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Greg Miller Big Year Series: CENTRAL FLORIDA

florida-14 Florida is a big panhandle that juts out of the southeastern most part of the North American Continent. Northern Florida blends in with the rest of the southeastern States. Central Florida is a place of transition. And South Florida has its own climate and is quite different. We will visit both Central and South Florida on this agenda.

Florida borders the Atlantic Ocean on the East and the Gulf of Mexico on the West. Temperatures can be surprisingly cool during a cold snap (still no snow!) and will probably require a light jacket. But by the time we reach South Florida you will forget it is winter. Temperatures near 80 degrees might even make you feel hot!

The habitats in Florida are varied. This State enjoys a rich density of birdlife even in the winter months. According to eBird more than 350 species of birds have been recorded just in the last week of January. (eBird.org 1900-2014 4th wk of January as of June 2015).

The mild temperatures and huge number of wintering birds in Florida make it a prime destination for any birder. A few of the species we’ll be looking for include Mottled Duck, Wood Stork, Magnificent Frigatebird, Anhinga, American Bittern, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Snail Kite, Bald Eagle, Short-tailed Hawk, Purple Swamphen, Purple Gallinule, Limpkin, Wilson’s Plover, Snowy Plover, Piping Plover, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black Skimmer, Common Ground-Dove, Crested Caracara, Nanday Parakeet, Monk Parakeet, Florida Scrub-Jay, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, Painted Bunting, and Boat-tailed Grackle. This will be an exciting trip!

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  • Tour Cost
  • 2018 Cost :: 7-days/6-nights

    $1850 from Orlando, FL :: Prices are per person, double occupancy.

     

    If a single room is preferred, a single supplement fee of $300 will be charges.

     

    Although we will eat meals as a group, meal costs are not included in the tour cost. For light to moderate eaters, this will certainly save money!

     

    Included in the Tour Cost

    All ground transportation, including transfers from arrival airport. All accommodations. All entrance fees.

     

     

    Not Included in the Tour Cost

    Air travel, passport fees, luggage fees, meals, trip insurance, alcoholic beverages, bottled beverages, departure taxes, phone calls, laundry, or other items of a personal nature.

     

  • Itinerary
  • Brief Itinerary

     

    Day 1: Arrival at Orlando International Airport (MCO)

    Day 2: Viera Wetlands; Merritt Island NWR; Canaveral National Seashore; Frank Rendon Park

    Day 3: Clear Water Lake Recreation Area; Lakefront Park; Joe Overstreet Rd.; Three Lakes WMA

    Day 4: Wakodahatchee Wetlands; Green Cay Wetlands; West Delray Regional Park; John U. Lloyd SP; Chapel Trail

    Day 5: J. N. Ding Darling NWR; Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

    Day 6: Fort De Soto Park; Eckerd College; Honeymoon Island SP

    Day 7: Departure from Orlando International Airport (MCO)

     

    Full Itinerary

     

    Day 1 ~ Arrival in Orlando, FL

    Arrival at Orlando International Airport (MCO). Orientation at dinner. Night in Orlando.

     

    Day 2 ~ Viera Wetlands; Merritt Island NWR; Canaveral National Seashore; Frank Rendon Park

    Viera Wetlands is a 200 acre water treatment facility designated in December 2007. In 2008 it was included in the Great Florida Birding Trail. There are 4 cells with different water depths. This site is a terrific place for birders offering easy access and lots of birds. It’s also a great place for photographers, too. Alligators are common and occasionally lucky observers can see armadillos and river otters, too. Bird species we’ll be looking for here include Mottled Duck, Wood Stork, Anhinga, American and Least Bitterns, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Limpkin, and Crested Caracara.

     

    Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963. It is right next to NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. This refuge is one of the premiere birding hot spots in the State boasting over 300 species on its checklist. The habitat here is varied. There is marsh, swamp, scrub, mixed hardwoods and pines, pools, canals, and mudflats. It is an amazing place. We should see Roseate Spoonbills here with hundreds of egrets and ibises. And we may get to witness a Reddish Egret “dancing” with its wings extended. That is a real spectacle! It’s a good place for shorebirds and terns, too, as well as waterfowl. Other species to look for include Bald Eagle, American Avocet, Peregrine Falcon, Wood Stork, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler. We’ll make a pit stop at nearby Canaveral National Seashore to see the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay before heading north in late afternoon.

     

    We’ll spend some time between 4-6pm at Frank Rendon Park south of Daytona Beach watching gull fly-in of over 60,000 gulls. Laughing Gulls, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls will be the most predominant species. There should be a fair number of Great Black-backed Gulls, a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and if we are lucky maybe a Thayer’s, Iceland, or Glaucous Gull will be present. Royal and Forster’s Terns will be flying by us. Black Skimmers and Sandwich Terns are also possible. One time I was treated with the siting of a Parasitic Jaeger chasing gulls! Northern Gannets should be passing by further from shore. Brown Pelicans will glide effortlessly over us while we look at gulls. Willets, Sanderlings, and Ruddy Turnstones should be along the beach. Night near DeLand, FL.

     

    Day 3 ~ Clear Water Lake Recreation Area; Lakefront Park; Joe Overstreet Rd.; Three Lakes WMA

    Clearwater Lake Recreation Area is part of the much larger Ocala National Forest. It covers more than 600 square miles. The habitat is predominantly pine sandhills and inland scrub. The beautiful longleaf pines are everywhere. The forest represents the largest concentration of sand pine in the world. This will be our first stop of the day. Species present may include Pine Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Wren, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow (harder to find since they aren’t singing at this time of year), and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It will be hard to pull away from this unique and beautiful place.

     

    Next we’ll make a pit stop at the south end of East Lake Tohopekaliga near St. Cloud. If we haven’t seen one already this is our obligatory Muscovy Duck stop. Do you think we’d stop for that species alone? Well. There’s Sandhill Cranes. Haha. The real gem here is Snail Kite. Except for a handful of vagrant reports in Texas and the Carolinas, the range of this bird is confined to the southern half of Florida here in North America. There are several good spots around the Kissimmee/St. Cloud area to find Snail Kites. This is the most northerly region where this species can be seen regularly.

     

    Afterwards we’ll head south to Joe Overstreet Rd. It’s another place for specialties like Snail Kite, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Crested Caracara, Loggerhead Shrike, and even long shot of seeing a Short-tailed Hawk cruise overhead.

     

    Depending on time we’ll visit nearby Three Lakes WMA. Possibilities here include Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Limpkin, Snail Kite, Bald Eagle, and Short-tailed Hawk. About mid-afternoon we drive south. Night near Boynton Beach, FL.

     

    Day 4 ~ Wakodahatchee Wetlands; Green Cay Wetlands; West Delray Regional Park; John U. Lloyd SP; Chapel Trail 

    Wakodahatchee Wetlands is 50 acres of created wetland. It doesn’t sound that impressive. But when you walk in…well…it is like Disneyworld for a birder. The little bridge at the beginning of the ¾ mile boardwalk may have Purple Gallinules under it. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks may be standing in the shade under a bush. A Black-crowned Night-Heron may be perched at the corner. Anhingas fly by—lots of them. A Red-shouldered Hawk and Black Vultures circle overhead. Welcome to the first 100 feet of Wakodahatchee. As your viewing opens up, small islands are literally covered with nesting egrets, herons, cormorants, and Wood Storks. Sometimes iguanas can be seen sunning in the trees. Roseate Spoonbills are sometimes seen here. Everything is so up close and personal. It’s a real experience.

     

    Green Cay Wetlands is similar to Wakodahatchee in many ways. If we do well at Wakodahatchee we may not have to do the boardwalk at Green Cay. But we will want to stop at the feeders. Here, one may find White-winged Doves on the ground eating seeds knocked out of the feeder by Painted Buntings.

     

    The remainder of the day we’ll spend at some optional places depending on time. West Delray Regional Park. Of primary interest here is a shot at seeing a Short-tailed Hawk. John U. Lloyd State Park is on the Atlantic Coast. This will give us an opportunity to look for Magnificent Frigatebird. Chapel Trail is just west of Pembroke Pines and a good spot to look for the Purple Swamphen. It looks like a Purple Gallinule on steroids.

     

    Day 5 ~ J. N. Ding Darling NWR; Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

    Today we are headed for the famous J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Nestled on Sanibel Island this refuge is beautiful. It can also get quite busy. Birders are not the only visitors. There are joggers and tourists there for other purposes. That is why we are starting here first. The wildlife drive has many stops through red mangrove habitat. Small tree crabs can be found in many of the mangrove trees. This is like Doritos for the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Reddish Egrets feed in the shallow bays. Hundreds of other egrets, herons, and ibises are here, too. A real delight are the Roseate Spoonbills in their showy, neon pink plumage. There’s even a remote chance of a Mangrove Cuckoo.

     

    In the afternoon we will drive inland again to stop at Audubon’s Corkscrew Sanctuary. The preserve is 13,000 acres and is home to the largest remaining stand of old growth bald cypress in North America. Barred Owls are sometimes visible from the 2.25-mile boardwalk. Both Indigo and Painted Buntings are possible at several sets of feeders. Common Ground-Doves can be seen in the feeder areas as well. Unfortunately, our schedule is too early for the Swallow-tailed Kites that will return by the end of February and the beginning of March. Corkscrew has a surprising array of warblers for the winter months. The more common species are Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, and Palm, Pine, Prairie, Yellow-rumped, and Yellow-throated Warblers. In all, 22 species of warblers have been recorded in January in the preserve. Night near Bradenton, FL.

     

    Day 6 ~ Fort De Soto Park; Eckerd College; Honeymoon Island SP

    With more than 330 species, Fort De Soto Park claims the largest list of any eBird hotspot in Florida. It is our first destination today. American Oystercatchers and Black-bellied Plovers are fairly common here. Less common but possible species include Snowy Plover, Wilson’s Plover, and Piping Plover. In fact, this can be a great place for shorebirds. Five species of terns are here in January with regularity as well as Black Skimmer. Both Nanday and Monk Parakeets are possible here, too. And who knows what vagrant may be here when we arrive?

     

    If we haven’t already seen Monk Parakeet we will make a quick stop at Eckerd College for this species. It is on our way north. Our final destination is on the north side of Tampa. Honeymoon Island State Park is the 3rd best hotspot in Florida according to eBird with just over 300 species reported. The variety is similar to Fort De Soto. It gives us another chance at the plover trifecta: Wilson’s, Snowy, and Piping. It is also great for Common Ground-Dove and American Oystercatcher. Here we may find unusual waterfowl, rare shorebirds, and good warbler. Night in Orlando.

     

    Day 7 ~ Departure from Orlando International Airport (MCO)

    This is the departure day. Time to go home and recover after a fun-filled trip!

  • Accommodations
  • We will use standard hotels throughout our trip.