This page documents some of the Central Florida bird photography locations that I visit most (and a few other favorite spots for good measure). Part of the reason that I started this blog was to share information about good locations. Hopefully the information below helps you plan your trip or find a particular bird. Click the links to get more details about each site, along with blog posts about those locations.
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The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is an alligator zoo with a boardwalk into a wading bird rookery. The alligators rest below the bird nests, protecting the birds from predators like raccoons. The Alligator Farm caters to bird photographers, clipping tree branches so that visitors can look directly into bird nests. It’s not unusual to see baby birds hatching! Roseate Spoonbills have started nesting here in the early 2010s.
A colony of Black Skimmers nests reliably along Florida's Gulf Coast. Photographing there is always a pleasure!
Blue Cypress Lake is a large lake about 20 miles west of Vero Beach. It is known for the hundreds of Ospreys that nest in its cypress trees from March through May. This place is also incredible for sunrises and sunsets framed with the cypress trees. You can rent a pontoon boat from Middleton Fish Camp, or better yet, go out with one of their guides.
Bok Tower Gardens is a beautiful garden in Lake Wales, Florida, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. The gardens surround the historic Bok Tower, whose carillon bells ring out through the gardens on a daily basis. I love to visit Bok Tower for flower photography, as well as during bird migration. It’s a good place for small birds like Eastern Towhees, Tufted Titmice, and Brown Thrashers. It’s also a reliable location in Central Florida for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.
Brian Piccolo Park is a an athletic park outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is known to wildlife photographers for the Burrowing Owls that nest in the grassy fields. The nests are blocked off for protection, and the birds are pretty tame. You can settle down with a camera at owl-eye level and photograph all sorts of fun behaviors with these comical owls. Nesting season is typically during the months of May and June.
The Brevard Zoo is a fun little zoo in Melbourne, Florida. It makes a good day trip along with a visit to the Viera Wetlands. You’ll see a good number of animals in a family-friendly environment.
Callaway Gardens is one of our favorite vacation getaways. The gardens are located about an hour southwest of Atlanta, or a seven-hour drive from Orlando. The gardens are particularly well known for their gorgeous displays of azaleas in the spring, and for the amazing Fantasy in Lights display of Christmas lights in November and December. I also enjoy photographing songbirds in Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden. There are daily Birds of Prey shows with easily photographable raptors. The Day Butterfly Center is also fun for butterfly photography.
The Circle B Bar Reserve is one of my favorite places to photograph. It’s located in Lakeland off Winter Lake Road, close to the USF Lakeland campus. The preserve was a cattle ranch that was restored in the early 2000s to its native wetland habitat. A series of berms give people an opportunity to hike through the wetlands and view wildlife. The area is particularly good for birds. Alligators and otters are popular with tourists.
Coral Cove Park is a small county park near Jupiter, Florida. I love to visit the rocky beaches for sunrise.
Fort De Soto is incredible for bird photography! My favorite time to go is in the spring, when the birds are in their breeding colors, and around September, when the terns congregate prior to migrating. The entire park is good for birding, but my favorite places are North Beach, the East Beach Turnaround, and the Mulberry bush area and East Beach woods (for migrating birds).
Gatorland is an Orlando amusement park. While tourists come looking for alligators, birders come to visit the Wading Bird Rookery, a boardwalk over gator territory that gives you close access to dozens of bird nests. The Great Egrets start nesting in early February, and by May, the rookery is a chaos of baby herons, egrets, and anhingas.
Nestled in the middle of downtown Orlando is Greenwood Cemetery, which hosts a photogenic Bald Eagle nest. Drive into the cemetery and circle around, looking for the tall pine tree containing the nest. You might also see a coyote or photograph a Wood Duck.
Joe Overstreet Road is a dirt road in Kenansville, Florida. It is known for the opportunities to photograph Bald Eagles, Crested Caracara, Eastern Meadowlarks (on every fencepost!), and, for the very lucky, Whooping Cranes.
The Lake Apopka wildlife refuge is on the north shore of one of Florida's largest lakes. It's a great place to find all sorts of birds, especially in the wintertime.
Lake Morton, located in downtown Lakeland, Florida, is home to about 60 Mute Swans and a myriad of other ducks and geese. Walkers and joggers frequently feed the birds, making them very tame for photography. Even the Wood Ducks are pretty tame. My favorite time to visit is the spring (March through June), when the birds are nesting and raising their young.
Leu Gardens is located in downtown Orlando. It is a bit of a migration hotspot, and it is birded regularly throughout the year. Bring your long lens for birding, and don’t forget the macro lens for flowers – they have a big rose garden!
Loggerhead Park, or the “turtle museum” as it is known in my family, is a sea turtle rehabilitation center. Turtles are housed in large tanks with see-through windows while they are treated for release back into the wild. It’s a fun photo op, especially when combined with one of the center’s turtle walks during sea turtle nesting season.
Family-friendly Lowry Park Zoo is a fun place to photograph all sorts of wildlife. Take your intermediate telephoto and go see what you can find!
Lukas Nursery is a great Orlando-area nursery, and the Butterfly Encounter is a free-flight butterfly conservatory.
Marineland Beach has some great rock formations that add foreground interest to Atlantic Ocean sunrise images. No two mornings are the same!
The Least Tern colony in St. Augustine is a fun place to photograph these beautiful birds.
Mead Gardens, nestled in downtown Winter Park, is a well-known migrant trap in Central Florida. Visit during April migration and you never know what you’ll see.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is well-known for wildlife photography. Black Point Wildlife Drive allows you to stay in the air-conditioning and see lots of birds. Canaveral National Seashore is beautiful. My favorite time of year to go is during the winter, when the refuge is covered in migrant ducks, pelicans, and other birds.
Oakland Nature Preserve is a small neighborhood preserve on the outskirts of Clermont, Florida. I visited it regularly when I was first starting in nature photography. It features native Florida forested wetland habitat, including a boardwalk out to Lake Apopka.
Orlando Wetlands Park is a nature preserve located in Christmas, Florida (between Orlando and Cocoa Beach). Beware: it’s closed between November and February! It’s a fun place to hike and photograph all the typical Florida marsh species. A rare Vermilion Flycatcher makes regular appearances in the winter.
Viera Wetlands, formally known as the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, is a water treatment facility that attracts lots of birds. Berm roads criss-cross the wetlands, and on most days you can drive your car on the roads. Cars make great blinds for photographing skittish birds! Crested Caracara can regularly be seen at Viera, along with Roseate Spoonbills and many other wading birds. Nesting Great Blue Herons give great photo ops in December-January. Black-bellied Whistling Ducklings can often be found in summer (July and August).
An Osprey nest on top of a facilities pole provides great photo opportunities for those who stand on the top story of a parking garage across the street!