WATCH THE BIRDIE!
Bang on the north-south Atlantic
Flyway migratory route, Florida is one of the USA’s best bird-watching locations. The Great Florida
Birding and Wildlife Trail (www. floridabirdingtrail.com) highlights an astonishing 510 wildlife viewing spots across the Sunshine State. Often rated among the world’s top ten birding sites is Everglades National Park (www. nps.gov/ever/index.htm). For a special backcountry boat trip on the ‘River of
Grass’, with a chance to see some of the 350 species, twitchers should sign up with Florida Master Naturalist Dave Hunt of Everglades Birding ($650 for two; www.evergladesbirding.com).
But you can add to your list while staying on land in places, such as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic Coast. The Cape Canaveral rocket launches are only a few miles away, but the wildlife remain unimpressed. As you follow the seven-mile-long Black Point Wildlife Drive through salt marshes, the 10-mph speed limit increases your chances of seeing feathered residents, such as herons, kestrels and ring-billed gulls. For wintering wildfowl, rangers recommend December until February as peak time (www.fws.gov/refuge/Merritt_Island).
Then, there are wild areas that are surprisingly close to city centres. Only 16 miles from Tampa, you can paddle through a cypress swamp along the Hillsborough River. In autumn, thousands of white ibis congregate; spring brings songbirds, as well as the haunting scream of the limpkin, often heard in old Tarzan films (www. canoeescape.com).
Off Fort Myers, the Gulf barrier islands are beautiful, accessible and teeming with wildlife. A must is Sanibel Island’s J N ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Among its 245 species is the roseate spoonbill. Mother Nature had fun designing this long-legged wader – the shell-pink feathers shimmer in sunshine; the spoon-shaped bill may look ungainly but is oh-so efficient. See for yourself on a dawn kayak trip (www.tarponbayexplorers.com). Memories and fabulous photos are made of this!