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A Report from

Orlando - Florida 23rd May – 6th June,

Colin Davies

When we decided to go to Florida, I was immediately faced with a number of difficulties.

Firstly, it was a family holiday to visit the various theme parks of Disney World and the rest. Very long, tiring days (often involving visits from 9:00am to 9:00pm), with not much hope of many early mornings or evenings birding. No chance at all of a day out on my own. Secondly, because we needed to fit in with school holidays, the only time we could go was end of May / beginning of June if we wanted to avoid the searing heat of summer. Even so, temperatures averaged mid 90’s during our stay, reaching 75 one morning at 6:30am. Not ideal for birds. Thirdly, I had never been outside Europe before, so had a whole new set of birds to learn. Finally, whenever I research a new area abroad, the trip reports I find are always by people who have the flexibility to go at the ideal time, to the hottest birding locations and spend all day every day birding. I never have those luxuries, and usually end up having to find new sites for myself!

On the positive side, I told myself that since just about everything would be new for me, I couldn’t really fail to have a good time.

All of my research for the holiday was over the internet, I didn’t even buy a map of Florida. I did however have a copy of the Birds of North America (National Geographic). The trip report I found most useful was John Girdleys from 1995, because he also went on a family holiday to the theme parks, though even he “cheated” and went in April! I have deliberately tried to keep to more or less the same format John used in his report. We stayed at the Wyndham Hotel on International Drive.

Day 1 (Journey from the airport + Wyndham Hotel) – 23rd May 2002

Arrived at Sanford/Orlando airport .at 4:00pm. Checkin was fast and trouble free, and within an hour we had collected the car and were on the road. Glimpsed various unknown birds flying over, but the first identifiable birds were two Ospreys on posts near a large lake, and my first new bird of the holiday, an over flying Wood Stork.

On arrival at the hotel, after a brief settling in period, I left the family at the pool and went for a walk around the grounds. It was immediately obvious that the common birds of the holiday were going to be Northern Mockingbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles and Common Grackles. These birds were everywhere during the holiday.

Much more surprisingly, there was a pond next to the hotel, which had Green-backed Herons, Great White Egrets, Little Blue Herons and Great Blue Heron. A Turkey Vulture flew overhead. A great start!

Day 2 (Wyndham Hotel + Magic Kingdom) – 24th May 2002

Got up early and went for a second look at the pond. Many of the same birds were still there, but also Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret and White Ibis. Seven species of heron and an Ibis on a pond less than 50 yards from our room, in the heart of International Drive, less than 24 hours after we arrived. That’s what I call an encouraging start!

cattle Egret
Great Egret

In the afternoon it was off to Magic Kingdom, and I gave up hope of seeing any birds. How wrong I was! In between lots of rides and shows, I also saw White Ibis, Great White Egrets, Turkey Vultures, the ubiquitous grackles and mockingbirds and most surprisingly, a female Aningha on one of the pools. I didn’t expect to see this species so easily.

One of the features of the holiday was the shear numbers of herons, egrets and White Ibis seen. They were at almost all the theme parks in good numbers, and were incredibly tame. Great white Egrets walking in a street at Magic Kingdom with 200 people walking past just a few feet away from them. White Ibis taking food from children’s hands outside cafes. All free flying, all wild birds.

Day 3 (Wyndham Hotel) – 25th May 2002

Another early morning at the pond. Added Killdeer, Brown Thrasher, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal and Red-tailed Hawk to the list.

In the evening we went for a drink at the poolside bar, heard a funny call overhead, and ticked off Common Nighthawk. These were seen almost every night from then on.

Day 4 (Animal Kingdom + Wyndham Hotel) – 26th May 2002

A very enjoyable visit to this Disney property was made even better by the sight of a male Aningha on a pond, Black Vultures and Chimney Swifts overhead, and on the drive in, 2 Sandhill Cranes. During a parade, I noticed a flock of 40 or so vultures circling overhead. Also in the park, good numbers of Monarch butterflies, Swallowtail species and other unidentified species.

Back to the hotel pond in the evening, and added Double Crested Cormorant and Laughing Gull.

Day 5 (Kennedy Space Centre + Merrit Island) – 27th May 2002

This was the day I was really looking forward to. First  of all we took the Close up tour at the Space centre. All the expected Heron and egret species were seen, with the exception of Reddish Egret, and also plenty of Aninghas, Wood Stork, Glossy Ibis, a single Red-winged Blackbird, Least Terns and American Crows.

Then it was onto the eagerly anticipated (at least by me!) Merrit Island. It was closed! Big tip here, if there is a shuttle launch, Merrit Island is closed up to 3 days before the launch and sometimes for the whole period until the shuttle returns to earth. Shuttle launches are once a month, so check the timetable on the Space centre web site. I did see Brown Pelicans, a major target species for me, but it was very disappointing. I estimate that I could have added 20 species to my list if the reserve had been open. Two Sandhill Cranes on the way to the Space Centre.

Day 6 (Wyndham Hotel) – 28th May 2002

Another brief morning visit to the hotel pond, added Blue Jay and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Day 7 (Wyndham Hotel + Sea World) – 29th May 2002

Many of the same birds as previously at the hotel pond, but an Aningha was a nice addition to the hotel list. At Seaworld, all the usual herons were seen, plus Double crested Cormorant and Osprey. Went to watch the Killer Whale show, and was amazed to see a Great WhiteEgret and Wood Stork “stealing”  fish intended for the whales from the trainers!

Day 8 (Orlando Wetland Park + Jetty Park) – 30th May 2002

Following the disaster at Merrit Island, Plan B sprung into action, and  I persuaded the family that it might be worth a visit to the beach to watch the shuttle launch. I also persuaded them that on the way, they might like to take in something of the “real” Florida and visit Orlando Wetland Park. This is a site on the Great Florida Birding Trail, about 20 miles east of Orlando, and more or less on the way to the beach. It was blisteringly hot, but it was a marvellous place, with good views of Least Bittern, Black-necked Stilts, Wood Ducks (yes! I really wanted to see them!), Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Fish Crows, Purple Martins and American Purple Gallinules, plus all the usual other suspects (herons, vultures, ospreys etc.). Also saw quite a few Alligators, a Racoon, a Florida Soft Shell Turtle (walking along the path!), some huge butterflies and immense numbers of Dragonflies.

Jetty Park is at the town of Cape Carnaveral just south of the Kennedy Space centre. The beach was glorious, and we had a very enjoyable five hours or so on the beach, waiting for the launch, which was cancelled 15 minutes before the deadline, due to an approaching thunderstorm! While I was lying back relaxing, I spotted two Black Skimmers flying over the beach. I watched them until they landed about 100 yards or so away amongst a flock of other birds. I wandered down towards them, and was amazed to get within 10 feet of a flock of 40 Black Skimmers, 30 Royal Terns and a single Sandwich Tern! The skimmers were a serious target species which I thought I had missed at Merrit Island, but the Royal Terns were completely unexpected. One of the best sights of the holiday! Also seen at Jetty Park were Brown Pelicans, Caspian Terns, Ring-billed Gulls, Laughing Gulls and a sea turtle (Loggerhead?).

Day 9 (Wyndham Hotel) – 31st May 2002

An evening stroll to the pond, added Coopers Hawk and Pied-billed Grebe to the holiday list, and amazingly Black-necked Stilt (flying over) to the hotel list. I didn’t mention to anybody that there was also a large Alligator in the pond!

Day 10 (Lake Tibet-Butler) – 1st June 2002

Finally we had a day off and I was given permission to take the morning birding. I was very excited prior to my visit to Lake Tibet-Butler, but I must admit it was something of a disappointment. I found it too overgrown for my liking, too many trees, not enough open spaces, nowhere were you could see more than a few yards in front. Probably great for migrant warblers etc. in spring, but in the baking heat of June it was very difficult birding. However, I did see some good birds, lots of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Red-shouldered Hawks, 3 Wood Stork (flying), Rufous-sided Towhees and best of all, Chuck-will’s-widow. This was a species that I didn’t even consider when planning the holiday, but once I realised that the croaking call in the woods was Chuck-will’s-widow, I started to hear them at lots of places. The only one I saw though was one which flew up in front of me at Tibet-Butler. Note that they call during the day. Also saw a Gofer Tortoise.

Days 11 (MGM studios) – 2nd June 2002

Two Sandhill Cranes on the drive in, but not much else.

Days 12 (Dr. Phillips area + Wyndham Hotel + Gatorland) – 3rd June 2002

I spotted this site on my way to Tibet-Butler, and remembered it from John Girdleys report. The site I chose was down a sandy track, immediately before the Dr. Phillips sign on the Apopka Vineland Road on the way back to International Drive.  My first visit here produced Carolina Wren and Brown Thrasher, as well as most of the species seen at Tibet-Butler.

A brief visit to the hotel pond revealed the usual herons and egrets and a Pied-billed Grebe still present.

Gatorland is one of the smaller “attractions” in the region, which is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Another big tip – if you mention the birding trail, you can get 30% off the cost of entry to Gatorland, a saving of around $16 for us. I doubt that any of the Alligators you see here will be wild, but all of the birds are.

Above the Alligator pools is a heron, egret, Aningha and Cormorant colony in the trees and bushes. Some of the nests are just a few feet away from the boardwalk. There are over 2000 nests, and they include Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Great White Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Aningha and Double crested Cormorant. I also saw good numbers of vultures, another Carolina Wren and Wood Stork.

Day 14 (Magic Kingdom) – 5th June 2002

Our last full day, and we decided to go back to Magic Kingdom. Most of the species seen were the same as last time, but the most interesting sighting was of a Great Blue Heron with a white head. The book shows this phase, and describes it as Wurdemanns Heron, which is usually seen around the Florida Keys.

Day 15 (Dr. Phillips area) – 6th June 2002

I got up early to try to add a few more species to the list, and did pretty well. Northern Bobwhite, 2 Loggerhead Shrikes and  2 Downy Woodpeckers were all new, and other good birds were Purple Martins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cardinals, Rufous-sided Towhees, Brown Thrasher and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. A great end to the holiday.

What did I miss?

Lots of stuff. My final list was  62 species. I could perhaps have added another 20 if Merrit Island had been open. The biggest disappointments were Limpkin and Bald Eagle. The former I was just unlucky with, the latter breeds in the area but the young had flown at the time I went.

The Birds of Florida (Orlando Area) 23rd May – 6th June 2002

Species seen


Pied-billed Grebe

One on the pond at the Wyndham

Brown Pelican

Common on the coast around Merrit Island


Seen in small numbers everywhere. Breeds in Gatorland.

Double Crested Cormorant

Seen in small numbers everywhere. Breeds in Gatorland.

Wood Stork

Seen in small numbers at the theme parks and on Merrit Island.

Least Bittern

Male and female seen seperately at Orlando Wetlands Park.

Green-backed Heron

Common at many ponds.

Tricolored Heron

Wyndham pond, Kennedy Space centre and breeds Gatorland.

Little Blue Heron

Common on many ponds.

Cattle Egret

Fairly common. Seen best at Gatorland.

Snowy Egret

Common everywhere.

Great White Egret

Common  everywhere.

Great Blue Heron

Singles seen at many ponds. Wurdemann’s Heron seen at Magic Kingdom.

Glossy Ibis

Many at Kennedy Space centre

White Ibis

Common everywhere.



Mottled Duck

I was fairly confident that a duck I saw well at the Wyndham pond was this species.

Wood Duck

Pair at Orlando Wetlands Park.

Turkey Vulture

Common everywhere

Black Vulture

Common everywhere

Red-shouldered Hawk

Common at Tibet-Butler and Orlando Wetlands Park

Red-tailed Hawk

A few seen at a number of places, including over the Wyndham

Cooper’s Hawk

One flew over the Wyndham



Northern Bobwhite

Several calling and one seen at Dr. Phillips.



American Purple Gallinule

A few at Orlando Wetlands Park.

Sandhill Crane

Several small parties seen on roadside verges during car journeys

Black-necked Stilt

Pair at Orlando Wetlands Park and one flew over Wyndham.


One at Wyndham pond


A few at Jetty Park

Laughing Gull

Odd birds throughout. Most seen at Jetty Park.

Ring-billed Gull

Adult and immature at Jetty Park

Great Black-backed Gull

Adult Jetty Park

Least Tern

Odd birds throughout. Most seen on the coast.

Sandwich Tern

One Jetty Park

Caspian Tern

One or two at Jetty Park

Royal Tern

30+ at Jetty Park

Black Skimmer

40+ Jetty Park

Feral Pigeon


Mourning Dove



One seen at Tibet-Butler. Several calling there and elsewhere, especially Dr. Phillips.

Common Nighthawk

At least two hawking over Wyndham and International Drive.

Chimney Swift

Small numbers everywhere

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Small numbers everywhere. Especially common at Tibet-Butler and Dr. Phillips.

Downy Woodpecker

Pair at Dr. Phillips

Great Crested Flycatcher

Small numbers at Dr. Phillips and Tibet-Butler

Carolina Wren

One at Dr. Phillips and a second at Gatorland.

Purple Martin

A few nesting in holes in palm trees at Orlando Wetlands Park, and others at Dr.Phillips.

Loggerhead Shrike

Pair at Dr. Phillips

Blue Jay

A few at a number of sites.

Fish Crow

Only definitely identified at Orlando Wetlands Park.

American Crow

Common in small numbers

Northern Mockingbird

Common everywhere

Brown Thrasher

A few seen at various locations



House Sparrow


Northern Cardinal


Rufous-sided Towhee


Red-winged Blackbird

Seen at marshy places, such as Kennedy Space Centre, Dr. Phillips and Orlando Wetlands Park.

Common Grackle


Boat-tailed Grackle



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