|Black-Bellied Whistling Duck|
Orlando Wetlands Park
The first Central Florida birding location I fell in love with is Viera Wetlands. Because you stay in your car to view the wetlands, this may be a fun place to take your kids too. My kids are not that interested in birds, but they do like to see alligators, and you're likely to see several here. There are three areas I visit when I go to here. In each of these locations, I usually stay in my car to avoid spooking the birds. On occasion, I'll leave my car and crouch down low at the water's edge for a better view of birds on the water.
Orlando Wetlands Park is my favorite place in Central Florda. This is partly because it's relatively close to my house and partly because here you get out of your car and walk. I walk an average of about 5 miles when I go (though you don't need to walk nearly that far to have a good time here). It's made up of several impoundments with trails that surround them. The Birding Loop is a 2.5 mile walk, but I recommend leaving the loop. Some of my best finds have been off of the loop.
Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands
- Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands -- This is the place to begin. It's located right next to a wastewater treatment plant, and they just recently created an entrance that allows you to enter without driving through the plant's parking lot. If you want to see a Limpkin, this may be your best place to go. The wetlands always have many herons and egrets, and if you look closely, you may be able to see American and Least Bitterns as well. Right now, this is a great destination for viewing ducks. In my last visit, I was able to view Hooded Mergansers, Nothern Shovelers, Blue-Winged Teal, Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks pretty closely. Also, look carefully in the taller trees for Crested Cara Cara. Bald Eagles, Osprey and Northern Harrier are commonly seen here too.
- Click Ponds -- N. Wickham Rd appears to dead end into the wetlands, but if you look to your right, you'll see that it jogs to the right as a dirt road where it continues farther west. Just after the "jog" in the road, you'll see a sign for the "click" ponds on the right. I always drive around this loop when I'm here. Sometimes there's practically nothing at the ponds. At other times, you may find a flock of 50 White Pelicans waiting to greet you.
- River Lakes Conservation Area -- If you continue farther west on Wickham Rd, it will dead end in the River Lakes Conservation area. I usually drive this road slowly to see what I can find. I frequently find American Kestrel and other raptors, Loggerhead Shrike, and toward the end of the road, Eastern Meadowlark.
|Red-Shouldered Hawk (First Year)|
Viera Wetlands "Click" Ponds
|Little Blue Heron|
Orlando Wetlands Park
This location is where I've found many of my firsts. Here is where I've seen my first Least Bittern, Sedge Wren, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Northern Waterthrush, Purple Gallinule, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Swamp Sparrow, Red-Eyed Vireo, and Painted Bunting. Purple Gallinules are frequently seen here, as well as Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks and Bald Eagles. Occasionally, you may see a Crested Caracara. Be aware, the park closes between Nov. 15th and Feb. 1st every year.
Circle B Bar Reserve
As you may have guessed from the name, the Circle B Bar Reserve is an old ranch that has been converted into a reserve. It's a fabulous place to visit, especially if you want to get out of your car and hike around the impoundments. You should be able to see Roseate Spoonbills, Limpkin, Wood Storks, and most of the herons and egrets. But the reserve is also great place to find perching birds as well. Look for Savannah Sparrows, Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers by the water's edge, as well as Marsh and Sedge wrens. In the trees this past November, I found Yellow-belllied Sapsuckers, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Phoebes, White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmice, House Wrens, Carolina Wrens, Black & White Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Prarie Warblers.
Merritt Island NWR
It used to be that when I went to Merritt Island, my sole destination was Blackpoint Dr. But some months ago, we were having a drought here, and some of the impoundments on Blackpoint Dr. were drained to prevent them from becoming too salty. So I searched for other places on the island to go, and I found many. So even though Blackpoint Dr is back to its usual form, I usually visit several destinations on the island when I go. Here are my favorites:
If you decide to try all of these, it may take you the whole day. If you can only take a morning, I'd choose Blackpoint Dr ($5 entrance fee per car--much cheaper than Disney!) and perhaps one or two other locations.
Circle B Bar Reserve
Circle B Bar Reserve
Merritt Island Pumphouse Loop
- Pumphouse Loop -- Shortly after crossing the Max Brewer Bridge to put you onto the Island, you'll see a road to your left called Pumphouse Loop. You can turn on that road and park, then walk the trails. I commonly see Reddish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, American Avocet, Willet and other shorebirds, many gulls and terns, and lots of Osprey. I've counted 20 Osprey in this location in one morning.
- Blackpoint Dr -- From Pumphouse Loop it's a short drive to Blackpoint Dr. There are two parking areas on the drive. I usually stop and get out of my car at each. At the parking area with restrooms, look carefully but cautiously into the bushes to your right. Green Herons nest in there. Bald Eagles, Northern Harrier, and Osprey are commonly seen on the Drive. Lately I've been seeing thousands of ducks, including Pintails, Shovelers, and Widgeon. I've even seen as many as 3 Eurasion Widgeons mixed in with American. On my last visit to Blackpoint Dr., I saw my first white morph Reddish Egret.
- Scrub Ridge Trail -- If you want to see a Florida Scrub Jay, the Scrub Ridge Trail is a great place to visit. Also, look for Eastern Towhee. Bring bug spray, and take it with you on the trail. No joke, the mosquitoes here can be fierce.
- Biolab Rd --Just past the Scrub Ridge Trail, Biolab Rd will take you south toward Max Brewer Memorial Parkway. Look for shorebirds, ducks and pelicans, as well as Cormorant, and herons and egrets.
- Peacock's Pocket -- When Blackpoint Dr. was closed, this became my favorite destination. This road goes predominantly east-west, so in the morning, I start on the eastern entrance (where the link to Google Maps takes you). That way the sun will be behind you more of the time. This is a relatively long drive, so give yourself lots of time to drive it slowly and get the most out of it.
- Visitor Center -- It's a great place to visit. If you go in the morning, Painted Buntings often show up at their feeders.
Merritt Island Blackpoint Dr