Having only solely birded in Britain and Ireland, I finally took the plunge and embarked on my first foreign trip. Florida was the destination selected due to relatives having a place out there, and as they have developed an interest in birds since being there, they were more than happy for us all to go out in the field every day.
St Cloud, just to the south of Orlando, was my base for the fortnight, and with plenty on offer in the immediate area we primarily concentrated on the central Florida sites within easy travelling distance of home, but also had a couple of day trips over to the east coast, plus a two-day trip to the gulf coast for waders etc as well. I've detailed below the main sites that we visited along with the birds etc encountered at each location, and have also included a full species list at the end. Hopefully this trip report will be of use to anyone visiting the area in the future, and naturally I've included a few photos of the most notable species seen which I hope you enjoy.
Flying into Orlando early evening, Turkey Vulture was my first new bird as one sailed past the aircraft as we came in to land, and then a Great Blue Heron was noted on one of the airfield pools along with an American Great White Egret. Sadly after the time consuming clearing of immigration and customs darkness was quickly falling so any more birds would seemingly have to wait till the morning, although a pair of Sandhill Cranes were seen flying over the car on the way home along with a big flock of corvids heading off to roost.
Next morning I awoke to the sound of what transpired to be Northern Mockingbirds singing from the rooftops, Palm Warblers were noted feeding in the bushes around the house, and Mourning Doves adorned the rooftops along with the Mockingbirds.
A quick trip to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies produced a Northern Cardinal on roadside wires, and a family of Killdeer in the car-park! Turkey Vultures were evident overhead and a pair of Sandhills were feeding on a roadside verge.
It was then on to our first birding site, East Lake Toho, and visited the south shore on the north side of St Cloud. The lake is one of the best sites for one of the specialities of the area, Snail Kite, and two or three performed excellently as they hunted over the shoreline reedbeds occasionally landing too.
Having never visited the States before, it was a little overwhelming at first with birds and unfamiliar calls everywhere, making it very difficult to know which way to look, or what to look at. The waters edge held Common Gallinules, Limpkin, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis and Wood Stork, along with Little Blue Heron, Glossy Ibis, Cattle and Am. Great White Egrets and a Great Blue Heron.
As well as the Snail Kites, a fine adult Bald Eagle was seen soaring over the lake, along with Ospreys, Purple Martins and Tree Swallows were also noted overhead as were a couple of Red-shouldered Hawks soaring around with an Anhinga.
Aside from the eerie waling call of the Limpkin, the reedbeds and bushes were full of the noisy calls of Boat-tailed and Common Grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds were busily chasing each other about.
A walk along the edge of the pools produced a Swamp Sparrow, a couple of Belted Kingfishers, Double-crested Cormorants, American Coots, a couple of female Hooded Mergansers, a Palm Warbler and a Sora Rail. Both American and Fish Crows were also noted, and with their calls being the best id feature to separate them, it was nice that they were pretty much always vocal.
Other species noted included Ring-billed Gulls, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and a pair of Sandhills with young. Finally although they felt rather 'plastic' a number of the established population of Muscovy Ducks of varying plumage were also present.
It was then onto Lake Lizzie, and to explore the woods on the east side of the lake on the north trail loop, with a Red-tailed Hawk noted soaring overhead on the way.
A Hermit Thrush was the first bird encountered there, and then as we made our way through the trees both Downy Woodpecker and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were briefly seen. We then located our main target of the site with a Red-headed Woodpecker putting on an excellent show in front of us.
Walking along various birds could be heard rustling in the undergrowth and with a lot of patience Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee and Gray Catbird were all nailed. A number of songs were also heard as we went round and again with patience both White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos were seen, along with the now familar Northern Mockingbirds.
On the way back a flock of Chipping Sparrows were found in the car park, and a couple of Cedar Waxwings were watched feeding atop a tree along the entrance road rounding off a truly excellent and mind-blowing first day.