The year 2004 saw our first visit to the USA with a three week vacation in Florida on a Fly Drive with Virgin Atlantic. The total cost of the package was approximately £700 including car hire for the full three weeks. We flew from Manchester into Orlando airport at 14:30 on 24 April, picking up our Dodge Neon car from Dollar rentals. The car was plenty big enough for the two of us and we refused to pay the extra $100 for an upgrade (although we contested a bill from Dollar for what appears to be an upgrade, now settled with a refund).|
Along with several trip reports gathered off the internet, mainly from Surfbirds and Birding The Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository, we took The North American Bird Guide by David Sibley for identification purposes and the brilliant site guide: A Birder's Guide To Florida by Bill Pranty, an ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide. The latter is packed with information and maps of the top birding sites in Florida. We visited a couple of sites not mentioned in this guide such as Turkey Creek Wildlife Sanctuary found on the net, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, mentioned in a couple of trip reports and by several birders in Florida and Buck Lake which we came upon totally by accident. However, all of the other sites visited were found in Pranty. Therefore, I have given no specific site details unless I found differences compared to the book.
Other books packing our bags were Dragonflies Through Binoculars and Butterflies Through Binoclars, The East which were particularly useful.
After a fairly speedy passage through customs we left the airport and headed down the Beeline Expressway ($1 toll) to the US 1 highway junction to our first Motel, The Econolodge at Cocoa.
Our Itinerary from here was as follows:
Merritt Island and Space Coast Area: 24 - 27 April, visiting Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge including the Black Point Wildlife Drive, Manatee Watch Point, Oak Hammock Trail and Scrub Ridge Trail. We also visited Hatbill Seminole Park, Buck Lake and Turkey Creek Sanctuary.
Sebring Area: 28 - 30 April, including Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, Lorida, Rainey Slough, Venus Flatwoods Preserve, Avon Park Airforce Range, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Joe Overstreet Road (Lake Kissimmee) and Brinson Park (outskirts of Kissimmee).
Miami Area: 1 - 2 May, with visits to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Miami Springs, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Mattheson Hammock County Park and the West Indian Cave Swallow Site.
Upper Keys: 3 May, including Key Largo State Botanical Site, John Pennekamp State Park and The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.
Lower Keys down to Key West: 4 May, with birding stops at Ohio Key, Big Pine Key, No Name Key, Saddlebunch Key and Key West.
The Dry Tortugas and Key West: 5 - 7 May, Garden Key, Hospital Key, Bush Key, Long Key and Key West Airport.
Keys: 8 May, Key West, Saddlebunch Key and the drive north.
The Everglades, Fort Lauderdale and Big Cypress Preserve: 9 - 11 May, Southern Everglades, Green Belt Park (Fort Lauderdale), Shark Valley, Big Cypress Bend, Janes Scenic Drive and Big Cypress Preserve Loop Drive.
Fort Myers Area: 12 - 14 May visiting Corkscrew Swamp, Prairie loop Drive, Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach. Plus the journey Home on 15 May with a brief visit to Myakka River State Park.
For further details on the sites we visited, either click on the names in bold above or on the names shown in red on the map below. Each species name shown in bold was a life bird for me.
All in all I enjoyed the visit to Florida even though it involved a lot of travelling around. I didn't see as many birds as I had expected, mainly because of the lack of migrants. I think I would have been pretty disappointed without the visit to the Tortugas. My advice to anyone visiting Florida at the time that we did would be to spend as much time in the areas where you find a lot of birds such as the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, Corkscrew Swamp and The Dry Tortugas, unless there are good falls of migrants in which case I imagine alot of the places we visited would be much better.
The Americans are generally very helpful and friendly, so if you want information just ask, they are not shy in answering and passing information on.
For a full list of birds seen on this trip to Florida "click here".