I spent a good few hours the other day pouring over books about Florida wildlife. I get to go back about every year or so, and I’m planning a spring trip to see my family, trying to figure out how I can shoe-horn in as much birding and wildlife watching as possible. As a kid, I had a set of books by Time-Life called ‘The Word’s Wild Places’, which featured a volume on Florida’s Everglades. I still have a copy (not my original, sad to say – but one I picked up in a charity shop).
This series was my first exposure to natural history illustrations such as Audobon’s Birds (pictured above). These days reading it is a nostalgic thing – photos like that of regenerating (post-fire) slash pine scrub brings back memories of walking though an area of regenerating pine forest that we used to call ‘The Burning’, while photos of Wood Stork (or Wood Ibis) remind me of my first ever birding experiences – being taken under a camouflage canvas on a canoe with my dad’s ecologist friend to an island in the Indian River Lagoon called MC2 (aka ‘Bird Island’) to watch and photograph the pelicans, egrets, herons and storks from the water.
So, knowing that my birding time will be limited, I’ve decided to focus on a few key species that can be found in places where I’m headed. We’re planning on a family trip to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, which is where we used to go on school trips to meet the rangers, dissect owl pellets and so forth. JDSP has a couple of key species that can be seen there – the Florida Scrub Jay and the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.
I’m also fairly desperate to see some burrowing owls, and get in a bit of otter watching and bat watching too! I’m still deciding on whether to take my binoculars, spotting scope, or just my camera! (I can borrow a tripod over there so that’s not an issue.)
So the purpose of the post is this: How do you plan for trips so that you can see the most wildlife possible without taking over completely? I’d love to know what your experiences are like – do you do lots of planning, focus on key species or simply pack your binoculars and hope for the best? My current plan is to insist on a family picnic in a good birding spot, and maybe a couple of pit stops on routes we’re planning on driving already. (Luckily, the family want to do the Kennedy Space Centre which is right in the middle of a massive nature reserve (or ‘wildlife preserve’ as they call them over there – which always sounds to me like bird-flavoured jam!)