Palm trees, beaches, great weather… Florida is not only a paradise for people, but for wildlife too! Come with us to explore the rich biodiversity of the many habitats southern Florida has to offer. April is the perfect time to maximize this diversity, with migrant songbirds just returning in fresh breeding plumage and resident water birds beginning to nest.
Right from the start, we’ll have a chance for both at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. On their wildlife drive, we’ll search for shorebirds, terns, and the energetic Reddish Egret, while the visitor center provides opportunities for many species of warblers, tanagers, and buntings. Later on, as we bird our way across the state, we’ll explore unique Florida habitats including native prairie, scrub, and mixed pine/palm forests. Birding in these areas will give us a chance to see regional specialties, such as the Bachman’s Sparrow, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay.
Our final destination will be the world-famous Everglades. This vast wilderness is home to more than 100,000 pairs of wading birds, including White Ibis, Tricolored Herons, Wood Storks, and Roseate Spoonbills. When we are not searching the skies, we’ll keep an eye on the water for American Alligators, Florida Redbelly Turtles, Florida Gars, and even make a special trip to find West Indian Manatees.
Even with all of this wildlife to see, there will still be plenty of time to enjoy Florida’s beautiful white sand beaches. We’ll spend time soaking up the Florida sunshine on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Come see why people and animals alike flock to South Florida!
EXTENSION TRIP TO THE FLORIDA KEYS: If the Everglades isn’t quite far enough south for you, join us as far south as you can go in the continental U.S.—Key West! On the way there, we’ll spend time on several other Keys where unique birds can be found, such as Mangrove Cuckoos, White-crowned Pigeons, and Black-whiskered Vireos. We’ll also make a special effort to find the adorable Key Deer, a pint-sized subspecies of the White-tailed Deer.
Our first day in Key West will be spent going to Dry Tortugas National Park by ferry, almost 70 miles west of Key West. This series of islands is home to several species of water birds that breed nowhere else in the United States, including the Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, and Magnificent Frigatebird. We will also be able to snorkel around the base of Fort Jefferson, where many species of colorful fish can be found. You will then have a full day to experience Key West however you see fit!
Arrive in Orlando and make the short drive to our bed & breakfast. We’ll cover some tour basics before dinner and an early evening.
In the morning we’ll explore Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, searching for waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and waders, such as the Reddish Egret. After lunch, we’ll head to Orlando Wetlands Park, where water birds such as Wood Storks, Purple Gallinules, and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are abundant.
Today we head southwest, stopping first at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. This native prairie is what much of the state would have looked like before European settlement. After this, we’ll get a private group tour at Archbold Biological Station, famous for the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay.
We’ll start the day off looking for a regional specialty, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. We’ll then head to a park on the coast, where we’ll enjoy lunch and a few hours on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. We’ll finish the day off with a sunset cruise through Rookery Bay, watching as a multitude of herons, egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills head to roost for the evening.
We’ll spend the morning at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The boardwalk trail here will lead us through four distinct habitats, including impressive old-growth bald cypress swamp. Brilliantly colored Painted Buntings frequent the feeders at the visitor center. After lunch, we’ll visit the campus of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida where you’ll be free to explore their discovery center, look for Gopher Tortoises on the adjoining preserve, or go on a free guided boat tour of the canals.
As we travel east, we’ll stop to take a boat ride specifically to find West Indian Manatees. We’ll then drive through the northern Everglades and Miami to Bill Baggs State Park, where we’ll enjoy lunch, the lighthouse, and views of the Atlantic Ocean before settling in at our next hotel.
Today will be a full-day exploration of Everglades National Park. We’ll walk on Anhinga Trail, famous for close views of its namesake bird and American Alligators. Other short trails will give us excellent opportunities to see a collection of warblers in beautiful breeding plumage, large gatherings of wading birds, and an outside chance of seeing the famed Florida Panther.
For those who are going home, we’ll say farewell at the Miami airport. For those going on the extension, we’ll head into the Florida Keys, stopping at a few locations to look for specialties such as White-crowned Pigeons, Black-whiskered Vireos, and Key Deer. We’ll get down to Key West in time to enjoy the evening festivities.
Today we will take the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, where specialty breeding birds and cooperative migrants can put on a show. We will also tour historic Fort Jefferson and have the opportunity to snorkel in the shallow waters at its base.
Free day to enjoy all Key West has to offer!
One last breakfast together and then we’ll say our final goodbyes at the Key West International Airport.
COST of MAIN TRIP: $3,495*
COST of EXTENSION: $1,995*
DEPOSIT: $1,700 (+$500 for extension)
SINGLE SUPP.: $1,120 (+$1,150 for extension)
START DATE: April 7, 2024*
DURATION: 8 days (+3 for extension)
GROUP SIZE: Up to 14
TRIP FOCUS: Birds and Wildlife
* Tour fees and dates may change slightly as some trip details are still being finalized.
We'll update with the final info soon.
Chris Payne grew up in rural Pennsylvania with two naturalists for parents, so he has been immersed in the natural world his entire life. Once he discovered the world of birds, he was hooked. After graduating with a degree in biology, he pieced together bird-related field work for several years before returning to school to work on an M.S. in biology. Leading nature tours is the best of both worlds for Chris: getting to work in nature surrounded by birds, but more importantly, getting to share that passion with others.
Rebecca Payne has always been avidly curious about the natural world. What started out as exploring the backyard of her childhood home led to an interest in exotic animals. While completing her B.A. in Zoo and Wildlife Biology, she was surrounded by teachers and mentors who nurtured her love for all things birds and birding. For several years, Rebecca worked in zoos across the country as an aviculturist, participating in breeding programs for endangered species, bird shows, and public outreach. Through these experiences, she discovered that her true passion lies in teaching others and fostering meaningful connections between people and wildlife. Rebecca has enjoyed many fulfilling teaching roles, from New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, to Pennsylvania State Parks. All the while, she has had her binoculars in hand, using birds and avian ecology to bring people closer to nature.
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