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.
- 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.
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.