Florida Spring Migration Tour

Spring Birding in Florida

Florida Spring Birding Tour
Our Florida Spring Birding Tour offers excellent birding opportunities with 525 species on the official state list! It’s an avian paradise and the most species-rich state east of the Mississippi.

In Spring, all the resident bird species are present as well as some migrant species.

Private and small group, customised birding tour can be booked on request

Next Group Departure Date: To be confirmed

Full Itinerary – Florida: Spring Migration Birding Tour
Day 1:
Arrival in Orlando

Welcome to central Florida! Upon your arrival at the Orlando International Airport you will be met by your expert bird guide and transferred to our chosen hotel in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle.

Orlando, nicknamed “the City Beautiful”, is one of the most-visited cities in the world. This is primarily due to the city’s proximity to the Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, LegoLand, Fun Spot America and Universal Studios Orlando Resort. This is why the city is also known as the “Theme Park Capital of the World”.
Other attractions include the Orlando Eye (a huge observation wheel), numerous world class golf courses, the Harry P Leu Gardens, excellent restaurants, the Mennello Museum of American Art, and a rich performing scene. Orlando is also home to many national and international conferences, and is also a major industrial and hi-tech centre. Orlando is the home city of two major league professional sports teams: the Orlando Magic of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Orlando City SC of Major League Soccer (MLS).

The geography of Orlando is mostly wetlands. The terrain is generally flat, and the area is dotted with hundreds of swampy areas and lakes, the largest of which is Lake Apopka.

Depending on what time your flight arrives, there may be time to visit one or more of these attractions.

We will get together at a restaurant and get to know each other over dinner tonight. We will discuss our previous trips and which bird species are high on everyone’s target lists for this trip. Then we will get a good night’s sleep; tomorrow we really start birding!

Day 2:
Mead Botanical Gardens, Orlando

We will start our day with breakfast in the hotel and then head to our first location on this tour.
Mead Botanical Gardens is an urban city park that provides an oasis of green amid the noise, chaos and concrete of the Greater Orlando area. The 48-acre park encompasses several different ecosystems, including swamps, streams, ponds and hardwood forest.

We will spend the full day in the gardens, enjoying a lunch break at a good restaurant right down the road.

Mead Gardens has been a migration hot spot for years and is a firm favourite with birders not only from Orlando, but statewide. Expected species to start our trip lists with include Scarlet Tanager, Grey Catbird, Barred Owl, Anhinga, Great Blue and Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Wood Duck, Cedar Waxwing, Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Mockingbird (the official state bird of Florida), Orchard Oriole, Northern Cardinal, American Redstart, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Carolina and House Wren, American Goldfinch, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Cape May, Worm-eating, Pine, Blackpoll, Prairie, Yellow-rumped, Hooded, Palm and Black-and-white Warbler, Indigo Bunting and Chipping Sparrow.

This park also has a population of Florida Gopher Tortoises and there’s always the possibility for a rare warbler or other species here, including Swainson’s Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Rufous Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Bell’s, Philadelphia and Warbling Vireo. We could also see the introduced but very photogenic Indian Peafowl here.

We will return to our hotel for dinner and to update our trip lists after an exciting first day of birding.

Day 3:
Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area/Joe Overstreet Landing, Kenansville

We will have a very early start today as we check out of the hotel after a quick coffee and head south.
We are aiming for the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Osceola county. Named for Lakes Jackson, Marian and Kissimmee, this site supports over 180 species of birds. Habitats include dry prairies, freshwater marshes, pine flatwoods and more. These habitats are actually well preserved despite many years of cattle ranching and logging in the area.

Our main target here is the near-threatened Red-cockaded Woodpecker. These social woodpeckers are unique in that they exclusively nest in live trees. Another top bird to find here is the Brown-headed Nuthatch. We should also be able to find Wood Stork, Limpkin, Black and Turkey Vulture, White-tailed and Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Crested Caracara, Pine and Yellow-throated Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Northern Bobwhite, Pileated Woodpecker, the floridanus subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow, and the special Bachman’s Sparrow as well.

When driving around today, remember to look out for Northern Crested Caracara, Sandhill Crane and even Wild Turkey.

We’ll then drive a short distance down the road to the beautifully rural Joe Overstreet Landing. Here we will look for Bald Eagle, the USA’s national bird, as well as Eastern Meadowlark, White-eyed Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Boat-tailed Grackle, Mangrove Warbler, Sandhill Crane, Western Cattle Egret, American White Ibis, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Crested Caracara, Limpkin, Snail and Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-headed Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Purple Gallinule, Least, Upland, Stilt and Pectoral Sandpiper, and Cliff and Bank Swallow. Rarities we could see include Long-billed Curlew, Western Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

These two sites are very good for butterflies too, and we should some spectacularly coloured ones on our visit today.
We will overnight in or near Tampa, famous for its zoo, the aquarium, the children’s museums, the theme parks and the Hillsborough river.

Day 4:
Fort De Soto Park, St. Petersburg

Today we bird on the western side of Florida, right on the Gulf of Mexico. We will spend as much of the day as we can in Fort de Soto Park, located on Mullet Key just south of St. Petersburg.
The park is another known migration hotspot and usually produces one or two fallout events per spring. It is one of the most popular birding locations in the entire country, and almost 330 species have been recorded here. The park is a gateway site for the Great Florida Birding Trail. The park consists of five interconnected keys (historically these islands were used for military fortifications), and habitats include mangroves, wetlands, mudflats and a long stretch of sandy beach.

ABA countable, introduced Nanday Parakeets live and nest in the park as well as several species of coastal birds. We should be able to see Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Reddish Egret, Whimbrel, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black Skimmer, Least, Caspian, Royal and Forster’s Tern, Red-breasted Merganser, Marbled Godwit, Western Sandpiper, Willet, American Oystercatcher, and Wilson’s, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover. We could also get lucky and spot a rarity here, including the likes of Piping and Snowy Plover, Red Knot, Marbled Godwit and Common Tern.

We’ll stop for lunch mid-day right outside the park at a local restaurant called Philadeli. They specialize in Philly cheesesteaks and sandwiches with local beers on tap. Don’t overindulge, as we still have an afternoon session of birding ahead!

After lunch we will continue birding in the park. Other species we could tick include Swainson’s, Cape May, Hooded, Kentucky, Blue-winged, Worm-eating, Black-and-white and Prairie Warbler, Great Horned Owl, Swainson’s Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting, House Wren, Scarlet and Summer Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, Wood and Grey-cheeked Thrush, Veery and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The Mangrove Skipper butterfly also lives in this park. Tonight we will have dinner and overnight in or near culturally-rich Sarasota.

Day 5:
Oscar Scherer State Park & “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Today we start on the west coast of Florida again, this time birding at the 1,400 acre (5.7 km2) Oscar Scherer State Park located near Osprey. The park attracts over 250,000 visitors a year and was established in 1956. The habitats of the park are pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods and the hardwood hammock surrounding South Creek.
Here we should easily find Florida’s only endemic bird species, the threatened Florida Scrub Jay. This species lives only in a unique oak scrub community, dominated by a layer of evergreen oaks and adapted to regular high-intensity fires, with well-drained, bare sandy patches. This rare habitat is unfortunately under increasing pressure from agriculture and housing developments, leading to a decline in numbers for this special species.

We may also see Western Osprey, Bald Eagle, Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored Heron, Red-bellied, Red-headed and Pileated Woodpecker, Palm, Pine and Blackpoll Warbler, Carolina Wren, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Flicker and Northern Bobwhite. Other inhabitants include Bobcat, rabbits, foxes, North American Otter, American Alligator, Eastern Indigo Snake, tortoises, frogs and more.

Next we’ll be stopping in the “Waterfront Wonderland” town of Cape Coral, for great views and photographs of the floridana subspecies of Burrowing Owl, an endangered subspecies. The introduced (but also ABA countable) Monk Parakeet also lives and nests in this area.

After everyone has gotten the photos they’d like, we’ll head to the nearby J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. This 5,200 acre/21 km2 site (named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning American cartoonist) is a firm favourite with local Florida birdwatchers, and offers a welcome patch of green amid the urban developments around it. Habitats include brackish marshes, mangrove swamps and more.

Here we will search for Bald Eagle, Western Osprey, American Kestrel, Swallow-tailed Kite, Short-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawk, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Brown Pelican, American White Ibis, Blue-winged Teal, Hooded and Red-breasted Merganser, Mottled and Muscovy Duck, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Reddish Egret, American Coot, Common Gallinule, Pied-billed Grebe, Least and Solitary Sandpiper, Clapper Rail, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover, Red Knot, Willet, Least Tern, Mangrove Cuckoo, Eastern and Grey Kingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal and Black-whiskered Vireo to name a few. We might also see the last of the American White Pelicans before they head for the Great Plains and central Canada.

The park is also home to raccoons, Bobcats, river otters, Marsh Rice Rats, Marsh Rabbits, Gopher Tortoises, Eastern Racer snakes and American Alligators. This is an excellent place to end our exciting day, watching the flyover of birds between the gulf and the bay.

Day 6:
Key Largo

Today we will explore the “diving capital of the world”, Key Largo. It is one of the northernmost of the Florida keys and is a very popular tourist destination. The island gained fame as the setting for the 1948 film Key Largo, but most of the film was actually shot on a Warner Brothers sound stage in Hollywood!

Today we will have great opportunities to find migratory birds plus many Caribbean breeding species such as Black-whiskered Vireo, “Golden” Yellow Warbler, and the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. Butterfly species that we could see include the critically endangered Shaus’ Swallowtail, Bartram’s Scrub and Silver-banded Hairstreak, Julia, Hammock Skipper, and Florida Purplewing.

The day will include stops at the Purplewing Trail (usually restricted access, but we will have a permit) and the cumbersomely-named Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. This park contains the largest remaining tracts of rockland hammock in the USA. Targets here include Black-whiskered Vireo, Mangrove Cuckoo and White-crowned Pigeon, along with over 20 species of warblers, including Cape May, Blackpoll, Prairie, Black-and-white, Palm, Tennessee, Worm-eating and Magnolia Warbler. Rarities such as Brown-crested and La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Thick-billed Vireo and Zenaida Dove have been found here in the past. The park is also important habitat for Eastern Woodrat and Cotton Mouse.

Lunch will be at Ballyhoo’s, home of award winning fresh local seafood, as well as an extensive vegan menu.
After lunch we will continue birding and visit Caryfort Circle, Card Sound Bridge and Navy Wells Preserve. All these sites offer excellent opportunities for ticking some more species, as well as getting better photographs of ones that we may have seen already.

In the evening we might also look for the localised Antillean Nighthawk in the sky above the Keys.

Day 7:
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Key West

Today is dedicated to the historical island of Key West.
Located closer to Cuba than to Miami, Key West is Florida’s southernmost subtropical paradise, a unique confluence of history, climate, natural beauty, cultural diversity, architecture, and romantic appeal. These palm-lined streets were home to Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost and Jimmy Buffett. These famous people, along with other “normal” folk, all discovered solace and inspiration in the island city whose Bahamian and Cuban heritage in large part was inspired by Bahamian wreckers, commercial fishermen, spongers, and Cuban cigar makers.

The Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, better known simply as Fort Taylor (or Fort Zach to locals) is our location for the day. The park is a U.S. National Historical Landmark, and is situated around a Civil War-era fort on the southern tip of the key. It is the first piece of land you see when travelling north from Cuba. The habitat in the park is varied, consisting of small hardwood hammock, open fields with scrubby vegetation, a brackish water moat, all bordered by a sandy beach.

Fort Zach offers some of the finest migration birding in the state and the possibility for fallout is high depending on weather. In the spring, northeast fronts bring in Caribbean migrants while northwest winds carry trans-Gulf migrants. Over 35 species of warbler have been recorded in the park and we will hope to see more than 20 species today! On our birding walks here we will look for Magnolia, Swainson’s, Kentucky, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Worm-eating, Prothonotary and Black-throated Green Warbler, Grey Kingbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Painted Bunting, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, Shiny Cowbird, White-crowned Pigeon, Red-eyed and Black-whiskered Vireo, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Short-tailed Hawk, Dickcissel, as well as the Mallow Scrub Hairstreak butterfly.

We will have lunch at The Cafe in downtown Key West, a restaurant that boasts great cuisine, including tacos, sandwiches, salads, and pizzas, plus a great selection of wine and beers. Also be on the lookout for the introduced Red Junglefowl; it is well established on Key West.

After lunch we will continue birding in Fort Zach. The park is famous for attracting rarities from the tropics, and birders from all over the country have come here to see La Sagra’s, Sulphur-bellied and Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Thick-billed and Cuban Vireo, Bahama Mockingbird, Bananaquit, Western Spindalis, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. So keep those eyes peeled!

DAY 8:
Downtown Miami exotic birding OR optional pelagic trip, transfer to Orlando; OR start of optional 3 night Dry Tortugas National Park extension

We’ll spend the day chasing introduced and exotic species in the greater Miami area, visiting parks, green areas and urban neighbourhoods. Whether you believe they are invasive pests (although some of them are very well established) or wonderful additions to your lists, it can’t be denied that they are all beautifully coloured and make for wonderful photographs. And almost all of them are ABA countable!

We could see Yellow-chevroned, White-eyed, Scarlet-fronted, Green, Red-masked, Crimson-fronted, Mitred, and White-winged Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Common Myna and Spot-breasted Oriole. There is also a chance for Lilac-crowned Parrot, Scaly-breasted Munia and even Blue-and-yellow Macaw. Don’t forget about the resident species though; we could see Grey Kingbird, Northern Parula, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Boat-tailed Grackle and White-crowned Pigeon in the city too.
We will break for lunch at the Titanic Brewery for some local British-influenced beers and food.

*Please note: there is an alternative option for those not interested in exotic birding, namely a full morning pelagic birding trip with a local expert. Expected species include Royal, Sandwich and Foster’s Tern, Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Booby, plus the possibility for Masked Booby, Bridled Tern, White-tailed Tropicbird, shearwaters, jaegers, or storm-petrels. We’ll have lunch at the marina restaurant. Please inform us well in advance if you plan to partake in the pelagic cruise.

Whatever option you choose we will begin the drive back north to Orlando at around 3pm, in order to reach our hotel at about 7pm.

We will get together for our farewell dinner, chatting the night away, having made friends for life on this fantastic Florida birding tour.

*Please note: for participants opting for the extension to the Dry Tortugas National Park, the tour continues from this afternoon onwards for 3 nights (see end of itinerary for details).

DAY 9:
Departure

We will enjoy breakfast at the hotel and then you will be transferred to the Orlando International Airport for your onward or homeward flights after an amazing Florida birding tour.

*Optional 3 night Dry Tortugas National Park extension
The birding jewel that is the Dry Tortugas National Park is situated about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, and consists of the seven Dry Tortugas islands. It is famous for Fort Jefferson, a massive coastal fortress and the biggest masonry structure in the western hemisphere. The park is accessible only by seaplane or boat and averages 63,000 visitors annually. Activities include snorkeling, camping, scuba diving, saltwater fishing and kayaking. The park boasts abundant sea life, colourful coral reefs, many historical artifacts, stunning natural beauty and importantly for us, fantastic tropical bird breeding grounds.

The 47 acre (19 ha) park is classified as having a borderline subtropical climate and has an official bird list of 299 species. The park features the only nesting colonies of Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Magnificent Frigatebird and Masked Booby in the U.S. In April dozens of migratory bird species can pass through the park in a single day.

Common migratory warblers we could tick include Northern Parula, American Redstart, Prairie, Hooded, Palm, Black-and-white, Yellow-rumped, Blackpoll and Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, and more than 20 additional warbler species! Water-associated special species include Roseate, Sandwich and Bridled Tern, Brown and Red-footed Booby, Black Noddy, Red-necked Phalarope, Audubon’s Shearwater, American Herring Gull, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant and White-tailed Tropicbird. Other top species we could see include Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Common Nighthawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak, White-eyed Vireo and many more.

*Please enquire about this extension well in advance of the main tour.

To read more about birding in Florida in Winter, go to Florida Winter Birding Tour

Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at
info@naturetravelbirding.com