If you are a birdwatcher, welcome to paradise! Located on the Eastern Continental Flyway, a major bird migration corridor, this region provides prime stopover habitat for many migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors and passerines. More than 330 species of birds have been seen here. Thousands of birds migrate from their northern homes to spend the winter here; the Painted Bunting, North America’s most colorful bird, is a winter resident. The Space Coast is also home to one of the largest populations of Florida Scrub-Jays remaining in the state.
The fastest growing passive sport in America, birdwatching is an activity that can be enjoyed by families, groups and individuals. Easy and inexpensive, it requires minimal equipment, skill or physical fitness. With its diverse habitats and favorable climate, the Space Coast is among the best birding locations in North America. Featuring numerous charismatic and colorful birds, easily seen and identified with a field guide, this area appeals to beginning birders as well as experts. The animated Reddish Egret (the rarest heron in North America), spectacular Roseate Spoonbill (the pink bird that many assume is a flamingo) and the imposing Bald Eagle are not as common in other areas as they are on the Space Coast. Other avian species coveted by experienced birders can be seen here, including Crested Caracara, Snail Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Peregrine Falcon, Black Rail, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and many more. Another magical opportunity is the possibility of spotting pelagic seabirds in fall and winter. On days with strong winds from the east, Northern Gannets and jaegers may be seen from the beach. Tropicbirds and Magnificent Frigatebirds are sighted occasionally.
Great Florida Birding Trail
To help people locate well known, as well as new places to look for birds, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, with help from the Florida Department of Transportation, has established the 2,000-mile-long Great Florida Birding Trail (GFBT) to connect birders with Florida’s best spots and species. The GFBT consists of numerous sites in each of four geographic locations of the state. Sites are pinpointed on special guide maps and marked by highway signs. More than 40 GFBT sites are located within an hour from mainland locations on the Space Coast; many can be reached within minutes. 850-599-9478 www.floridabirdingtrail.com
Smyrna Dunes Park
Located on the south side of Ponce Inlet, this Volusia County park offers panoramic views of ocean, inlet and estuary via two miles of boardwalks that wind around its perimeter. You can spot a variety of birds without leaving the boardwalk as it passes through hammock, which is good for warbler landfalls in fall and spring, then on to the oceanfront where you can check the beach for loafing gulls, terns and shorebirds and scope the water for loons and ducks. Along the western side of the park, boardwalk spurs lead out to the estuary, passing through a salt marsh area where Salt Marsh and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows are sometimes seen. Watch for gopher tortoises as you pass over pristine coastal scrub habitat.
Low tide is the best time to visit Smyrna Dunes, especially in winter, when exposed mudflats attract massive numbers of coastal birds. Winter is also a good time to look along the shoreline for delicate small shorebirds, like the endangered Piping Plover, Wilson’s Plover and Semipalmated Plover. Baitfish activity attracts gulls and terns as well as Northern Gannets. http://volusia.org/parks/smyrnadunes.htm
Directions: From I-95 or US 1 in New Smyrna Beach, take SR 44 east to Canal St. Turn left (north) onto Riverside Dr. and then right onto Flagler Ave., crossing the Halifax River to the barrier island. Just after crossing the bridge, turn left onto North Peninsula Dr. The park is two miles north, at the end of the road. Entrance fee is $5.00. 904-424-2935
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a designated gateway to the East Section of the Great Florid Birding Trail, where visitors can find detailed information and materials. Staff members at the Refuge Visitor Center are available to answer questions and provide information about birding classes and events.
Merritt Island has the distinction of being home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) and Canaveral National Seashore. Comprised of 140,000 acres of salt marsh, freshwater impoundments, brackish estuaries, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods and scrub, the Refuge remains unsurpassed as a refuge for endangered wildlife. At 21 species, it supports more threatened and endangered animals than any other refuge in the continental U.S., including the Florida manatee, Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, gopher tortoise and eastern indigo snake. Over 6,000 alligators call it home.
Birding a variety of habitats on the Refuge can be exceptionally rewarding, particularly from November through March. Impoundments and salt marshes offer the most diversified viewing opportunities. One of the most popular areas of MINWR, world-renowned 7-mile Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, offers visitors an opportunity to observe birds and wildlife without leaving their vehicles. Peacock’s Pocket, Gator Creek, Shiloh Marsh, Biolab and L Pond Roads offer more opportunities to bird and photograph from a vehicle. MINWR offers more than 40 miles of drivable dike roads. Within hardwood hammocks, you’ll find excellent birding for warblers and other songbirds during migrations
Haulover Canal and Mullethead Island
The big attraction for birders in boats is a large spoil island that lies just west of the Haulover Canal. One of the most significant colonial waterbird nesting islands in the state, Mullethead Island and its surrounding grass flats provide an excellent opportunity to view a variety of birds from the water’s level. In late spring, there’s a good chance you’ll see Roseate Spoonbills and Reddish Egrets feeding their young. Other birds that nest on the island include Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Black-crowned Night-herons; Great and Snowy Egrets; White Ibises; Brown Pelicans; and Double-crested Cormorants. Prime viewing time is March through July. In addition to wading birds in spectacular breeding plumage, look for shorebirds, gulls and terns loafing on sandbars. In winter, Lesser Scaups, American White Pelicans, Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers and Horned Grebes may also be seen on the lagoon’s open waters. Mullethead Island can be scoped from the northwest side of Haulover Canal. Turn west on the dirt road immediately north of the bridge (across from Manatee Viewing Platform) and follow the road around until it ends at the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon. A dirt road system on the southeast side of the canal passes through prime scrub habitat where Florida Scrub-Jays may be seen. Check the power lines on the south side of the canal for scrub-jays. www.fws.gov/merrittisland
Directions: From Titusville: go east on SR 406 across the Indian River. At the big curve, stay to the right and take SR 402 to get to the Visitor’s Center; to get to the Black Point Wildlife Drive, go left on SR 406. To get to Haulover Canal, take SR 406 until it ends at SR 3; turn left and go north on SR 3 for 4.5 miles. 321-861-0667
Canaveral National Seashore
Nationally recognized as one of America’s most beautiful beaches, CNS is directly adjacent to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It consists of 24 miles of undeveloped beach and wetland environs that stretch from Playalinda Beach in Brevard County northward to Apollo Beach in Volusia County.
CNS offers a rich array of birding pleasures: access to the beach for shorebirds, gulls and terns; elevated platforms on the dune line to scope for migrating raptors along the shoreline and gannets and jaegers out at sea; winding trails through maritime hammock for Painted Buntings and migratory songbirds; and vantages of the lagoon where waders, shorebirds and rafts of migratory ducks seek shelter and food. This property is one of the best sites in Florida to scope offshore for seabirds. You might even spot one of the world’s most endangered large whales, the northern right whale, which calves here in winter.
There is more to CNS than just its beaches; more than 100 Native American Indian shell middens are located within the park. One of these is the 60-foot-high Turtle Mound, which is also one of the best sites on Florida’s East Coast for viewing raptors during migration. Winter birding can often be quite good along the Oak Hill waterfront. You will not want to miss the flock of American White Pelicans that spend the winter loafing on a shell bar directly behind Goodrich’s Seafood Restaurant just north of the Seminole Rest Indian Mound. To access the waterfront, go east from U.S.1 at the blinking yellow caution light In Oak Hill. www.nps.gov/cana
Directions: The south entrance is reached from Titusville. Take SR 406 east and veer right (east) onto SR 402. Proceed through Merritt Island NWR to the entrance station. Watch for Florida Scrub-Jays near the station. The north entrance is reached from New Smyrna Beach. Go east on SR 44 to Highway A1A. Go south on A1A seven miles to the park entrance. Limited backcountry camping is allowed on the north beach November 1 through April 30 and on designated islands all year, by permit only. 321- 267-1110
The unique feature of Volusia County’s beautiful Riverbreeze Park is a keyhole dock that passes over an oyster bar and extends out into Mosquito Lagoon. At high tide, the area may seem quite unremarkable, but at low tide, mudflats are exposed in and around the keyhole, where shorebirds like avocets, godwits, dunlin, Red Knots and dowitchers feed close to the viewers above. This is a good site to practice coastal bird identification in fall and winter when exposed sandbars also host loafing gulls, terns, Black Skimmers, pelicans and wading birds. Keep a close watch for oystercatchers. Check the tide tables the night before your visit so you can plan your route accordingly. Camping is permitted. http://volusia.org/parks/riverbreeze.htm
Directions: From the blinking caution light on US 1 in Oak Hill, go north about two miles. Turn right on H.H. Burch Rd. The park is located at the end of the road on the north (left) side. 386-345-5525
Buck Lake Conservation Area
For a great hiking experience, visit the 9,600-acre Buck Lake Conservation Area west of Mims. Consisting of natural woodlands and wetlands that were historically used for pine and hardwood timber production and cattle ranching, this area was also used as the personal hunting preserve for the ranching family that formerly owned it. To ensure better hunting, the woodlands here were better preserved than on many of the neighboring properties, which were heavily logged. A ridge in the eastern part of the property supports about 200 acres of scrubby flatwoods and oak hammocks that provide habitat for Florida Scrub-Jays. A basin swamp community dominates the eastern third of the property. The western portion of the property features a large floodplain marsh and a marsh lake, Buck Lake. There is an observation tower on the southeast side of Buck Lake, accessible from the second parking area.
Sought-after species here include King Rail, Swallow-tailed Kite, Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee, Wild Turkey, Eastern Bluebird, Bald Eagle, Wood Stork and Red-headed Woodpecker. Watch for alligators, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, bobcats, otters, deer and gray fox. http://sjr.state.fl.us/programs/outreach/pubs/recguide 386-329-3304
Directions: Three parking areas can be accessed from SR 46 west of Mims. From the I-95/SR 46 interchange: The first parking lot is located approximately one mile west on SR 46 on the north side of the road. The second parking area is located about 6.5 miles west on SR 46 on the north side of the road. The third parking area can be accessed by going approximately 10 miles west on SR 46 then turning right on Morgan Alderman Road and going about 0.25 miles; the parking area is on the right. For hunt information, call 352-732-1225.
Seminole Ranch Conservation Area
The nearby 28,000-acre Seminole Ranch ConservationArea, like Buck Lake, yields the best experience when time and energy are invested in hiking the property’s extensive trail system. A variety of habitats are found here including pine, palmetto, hardwood hammocks, freshwater lakes, river and wetlands. The hammocks and wetlands are thick with everything from migratory songbirds and Painted Buntings to turkeys and wading birds. King and Clapper Rails and Soras, among others, can be found in the marshes where the property borders the St. Johns River. Certain areas within Seminole Ranch CA have a unique plant community supported by connate saltwater which flows from underground springs near Harney and Puzzle Lakes. The salinity of small lakes in the area sometimes approaches one-third that of seawater. Many salt-tolerant and marine-dwelling organisms present here are not found anywhere else in the St. Johns River, including the elusive Black Rail. A trail on the east side of Hatbill Road about two miles south of SR 46 leads to an observation tower. 386-329-4404
Hatbill Road runs through the center of Seminole Ranch Conservation Area, ending at the St. Johns River and Hatbill Park, which can be good for sunrise and early morning birding before the airboaters arrive. Limpkins are possible here as well as Wood Ducks, Mottled Ducks and other waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and raptors. There are bobwhites and meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Boat-tailed and Common Grackles, Fish Crows and Anhingas. You can usually find cardinals, shrikes, Eastern Towhees and vireos here. Working along the road, you may see Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, robins, Cedar Waxwings, Sedge and Marsh Wrens, Swamp and Savannah Sparrows and four species of woodpecker (pileated, downy, red-bellied and flicker). Red-headed and Hairy Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are occasionally seen. You can usually find Pine, Prairie, Black-and-white, Palm, Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped Warblers in season. Many others may be found in migration. Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos are here as well as Red-eyed Vireos in migration. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls and Eastern Screech-owls can also be found. 321-264-5037 sjr.state.fl.us/programs/outreach/pubs/recguide
Directions: The North Tract of Seminole Ranch is bisected by Hatbill Road, which intersects SR 46 on the south side, 4.1 miles west of the I-95 and SR 46 interchange. Look for signs for Loughman Lake Lodge and the Seminole Ranch CA. The South Tract of Seminole Ranch is accessed via SR 50. The trailhead is directly south of the parking area for Orlando Wetlands Park (see directions for OWP). For camping information at Hatbill Park
Little-Big Econ State Forest
A partnership project between the St. Johns Water Management District, the Florida State Conservation and Recreation Lands Program and Seminole County, this area includes a beautiful blackwater stream, the Econlockhatchee River. The property has two tracts that are good for birding.
The Demetree Tract has two entrances; the south entrance, off of Snow Hill Road and the northern Barr Street entrance, off of CR 426. The Snow Hill Road entrance has a parking area surrounded by improved pasture and a visitor center with maps and forest information. A trail snakes along and through the tree line that borders the Econ, offering excellent birding for a diversity of resident and migratory songbirds like Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, and Black-throated Blue Warbler. You may encounter Wood Duck, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sandhill Crane, Barred Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker and Sedge Wren. With luck you might find Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Wild Turkey, Blue-headed Vireo, Carolina Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ovenbird, Grasshopper Sparrow and Baltimore Oriole. Look for Swallow-tailed Kites in spring and summer.
The Kilbee Tract borders the St. Johns River near its confluence with the Econ. Drive partway onto the property and then hike the entrance road one mile to the end where the floodplain opens to a view of the river and its waders, raptors, shorebirds and ducks in fall and winter.
Directions: To get to the Barr Street entrance, go south about 4.5 miles on CR 426 from SR 46 in Geneva. The entrance will be on the left. To get to the Snow Hill Road entrance, go south on CR 426 from SR 46 in Geneva. In just under a mile, Snow Hill Road veers off to the left. Go about 2.5 miles south on Snow Hill Road. The parking area will be on the right. The entrance to the Kilbee Tract is off of SR 46, just west of the SR 46 bridge about 11 miles west of the I-95/SR 46 interchange. For hunt information, call 407-971-3500
Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility
The City of Titusville’s facility offers another outstanding opportunity for birding from a vehicle. The constructed wetlands are engineered from uplands that have been designed to utilize the natural processes of wetlands to assist in the polishing of wastewater effluent. This 292-acre site contains seven cells, or ponds, that are rich in wildlife. Outstanding diversity of plant species has encouraged an impressive number of wildlife species to utilize the wetlands. Deer, wild hogs, bobcats, alligators, birds, otters, turtles and frogs prowl the dikes. Least bitterns in particular are doing well here, nesting in early summer. American Bittern, Purple Gallinule, Hairy Woodpecker, Limpkin, Sandhill Crane, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Gadwall, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Bobolink and Gull-billed Tern are just a few of well over 100 bird species sighted here.
Directions: From Titusville, take SR 50 west. Facility is on the south side of SR 50, at the end of Deep Marsh Road, about 1/2 mile west of I-95. Normally the gate is closed. Ring the buzzer on your left to have someone open it. The facility is open for birding from 7am-3pm on weekdays. Appointments must be made on weekends. It is advisable to call ahead,
Canaveral Marshes Conservation Area
This 6,741-acre property is owned and managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District. Most of the property borders the east side of the St. Johns River and is predominantly freshwater marsh. Hiking access is from SR 50, about a mile west of the Blue Heron Wetlands. The eastern portion of Canaveral Marshes near the Great Outdoors RV Park can be very good for waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds in winter, depending on the water levels. Volunteers who conducted monthly surveys in 2001 and 2002 recorded approximately 154 species of birds on this property.
The marsh west of the adjoining Great Outdoors resort has been especially productive, particularly in the fall. At a small pond just inside the property there are times when hundreds of Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, along with smaller numbers of Mottled Duck, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler may be found. The pond is part of the St. Johns River floodplain and, when water is low, there are many depressions and secondary channels that are attractive to shorebirds and other waterfowl. The higher marsh areas are good for Sedge and Marsh Wrens. Elsewhere on the flood plain, American Bittern, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Crested Caracara, King and Virginia Rails, American Pipit, Wilson’s Snipe and Peregrine Falcon may be found. This is a hiking area where you may occasionally get your feet wet. 386-320-4404
Directions: Access is from a parking area on the south side of SR 50 approximately three miles west of I-95.
St. Johns River
If you’re into birding, the St. Johns River is a paradise. In addition to numerous wading birds, raptors can frequently be seen soaring over the river or perched in snags along the flood plains. Toward evening, thousands of birds leave the flood plain and move to nighttime roosts.
The most exciting way to bird the river is from an airboat. Some large Indian middens are accessible by boat. Middens often provide resting space and feeding areas for neotropical migrant songbirds. You should see alligators, raptors and lots of wading birds at any time of the year. Birding is best, of course, during fall, winter and spring. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrierss, American White Pelican, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Wood Stork, Sandhill Crane, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are fairly common. Roseate Spoonbill, Peregrine Falcons, Merlin, Crested Caracara, Wild Turkey, Black Skimmer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Limpkin, Wood Duck, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Sora, King Rail and Marsh and Sedge Wrens are a possibility. Short-tailed Hawk and Snail Kite are rare, but occasionally seen.
There are two ways to take an airboat ride. Either with Midway Fish Camp on SR 50 or Lone Cabbage Fish Camp on SR 520 both are on the St. John’s River. Take the next available boat – or, you can call ahead and make a reservation.
Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area
Sixty miles of trails wind through this 28,000-acre property, offering plenty of opportunity for birding, hiking, biking, primitive camping, nature study, horseback riding, and fishing. A road system offers the opportunity for birding from a vehicle. Shaped by alternating cycles of fire and flood, Tosohatchee State Reserve is a mosaic of marshes, swamps, pine flatwoods and oak hammocks.
The Tosohatchee marshes are feeding areas for wading birds and, during winter months, host large numbers of migrating waterfowl. Forested uplands support deer, bobcats, gray foxes, Wild Turkeys, woodpeckers, hawks, owls and songbirds. Some of the threatened and endangered species found at the reserve include Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise and, on rare occasions, the Florida panther. Birds of interest include Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Red-headed Woodpecker and Sandhill Crane. 407- 568-5893. www.myfwc.com/recreation/tosohatchee
Directions: From Titusville, take SR 50 west to the town of Christmas. Look for a brown sign for Tosohatchee. Turn left and travel three miles south on Taylor Creek Road. The entrance will be on the left. Make sure you have some dollar bills to put in the fee box located on the right just inside the entrance. There is some seasonal hunting on this property.
Orlando Wetlands Park
Orlando Wetlands Park (OWP) is a large treatment facility that uses water plants to polish already treated wastewater before discharging it into the St. Johns River. Visitors are sure to see numerous wading birds, and often Purple Gallinule, Least and American Bitterns, Red-shouldered Hawk and King Rail can be found foraging in the marshes. Ospreys and Bald Eagles feed throughout the wetlands complex, and Purple Martins nest in tree cavities each spring – one of the only places east of the Mississippi River where they nest in anything other than man-made houses! Sunset brings on a spectacular sight as thousands of wading birds move from daytime feeding areas to their nightly roosts..
A trail that begins at the parking lot and winds east around Lake Searcy then north through a hammock can be good for migratory songbirds in season. Watch for ducks and shorebirds in the wetlands in fall and winter and large flocks of migratory tree swallows coming in to roost in late fall and early spring. Closed for seasonal hunting Nov. 15 – Feb. 1 407-568-1706 http://www.cityoforlando.net/fpr/net/t_ParkRec.aspx?Park=341
Directions: From Titusville, take SR 50 west to the town of Christmas. Turn right (north) onto Ft. Christmas Rd. (CR 420) and go 2.3 miles to Wheeler Rd. Turn right on Wheeler and go east for 1.5 miles. The parking area will be on your left.
Hal Scott Preserve
The vast expanse of pine flatwoods and open prairies of Hal Scott Preserve straddles the Econlockhatchee River in eastern Orange County, protecting the resources of the river. Its big attraction for birders is an active colony of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers located in the northern third of the property. Best viewing time Is at dawn when the birds awaken from their nesting cavities. White stripes around pine tree trunks identify trees with nesting cavities. Other common resident species include Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bachman’s Sparrow, Wood Duck, Sandhill Crane and Barred Owl. With some luck, visitors may find Wild Turkey, Whip-poor-will, Hairy and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Sedge and Marsh Wrens, King Rail and Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks.
Directions: From Titusville, head west on SR 50, past the town of Christmas. Turn left and go east on SR 520 for about two miles. Turn right (west) into the Wedgefield subdivision on Macon Parkway. Turn left on Bancroft Blvd., right on Meredith Parkway, then left on Dallas Blvd. The parking lot is 1.6 miles south of the Meridith/Dallas intersection, on the right. 386-329-4404 http://sjr.state.fl.us/programs/outreach/pubs/recguide
Pine Island Conservation Area
The Pine Island Conservation Area is a dynamic landscape supporting a diverse plant community and abundant wildlife. Adjoining the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the 879-acre conservation area is jointly owned by the Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL Program) and the St. Johns River Water Management District. Two hiking trails accessed from a trailhead 0.5 miles from the entrance parking area offer moderate 1.0 mile and 1.5 mile walks through pine flatwoods and hydric hammocks. Each trail features overlooks that provide visitors with panoramic vistas of shallow water feeding habitat of wading birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Biking is allowed on established trails.
The coastal location and diversity of habitat types provide many opportunities for viewing wildlife, which are enhanced by permanent blinds accessible by foot or canoe. Wading birds are common, with fall migration bringing numerous species of waterfowl and shorebirds, as well as American White Pelicans. Pine flatwoods provide habitat for resident and migratory songbirds. Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, vultures and Bald Eagle are often sighted 321-255-4466 www.eelbrevard.com
Directions: From the intersection of SR 520 and SR 3 on Merritt Island, go north on SR 3 for five miles to Pine Island Road. Turn left and go west on Pine Island Rd. Follow it 2.5 miles to the parking lot at the end. A kiosk with a map shows the canoe trails.
Port Canaveral – Jetty Park
Jetty Park is the last land that cruise ships pass as they leave Port Canaveral, headed out to sea. This area is consistently productive for many gull and tern species. It is not unusual to see hundreds of birds standing on the beach south of the jetty, providing a great opportunity for comparison of age and seasonal variations in plumages and molt sequences. As you bird the jetty area (a good place to look for Purple Sandpiper), look across the Trident Submarine turning basin for winter birds. Several avian rarities (for this area) have visited in recent years, including Common Eider and Red-necked Grebe. In addition to regular waterbirds, Magnificent Frigatebird, Northern Gannet, jaegers, Sabine’s Gull and other seabirds may be seen offshore in winter. A Red Egret – white morph – has even been seen here as it “danced” In the water.
On the beach look for Sanderling, Willet, Piping Plover (rare), Black-bellied Plover, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone and many terns and gulls. Among them may be Lesser Black-backed Gull, Caspian and Sandwich Terns and Black Skimmer. You may see a shrimp boat dragging near the shore with hundreds of birds following. These should be scanned for rare oceanic birds.
The Port Canaveral Locks offer an abundance of manatees, dolphins and birds. Check the rocks for Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover and Spotted Sandpiper. Numerous waders and other birds loaf around the pilings. Sunset brings on a gathering of Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. You need to check to see If the Locks are available to the public – due to construction. 321-783-7111 www.portcanaveral.org
Directions: From north Cocoa, go east on SR 528 from I-95 or U.S. 1. Follow the signs for South Dock and exit into the south entrance to the Port. Turn right on George King Blvd. and follow the signs to Jetty Park. Entrance fee is $5.00 per car. Full service camping is available. To get to the Port Canaveral Locks from the south entrance to the Port, take the first left onto Dave Nisbett Drive, and turn left on Mullet Drive. The locks are at the very end of Mullet Drive.
Lori Wilson Park
Lori Wilson Park has the last large piece of maritime hammock and undeveloped coastal scrub remaining on Cocoa Beach. This hammock is a magnet for migratory songbirds and Painted Buntings. Springtime songbird migration fallouts occur in April when one may garner day lists of about 15 warbler species. Elevated boardwalks wind through the hammock, allowing close-up views of the songbirds as well as beach access for shorebirds and seabirds. Due to the winds off the ocean, the hammock is shorter than t would be in land. The walk is circular and Is less than half mile. 321-868-1122 http://www.brevardparks.com/nature/loriwilson.htm
Directions: From SR 520 in Cocoa Beach, travel south on Highway A1A for 3.5 miles. The park is on the ocean side of the road. Entrance to hammock is 3/4 way into parking area. There are two entrances off of A1A, the hammock is In the middle of the two.
Viera Wetlands is a series of connected ponds created to treat wastewater from the Central Brevard area. Since opening in 2001, this site has rapidly gained recognition as a premier birding destination. Raised dikes offer opportunities for birding from a vehicle and observation towers look out over the ponds. During fall and winter, a good diversity of bird species use these wetlands. An active Bald Eagle nest is visible from the dike road, two families of Crested Caracaras maintain territories around the wetlands, and Northern Harriers course above the marsh and pasture. Thousands of wintering ducks concentrate here, including Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mottled Duck, Mallard, Hooded and Red-breasted Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Pintail, Bufflehead and Ruddy Duck. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are regularly seen.
Two ponds on the north side of the complex are productive for shorebirds when water levels are low, especially during migration. Black-necked Stilts nest here in spring and summer. This site has become a hot spot for rarities. The first U.S. sighting of a Mangrove Swallow was recorded here in November 2002 when sharp-eyed field trip leader Murray Gardler spotted the bird when he stopped by to investigate a flock of Mexican Cave Swallows (a Brevard County first record) that had been seen the day before on a birding festival field trip. You can stay in your car and drive this route. 321-637-5521 http://www.brevardcounty.us/environmental_management/VieraWetlands-Home.cfm
Directions: From I-95 in Central Brevard, take Exit 191 (Wickham Road) and go west to the end of the road. Go through the gate on the left. To get to the north ponds go back out through the gate and go north on the dirt road next to the power lines.
Turkey Creek Sanctuary
Turkey Creek Sanctuary, also known as Margaret Hames Nature Center, managed by Audubon of Florida, is well known as a hot spot for warblers and other neotropical migratory songbirds. More than 30 warbler species have been reported here, including Canada, Prothonotary, Golden-winged, Chestnut-sided, Nashville, Hooded, Worm-eating, Cerulean, Swainson’s, Yellow-throated, Blackburnian and Tennessee as well as waterthrushes and Ovenbirds. Migration at this site is heavily concentrated in October and April. Its songbird counts receive statewide recognition during those months. Part of this area is viewed from a raised boardwalk.
Turkey Creek is a blackwater creek, and It’s surrounding hydric hammock supports Carolina Wren, American Redstart, Osprey, owls, hawks, egrets, Anhinga, herons and cormorants. Other species seen include Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Towhee, Blue and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Indigo and Painted Buntings, Red-eyed, Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Baltimore Oriole. Blue Grosbeck, Purple Martin. 321-676-6690 http://www.palmbayflorida.org/Departments/Parks/City_Parks/turkey_creek_sanctuary.htm
Directions: From I-95 in Palm Bay, take Exit 176 (Palm Bay Road) and go east to Babcock Street. Turn right and go south on Babcock. Turn left onto Port Malabar Blvd. and continue east one mile to the Palm Bay Community Center. Parking for the sanctuary is behind the Community Center.
Three Forks Marsh Conservation Area
The 52,000 acres of the Three Forks Marsh CA comprise a significant portion of the Upper St. Johns River Basin Project. Original flood plain communities of this area were severely impacted by diking and draining for agricultural uses. The project is designed to reduce flooding, restore and maintain natural hydrologic cycles, enhance native habitat for fish and wildlife and protect water quality. The Upper Basin Project is a model for the restoration of the Everglades. At Three Forks Marsh, a vast network of levees is being constructed to impound the water runoff from neighboring agricultural lands. Much of the work has been completed, and 15 miles of dike trails are open to the public. Restoration has already greatly improved habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, river otters and alligators. There is seasonal waterfowl hunting on this property. 386-320-4404 www.outintheboonies.com/threeforks
Directions: From I-95, Exit 173, take CR 514 (Malabar Road) west until it dead ends (about eight miles) at the Thomas O. Lawton Recreation Area. Park entrance will be on your left.
T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area
Adjoining the southeast portion of Three Forks Marsh, the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area features 10 impoundments managed intensively for waterfowl, wading birds and shorebirds and a semi-permanent flooded marsh. An observation tower overlooking Lake Goodwin offers unobstructed views of the surrounding marshlands. Walk the dikes between impoundments for good looks at dabbling ducks in the winter, including Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail and Gadwall as well as American Coot, Common Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, American Bittern, Sora and King Rail.
Look for wading birds such as Wood Stork, Limpkin, White and Glossy Ibises, herons and egrets, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Snipe, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, dowitchers and other shorebirds. Northern Harriers fly regularly over the marshes in winter and, during hawk migration in October, join Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin and American Kestrel. Summer is the best time to spot Swallow-tailed Kites and Roseate Spoonbills. Seasonal hunting. 321-726-2862 http://myfwc.com/duck/Check_Stations/Goodwin/t.m.goodwin.htm
Directions: From I-95 in Palm Bay, take Exit 173 (Malabar Road) and go 0.25 miles east to Babcock Street (CR 507). Turn right and go south on Babcock for approximately 11 miles. Turn right onto Fellsmere Grade Road just after crossing the C-54 Canal. From the intersection of 1-95 and CR 512 (Exit 156), head west for three miles to CR 507 (Babcock Street). Turn right (north) and, after five miles, turn left (west) onto Fellsmere Grade Road, just south of the C-54 Canal. Go all the way to the end of the dirt road (about six miles). Follow signs to the site entrance from the Stick Marsh boat ramp. Goodwin Marsh is north of the Stick Marsh across the C-54 Canal. The entrance to the north tract of St. Sebastian River Buffer Preserve is on the east side of Babcock Street, just north of the C-54 Canal.
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park
This 22,750-acre property is the largest upland property in public ownership in the region. The open grassy forests of longleaf pine that once made up most of Florida can still be appreciated here today. This site also contains examples of scrub and the only undeveloped sandhill habitat in Brevard County. The sandhill area supports about 25 breeding pairs of Florida Scrub-Jays as well as gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. Many sought-after pinewoods specialties can be found here. Bachman’s Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Red-cockaded Woodpecker can all be found on the northeast portion of the horse trail accessed via Stumper Flats Trail on the east side of the property. On the west side, near the intersection of Buffer Preserve Drive and CR 507, the Green, Blue and Red Trails wind through hydric hammocks, which are excellent for migratory songbirds and Swallow-tailed Kites. Bald Eagles nest on the property and American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes are regularly spotted. Seasonal wetlands host a variety of wading birds, including Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill. Florida Sandhill Cranes breed on ponds in pastures and open pinewoods. 321-953-5004 www.floridastateparks.org/stsebastian
Directions: The entrance to the north tract of St. Sebastian River Buffer Preserve is on the east side of Babcock Street, just north of the C-54 Canal — see the directions above for T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area. The Buffer Preserve’s south tract can be reached from the north tract by going south on Babcock Street (CR 507) through the town of Fellsmere. Take CR 512 east from Fellsmere, passing under I-95 (Exit 156). Go east from I-95 for 1.8 miles to W.W. Ranch Road. Turn left and follow the road north into the preserve.
Blue Cypress Water Management Area
Headwaters of the St. Johns River, the 54,458-acre Blue Cypress Conservation Area is comprised of a mosaic of marshes, lakes and cypress swamps, Blue Cypress is the most pristine portion of the Upper St. Johns River Basin. From the parking lot of the Blue Cypress Recreation Area on CR 512, you may walk in several directions. One of the westbound dikes will offer more remote, sometimes higher quality birding. These paths are narrower with irregular surfaces. A north-south dike offers a smoother walking surface, although the path is more exposed and birds are harder to spot.
This site, as are other sites that feature raised exposed dikes, is best in fall, winter and spring. The eastern portion contains foraging and nesting habitat for the endangered Snail Kite. Other wetland dependent species found here include all of the egrets and herons (including both night-herons), Glossy and White Ibises, Purple Gallinule, Limpkin and Wood Stork. Wood Duck and Mottled Duck are found year-round, and the marshes are used extensively in fall and winter by migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Bald Eagle, hawks, vultures, Anhinga, Osprey, Crested Caracara, alligators and river otters are commonly seen. American and Least Bitterns, King Rail, Sora and Fulvous Whistling-Duck are possible.
Directions: From I-95, take the CR 512 Exit (Exit 156) and go west. Go through the town of Fellsmere and continue south on CR 512. The recreation area is 1.5 miles north of SR 60. You can also take the SR 60 (Vero Beach) exit from I-95. Go west on SR 60 for 7.5 miles and turn right onto CR 512 and travel north two miles. To access the western levees, parking is available on the north side of SR 60 two miles west of the CR 512 intersection.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
Sebastian Inlet State Park is the best birding location on Brevard County’s south beaches. The property includes three miles of beautiful Atlantic Ocean beach, unspoiled dunes, coastal hammocks, tidal pools, salt marsh, and plenty of wildlife. When approaching from the north, watch for a trail on the west side of A1A about 200 yards before you actually turn into the park. The trail winds through a lovely hammock, then circles back to the main trail. This area can be superior for migrant warblers and scaring up Chuck-will’s-widows in late winter and spring. As you drive into the park, check the tidal pool northwest of the bridge for wading birds, shorebirds, gulls and terns. Some unusual species have been spotted here; Sandwich Terns frequent the area in winter. American Oystercatcher and Reddish Egret may be seen. Look carefully around the jetties and the rocky area leading to the inlet for Purple Sandpiper.
West of the tidal pool is a grassy area edged by woods; check here for migrants, woodpeckers and raptors. Look in the mangroves at the water’s edge for Black-whiskered Vireo in spring and summer. East of the tidal pool is the North Jetty; scope the beach for shorebirds, gulls and terns. Check the weedy edges along the dunes for buntings and sparrows. On northeast and easterly winds in winter, look for pelagic species such as jaegers, gannets and scoters; frigatebirds and tropicbirds are a possibility. On the southwest side of the bridge, just past the fishing museum, there’s a dock where Wood Storks congregate. West of the campground, there’s a spit of land that’s good for shorebirds. A trail 0.4 miles south of the fishing museum that winds through diked mangrove impoundments, is good for migratory songbirds 321-984-4852 www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet
Directions: From the U.S. 192/A1A intersection in Melbourne Beach go south on Highway A1A for 17.5 miles. From the CR 512 Exit on I-95 (Exit 156), go east 2.5 miles and turn right on CR 510 which goes through Wabasso and crosses the Indian River. Go all the way to Highway A1A and then go north. You will pass the entrance to Pelican Island NWR on the left before you get to Sebastian Inlet. There is a $5.00 entrance fee.
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
A National Historic Landmark, Pelican Island is America’s first National Wildlife Refuge. New public facilities are providing the public with the first opportunity to view the Pelican Island rookery from land, without the use of a boat, and explore other areas of the National Wildlife Refuge. The facilities include a quarter-mile boardwalk and 18-foot-high observation tower, two 2.5-mile salt marsh impoundment foot trails, interpretive signs and information kiosks. Recreational opportunities include hiking, birdwatching, wildlife observation and photography. Bird species possible include Brown and American White Pelicans, all of the egret and heron species, Roseate Spoonbill, gulls and terns, cormorants and various shorebirds. Wood Storks and American Oystercatchers nest on the island. Painted and Indigo Buntings are often seen along the road in the refuge’s old orange groves and near the boardwalk. 772-562-3909 http://pelicanisland.fws.gov
Directions: From Melbourne Beach, take Highway A1A south. Cross Sebastian Inlet and continue south. Facilities are located on the west side of A1A on the north end of historic Jungle Trail which, in itself, is a great birding location, especially during migration. For directions from I-95 Exit 156, see the above directions for Sebastian Inlet. Local boat, kayak and canoe tour vendors offer rentals or daily trips to view Pelican Island. Reservations are strongly suggested, as times and availability may vary due to seasonal demand and weather.