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Florida Birds
2024 Trip Report

When you think of the month of March, is this what comes to mind? Dark, gloomy snowy days. Never-ending, below freezing temperatures. Ice-covered roadways and sidewalks. And snow drifts taller than the row of cars they bury?

Wouldn’t you rather be experiencing sunny blue skies, temperatures warm enough to wear shorts and T-shirts, and the possibility for picturesque fog to start the morning. Now add to that dozens of bird species in their most magnificent breeding plumage flying in front of your cameras every day from sunrise to sunset. These are our Florida Birds Photo Safaris, and they happen every March, just about the time most people are sick of the northern winter.

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March in Florida is prime time for many species of birds to nest. Our Florida Bird Photo Safaris take full advantage of that fact. It is at this time that the birds are in their most beautiful and elegant plumage. Great egrets and snowy egrets grow magnificent plumes that they use for display to attract mates. The pastel pink feathers of the roseate spoonbills deepen in color, and they develop an orange tail. Many birds develop a colorful area on their faces known as lores. These can be brilliant green on great egrets, bright red on snowy egrets or turquoise on anhingas.

While many birds are nesting at this time of year, their activity is staggered. While some birds within the rookeries are still gathering sticks for nests and displaying for mates, others are sitting on eggs, feeding young, or encouraging their large chicks to fledge. This means ample opportunities for a variety of photo subjects for us to capture at various stages.

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Our trips start at a central Florida wetland. This area was once farmland and has been reclaimed, flooded, and planted with native aquatic vegetation to help absorb excess nutrients from nearby agricultural activity before the water empties into one of Florida’s countless lakes. In the past 20 years, this restoration project not only helped clean the water, but also has become home to countless waterfowl, including several species of ducks, coots, common and purple gallinules, pied-billed grebes, cormorants, anhingas, egrets, herons, ospreys, peregrine falcons, bald eagles and many more. It is also home to many songbirds including red-winged blackbirds, boat-tailed grackles, cardinals, warblers and more. Add to that, hundreds of alligators, river otters, marsh rabbits and raccoons. All these creatures live here because the shallow waters are now an extremely healthy ecosystem full of fish, crayfish, snakes, and insects which keep the birds and other animals well fed.

Here is an account of the activity on one of our trips in March. Our morning drive through the wetlands found us stopping frequently to photograph herons and cormorants fishing at first light. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, alligators began crawling out on the shore to bask in the warmth. Being cold-blooded, alligators rely on the sun’s warmth to raise their body temperature enough to digest their food.

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Purple gallinules, common gallinules, coots, and grey-headed swamphens wound their way through the cattails searching for aquatic insects, crayfish, small fish, and aquatic vegetation to feed on. Ospreys and the occasional bald eagle circled overhead looking to swoop down on an unsuspecting fish hovering just a bit too close to the surface. In fact, one osprey splashed into the water a mere 10 feet away from us.

When the sunlight got too harsh, we took our midday break for lunch. Afterwards, we headed for a local bird rookery with nesting great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks and cormorants. Large alligators surrounded the nesting birds and acted both as a deterrent to predators as well as the cleanup crew in the event of an unfortunate chick falling from the nest. A boardwalk meanders through the rookery and the birds were so accustomed to our presence that they didn’t even look up as we passed.

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Our tour visited a variety of different ecosystems with specific species in mind. A local photographer friend of mine gave me a ‘heads up’ regarding a great horned owl with young near the lake that was the very next stop for us. Normally, we spent our time around the lake shore where eagles, ospreys, snail kites and limpkins are common. But this year, we found the great horned owl with two half-grown chicks right away and spent most of our morning photographing them. On the drive out from the owls, we stopped at an eagle nest with a grown chick ready to fledge. The adults took turns bringing food to the nest to show the chick, then flying with the food away from the tree trying to entice the fledgling to fly and become independent. We later visited another long-established eagle nest with one very young chick. We photographed the adults bringing food to the nest and landing in a nearby tree.

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Continuing south, we arrived at our next location before sunrise. It is a lake whose edge is surrounded by Spanish-moss covered cypress trees and is home to over 200 active osprey nests. From our stable pontoon boat, we photographed an unending flow of ospreys carrying sticks, moss, and fish into the picturesque cypress trees. We were fortunate enough to call a few barred owls out of the woods to be photographed. We began at dawn and ended at dusk to capture the colorful sky surrounding the moody cypress trees. Photographing the ospreys in flight was challenging. But it was good practice for what was to come.

Another day found us on another boat on another lake in pursuit of another iconic Florida bird. Often mistaken for a flamingo, the beautifully colored roseate spoonbill is a favorite subject for wildlife photographers and artists alike. Their pink plumage and spatula-shaped bill are unmistakable. We were alongside a small island rookery of nesting spoonbills, great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons and anhingas. Fortunately, it was early in the spoonbill nesting season, and we were treated to non-stop roseate spoonbills flying out from the colony in search of nesting material and returning carrying a variety of branches, sticks and grasses, all in perfect early morning light.

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Our last stop was a fabulous bird rookery with a variety of nesting birds. Included among them were great egrets, tricolored herons, great blue herons, glossy ibis, least bitterns, double-crested cormorants, anhingas and most notably, American wood storks. American wood storks are North America’s only native stork. Its life cycle is very closely tied to the water levels where it nests. To catch enough fish to feed its young, the wood stork relies on falling water levels to concentrate the fish. If the water drops too quickly, the pools dry up and there are no fish to catch. If the water level doesn’t drop enough, the fish aren’t concentrated enough for the storks to catch enough to feed their demanding young. Both situations can cause nesting failure. It’s very much a Goldilocks situation. Thirty years ago, wood storks were on the verge of extinction. Fortunately, in recent decades, the storks have found suitable nesting sites and are flourishing. Our rookery is one of these sites.

Our earlier experience with photographing birds in flight served us well at this rookery. Wood storks, great blue herons, great egrets, cattle egrets and anhingas were all photographed carrying sticks back to their nests. Purple gallinules, gray-headed swamp hens, common gallinules, anhingas, double-crested cormorants, blue-winged teals, black-bellied whistling ducks, alligators, marsh rabbits and green iguanas were all also easily photographed here.

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Heading back north we made an unscheduled stop back at the eagle nest as we still had at least two hours of good light left. It turned out to be a very good move as we had very good activity in those final hours.

This tour offers up close opportunities to photograph dozens of bird species while in their prime breeding plumage during the most comfortable time of year in Florida. So, what better place to be in March than photographing birds with a Florida native?

Upcoming Related Tours

Florida Birds

Florida’s East Coast has become a great new focal point for nature photographers from all over the world. Shoot several exciting wading bird colonies at close range including wood storks, spoonbills, herons and egrets plus the world’s highest density of nesting ospreys—by boat and on shore.

March 6 - 13, 2025
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