Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
he complex of birding hotspots protected in southern Florida is unrivaled for birding opportunities in North America. From the Gulf Coast island of Sanibel, where the legendary Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge attracts millions of visitors, you can continue a true birding odyssey to Corkscrew Swamp, and on to the Everglades.
In these subtropical wetlands, you will encounter a variety of wading birds, including Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, White Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, plus Anhingas, Pileated Woodpeckers, Ospreys and Red-shouldered Hawks. In the Everglades, endangered Snail Kites can be seen flying and hovering as they search for apple snails, and when you get to saltwater coastal marshes, watch for white-morph Great Blue Herons. During spring and summer, enjoy looks at American Swallow-tailed Kites.
Winter and spring are favorite birding seasons in southern Florida; prime time is probably March, when the birds are in full breeding plumage, and you can witness a number of species nesting. As birding locations go, Sanibel's refuge is hard to beat for numbers and variety of birds, as well as the chance to get close to them for photography (remember to take lots of film). However, expect to be in the company of crowds of people, especially along the main road.
Corkscrew Swamp provides great opportunities to see and photograph nesting Wood Storks, and you have good chances of getting close looks at Barred Owls, Pileated Woodpeckers and Limpkins. (I suggest starting at the end of the hiking trail through the swamp to get to the most interesting part of the preserve as soon as possible.) Highlights in the Everglades include the Tamiami Trail, Shark Valley, Paurotis Pond, and the photographic gem of the Everglades, Mrazek Pond, where wading birds appear to totally disregard the assortment of tourists and photographers who funnel by its west shore.
Depending on where you want to begin your south Florida birding adventure, you can fly into Fort Myers near Sanibel Island, or Miami near Everglades National Park. For more information, contact Ding Darling NWR (941) 472-1100; Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (941) 657-3771; and Everglades NP (305) 242-7700.
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