The most touristy part of Florida is still rich in birdlife.
(Listen to the radio version here.)
Long ago, when I was a brand-new birder, getting to 700 on one’s “ABA Continental List” (all the wild birds seen in the continental United States and Canada) was the summit of Mt. Everest for American birders—it was extremely difficult to reach, very few had done it, and it required enormous commitment and travel. As with the real Mt. Everest, I never imagined I’d get close.
But suddenly last summer, I found myself at “Camp 4” (the final stop before Everest’s summit). When Russ and I returned from our Alaska trip, I noticed that my list had reached 694. Was there any single place I could go that would yield at least six new birds to bring me to the summit? The only place I could think of was south Florida.
I’ve been to Florida many times—my son works at Walt Disney World, and Russ and I try to visit him at least once a year. Russ and I have worked our way down to the Everglades and the Keys a few times, too, including spending a few hours in the Dry Tortugas.
So I’ve seen a lot of Florida specialties, such as White-crowned Pigeon, Brown Noddy, Sooty and Bridled Terns, Magnificent Frigatebird, Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, and Bachman’s Sparrow. On Saddlebunch Key in 2019, Russ and I watched a Mangrove Cuckoo who was so cooperative that Russ held up my cellphone to get this short recording while I took photos.
But there were several species I might be able to add in the Keys and the Miami area, such as Antillean Nighthawk, Smooth-billed Ani, and Shiny Cowbird, and a host of exotic species including one I yearned to see—the Gray-headed Swamphen. Russ hates driving in the Miami area as much as I do, and he wasn’t the least bit interested in introduced parrots in Greater Miami. I knew that an experienced guide would be as helpful for me to reach my summit as a Sherpa is for Everest climbers. Luckily, there just happened to be a Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours trip scheduled for April, headed exactly to the places I was likely to see new birds, so I signed up for it.
But just a few weeks before I left, I got invited to spend a few days in the Kissimmee area to check out birding opportunities. I was certain I wouldn’t see any new birds there—like I said, I’ve been to Orlando many times, usually staying in Kissimmee and always birding at one or two spots in Kissimmee. But I figured I might find out about a few spots I’d never visited before, and a trip there would get me into Florida birding mode before my “real” trip. Also, I’ve had way more luck seeing two wonderful Florida specialties, the Limpkin and Snail Kite, in Kissimmee than anywhere else in the state. So off I went!
The next few blogposts will highlight some of my favorite experiences from that 4-day Kissimmee trip.
Spoiler Alert: I did indeed see plenty of Limpkins and Snail Kites in Kissimmee—luckily because our VENT tour group saw just a few distant Limpkins and no Snail Kites at all. Also, I ended up getting a lifer on the Kissimmee trip—that Gray-headed Swamphen I wanted to see so badly. Kissimmee really is an excellent place to see birds.