South Florida: Birder Paradise

In the Everglades, in the Keys and on Dry Tortugas, birds abound, for novice and seasoned observers alike.

Leisurely and adventurous birders alike can experience a trip of a lifetime in South Florida.

In the Everglades, we’ve watched wading birds galore from the comfort of our car, and in the Florida Keys, it’s as simple as kicking back on a beautiful beach to see osprey in action.

A ferry ride from Key West took us to Dry Tortugas National Park, home of the only current nesting colony of the magnificent frigate bird in the continental United States. This remote area is also an important stop for many migrating species.

But our favorite birding adventure was tracking down a wild flamingo. Though often associated with Florida, flamingos are a surprisingly rare species in the Sunshine State.

Rumors were swirling, ironically, around the Flamingo Marina (an area named for flocks observed here at the turn of the century, now long gone) about a sighting in the Everglades at Snake Bight, a remote, ominously named coastal area reachable only by a buggy hike or boat trip in the summer heat.

We procured a canoe in the park and paddled along the mangroves of Florida Bay. Glassy waters reflected approaching thunderheads, leaving only a few hours to track down what many search for their whole lives and never get close to.

Scanning a sea of birds crowding the distant horizon, I spotted a pink dot. Navigating great blue heron and great egrets like channel markers, the speck of pink took shape – the large downturned beak, leading back to the graceful curve of the impossibly long neck, down to impossibly long legs.

I expected flight at any moment yet we glided our canoe to within 50 yards. Then, spreading its wings with a squawk, the flamingo walked on water as it took to the air, away from us at first, but then back, showing its black-lined wings in a fantastic display. It landed and settled back to sifting the waters.

Stunned, we stared at each other with goofy smiles before rolling thunder and dark clouds reminded us of the task at hand. We paddled quietly by the flamingo as we headed back, beaching our canoe as the first drops began to fall.

If You Go

What: Birding in Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys
Where: Everglades National Park and along the Great Florida Birding Trail, and in the Florida Keys, including Dry Tortugas
Costs: The entrance fee to Everglades National Park is $10 per private vehicle. The Yankee Freedom II ferry from Key West to Dry Tortugas costs up to $165 for adults, with entry to Dry Tortugas National Park included, plus a small fuel surcharge. Camping fees for Dry Tortugas are extra.
Hours: Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park are open 24 hours. Call the Yankee Freedom II for hours of operation.
Phone: Call 800-634-0939 for reservations for the Yankee Freedom II ferry to Dry Tortugas.
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Jan May 8, 2013 12:52 PM
wonderful place for bird lovers!