By Brendon Fagan
The very idea of theme parks and crowds of people would have most bird watchers heading in the opposite direction, but with over 3,000 lakes, vast acres of forest and the coast approximately an hour away, Orlando in Florida has much to offer the visiting bird watcher.
Based on a family holiday this was our first trip to the USA, we were all looking forward to Orlando for different reasons, mine was to see some great birds and I wasn't disappointed. We based ourselves at the Double Tree Guest Suites on highway 192 Kissimmee, this proved an ideal location for both getting around (i.e. 15 mins to Disneyland) and for the variety of birds seen around the grounds of the apartments (40 species).
We hired a car which enabled us to divide our days between the parks and a few days birding. The weather was generally in the low 60's (this is apparently below the average), although it reached 72 on 3 occasions, and with 1 full day of rain. Our birding was relaxed with no early starts and no long drives, the longest being 1 1/2 hours to the Clearwater/Honeymoon Island area. All the sites we visited are listed in the excellent 'Birders Guide to Florida' by Bill Pantry.
The theme parks were often busy but there is always plenty to see with Vultures, Herons, Grackles and Ring Billed Gulls in abundance. Another great thing to birding in Orlando is often how close the birds are, giving great opportunities for bird photography for both novice and the more experienced alike. So if you're thinking about Orlando, I would definitely recommend it, just bring plenty of film. As they say "have a nice day" but you could have an even better day by seeing some great birds.
Additional books I used: The North American Bird Guide by David Sibley Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman A Birdwatching guide to Florida by Derek Moore.
We also used the following maps: AA Road Map - Orlando and vicinity.
The birding areas we visited were as follows:
Lake Tohopekliga (LT) - located south of Kissimmee, -target species Bald Eagle, White Pelican, Purple Gallinule and Belted Kingfisher, (you can also ride on an air boat great fun).
Southport Road (SR) - this is the road leading to lake Tohopekliga/airboat, an area of open Grassland and scattered trees - target species Florida Scrub Jay, Red-headed Woodpecker and Eastern Meadowlark.
Orlando Wetlands Park (OWP) - located midway between Orlando and the space coast (Merritt Island) off highway 50 - target species Limpkin, herons, egrets and sparrows also Alligator was seen at this excellent site.
Black Point Drive (BPD) - this is a six mile, one way drive which forms part of the Merritt Island Reserve - target species Roseate Spoonbill, waders, terns and Black Skimmer. We also saw Alligator and Manatee nearby, (this is a great place for photography).
Honeymoon Island (HI) - this site is found north of Clearwater off highway 19 - target species waders, terns, blackbirds and Great Horned Owl, the rangers didn't know were to locate this. Top bird, so a bit of local knowledge maybe useful.
Clearwater Beach (CB) - a busy area but good for Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Parakeet sp. We also saw Bottlenose Dolphin from the speedboat ride (also great fun).
East lake Tohopekliga (ELT) - located just east of Kissimmee - target species Bald Eagle, Osprey, Orioles also a place for Snail Kite (sadly not for us).
Cypress Lake (CL) - located approx. 15 miles south of Kissimmee off highway 523. An area of rough grassland, mixed pine forest and at the time of writing a good area of muddy fringes around the edge of the lake - target species Crested Caracara, Eastern Bluebird, Sandhill Crane and Loggerhead Shrike, we also saw Raccoon here.
Joe Overstreet Road (JOR) - this area is located a further 5 miles or so on from lake Cypress of Highway 523 a similar habitat to that of the Cypress lake area with the addition of grazed farm land leading down to Lake Kissimmee - target species Whooping Crane, Wild Turkey, birds of prey (many), Eastern Phoebe and Swallows/Martins, this area is also good for Burrowing Owl (but not for us this time), we also saw White tailed Deer here.
Finally our apartment (APT) - set back from the main road (HWY 192), we were fortunate to have a small wood which was very productive beside our apartment.We also had two small lakes to the front and behind, both were surrounded by small trees, the front also had a section of reeds and sedges which was also very productive. A selection of birds I saw around the APT was: Brown Thrasher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Anhinga, woodpeckers (3 types).
Birds seen in Florida - February 7th-21st 2004:
Lake Tohopekliga - (LT) Southport Road Area - (SR) Orlando Wetlands Park - (OWP) Black Point Drive - (BPD) Honeymoon Island - (HI) Clearwater Beach - (CB) East Lake Tohopekliga - (ELT) Cypress Lake - (CL) Joe Overstreet Road/Lake Kissimmee - (JOR) Our Apartment - (APT) Double Tree Guest Suites HWY 192, Kissimmee.
Common Loon, 1 Clearwater Marina 16/02 Pied-billed Grebe, Common, Including 100+ BPD 10/02 Northern Gannet, 1 Clearwater Beach 16/02 White Pelican, 300 Lake Toho 8/02, 60 Cypress Lake 17/02, 10 Joe Overstreet 17/02 Brown Pelican, 47 Black Point Drive 10/02, 30 CB 16/02, 9 HI 16/02 Double-crested Cormorant, Common throughout Anhinga, Common throughout Great Blue Heron, Common throughout Great Egret, Common throughout Snowy Egret, Common throughout Little Blue Heron. 12 Black Point Drive 10/02, All other wetland sites Tricoloured Heron, All wetland sites Cattle Egret, 50+ Cypress Lake 17/02, Between 4 + 17 Apartment most days Green Heron, 3 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 3 Black Point Drive 10/02 Black-crowned Night Heron (Juv), 1 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02 White Ibis, Common throughout Glossy Ibis, 16 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 30 Black Point Drive 10/02, 3 Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Roseate Spoonbill, 15+ Black Point Drive 10/02, 1 Honeymoon Island 16/02 Wood Stork. Common throughout Green-winged Teal, 30+ Black Point Drive 10/02 Mottled Duck, 4 Behind Medieval Times Highway 192 08/02, 6 Orlando, Wetlands Park 10/02 Mallard, Common throughout Northern Pintail, 1000+ Black Point Drive 10/02 Blue-winged Teal, 2000+ Black Point Drive 10/02, 16 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02 Northern Shoveler, 300 Black Point Drive 10/02, 20+ Cypress Lake 17/02 Ring-necked Duck, 2 Lake Toho 08/02, 15 Black Point Drive 10/02 Lesser Scaup, 2 Black Point Drive 10/02 Hooded Merganser, Between Clearwater & Clearwater Beach 16/02 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Black Point Drive 10/02 Black Vulture, Common throughout including 100+ birds South Port Road area near tip Turkey Vulture, Common throughout 08/02 Osprey, Common on both coasts Bald Eagle, 3 Lake Toho 08/02, 2 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 1 Black Point Drive 10/02 2 East Lake Toho 17/02, 3 Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Northern Harrier, 3 Orlando Wetland Park 10/02, 2 Black Point Drive 10/02, 1 East Lake Toho 17/02, 2 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02, 1 near Airport 21/02 Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 Poinciana Boulevard 08/02, 1 near Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 2 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 Red-shouldered Hawk, Seen regularly including 4 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02 Broad-winged Hawk (imm), Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 Red-tailed Hawk, 2 South Port Road area 08/02, 1 Eye 4 towards Tampa 16/02, 1 over apartment 21/02 Crested Caracara, 1 Cypress Lake 17/02, 7 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 American Kestrel, 3 Black Point Drive 10/02, 3 Eye 4 towards Tampa 16/02, up to 9 Joe Overstreet Road area 17/02, 1 Disney Animal Kingdom 20/02 Wild Turkey, 42 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 King Rail, 1 Black Point Drive 10/02 N.B. A Rail/Crake was heard on several dates at the apartment, but not seen Purple Gallinule, 1 Lake Toho 08/02 Common Moorhen Common throughout American Coot, Common throughout including 2000+ Black Point Drive 10/02 Limpkin, 2 Orlando wetlands park 10/02 Sandhill Crane Common throughout, including 150+ Cypress Lake 17/02, 32 Lake Kiss 17/02 Whooping Crane, 1 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 Black-bellied Plover, 26 Black Point Drive 10/02, also seen at LT, OWP, ELT, JOR Killdeer, seen regularly Including 14 Cypress Lake 17/02, 50+ Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 American Avocet, 41 Black Point Drive 10/02 Greater Yellowlegs 8 Black Point Drive 10/02 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Behind Medieval Times HWY 192 08/02, 18 Black Point Drive 10/02 5 Cypress Lake 17/02, 3 Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Solitary Sandpiper, 1 Honeymoon Island by picnic area at start of Osprey Nature Trail 16/02 Willet, 45 Black Point Drive 10/02, 11 Honeymoon Island 16/02 Marbled Godwit, 50+ Black Point Drive 10/02, 37 Honeymoon Island 16/02, 4 Cypress lake 17/02 Sanderling, 25 Black Point Drive 10/02, 4 Clearwater Beach 16/02 Western Sandpiper, 150+ Black Point Drive 10/02 Least Sandpiper, 5 Black Point Drive 10/02 Dunlin, 9 Black Point Drive 10/02, 2 Honeymoon Island Short-billed Dowitcher, 100+ Black Point Drive 10/02 Common Snipe, 1 Behind Medieval Times 08/02, 3 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02 also Singles at BPD 10/02, ELT 17/02 and 2 Cypress Lake 17/02 Laughing Gull, 200+ Clearwater Beach 16/02, 27 Honeymoon Island 16/02, 1 East Lake Toho 17/02, 4 Cypress Lake 17/02, Bonaparte's Gull, 5 Lake Toho 08/02, 2 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 8 Black Point Drive 10/02, 3 Honeymoon Island 16/02, 2 Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Ring-billed Gull, Common, 100's at the Magic Kingdom Herring Gull, 6 Black Point Drive 10/02 Gull-billed Tern, 1 Black Point Drive 10/02 Caspian Tern, 14 Black Point Drive 10/02, 2 Cypress Lake 17/02, 1 Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Forster's Tern, 5 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 3 Black Point Drive 10/02, 2 Honeymoon Island 16/02, 2 East Lake Tohopekliga 17/02 Black Skimmer, 7 Black Point Drive 10/02, 36 Honeymoon Island 16/02 Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon), Common Eurasian Collared Dove, seen regularly Mourning Dove, Common, Including 50+ Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 Common Ground Dove, seen regularly, Including 6 most days around APT Black-hooded Parakeet, 15 Clearwater Marina/Beach 16/02 Great Horned Owl, 1 Honeymoon Island (Osprey Nature Trail) 16/02 Belted Kingfisher, Singles were seen at LT, OWP, Magic Kingdom, Gatorland, JOR, Also 3 birds Cypress Lake 17/02 Red-headed Woodpecker, 1 Southport road 08/02 Red-bellied Woodpecker,2 Orlando Wetlands Park, 10/02, 2 around APT on several dates, Singles also seen at BPD, E LT, Sea World and Animal Kingdom Downy Woodpecker, Seen daily APT including 4 21/02 Hairy Woodpecker, 1 Magic Kingdom 09/02, 1 APT 13/02, 1 Lake Kissimmee 17/02 2 APT 20/02 Northern Flicker, 1 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02 Pileated Woodpecker, 1 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 Eastern Phoebe, 2 Southport Road 08/02, 2 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02 4 along I 4 towards Tampa 16/02, 6 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02, 1 near APT 18/02 Purple Martin, 8 Lake Tohopekliga 08/02, 2 over Universal Studio's 13/02, 15 Clearwater Beach 16/02, 30+ Joe Overstreet Road/Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Tree Swallow, Common, including 500+ Lake Tohopekliga 08/02 and 2500 + Joe Overstreet Road/Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Blue Jay, Seen regularly Florida Scrub Jay, 2 Southport Road 08/02, 1 Black Point Drive 10/02 American Crow, Common Fish Crow, Common at wetland sites, I E 100+ Lake Toho 08/02 Tufted Titmouse, 2 APT 21/02 Carolina Wren, 1 APT 08/02 House Wren, 2 APT 14/02 Ruby Crowned Kinglet, 2 Woods on Poinciana Blvd (Opp Riding Stables) 19/02, 1 APT 20/02 Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, 3 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 1 Woods Poinciana Blvd 19/02 1 Animal Kingdom 20/02 Eastern Bluebird, Cypress Lake Area 17/02, 3 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02, also recorded along Hwy 523 South of Kissimmee 17/02 American Robin, Between 4 + 25 seen daily APT, 3 Southport Road, 08/02, 6 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 8 East Lake Toho 17/02 Gray Catbird, 1 / 2 Birds seen regularly APT, also recorded at, L T, Magic Kingdom, OWP, Sea World, HI, and outside M G M Studios Northern Mockingbird, Common Brown Thrasher, 1 APT 08/02 also 20/02 American Pipit, 6 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02, 3 Animal Kingdom 20/02 Loggerhead Shrike, Common European Starling, Common in small groups Orange Crowned Warbler, 2 APT 12/02, 1 Discovery Cove 12/02, 4/5 Honeymoon Island 16/02, 1 APT 19/02 Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellow-throated Warbler, (Male) 1 APT 11/02 Pine Warbler, 1 O W P 10 /02, 6 HI 16/02, 2 camp site Lake Kissimmee, 1 APT 18/02 2 APT 21/02 Prairie Warbler, (Male) 1 APT 08/02 +09/02 Palm Warbler, Common American Redstart, (1st yr/female) 1 Joe Overstreet Street 17/02 Common Yellowthroat, (Male) 1 Black Point Drive 10/02, 1 Female East Lake Tohopekliga 17/02 Northern Cardinal, Male + Female seen regularly Apt, also recorded at OWP, BPD, Discovery Cove, woods on Poinciana Blvd (Male + Female) , ELT, JOR Vesper Sparrow, 3 Joe Oversteet Road/Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Savannah Sparrow, 15 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 9 Honeymoon Island 16/02 Song Sparrow, 5 East lake Tohopekliga 17/02 Red-winged Blackbird, 8 Orlando Wetlands Park 10/02, 15+ Black Point Drive 10/02 6 Honeymoon Island 16/02, 4 Cypress Lake 17/02, 2 (Female) APT 21/02 Eastern Meadowlark, 2 Southport rd 08/02 3 Joe Overstreet Road 17/02 Boat-tailed Grackle, Common Common Grackle, Common Brown-headed Cowbird, 6 Joe Overstreet Road/Lake Kissimmee 17/02 Baltimore Oriole, 3 East Lake Tohopekliga 17/03 House Sparrow, Common.