Just like people, many birds migrate to Florida at this time of year to get away from colder climes. That’s a bonus for anyone traveling within the state — they can spot birds not normally seen here.
“Winter is a great time to go birding in Florida,” said Tabitha Cale, Everglades policy associate for Audubon Florida. Locales all over the state have rich bird life, she said, some sites are exceptionally good, she said.
Many migrating birds, for instance, flock to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge ( www.fws.gov/refuge/St_Marks) near Tallahassee. “Only in winter there can you see the Greater White-fronted Geese and Snow Geese,” said Cale. It’s also where rare whooping cranes can be seen.
At Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island ( www.fws.gov/dingdarling), you’ll see a lot more birds, particularly wading bird, in winter than at other times of the year, Cale says.
And after a downturn, the magnificent wood storks have returned to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples. “There are more than 100 nesting there now,” said Cale. Other birds one can spot at Corkscrew include blue-headed vireos, yellow-throated warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets ( www.corkscrewsanctuary.org).
More than 300 species of birds have been spotted in Everglades National Park. Best viewing spots in the winter dry season are around permanent bodies of water, among them the Anhinga Trail, Paurotis Pond and Nine-Mile Pond. Migratory waterfowls are particularly fond of West Lake. Winter birds to look for include American wigeons, horned grebes, northern pintails, ring-necked ducks and, rarely, an American flamingo. But don’t ignore such showy resident birds as the iconic roseate spoonbills, the ibises, herons and egrets. Easy viewing comes at Royal Palm Hammock near the park’s main entrance west of Florida City and close to its West Coast Visitor Center on the Gulf coast. www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/bird-watching.spots.htm.
Other sites for spotting migratory birds:
• Harn’s Marsh near Fort Myers, which has a rich diversity of bird life. In winter, sandhill cranes are seen there, along with winter ducks such as hooded mergansers and northern shovelers (www.birdpatrol.org/Harns_Marsh.html
• Ducks, cinnamon teals and short-eared owls flock to Celery Field near Sarasota (www.sarasotaaudubon.org
• Winter birds at Stormwater Treatment Area 5 (STA5) in Hendry County include American wigeons and white-tailed kites (www.hendrygladesaudubon.org
• Horned grebes and surf scoters are among winter birds seen at Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, near Kennedy Space Center (www.fws.gov/merrittisland
• At Fort DeSoto, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, winter is a good time to spot sea birds not often seen close to land, among them pomarine jaegers and northern gannets (www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm
Cale recommends visiting the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail website, www.floridabirdingtrail.com. “I have used their maps to find new places to go birding,” she said.
Upcoming field trips:
• Feb 8-9, Merritt Island with Tampa Audubon Society. Contact: Mary Keith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Feb. 9, biking tour of Ding Darling, Audubon of Southwest Florida. Contact: Info@AudubonSWFL.org.
• Feb. 15, field trip to Merritt Island with Seminole Audubon. Contact: Shirley Folse, 407-977-4389.
• Feb. 15, March 1, Tropical Audubon trips in Everglades National Park. Contact: email@example.com.
• Feb. 15-17, field trips to Stormwater Treatment Area 5 for the Great Backyard Bird Count with Hendry-Glades Audubon. Contact: Margaret England, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Feb. 24, field trip to Celery Fields with Sarasota Audubon. Contact: Joyce Leary, 508-737-8954.
• Feb. 28-March 1, Wings Over Water Festival, including guided nature walks, at Harns Marsh. Information:www.wingsoverwaterfestival.com
• March 1, bird walk at Ding Darling with Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society. Information:www.san-capaudubon.org
• March 29, field trip to Fort De Soto with Tampa Audubon Society. Contact: Tom Farrell, tom.farrell@tampaaudubon..
For the first time in 50 years, a groundbreaking Cuban-American art exchange is bringing some of Cuba’s top artists to Key West to show their work Feb. 20-22. Nearly 120 works by six Cuban artists will be on view in five locales in the city’s historic Old Town district. Event information: Jed Dodds, email@example.com.
That exhibit will be followed by the 49th edition of the city’s Old Island Days, which will feature works of about 100 artists from the United States and Canada Feb. 22-23, also in Old Town. Information: www.keywestartcenter.com.
Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras celebration, with a parade, concerts and Cajun cuisine runs through May 31 ( www.universalorlando.com/mardigras).
The 21st Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival debuts March 5 and runs through May 16 ( www.epcotinspring.com).