, Royal Tern and Forster's Tern. We should also see the first of many Black Skimmers. Finally, the refuge holds the world's largest population of the endemic Florida Scrub Jay.
Day four will take us in search of another scarce and declining species. Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area is the home to a good population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. As well as having a chance of finding these birds we can also expect five other woodpecker species here. Also in the area are good numbers of Wild Turkeys, Killdeers, Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, Loggerhead Shrikes and Eastern Meadowlarks. The highly endangered Whooping Crane is subject to a release programme in the hope of establishing a flock here. Although not countable on a purist's tick list, they nevertheless make an impressive sight alongside numerous Sandhill Cranes.
On day five we will drive to the Gulf coast at Fort Myers, our base for the next three nights. Many coastal species can be found in this area including Brown Pelican, American White Pelican, Great Northern Diver and Double-crested Cormorant. At Bunche Beach we can expect to see the rare Piping Plover, alongside numerous Wilson's Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Semi-palmated Plovers, Western Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers. Hundreds of Black Skimmers and Royal Terns are a regular sight.
At J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildfowl Refuge we can expect close views of Roseate Spoonbill, American White Pelican, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Spotted Sandpiper. Burrowing Owls can be found nearby.
A change of habitat will take us to Corkscrew Swamp, a reserve owned by the National Audubon Society. Huge cypress trees make the area worth a visit on their own, but we will be there to look for Carolina Wren, Limpkin, Yellow-throated Warbler, Chipping Sparrow and Painted Bunting. An extensive boardwalk through the cypress swamp enables us to get into this otherwise impenetrable forest.
On day eight we will drive east from Fort Myers to Homestead, our base for the last four nights. Situated at the edge of the eastern Everglades, Homestead provides an ideal base to explore this world famous area.
Small birds winter in good numbers and include Baltimore Oriole, Painted Bunting, Western Kingbird, Brown Thrasher, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Great Crested Flycatcher, alongside the more numerous Palm Warblers and Common Yellowthroats. We also know of a reliable site for Barred Owl.
It is the waterbirds which make the Everglades famous and they will provide the most spectacular birdwatching. In the evening huge numbers of birds can be watched from an observation point. Wave after wave of White Ibis, Great White Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Tricoloured Herons and Glossy Ibis can be seen flying to roost.
During our time at Homestead we will spend one day visiting the Florida Keys. This will give us further opportunities to see both Broad-winged and Short-tailed Hawks, as well as Magnificent Frigatebirds. At Card Sound Bridge, at the start of the Keys, there is usually a roost of waders, terns and gulls as well as a few Slavonian Grebes. The impressive Great White Heron (a white morph of the Great Blue Heron or a separate species) can also be found here.
Breakfast will be taken at about 7.30am most mornings, slightly later if the previous day has been tiring. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field and short/medium length walks will be undertaken regularly. There will be no uphill walking.
Full-board accommodation is provided, with four nights at the Quality Inn Heritage Park near St Cloud, three nights at the La Quinta Inn Sanibel Gateway at Fort Myers and four nights at the Travelodge at Homestead. All rooms are very spacious and have en suite bathrooms. Packed lunches will be taken every day.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 29th, ending with lunch on 11th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees, flight to Orlando, and airport taxes.
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from both Manchester and London Gatwick to Orlando, using the scheduled services of Virgin Atlantic. Outbound flight departs late morning, return flight arrives back mid-morning.
12 nights including
one overnight flight:
Maximum group size:
Cost with discount
(if you book before
16th August 2010):
29th Nov. to 11th Dec. 2010
9 clients with one leader
£2280 per person sharing
£2430 per person sharing
click here to see the photographs in our Florida Album
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