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A Report from

Florida, Dec. 2006,

Jan Landsverk

A part of our family (6 altogether) visited Florida in connection with a 7 night cruise in the Eastern Caribbean with Norwegian Cruise Line leaving Miami Dec. 17.  (See my bird report from this trip). We stayed in Miami downtown a day and a night and also visited Miami Beach before we went on the cruise.  My son and his wife had arrived here a couple of days before us, so some of the species were only seen by him here before we arrived.

If you are going to USA, see to it that you go directly from an airport in Europe to your destination in US.  This is due to the fact that you will save yourself a lot of trouble if you go directly.  Our plane went directly from Oslo to Newark outside New York, but then we had to change plane to Orlando and from Orlando to Miami.  The security is rather strict these days at American airports and very annoying.  You have to stand in long queues and be very patient.  I don’t see much light in the American system, even if they tell us all the time that it is for our sake and for our own good.  I don’t buy that one. 

Well, close to the hotel there was a free subway going continually to places in southern Miami.  We stopped where there were trees in order to watch some birds and it is surprising what you can find if you really look for it: Northern Parula and American Redstart were the most exotic ones.  Also by the sea there were some trees giving us good observations of some nice and unexpected birds:  A Red-tailed Hawk and a possible Broad-winged Hawk were flying over, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue-headed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Ovenbird. The next day we took the local bus from the hotel to south Miami Beach giving us some new species: Bonapartes Gull, Sandwich Tern, Forsters Tern, Black Skimmer.

When we arrived back in Miami Christmas Eve morning, we took a taxi to Miami Beach to pick up our cars that we had booked before we left Norway.  Everything worked out smoothly and soon we were on our way north on Interstate 95.  We had already booked a house in the Clermont/Kissimmee area only 10 km from Disney World close to Orlando.  We got here on time and found our place inside the security area before dark.  The flat was big with 3 bedrooms and more luxurious than we had anticipated.  Here we would enjoy ourselves for one week with all the sport facilities we could imagine, and everything was free.  But Erlen and I didn’t have much time for playing around as we had planned to visit new places every day to watch birds.  Here is our itinerary.

Monday Dec. 25 – Christmas Day  Lake Tohopekaliga – South Park

There are plenty of bird reports to be found on the net in and around the Orlando area, so we picked the most promising sites for us to go.  I had been in this area in Dec. 1983 and Jan. 84 and missed out on a few species I now hoped to see.  Therefore we started our exploration of the area by going south to the lake with the difficult name – Tohopekaliga. Our target species were Bald Eagle, Crested Caracara, Woodpeckers, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Eastern Meadowlark, Painted Bunting and two-three species of Sparrows.

We stopped a few places before ending up at the lake at South Park and found plenty of birds.   Pishing is an efficient way of getting birds into the open, so we got close observations of Eastern Phoebe, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Gray Catbird, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, several species of Warblers including Black and White Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler.  Along the road we also saw Eastern Bluebirds.

At South Park we found small flocks of American Robin, most of the Woodpecker species including one good observation of Pileated Woodpecker, one Meadow Lark, one Ground Dove, a few Northern Cardinals, a skulking Brown Thrasher and Chipping and Savannah Sparrows.  The Painted Bunting was obviously not there this year and neither did we see the Bald Eagle, but just before leaving we saw a Crested Caracara flying over.

Further south of the Park there is a gate leading to a rough road with ditches on the right hand side.  Here we pished again and found Common Yellowthroat and a Marsh Wren before it started to thunder and rain heavily.  We had heard reports of a tornado coming to our area from west, and on the news later that day we saw how it had ruined many trailers and houses, cars and small planes not far from where we were living.  At South Park we were just outside the centre of it, but on our way back home the rain was pouring down.  But we were happy with our 64 species today.  Cloudy weather and rain in the afternoon – 27 degrees.

Tuesday Dec. 26   Disney Wilderness Reserve

This reserve has nothing to do with Disney World - as we first thought. It is rather close to South Park – just a little more to the west.  Here you are on your own – very few people around.  It didn’t look that promising, but it turned out to be a good day in a rather boring setting.  Just after entering the gate we stopped to have a look in the forest on the left hand side.  It looked dead, but after pishing for a few seconds there were birds all around.  We got good views of these birds: Carolina Chikadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Catbirds, White-winged and Blue-headed Vireos, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black and White Warbler and a Prairie Warbler.  Eastern Meadowlarks were abundant here.

Behind the visitor centre there is a small dam/pond where we found two Ducks, a Common Snipe, Western Sandpipers and an American Pipit among others.  We went on a round trip following the path to a very big lake that was completely dead.  But on our way we were lucky enough to find - by help of pishing - Eastern Towhee and a Swamp Sparrow.  Later on we saw a Coopers Hawk and two Brown-headed Nuthatches – the three last ones Lifers for me. There were plenty of Chipping Sparrows here too.

To the left of the visitor centre we walked along a field and into the wood leading to the lake again.  Here we observed a flock of White-tailed Deers, two White Pelicans flying over, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Hermit Thrush.  On our way out again - just by the road - we stopped in order to check for Common Bobwhite that is supposed to be common here.  A flock of 10 of them flew up.  Killdeer was very common here and so was Common Snipe.  Suddenly we discovered 7 Wild Turkeys feeding.  Sparrows were plenty here – Savannah, Chipping and a Vesper Sparrow.  We ended the day by seeing a likely Marsh Wren and a Wild Pig just before the Park closed.  Back at the flat we counted 60 species seen inside the park this day. Cloudy weather, nice in the evening and only 17 degrees.

Thursday Dec. 28  Merritt Island – Black Point Trail

Yesterday we spent most of the day at Epcot Centre at DisneyWorld, but found that very little had changed since I was there New Years Eve 1983.  Even the film at the Canadian pavilion was the same – made in 1982.  But the Norwegian pavilion was new to me as it came into existence a few years later.  But even the film here was now too old – it hadn’t changed from when it was launched at the opening day.  That isn’t good enough.

Our goal for today was the east coast including Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Centre, where they shoot up the space shuttles.  We didn’t take time to visit this year, but I was there in 1984 and didn’t feel the need for it.  Our first stop was a bridge to check out all the ducks. Later on we found a garden in a suburb from where we could watch several 1000 Ducks, mainly Lesser Scaup, but also a few Ruddy Ducks.  Ringed Turtle-Doves were sitting on the lines here.  We were surprised to find two Greater Black-backed Gulls when driving along the sea.

Cocoa Beach was our next stop.  Here we got good pictures of some waders including Willet, Black-bellied Plover and Red Knot as well as Bonaparte’s Gull.  From Cocoa Beach we travelled around a bit and found more Waders, Ducks and about 30 White Pelicans before we went up to Black Point Trail.  Here there were plenty of people and cars.  Right at the start we saw more than 100 Roseate Spoonbills close to the road giving ample opportunity to take a lot of pictures.  We took it easy and spent a lot of time watching birds and photographing them. Thousands of birds and many of them easily photographed.  Impressive numbers of Ducks were seen (see species list).  We were glad to find a Forster’s Tern and a few Caspian Terns and a single Reddish Egret.  Of waders we saw great numbers some places including Short-billed Dowitcher and Least Sandpiper.

Coming out of this busy trail we tried to “hunt” Scrub Jays by driving down Scrub Jay trail.  At the dead end we saw two of them and two Northern Flickers.  Later in the day we saw four more.  Without a good map on this day trip we had problems in finding the different spots and we wasted a lot of time.  Still we saw about 80 species today so we can’t complain.  Today we had lovely weather and about 24 degrees.

Friday Dec. 29   Joe Overstreet Road, Lake Kissimmee and Jackson Lake

We hadn’t planned to go birdwatching anywhere today, but after noon we got restless and decided to go and visit this area hoping to see some new species.  It should turn out to be a wise choice.  We had read that in this area you could possibly see Brown-headed Cowbird, Bald Eagle, Crested Caracara, Snail Kite, Whooping Crane and Limpkin.  It was the three last species that tempted us to go down here – all lifers.

At Lake Kissimmee I soon found a Bald Eagle and a Forster’s Tern, but while I went up to my son Erlen to tell him, he had already found a pair of Whooping Cranes in his scope.  I thought we had been too optimistic to hope for this rare Crane, but here it was walking around feeding on the ground inside a fence by the lake.  We tried to come much nearer and climbed a gate in order to get a closer look and take some pictures.  But we had forgotten that this was USA, and in less than three minutes two old ladies came driving after us asking what we were doing on their property.  Didn’t we understand that it was private?  I tried to tell them why we were there, but they were not impressed, even if they new about the Cranes.  They had been there every winter for several years now, they told us.  But letting us coming closer to have a better look they even didn’t consider.  If some Americans had come to my farm, I would be honoured and delighted to let them have a look at whatever they wanted – having come all the way from America to visit my farm in order to see some rare birds.  It would be a pleasure for me to guide them around.  But not so in this country.  At least they were polite.  My experience is that many in such a situation finding trespassers on their property are not. 

Before leaving the farm we were happy to find several Brown-headed Cowbirds by the gate. Well, we were almost finished here, but then I found out that I wanted to take some pictures of a few birds sitting on some poles close to the lake.  There was a Northern Harrier there that I wanted a picture of, but because it was so wet, I didn’t come very close.  I took a couple of rather bad pictures and went away.  Imagine my great surprise when coming back to our house checking the photos I had taken that day.  It wasn’t a Northern Harrier, as we had taken for granted (we had never looked at it in our binocular), but a Snail Kite – a juvenile.  I saw at once that it was a Snail Kite when I noticed the beak.  This was rather embarrassing for us, but we were sooo… glad to clear up this misunderstanding. 

On our way back we checked Joe Overstreet Road more thoroughly, but didn’t see that much.  Crested Caracara flew right over us and we found more than 20 Wild Turkeys.  But the Burrowing Owls that are seen here from time to time didn’t show up.  And there were not many Sparrows around either. 

As we hadn’t seen Limpkin at Lake Kissimmee, we had to try another lake, Jackson Lake, for this species.  Where the road stopped we had good views over the lake, and yes, there it was, on the other side:  3 Limpkins feeding.  Here were both Ducks and Waders, but the distance was a bit too far in order to be 100% certain of which species they all were, but Mottled Duck was one of them – a not so often seen species.  On our way back where we crossed a small river – by the bridge - we saw a Pileated Woodpecker.

In the evening we checked again the old town in Kissimmee for Nightjars.  3 species of them (Common Nighthawk, Chuck-will’s Widow and Whip-poor-will) are often seen here during winter time, and one of the workers there told us that he had seen at least one species quite recently.  But no luck for us this night either.  In the small pond there were 13 Hooded Mergansers spending their winter here.  65 species observed at/around the two lakes today. Beautiful weather and about 25 degrees.

Saturday we spent at the pool – the whole family enjoying a lovely day in the sun (26 degrees).  Early Sunday morning we left for Miami where we had to return the car at the airport before 10 o’clock.

In the Orlando area there are so many good areas where you can watch birds.  We spent one full day and 3 half days at four different locations and saw 129 birds – more than I could expect in such a short time.  We never visited the west coast where we could easily have added more species to our list. I was happy with the 9 Lifers I got.

Full Species List (PDF)

Jan Landsverk    Norway  Feb. 07


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