Florida – 22nd February – 6th March 2012

This was a photographic trip to the USA visiting several of the more popular sites for bird photography in the state of Florida. I travelled with a wildlife photographer friend, Gordon Follows. I had been to Florida once before, in 1999. On that occasion, I went with my young family and wildlife and photography was not prominent. Also, that trip had been in the UK summer school holiday time – July and August. This was about the worst time of the year to visit Florida for wildlife.

For the current trip, we were visiting at a time of the year when many of the birds had begun their breeding season, though many of the migrants which spend the winter in central and south America still hadn’t returned from their winter quarters.

For a list of the birds seen on this trip click here


Wednesday 23rd February 2012

Depart Heathrow on British Airways flight for Miami, 10:20 UK time. We were scheduled to arrive at 14:00 local time in Miami, but three hours from landing we were informed that due to major re-routing of our flight due to military reasons off the east coast of the US, we didn’t have enough fuel to take us to Miami therefore we diverted to Orlando, arriving 15:10 local time. Whilst waiting for our aircraft to be re-fuelled for the 200 or so mile hop to Miami, one of the flight crew was found to be over his prescribed flying time and therefore all passengers were bussed the four hours by road to Miami airport. Needless to say, this was not a good start to the trip. Arriving at Miami, we collected our pre-booked Mercury hire car from Avis. This turned out to be ideal for our requirements – large spacious cabin and, importantly, spacious boot, big enough to take all our photographic equipment.

Our first night was based at the Super 8 motel chain in Florida City. We arrived at 1am and not surprisingly after such a long day, retired straight away to bed.

This particular motel was more ‘tired’ than the others we used during our trip, though like all the others it did have free WiFi.

Thursday 23rd February 2012

We made an early start for the first full day of the trip, something we were to get used to over the next two weeks. After breakfast at 6am (the farmer’s market near to the motel), we drove to Royal Palm, in the Everglades, (10 dollars entrance fee – covers 1 week and visit to Shark Valley – we did not visit this site)) where we arrived at 7:30. It was a misty dawn. We walked along the Anhinga Trail, and then drove to Flamingo. Here we paid a visit to the Eco Pond. Lunch at Flamingo (poor choice and quality). We then returned to Florida City, night at Super 8.  The day was dry, sunny, hot and humid. 82-86 degrees Farenheit.

Friday 24th February 2012

Breakfast 6am, farmers market. Then trip to Mrazek Pond and then Eco Pond. When we arrived we were greeted with one of those birding scenes which take one’s breath away. There were literally hundreds of herons and egrets covering both the lakes, many almost in touching distance. In among them were at least 50 of that most desirable bird, the Roseate Spoonbill. All the birds were actively feeding, and it was difficult to know where to start photographing.

Although Mrazek was full of birds, the light is difficult for photography here, especially first thing in the morning and so we proceeded to Eco Pond.

On speaking to locals, it seems that it was very rare to see so many birds on the pond – it had been over three years since so many birds had been present on the pond.

Once we had had our fill of photographing the herons, egrets and spoonbills, we broke for lunch and found a low Osprey nest at Flamingo dock which we found excellent photography. On our way back to Florida city, we called in at the Anhinga Trail again, from 4-5:30. Night Super 8 Florida City.

Today was again misty in the morning then dry sunny and hot and humid – 86-90 degrees.

Saturday 25th February 2012

Today we relocated to Venice, leaving at 08:30. We called in at Pitmans Photo in Palmetto Bay in south Miami (an excellent store). Our route from here was Eureka Drive, Tamiami Trail, to route 29 then north to join Interstate 75.

We had from 3-4:30 photographing the colony of breeding herons, egrets and anhingas, at the rookery, which is situated to the south of Venice. I had not been to Venice before, but Gordon had, and he remarked at how the removal of bushes and trees from one whole side of the lake had resulted in the nearby caravan park being full in view in the background. This rendered photographing birds flying to and from their nests much more tricky, in order to ensure that the background was not distracted by caravans.

Our photography session over, we moved on to our motel for the night, the Super 8 at Sarasota. This was a better quality accommodation than our previous motel.

It was dry most of the day, with some cloud and in the afternoon transfer to Venice we encountered a heavy shower along the Tamiami Trail.

Sunday 26th February 2012

We made a pre-dawn departure from our motel to be at Venice for dawn. We arrived at 07:00 and we stayed till 10:30. It was very cool at dawn (60 degrees) which required the use of a fleece. In addition there was a very brisk wind of 20-30 mph throughout most of the day, from the west.

After Venice we moved on to the Oscar Scherer park for a couple of hours. Here, we soon found our target species of Florida Scrub Jay. We only saw two birds, but they were busy nest building and, not surprisingly, were both ringed and colour-ringed – this is a very heavily studied bird.

We finished the day’s birding and photography at Myakka Lake. Here, we saw a distant Bald Eagle, as well as a solitary Redhead.

By late afternoon, the weather became better – less wind, more sun and warmer. We enjoyed close views of some Blue-winged Teal and Lesser Yellowlegs.

We returned to Sarasota Super 8 for the night.

Monday 27th February 2012

A 6 am start for Fort de Soto. Arriving at 07:30, we spent the whole day in this area. We started on the beach then moved on to other areas. One highlight was the nest of Great Horned Owl in one of the car parks.

Weather was better today  - lovely sunny and hot.

In the evening we returned to Sarasota Super 8.

Tuesday 28th February 2012

Another visit to Fort de Soto, leaving at 06:00. Arrived at 07:30. 5 dollars entry fee, as it was yesterday. We spent the next 4 hours here, then departed the area for our next destination, Titusville, via Orlando. We arrived at Titusville at 15:45 after a 2 ½ hour drive.

It was cloudy and misty to start. The sun broke through at 09:30 and it then became cloudy for most of our journey to Titusville. We had generally an excellent time in terms of navigation throughout the trip, without the need for sat nav. However, we did get slightly lost today at Orlando when we came off the interstate for a break for lunch.

Wednesday 29th February 2012

Today, we had a non bird photography day, breaking the trip up for a day’s visit to the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC). As a manned space flight enthusiast, particularly the Apollo programme of the 1960’s and 1970’s, I had visited the KSC on my last visit to Florida in 1999. I couldn’t miss out on a revisit on my return this trip. It was an exhilarating day, and in addition to visiting the spectacular rocket park and Saturn V centre, I had booked us on a ‘close-up’ VIP trip to include a drive by coach to the 39A launch pad, where most of the Saturn V rockets (as well as the Shuttle missions) were launched from. However, for me the most impressive part of the day was a visit to the inside of the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB. This massive building, standing over 500 feet high, is where the Saturn V rockets as well as the Space Shuttle, were finally assembled prior to transport to the launch pad for lift off. The VAB was off limits to the public until November of 2011, after the last Shuttle launch.

Thursday 1st March 2012

This morning we made an early start fro a visit to the Merritt Island wildlife reserve, adjoining the launch complex at Cape Canaveral. We drove the trail twice, but found it to be somewhat disappointing with no major opportunities for photography.

About late morning we began our journey south to Venice, arriving at the rookery at 13:30. We spent an hour and a half there before driving to our accommodation at the Super 8 in Sarasota. A dry, sunny and hot day, to 89 degrees Farenheit.

Friday 2nd March 2012

Venice rookery from dawn to midday. Then, drive south to Fort Myers, based at Days Inn for the next 3 nights. In the afternoon we drove to Estero Beach for some photography.

A very misty morning, until 09:30, then improving. Upper 90s Farenheit.

Saturday 3rd March 2012

Dawn at Sanibel Island, also visit to Captiva. Arrive Ding Darling reserve at 07:10.  Birds relatively poor. Drove 3 circuits of Ding Darling. More productive on Sanibel fishing pier and lighthouse in the afternoon.

Grey and dull until about 11 am then sunny and hot. Humid with SW breeze.

Sunday 4th March 2012

Dawn at Corkscrew Swamp. Arrive 07:10. 10 dollars entry per person. After about half a mile on the boardwalk, we were rapidly drenched by a heavy shower which came on the background of a cool grey sky and strong SW breeze which made birding and photography a real challenge. At this point, being both soaked and cold, I was contemplating a return to our accommodation in Fort Myers. However, we stuck it out, and the weather cleared, allowing the sun to both dry us and warm us up. We then had a much more enjoyable morning and early afternoon, seeing out target species, Painted Bunting, really well. The humidty dropped noticeably as a result of the front passing through and depositing the rain.

Monday 5th March 2012

Dawn at Estero Beach. Photography until 10 am then drive the Tamiami trail route to our final night’s accommodation at Super 8 Florida City. We continued on to spend the afternoon at the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm.

A dry, sunny and warm day but with a constant strong breeze from the east.

Tuesday 6th March 2012

For our last day of the trip, we drove to be at the Eco Pond at Flamingo for dawn, hopeful of enjoying more of the splendid sight of the masses of Egrets, Herons and Spoonbills of the previous week. Unfortunately, we found the pond empty of birds. Not a single heron species was present, and we could hardly believe the transformation. Clearly the cold front which had passed through this part of Florida a few days ago had forced the birds on (or the food supply in the pond had become depleted). Either way, we contented ourselves by driving the short distance to the nearby jetty at Flamingo, where we were able to photograph the comings and goings of a pair of Ospreys which had a nest about 10 feet off the ground, albeit on a former boat lift.

By mid afternoon, it was time to leave the Everglades and head north to Miami for our overnight British Airways flight back to Heathrow, where we arrived about 10am on Wednesday 7th March.

It had been a very productive trip in terms of photography and although we had had a very busy schedule with little ‘time off’ we were both well pleased with our results.