Combined with the area's temperate climate, beautiful beaches and abundant mix of both exotic and native birds, Florida's Treasure Coast is the perfect choice for an adventure in ornithology.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Jonathan Dickinson State Park is particularly well-known as a favorite resting places for our feathered friends. It is a refuge for hundreds of different birds - some that merely pass through as they travel a migratory path and others that choose to stay and raise their young.
This 11,300-acre, low-managed park is located near Hobe Sound on Florida's Treasure Coast, about 130 miles southeast of Orlando. Resembling a habitat that existed hundreds of years ago, bird watchers can enjoy an opportunity to spot ospreys, woodpeckers, ibises, herons, anhingas, egrets and bald eagles. A bird checklist contains over 140 species identified within the park.
The Loxahatchee River, along with four different nature and bike trails, wind through the park's scrublands and flatwoods. A concession stand sells snacks, along with canoe and cabin rentals.
Campers can choose from two different locations within the park - the tree-shaded Pine Grove near the entrance station and another campground near the Loxahatchee River.
Located about 70 miles west of Key West, this remote collection of islands serves as the nesting ground and roosting site for thousands of tropical and subtropical oceanic birds. Acting as a stopping point for more than 200 varieties of migratory birds on the Eastern Flyway, this bird-watcher's paradise is particularly popular in spring and fall.
The Key islands are the only nesting sites in the U.S. for the great white heron and the white-crowned pigeon. They're also one of the few breeding spots for the reddish egret, the roseate spoonbill, the mangrove cuckoo and the black-whiskered vireo.
Bird-watching season peaks from mid-March to mid-May when thousands of birds, including thrushes, orioles, boobies, swallows, noddy and snooty terns, make their appearance. It's not uncommon for up to 10,000 terns to nest in Dry Tortugas each spring.
Visitors can stay for the day or spend a few days camping at Garden Key, an isolated spot that allows tents only. Amenities are sparse, offering only picnic tables, cooking grills and toilets. No stoves are permitted.
If you enjoy "roughing it," this is the place to visit. For more information, phone the National Park Service at (305) 242-7700.
The Lower Keys
Another stopping point for birds on the Eastern Flyway, this south Florida location is populated by many West Indian bird species, especially during spring and fall. As mentioned above, the Keys are the only nesting sites in the U.S. for the great white heron and white-crowned pigeon. In fact, the entire gulf side of the lower half of the Keys has been designated the Great White Heron National Refuge
Stretching from Big Pine Key to Coppitt Key, the Lower Keys are perrfect for those looking for an adventure in solitude or an opportunity to commune with nature. Instead of gourmet cuisine and exciting nightlife, this naturalist's paradise offers a multitude of outdoor activities.
Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key is a great choice for bird watchers. Watch for the reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, mangrove cuckoo and black-whiskered vireo. For those who enjoy a wilderness vacation, the park has 80 campsites and six cabin units with wraparound terrace, barbecue pit and rocking chairs.
For more information, contact the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-872-3722 or (305) 872-2411, or call Bahia Honda State Park at (305) 872-2353.
Everglades National Park
More than 350 species of birds make their homes in the Everglades, including tropical birds from the Caribbean and temperate species from North America. You may even spot a few exotics that have flown in from more distant regions.
Established in 1947 to protect the rich resources of south Florida's subtropical wilderness wetlands, Everglades National Park is a popular destination among bird watchers. Two of the best spots are the Eco and Mrazek ponds near Flamingo Lodge, the park's only accommodations, especially in early morning or late afternoon in the dry winter months.
Commonly sighted birds include the wood stork, Everglades kite, black vulture, great white heron, brown pelican, osprey, roseate spoonbill and the southern bald eagle. Picking up a free copy of the park's checklist will help you keep track of each bird as you spot it.
To learn more about the park, contact the Everglades National Park Headquarters at (305) 242-7700.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Maintained by the National Audubon Society, this 11,000-acre bald cypress wilderness in Naples is home to herons, bald eagles and serves as a favorite wood-stork nesting ground from November to April.
Here you'll find an opportunity to wander among some of North America's oldest trees and observe a dazzling array of colorful orchids. Nearly 200 species of birds have been recorded here, and many tend to congregate around the pools near a two-mile boardwalk that leads through a bald cypress forest.
The Sanctuary can be reached at (941) 657-3771.
J.N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Sanibel Island on southwest Florida's Gulf coast is home to this 5,000-acre refuge known for its mangrove forests and winding waterways. Bird watchers can expect to spot wildlife common to barrier islands, such as the roseate spoonbill, osprey, shorebirds, white pelican, ducks, loon and mangrove cuckoo.
Ding Darling was recently named among the 10 best places to watch birds by Dick Hutto, ornithologist and host of the PBS series, BirdWatch. According to Hutto, the refuge is filled with so many birds with so little fear of people that binoculars aren't necessary.
Don't be surprised if you get a closer-than-expected look at herons, egrets and ibises as you stroll along the two-mile trail, paddle down the winding canoe trails or take the five-mile, one-way Wildlife Drive.
For more information, phone (941) 472-1100.
Cayo Costa Island
A huge variety of sea and shore birds gather on this state preserve situated on an uninhabited island near Captiva Island in southwest Florida. Accessible only by boat, this unspoiled barrier island is covered in miles of white-sand beaches, pine forests, mangrove swamps, oak-palm hammocks and grasslands.
Visitors can spend the day or book a site in a primitive campground on the island's northern end. Twelve rustic cabins are also available for rent. Keep in mind that the island has running water, but no electricity.
To learn more about Cayo Costa State Park, phone (941) 964-0375.
St. George Island State Park
Terns, snowy plovers, black skimmers and other birds can be spotted nesting along the dunes and the nine miles of beach that comprise this state park near Apalachicola, found on the Gulf of Mexico in northwest Florida's Panhandle.
Wildlife can be viewed from a hiking trail and observation platform, and the park is well-suited for an overnight stay. Picnic areas, rest rooms, showers, a boat launch and campground with electrical hookups are among the amenities.
Contact the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce at (904) 653-9419 for more details.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Perched on the shores of Apalachee Bay in northwestern Florida is a 65,000-acre preserve that is home to an incredible number of birds. You'll know you've found the park when you stumble upon the St. Marks Lighthouse marking the harbor entrance.
Stop at the visitor center and pick up a copy of the self-guided tour maps of the roads and hiking trails that wind through the preserve. You can also ask for the refuge's bird list containing close to 275 species of birds that have been spotted inside the park.
Due to the diverse habitats existing within the park - salt marshes, tidal flats, freshwater impoundments, hardwood swamps and pine woodlands - St. Marks attracts a wide range of bird life. Brown pelicans, wintering redhead ducks, wood ducks, night herons, turkeys, bluebirds, woodpeckers and pine warblers are among the species sighted here.
Nineteen varieties of ducks and two species of geese can be seen from mid-November through January. Migrating hawks, falcons and shorebirds also land in St. Marks.
To find out more about this wildlife refuge, phone (850) 925-6121.
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