Florida, USA - March/April 2022

From 22 March to 2 April 2022, my wife and I went on a self-organized 12-day vacation to Central Florida. USA.

Generally, all year is good for birding in Florida, but November through May is the best because of the greatest variety of species can be observed. The bulk of the egg laying activities begin in March although breeding can take place considerably earlier, especially in the southern part of the state. Although Florida has a large wintering shorebird population, numbers are augmented in the spring by the arrival of migrants from Central and South America, all molting into pristine breeding plumage.

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWF) is a network of 510 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state. When you want to know where to go in Florida to see native birds, butterflies and more, head for the Trail.

Along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico you will find the most beautiful beaches: pearly white to light yellow with a bright blue sea. These beaches are further characterized by warmer seawater than on the east coast, fewer waves and in many cases a sea that only gradually gets deeper.

22 March 2022 – 2 April 2022: A’dam – Orlando – A’dam, with Iceland Air

Car rental
SUV – Jeep; 22 March – 2 April 2022

1. Rosen Inn Closest to Universal, Orlando (22-23 March; 1 night)
2. Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Spring Hill/Weeki Wachee (40km North of Tampa) (23 - 27 March (4 nights)
3. My Happy Place! Hudson, (Airbnb) (27 March – 2 April (6 nights)

Birding Sites

1. Alfred A. McKethan Pine Island Park (25km north of New Port Richey; GPS: 28.568449, -82.656159
Though small, this county park should be one of the best shorebird sites in Hernando County. Pay the USD 5,- entrance fee, park your car and walk the sandy beach, scanning the mudflats for loafing terns (Forster’s, Royal and Caspian), gulls (Laughing, Herring and Bonaparte’s) and winter shorebirds like Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Marbled Godwit and Western Sandpiper. Fortunately, I got here early because this is a popular place for people to relax and enjoy the small beach. I found many shorebirds like Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Least Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull and many Laughing Gulls.

2. Crews Lake Wilderness Park
This delightful Pasco County park offers a superb view of Crews Lake, where overwintering waterbirds like Least Sandpiper, Dunlin and Ring-necked Duck loaf and forage. The park checklist contains more than 200 bird species; this one is a must-see.
I really loved this place! It has great trails through forests and offers wonderful views over Crews Lake. I found a Purple Gallinule near the shore of the lake and a pair of quite tame Sandhill Cranes with two chicks walking around near the parking area. Swallow-tailed Kites were flying in the sky and various dragonflies were abundant.

3. Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve
Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park is one of three tracts comprising the 18,000-acre Starkey Wilderness Preserve (an Important Bird Area), which helps safeguard the Anclote and Pithlachascotee Rivers and the region’s water supply. The preserve, cooperatively managed by Pasco County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, protects freshwater swamps and marshes, scrub, sandhills, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks. The best birding by far is along the 6.7-mile paved bike trail, which connects to the paved 42-mile Suncoast Trail on the east side of the park. A pretty nice place for a short visit. I found Carolina Wren here and quite a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

4. Robert K. Rees Memorial Park (at Green Key), New Port Richey, GPS: 28.253781, -82.756769.
Don’t miss this small but productive gem on the Gulf of Mexico; birders have recorded 200 species at this compact peninsular park. Wintering sandpipers, plovers, gulls and terns congregate on its beach, and the park has a tendency for remarkable songbird landfall events in spring migration. Get here early--the entrance gate area (nicknamed the “Green Key Funnel”) can be excellent for hordes of spring migrants.
There is a board walk to an observation deck (GPS: 28.255442, -82.756946).
I visited this small site twice. The first time I was there, there was a meeting outside that looked like a meeting of released convicts. Very interesting decor while birding! My second visit, after heavy winds the day before, proved very productive. Indigo Buntings, Black-and-White Warblers, Palm Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush (!) and two lovely passing Dolphins. A Swallow-tailed Kite landed in one of the palm trees, probably exhausted from its stormy journey from the south. Near the Green Key Funnel I found Orchard Oriole and a single Ovenbird. Some 500m down the road there is a small area called Boy Scout Preserve where a short trail winds through lovely pine forest and bushes. I found here many Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers and even a Coopers Hawk and a couple of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

5. James E. Grey Preserve and Pithlachascotee River (40km North of Tampa), New Port Richey, GPS: 28.236986, -82.700156.
An unexpected treasure in the middle of New Port Richey, this preserve has a site checklist of 140+ species. Visitors may hike the river or upland (scrub and sandhills) loop trails or paddle the river, which changes quickly from a wide waterway to a winding stream over-arched with vegetation. Park amenities include a canoe launch, boardwalk and observation deck (GPS: 28.236057, -82.703922) . No pets are allowed at this preserve.
I found this a lovely park with a boardwalk and nice trails that take you through the area. While walking, Grey Squirrels come up to the railing of the board walk to check you out. Apparently, they are used to people that feed them ($#@!). Tufted Titmouse and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher were abundant here.

6. Anclote Gulf Park (6km south of New Port Richey); GPS: 28.192108, -82.787050
An excellent place to enjoy a sunset, this small park on the Gulf of Mexico has a large fishing pier with great views of wildlife on the mudflats and on the water. The fishing pier is open 24 hours/day. A boardwalk connects to Key Vista Nature Park to the north.
During my short visit, there were no birds on the pier except for a group of Black Vultures. We walked the board walk into Key Vista Nature Park and followed some trails there. This is a very nice area through lovely mixed forest. Near the shore I found a white morph Little Blue Heron and a single female Red-breasted Merganser.

7. John Chesnut Sr Park (GPS: 28.089266, -82.700617) (20km south of New Port Richey)
This site on the southeast shore of Lake Tarpon has traditional recreation areas as well as quieter spots perfect for the birder and nature enthusiast. Three short nature trails with shell footpaths wind through pine flatwoods and oak hammocks; boardwalks lead through cypress edge and freshwater swamp to Brooker Creek. The North Trail Loop connects to a canoe trail (bring your own), and in the southern portion of the park, the Peggy Park Nature Trail follows the lake edge and creek. Watch for freshwater turtles, Limpkin, Black-crowned Night-Heron and other wading birds feeding along the shoreline. Check the boardwalks for songbird flocks in migration (nearly 30 species of warblers are possible, including Ovenbird, Golden-winged Warbler and Cerulean Warbler; plus Acadian Flycatcher, Veery and Orchard Oriole) and during winter (Gray Catbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Eastern Phoebe). Flyovers of Short-tailed Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk are possible; Bald Eagle sightings are fairly regular August through May. Check the lake for ducks and American Coot in winter and for Least Tern in summer. The lake edge can be good for Marsh Wren in winter as well. Rarities such as Greater White-fronted Goose, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Western Tanager have been spotted.
I found this a lovely park for nice walks with or without your dog and kids. I don’t think it is very interesting for birders, at least not early April. I hardly found any birds. I walked around a small pond/lake with a few Aligators and a Little Blue Heron.

8. Fred Howard Park, Tarpon Springs
Fred Howard Park sits on 155 acres on the Gulf of Mexico in Tarpon Springs and is divided into 2 areas. A mainland area and a mile-long causeway that links the main park area with a white, sandy beach.
I found this a great place to both enjoy the beach (my wife) and go out birding (me)! We liked it so much that we visited it twice. The causeway is excellent for close views of Black-bellied Plover, Semi-palmated plover, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling etc.

9. Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area (West of Tampa) (20 mile south of New Port Richey; 35 min drive) (GPS: 28.064842, -82.831886)
Honeymoon Island can be reached via a causeway from Dunedin. This is one of the best areas for migrant and wintering shorebirds in Florida. Up to 22 species can be found here regularly in fall, winter, and spring. Honeymoon and surrounding barrier islands hold the largest wintering population of piping plovers in the state, sometimes over 100 birds. In addition, thousands of terns congregate here in fall including up to 5,000 common terns at a time and smaller numbers of six other species. Wilson’s and snowy plovers and least terns breed here, as do great horned owls and clapper rails. Both Nelson’s and saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows winter. Gray kingbirds and prairie warblers are common in the spring and summer. Black-whiskered vireos used to nest and may still do so occasionally.
As you approach the park, watch the causeway waterfront for shorebirds, then continue to follow the entrance road to the large parking area at the end. Here you can access the Osprey Trail, which is probably the best place in the world to see this species nesting. This trail is also good for migratory songbirds like warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and Indigo and Painted Buntings. The Pelican Trail, which winds along Pelican Cove, as well as the park’s beaches, offer excellent birding opportunities. Watch for herons, egrets and migratory shorebirds like American Oystercatcher and Least Tern. Snowy Plover and Wilson’s Plover nest on the beach; please respect closed nesting areas. Major rarities such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Long-billed Murrelet, Elegant Tern, Northern Wheatear, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, Mourning Warbler, and Green-tailed Towhee are all on the park’s checklist. Bicycles and kayaks are available for rent in the park. Guided ranger walks are offered several days a week November through February.
I found this a wonderful place, both for my wife who loves the beach and excellent for birding and other wildlife viewing. We visited this place twice. Ospreys are everywhere. The Osprey Trail is fabulous and winds through beautiful forest with many birds around, especially after the storm on 31 March 2022. Lots of Indigo Buntings, White-eyed Vireos, Yellow-throated Vireos, Prairie Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, Hooded Warblers and even Prothonotary Warblers. Armadillos are everywhere too, as are the Gopher Tortoises. I was lucky to find a male Great Horned Owl sleeping in a tree 150 meter from the entrance of the Osprey Trail. In the opposite tall tree two Great Horned Owl chicks were sitting closely next to each other trying to take a nap too. The beach had Marbled Gotwitt, Royal Tern, Foster’s Tern and Common Tern.

10. Fort DeSoto County Park (South of St. Petersburg) (50 mile from Port Richey; 1:10 hrs drive)
Fort DeSoto is one of the most popular birding destinations in Florida. More than 330 species of birds have been sighted here! The park consists of five interconnected keys with mangroves, wetlands, hardwood/palm hammocks, mudflats and nearly 3 miles of sandy beach. Enter the park, drive south past the campground to the T-intersection and turn left, then immediately right to reach the visitor center. Check the recent sightings log, and pick up a park map and bird finding guide/checklist. During migration, bird the East Beach Woods, the mulberry trees east of the Bay Pier and the Arrowhead Picnic Area; 40+ species of wood-warbler have been recorded! Also, bird the fig trees and the wooded patch beside the visitor center and the paved Nature Trail. The park is superb for wildlife photography. Roseate Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets feed on the flats, and both night-herons hunt for fish and crabs in the wetlands and mangroves. 20+ species of shorebirds have been recorded, and there are always lots of gull and terns to enjoy.
The best areas for migrants are East Beach Woods (GPS: 27.637439, -82.698685), the North Beach parking area (GPS: 27.643455, -82.740751), Arrowhead Picnic Area (GPS: 27.643376, -82.734777), and the mulberry trees around the ranger’s house.
I found this a wonderful place for birders and a great place for beach lovers! At the beach I found Marbled Gotwitt, Black Skimmer, Sandwich tern, Roseate Tern and Forster’s Tern. The Arrowhead Picnic Area offered us only dolphins and one Common Loon. On this 31 March 2022, it was very stormy and therefore difficult to see much.

11. Merritt Island (East of Orlando) (168 miles from Port Richey
Merritt Island NWR is one of Florida’s premier birding sites with more than 330 recorded species. Stop by the Visitor Center (GPS: 28.641880, -80.736116 ) first to enjoy Painted Buntings (winter), to get a map and to check the log for recent bird sightings. Most birders head straight to the world-renowned 7-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive (an auto tour loop) (GPS: 28.657569, -80.754477). Birding and wildlife viewing  is excellent on Black Point during fall and winter; drive the auto loop slowly, scanning the impoundments for Sora, Northern Pintail, American Avocet, and “Dancing” Reddish Egrets. Rarities like Eurasian Wigeon and Cinnamon Teal have been found. After Black Point, head to Peacocks Pocket Rd., Catfish Loop (GPS: 28.621009, -80.777221), and Gator Creek Rd (28.630566, -80.778718) for more car-based birding. For wading birds and shorebirds, Bio Lab Rd. (GPS: 28.680685, -80.694598) along the lagoon can be fantastic in spring and fall. The refuge has good hiking trails (some with observation platforms); the hammock and scrub trails are popular, and rarities like Kirtland’s Warbler have been found. Look for Florida Scrub-Jay on the Scrub Ridge Trail year-round, and also on telephone wires and posts on SR 3/Kennedy Parkway. The Manatee Observation Deck (GPS: 28.737503, -80.754519) at Haulover Canal provides views of dozens of manatees in spring, and butterfly viewing throughout the refuge is excellent. Guided birding trips occur weekly, November through March.
The day after our arrival in Orlando on 23 March 2002, we drove to Merritt Island and followed the Black Point Wildlife Drive which proved to be very rewarding. Quite a few Aligators and lots of Reddish Egret, Little Blue heron, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis, Tri-coloured Heron and Anhinga. From the car the birds don’t get too skittish so this is a good place for bird photography. I was very lucky to find a Sora (Rail) which was walking secretly between the reeds next to the road. This was the only place during our trip of 12 days where I found Roseate Spoonbill and Black-necked Stilt. A short visit to the Manatee Observation Deck did not give us any manatees or interesting birds. Fortunately, during our visit a few days later to a good friend's brother in Tampa, we spotted a Manatee with her baby in the Hillsborough River.