Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Scopeless in Florida

My family and I spent the last two weeks in October on holiday in Florida at the home of the mouse.  It wasn’t really a birding trip but we did manage to escape the crowds on a few days to visit some of the superb birding hotspots of central Florida.
This was my first time birding in the United States and I achieved 82 lifers.  Being a family holiday and not a birding trip I opted not to take my scope and I never really felt that I needed it.  There was only one day that a scope would have been a help and that was the day we spent at Fort de Soto.  But even then, I may have only added another one or two birds to the list, so not really worth the effort of lugging my scope half way around the world.

We stayed at the Disney resort hotel Art Of Animation. Though this probably wasn’t the best location for birding, a walk around Hourglass Lake did turn up a few good birds including Pied-Billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher, Red-Shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. 

We also found a gem of a place in the centre of Orlando, Mead Botanical Gardens.  This place showed up on Ebird as a regular spot for Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and within twenty minutes of arriving we had a good but brief view of this cracking little bird.  Other highlights at Mead Gardens were Barred Owl (Thanks to local birder Marcus Sharpe), Yellow-Throated Warbler, Black & White Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Blue-Headed Vireo.  

The only disappointment of the holiday was that Black Point Wildlife Drive on Merritt Island was closed for maintenance.  We did walk the Scrub Trail and drive Bio Lab Road, though I was expecting to see far more birds than we actually did.
A real highlight of the holiday though was watching Manatees from the watch point at Haulover Canal.  Other highlights from Merritt Island were Florida Scrub Jay at the Scrub Trail and the Canaveral Beach pay booth, Black Racer (snake) and male Painted Bunting at the Visitor Centre and the shear numbers of Belted Kingfishers all around Merritt Island.  Not to mention the none-birding highlight of Merritt Island, ‘Kennedy Space Centre’.  This place turns grown men into excited school boys.

Another couple of superb places that we visited were Circle B Bar Reserve and Fort de Soto.  Circle B Bar is an inland wetland reserve with a good mix of habitats and there seemed to be a constant kettle of Vultures and other Raptors overhead.  There is a good network of paths on the reserve, however it was a little unnerving walking along paths with Alligators in the pools at the side of them.  The highlights here were Short-Tailed Hawk (dark phase), good views of Bald Eagle, Caspian and Royal Tern, Green Heron, Yellow Warbler and Yellow-Throated Warbler. 

Fort de Soto is an island on the Gulf Coast South of St Petersburg.  This place is paradise with its white sandy beaches and palm trees.  I would love to have spent a few days here as one day is just not enough to do it justice.  The highlights were Magnificent Frigatebird, Reddish Egret, American Avocet, Black Skimmer, Groove-Billed Ani, Wilson’s Plover and Hooded Warbler. 

I only had five real targets and after the two weeks I was still missing one of them, Limpkin.
As our flight home wasn't until 19:10 we had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport. I had noticed a few reports on ebird from Kissimmee, so it seemed like a good place to spend a few hours chilling before the long flight home.  As we pulled up at the car park there were four Sandhill Cranes feeding in the front gardens of the houses.  After photographing the Cranes I turned around to walk back to the car and there on the grass behind me was a Limpkin eating an Apple Snail.  'A cracking bird to end our holiday with' I thought, then I spotted a bird flying low over the lake and as soon as I got my bins on it, I could see that it was a Snail Kite. So we moved around the lakeshore to a play park where I got better views of the Kite as my daughter played happily in the park.  Now that WAS a cracking bird to end the holiday with!


Here is a full trip list.

Pied-Billed Grebe*                    common
Brown Pelican*                         Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Magnificent Frigatebird*           Fort de Soto
Anhinga*                                   common
Double-Crested Cormorant*     common
Great Blue Heron*                    common
Great Egret                               common
Snowy Egret*                            common
Reddish Egret*                          Fort de Soto
Little Blue Heron*                      common
Tricolored Heron*                      common
Green Heron*                            Circle B Bar
Glossy Ibis                                Circle B Bar
White Ibis*                                everywhere
Wood Stork*                             Mead Gardens, Kissimmee
Canada Goose                         Kissimmee
Wood Duck*                             Mead Gardens
Muscovy Duck*                        Kissimmee
Mallard                                     common
Mottled Duck*                           Disney
Black Vulture*                          common
Turkey Vulture*                        common
Osprey                                     common
Snail Kite*                                Kissimmee
Cooper’s Hawk*                       Disney, Merritt Island, Circle B Bar, Fort de Soto
Northern Harrier*                      Merritt Island, Circle B Bar
Red-Shouldered Hawk*            common
Short-Tailed Hawk*                  Circle B Bar
Red-Tailed Hawk*                    Merritt Island
Bald Eagle*                              widespread
American Kestrel*                    Circle B Bar, Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Wild Turkey*                             roadside 528
Moorhen                                   Circle B Bar, Kissimmee
American Coot*                        Circle B Bar, Kissimmee
Limpkin*                                   Kissimmee
Sandhill Crane*                        Kissimmee, Roadside i95
Black-Bellied Plover                 Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Semipalmated Plover*              Fort de Soto
Wilson’s Plover*                        Fort de Soto
American Oystercatcher*          Fort de Soto
American Avocet*                     Fort de Soto
Greater Yellowlegs                   Merritt Island
Lesser Yellowlegs                     Merritt Island
Willet*                                        Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Turnstone                                  Fort de Soto
Sandling                                    Fort de Soto
Red Knot                                   Fort de Soto
Least Sandpiper*                       Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Short-Billed Dowitcher*              Fort de Soto
Laughing Gull*                            common
Caspian Tern                              Circle B Bar
Royal Tern*                                 Circle B Bar
Sandwich Tern                            Fort de Soto
Forster’s Tern*                            Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Black Skimmer*                           Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Mourning Dove*                          common
Common Ground Dove*             Merritt Island
Collard Dove                               Kissimmee
Monk Parakeet                            Kissimmee
Groove-Billed Ani*                       Fort de Soto
Barred Owl*                                 Mead Gardens
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird*    Mead Gardens
Belted Kingfisher*                        common
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker*          Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
Red-Bellied Woodpecker*           Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
Downy Woodpecker*                   Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
Eastern Wood-Pewee*                Merritt Island
Eastern Phoebe*                          Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens
Loggerhead Shrike*                     Merritt Island, Fort de Soto
Blue-Headed Vireo*                     Mead Gardens
White-Eyed Vireo*                        Merritt Island, Disney
Blue Jay*                                      Merritt Island, Circle B Bar
Florida Scrub Jay*                        Merritt Island
American Crow*                            Disney
Fish Crow*                                    Circle B Bar, Kissimmee
Tree Swallow*                               Merritt Island
Tufted Titmouse*                          Disney, Mead Gardens
Carolina Wren *                            Mead Gardens
House Wren*                                Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet*                 Disney
Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher*                common
Gray Catbird*                                Circle B Bar, Merritt Island
Northern Mockingbird*                   common
Brown Thrasher*                           Disney
European Starling                         Fort de Soto
Yellow Warbler*                            Circle B Bar
Yellow-Rumped Warbler               Merritt Island, Mead Gardens
Palm Warbler*                                everywhere
Pine Warbler*                                Fort de Soto, Disney
Yellow-Throated Warbler*             Circle B Bar, Mead Gardens
Black & White Warbler*                 Mead Gardens, Fort de Soto
American Redstart*                       Disney, Mead Gardens
Common Yellowthroat*                 Disney, Circle B Bar, Merritt Island
Hooded Warbler*                           Fort de Soto
Indigo Bunting*                              Disney
Painted Bunting*                            Merritt Island
Northern Cardinal*                         Disney, Mead Gardens
Red-Winged Blackbird*                 Circle B Bar, Disney
Common Crackle*                         common
Boat-Tailed Crackle*                     common
House Sparrow                             common


We were probably about a week too late arriving to catch any real migration, but 101 species is not bad going considering I only had four birding days and a couple of birding walks around Disney.  Florida is a superb place to visit and I highly recommend it for a birding or none birding holiday.