Great egret and chick
The morning began with a limpkin salute. It greeted us from the boardwalk railing at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, calling out its woeful song. Then the warblers came to life, bringing a cheerful note to the brisk fall day. By the end of the 2.25-mile boardwalk, we were watching a cloud-high silhouette with binoculars and collectively held breath. Was it? Is it? Could it be? Yes! A wood stork! Woohoo! It was a good sign for the sanctuary, where the picky big bird sometimes, some years, decides to nest. But, Goldilocks-like, only if the conditions are all just right.
Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades lie directly in the path of one of the world's most-traveled flyways, along which migrating birds pass and take their rest stops. Winter months, when migration is in full swing, afford the best time to see the widest variety of birds. More than 200 species have been spotted through the years. Many of our birds are resident, however, making anytime a productive time for birding.
When the newest South Florida segment of the Great Florida Birding Trail opens in 2006, it will highlight the rich bird-viewing experiences that Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades offer life-listers and casual observers. Here are some hot spots where local birders head.Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary:
As far as bird concentration and ease of viewing, Corkscrew is the best for birding in Collier County. Its variety ranges from its signature wood storks to year-round white ibis and red-bellied woodpeckers and winter's migrating warblers, painted buntings, summer tanagers and other colorful, songful species.The Everglades:
The widest variety of species settles in to the vast acreage of preserved
Bird watching in Paradise
lands that include Everglades National Park, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Picayune State Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Collier-Seminole State Park. Especially in winter, when lack of rain concentrates fish food supplies into small areas and migratory birds come visit, the mangroves fill with a chromatic scale of white and brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, white ibises, great blue herons, green herons, snowy egrets, red-shouldered hawks, bald eagles, ospreys and more. Swallow-tailed kites sail the wind currents during spring and summer and their cousin, the rare Everglades kite, feeds its fussy appetite for apple snails, which live in the marshes. For best results, do your bird eyeing at low tide in mangrove waterways.Marco Island:
The American bald eagle is emblematic here, although it nests in tall aeries throughout the region. On Tigertail Beach and its Sand Dollar Island - deemed Florida's second most important sanctuary for shore birds - protected tidal pools attract droves of birds. Ospreys, gulls and pelicans do their aerial fishing routines while wading and shorebirds peck lunch from along the water line and sand bars. Along Big Marco Pass at Tigertail's north end, the beach is a critical nesting and resting area for three of Florida's listed species: the least tern, black skimmer and piping plover.
Around Marco Island, small islands support healthy populations of roosting birds, from brown pelicans to reddish egrets, giving the mangroves the festive appearance of Christmas trees decorated with great, oversized ornaments. Nature cruises and charters in Naples and Marco Island customize birding excursions to the rookeries. Bring along binoculars as access to the rookery islands is
Bird Watching Map
Nearby Rookery Bay Estuarine Research Reserve is an undiscovered land that's home to bald eagles, yellow-crowned night herons, great egrets, hawks, owls and more. In January, the reserve hosts the Southwest Florida Birding Festival for one weekend.Cocohatchee River:
Along this wild and natural waterway, brown pelicans, ospreys, and great and snowy egrets are most visible, but you can also happen upon roseate spoonbills and bald eagles if your timing is good. Cocohatchee Nature Center rents kayaks and canoes and conducts eco-cruises into the waters.Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park:
This park sees a lot of shorebird action - sanderlings, willets, sandpipers and plovers - on the beach. And its estuary back waters attract all sorts of hungry birds - double-crested cormorants, anhingas, herons, hawks and ospreys. Watch for bald eagles and pileated woodpeckers in dead trees; magnificent frigatebirds and pelicans airborne. The park regularly conducts special ranger-led birding tours.If you go: Big Cypress National Preserve
, 239-695-1201, Website Cocohatchee Nature Center
, 239-592-1200, Website Collier-Seminole State Park
, 239-394-3397, Website Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
, 239-348-9151, Website Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
, 239-597-6196, Website Everglades National Park Boat Tour
, 239-695-2591, 866-628-7275, Website Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center
, 239-695-3311, Website Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
, 239-695-4593, Website Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center
, 239-417-6310, Website Tigertail Beach
, 239-353-0404, Website