Birdwatching in Florida: Where you might see rare mangrove cuckoos, birds with iridescent feathers
This list includes places in Southwest Florida to bring your binos, phones and cameras.
- Endangered snail kites, rare birds, are usually found in Central Florida, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades
- Least bittern hunts (small herons) are hard to find because of their size and propensity to stay hidden in vegetation in freshwater or brackish marshes
- Black skimmers are popular at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island
NOTE TO READERS: The News-Press and Naples Daily News published this story by environment reporter Chad Gillis on Monday (Jan. 23) about Everglades National Park recently named the best birding park in the nation by Travel Lens. It was one of the most-read stories we published. We have asked our award-winning photographer Andrew West, known for his stunning wildlife photography, to share some of his favorite places to see birds in Southwest Florida.
Here are Andrew's picks. They are not ranked, only listed. And an important disclaimer: things are changing all of the time in SWFL as far as weather, migration patterns and other factors that will affect the presence of birds at these locations:
1-Six Mile Cypress Slough
LOCATION: 7751 Penzance Blvd., Fort Myers
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: You can basically see all kinds of birds there. Everything from warblers to wading birds, night herons and wood ducks, which have really colorful heads. You can also see great blue herons and great egrets during breeding season. And there are really cool great egrets nesting on the far side of first big lake in the slough during nesting season.
LOCATION: 38th St. West, Lehigh Acres
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: Common bird here are limpkins. A cool sighting would be a snail kite because they are rare. Also, sandhill cranes hang out there and nest there, and different migrating birds. But the marsh is snail kite haven because they nest there. Also, you can see purple gallinules, which are really beautiful because their feathers are iridescent.
LOCATION: 7330 Gladiolus Drive, Fort Myers
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: Lakes Park is urban friendly. It is very easy for people to go see birds there. Lately, what I am seeing there are lots of warblers. Occasionally, there are sightings of painted buntings. Last year there was a least bittern sighting. Also, this is a very popular spot for wading birds and nesting ibis and great blue heron nesting because it has a rookery.
4-CORKSCREW SWAMP SANCTUARY
LOCATION:375 Sanctuary Road West, Naples
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: They have an abundance of birds that you would see in Southwest Florida. You will see all kinds of birds going through there: barred owls, swallow-tailed kites, wood storks. It’s also known for warblers, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets and painted buntings.
LOCATION: 480 Hernando Drive, Marco Island
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: Black skimmers and reddish egrets are popular at this beach. Also wading birds and shore birds including Wilson's, piping and snowy plovers along with royal and least terns.
BONUS PICK: BUNCHE BEACH
LOCATION: 18201 John Morris Road, Fort Myers
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: It is another one of the best spots for me. On a low tide it has several kinds of plovers and other small shorebirds including marbled godwits. You will have osprey and all kinds of wading birds including reddish, snowy and great egrets. Every once in awhile, a group of roseate spoonbills can be seen. NOTE: According to Lee County, due to Hurricane Ian, there is currently no access to Bunche Beach.
Hurricane Ian impact
Speaking of Hurricane Ian, Andrew wanted to point out three other places in Southwest Florida that would likely be considered for his Top 5, but they are currently closed and not accessible to bird watchers and others due to damage caused by Hurricane Ian last Sept. Here are those locations.
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Preserve
LOCATION: 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: Pelicans, including white pelicans. All kinds of wading birds including roseate spoonbills and egrets. A rare but amazing sighting are mangrove cuckoos.
Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area
LOCATION: Fort Myers Beach (south end)
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: One of my favorite spots. It's a great place for snowy plovers, least terns and black skimmers.
LOCATION: 112 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
ACCORDING TO ANDREW: During an occasional fallout, the birding here can be amazing. I have seen rose-breasted grosbeaks, painted and indigo buntings and all kinds of different warblers including yellow, hooded and several types of vireos. But the fall out is brief. Someone on a birding site will list a ton of birds. It is really cool to see but you have be pretty in tune with the birding community. As they migrate over, the lighthouse is the first bit of land they see and they hang out for couple of days and move on. Have to time it well and be watching birding sites. Also, a fairly common site is pileated woodpeckers, pelicans and snowy egrets along with nesting osprey.