Florida Photo Journey

Florida is famous countrywide, and internationally, for its incredible concentrations of waterbirds, which make the state a more than worthy destination for both birders and photographers. Florida is spoilt with many sites to visit, which are varied in nature, so that long photo shoots can be spent getting close-ups of caracaras, storks, pelicans, terns, limpkins, bitterns and egrets. The range of sites and varied birds on offer are sure to see you leave with memory cards packed with unforgettable images of birds confined to southern North America like the unique Limpkin, aquamarine Florida Scrub-Jay, agile Reddish Egret, scavenging Crested Caracara, and swollen-billed Black Skimmer.

The tour is designed to be short, opening this to people who have limited vacation time, but is packed with intense days with long photo shoots, visiting multiple sites, in order to pack in as many shots as possible. The tour will be led by Florida native Cameron Cox, a renowned birder in North America for his regular contributions to magazines, who is also an author on several bird books. His photography has also featured heavily in such articles and some of his publications. So the tours will be led by an accomplished birder and photographer who knows the area well from several prolonged stints living in Florida. You could not be in better hands to ensure you walk away with some of the best shots possible from the “Sunshine State”. Of course, the other highlight of a Florida Photo Journey is that the pleasant weather, and the accompanying magical light, are tailor-made for a photography tour.

Black Skimmer doing what they do best
Black Skimmer doing what they do best (Cameron Cox)

Day 1: Jacksonville After a lunchtime/early afternoon arrival in Jacksonville, we’ll then make a short afternoon visit to Huguenot Memorial Park. The beach there is famed for its large concentrations of waterbirds, and in particular the nesting Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls, which will make good subjects to kick off this photo tour, when they will be bathed in that seductive Floridian afternoon light, which makes for such great photo shoots. We will drive to St. Augustine for the first night.

No matter what a Roseate Spoonbill does, it makes for fantastic photos!
No matter what a Roseate Spoonbill does, it makes for fantastic photos! (Cameron Cox)

Day 2: St. Augustine and Merritt Island NWR to Titusville.Florida is most famous amongst birders and photographers alike, for its vast concentrations of waterbirds; and this day will be all about getting extreme close-ups of a huge variety of these, by combining visits to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Matanzas Beach with Merritt Island NWR. By dipping into all of these areas we have excellent chances at getting up close with a myriad of large photogenic species, including Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Great Egret, Brown Pelican, Black Skimmer, White Ibis, Least and Royal Terns, and Wilson’s and Piping Plovers. Aside from waterbirds, we will also keep our eyes on the skies for fishing Osprey or Bald Eagles passing low overhead. We will overnight in Titusville.

In this season courtship is often underway
In this season courtship is often underway (Cameron Cox)

Day 3: Titusville to Kissimee. We will maximize the dizzy variety of photo opps. at our disposal here by visiting a number of sites to ensure we rack up a hearty set of photos from the day. With many excellent sites within easy reach, we may visit Merritt Island NWR again (if needed after the previous day), in addition to checking out new sites for the tour, including Viera Wetlands, Orlando Wetlands Park and Gatorland. As well as a massive number of birds once again on offer on Florida’s bird-rich coast, we’ll also have opportunities to shoot American Alligators as they loaf along the shore, in a variety of captivating poses. The much vaunted Viera Wetlands will be one of the key sites visited, often referred to as the best birding site in Central Florida; and this epitaph is relevant to photographers too, as it is quite simply a superb location for photography.

Great Egret showing off its breeding
Great Egret showing off its breeding "make-up" (Cameron Cox)

The site is a reclamation facility with four cells which are managed at different water levels, and therefore the separate wetlands attract a distinct set of birds in each. While it is easy to drive around and shoot from a vehicle here, we’ll also photograph on foot, as birds like Least Bitterns and Green Herons can often be missed when confined to a vehicle. As well as the diminutive Least Bittern, we’ll be on the lookout for American Bittern among the throng of other wetland birds like Great Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, and one of Florida’s flagship species, the odd Limpkin.

How close do you want a Wood Stork?!
How close do you want a Wood Stork?! (Cameron Cox)

Raptors, as well as Florida’s ever-present bounty of waterbirds do well here too, with good chances to photograph the resident Crested Caracaras, Bald Eagles, and Northern Harriers which can often be found quartering the marshes. At this time of year the local male Red-winged Blackbirds are pumped up for spring, and frequently display from the tops of the brushes and sedges, exposing their bright scarlet-and-yellow epaulets as they do so, making for endless photographic memories. This day will also see us target such splendid species as Purple Gallinule, and a variety of nesting wading birds passing broken branches and other nuptial gifts between partners, at the Gatorland rookery, giving us the opportunity to capture tender courtship moments of these photogenic birds.

Florida Scrub-Jays are famously photogenic
Florida Scrub-Jays are famously photogenic (Lauren Deaner)

Day 4: Kissammee to Tampa. Like all days on this bumper photo tour, we will pack in several sites during the day, and optimize our time behind the camera. On this day we’ll visit the swamps of Kissammee, as well as Clermont and Circle B Bar, among other good photo spots. Kissammee is a good launching site for taking boat rides out to photograph one of Florida’s most iconic birds, the strange Snail Kite, a swamp-dwelling raptor with an absurdly downcurved beak, used for prying snails from the sanctuary of their shells. A short trip by air boat will not only ensure we get to see them, but, hopefully, put us in position for spectacular photos both perched and on the wing. Another main target of the day will be the pastel blue Florida Scrub-Jay, along the perfectly-named “Scrub-Jay Trail”. Indeed, this day will feature much of Florida’s most characteristic wildlife; along with those already mentioned, we will ensure further encounters with Limpkins, stately Sandhill Cranes, colorful Purple Gallinules, and plenty more alligators besides. On the penultimate night of this action-packed tour, we’ll overnight in Tampa.

Extreme close-ups with large birds is a major part of this tour
Extreme close-ups with large birds is a major part of this tour (Cameron Cox)

Day 5: Tampa/St. Pete area (departure). Another waterbird extravaganza awaits our lenses, even on this final day, it is likely we’ll add new species to the photographed list, not least the gangly Reddish Egret, which will be our main target during our morning visit to Fort De Soto. These birds are not only richly-colored, but their appeal is their comical foraging behavior; these long-legged wading birds quite literally dance their way along coastlines hoping to disturb their prey into action, and in doing so provide endless photo opps. of the various bizarre angles at which to photograph them as they display their acute agility to the full. Fort De Soto is a particularly good place to photograph the striking white-morph of the Reddish Egret too, as well as the usual reddish form. This coastal area is also excellent for further moments with a variety of tern species, which gather in numbers along the shore, and should also include nesting Least Terns; while North America’s largest shorebird, Long-billed Curlews, a rarity in Florida, may be present as well. In the afternoon, we’ll be transferred to Tampa airport for flights out.

Roseate Spoonbill; one of the most photogenic species in North America
Roseate Spoonbill; one of the most photogenic species in North America (Cameron Cox)

Florida is the
Florida is the "Purple Gallinule" State! (Cameron Cox)

An Osprey nesting on a Manatee Zone sign… it doesn't get much more Floridian than this!
An Osprey nesting on a Manatee Zone sign… it doesn't get much more Floridian than this! (Ken Behrens)

At this time of year birds like Least Terns begin nesting when they are at their most photogenic
At this time of year birds like Least Terns begin nesting when they are at their most photogenic (Cameron Cox)

Snail Kites are a local specialty
Snail Kites are a local specialty (Cameron Cox)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: At this tome of year Florida is warm and humid, with only a small chance of rain.

DIFFICULTY: Easy throughout.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent throughout.