Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orlando & Central Florida Photography Locations

River Otter
I moved to Central Florida a little over a  year ago, and I've been looking for great places to go for nature/wildlife/bird photography. I've found some pretty good places to go, so I thought it would be good to collect the places I've found into one post.  I'm sure there are some great places to visit that aren't yet on my list.  If you know of any, help me (and other readers) out and let me know where you like to go.  Follow links below to maps and photo galleries.  Also, for more detailed species counts, see my Locations page.

Merritt Island NWR--From the Fall through the Spring, this is the best place I've found for seeing a variety of birds.  Wading birds are always here, but ducks and shore birds show up here in abundance, and you're likely to see birds of prey here too.  Look for Reddish Egrets, Roseatte Spoonbills, Black-Necked Stilt, Northern Harrier, various Terns, Marbled Godwit, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, and Loggerhead Shrike.  You can see my gallery here.
  • Blackpoint Dr. is about a 5 mile gravel road, and it's wide enough for cars to pass you if you pull of to the side to look at something you find interesting.  You can stay in your car to observe, but there's a couple places for parking along the road.  During the prime months, I'll often see more than 40 species of birds on a single morning, as well as bobcats, river otters, alligators,. armadillo, and other wildlife.
  • Peacock's Pocket is a 12 mile long gravel road, and it's not in as good of repair as Blackpoint Dr, but it follows open water.  In my experience, birds are often farther away on this drive, but there's a lot to see.
  • Scrub Ridge Trail is a great place to go to see the threatened Florida Scrub Jay.  I see at least one every time I go.  But be warned, after you walk a little ways down the trail, the mosquitos become unbearable.  I've never been able to put on enough bug spray to keep them off me. Thankfully, I can often see the scrub jay before the mosquitoes get too bad.
Viera Wetlands--From the Fall through Spring, this again is a fantastic place to see a wide variety of birds.  It's much smaller than Merritt Island NWR, and you drive around a loop to see birds and other wildlife (you'll need to be able to see out of the left side of your car).  Anhinga and Great Blue Herons nest very close to where you can drive, and you can often see many wading birds, ducks, shorebirds and birds of prey at the right times of the year.  You can also see Savannah Sparrows, Palm Warblers, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Loggerhead Shrike with some frequency.  You can see my gallery here.
  • The main loop is hidden behind the water treatment facility.  You need to drive through it to get to the main part of the wetlands.  In addition to the above, look for Limpkin, Sora, Least Bittern, American Bittern (in the winter) and Crested Caracara.
  • There's also a dirt road that continues west on the north side of the wetlands.  There's often much to see there, including American Kestrel and Eastern Meadowlarks.
  • Also look for the Click Ponds.  The entrance is just north of the dirt road. This area is not usually as populated as the wetlands, but on several occasions I've seen a flock of White Pelicans there.
Orlando Wetlands Park--This park is great all year round, though it's not open from Oct to Jan.  You can't drive on the wetlands.  You must walk.  There's a 2.5 mile birding loop, but I would highly recommend departing from it and walking to where the influent is (get a map when you go).  I almost always see Purple Gallinule, Least Bitterns and Black-Crowned Night Herons, and I frequently see Yellow-Crowned Night Herons. Perching birds are also there: I've recently seen Carolina Wren, Red-Eyed Vireo, Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Cardinal on the road leading to the influent from the parking lot.  Also look for alligators, raccoons, white-tailed deer, river otters, florida soft-shell turtles, and gopher tortoise in the park.  You can see my gallery here.

Mead Gardens--This is a smaller park, without the same kind of bird diversity, but it's much closer to Orlando, so if you're from here and don't have time to make the drive, this is a great place to go.  Probably my nicest find here was a Barred Owl that stared at me and dared me to take his portrait.  Here's my gallery.

Lake Lotus Park--I'm told this is a great place to go, though I've only been there once.  It was a good time, though.  I saw plenty for a morning--Bald Eagles, Limpkin, Osprey, Red-Shouldered Hawks, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and many others.  The park doesn't open until 8:00am, though, and I often want an earlier start.  I'm told you can see Painted Buntings here, so I need to go more often.

Jay Blanchard Park--This is a very small park (comparatively).  It's a road that connects Dean and Rouse Rd south of University Blvd.  There are playgrounds on the south side of the road and a river on the north.  There's not a lot of diversity here, but I've seen a Red-Shouldered Hawk Nest here, as well as Swallow-Tailed Kite, Limpkin, Tufted-Titmouse, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, and even a hybrid Mallard x American Black Duck pair.  I wouldn't make a special trip to go here just for birding, but if you're in the area, it's worth dropping by.

If you know of other places to visit in Central Florida and Orlando, I want to hear it!  Comment below and let us all know.

5 comments:

  1. I often see a pair of pink spoonbills in Blanchard Park near the dammed area by Colonial drive. Quite a pleasant suprise.

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  2. You might check out the Blue Heron Wetlands in Titusville.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/80431173@N00/sets/72157623490016017/



    Roger

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  3. Thank you for detailed list of best locations.

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  4. Hi Scott! Thank you for sharing these locations! I have also moved to Orlando about the same time you did and recently I became more interested in photography, but I could find a good places for photos here.
    Congratulation for your work as well! Very nice shots indeed!

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  5. Thanks, Fernando. By the way, I've added many more locations since this post. You might check the "birding locations" tab above for more.

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