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Find yourself far away from Florida’s bustling, tourist-packed theme parks on a Naturalist Journeys’ adventure that takes you deep into Florida’s wild side.
South Florida is deservedly one of the classic birding destinations of the United States. Just barely above the Caribbean tropics, South Florida’s climate and geography isolate it from the rest of the country. Because of its geographically unique position, Florida is a crossroads between the temperate north and the sultry Caribbean south. Indeed, about a dozen bird species of West Indian origin reach the northern limits of their range here; many of these West Indian species live nowhere else in the United States. Winter is an especially wonderful season to visit. Unlike the rest of the country, the southern tip of Florida is warm and frost-free due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream. As a result, the southeast corner of the Sunshine state is home to an incredible assortment of vireos, flycatchers, raptors, shorebirds, and warblers–up to twenty-five warbler species in a winter season–in addition to all the wonderful herons, storks, spoonbills, and other waterbirds. Indeed, the excellence of winter birding in South Florida is one of North America’s secrets; winter is the time when the region’s avian diversity peaks.
On this tour, we cover the southern third of the state in search of the many specialty and wintering birds on offer. We begin by exploring the justifiably famous and unique Everglades National Park, otherwise known as the River of Grass, in search of Short-tailed Hawk, Roseate Spoonbill, West Indian Manatee, American Crocodile, and more. A scheduled boat trip out onto Florida Bay allows us to experience a rich bounty of wintering shorebirds, herons, eagles, and perhaps even American Flamingo. We also spend time birding in Miami, a city with a decidedly Caribbean flair, in search of colorful exotics such as Spot-breasted Oriole, White-winged Parakeet, and Red-whiskered Bulbul, as well as native species like White-crowned Pigeon, Burrowing Owl, and a score of warblers. On the last leg of the main tour, we visit a series of well-planned wetlands in Palm Beach, where nearly all the Florida wetland specialties occur: Wood Stork, Purple Gallinule, Limpkin, and so much more. We also visit oak-scrub for Florida’s only endemic bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay.
- Explore the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metro area for exotics from around the world, including Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and White-winged Parakeet, among lush, tropical gardens and landscaping
- Discover subtropical sawgrass prairies, cypress domes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pinelands, and mangrove swamps of Everglades National Park
- Bird Florida Bay from the Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park to observe large concentrations of wintering shorebirds, waders, raptors, and maybe even American Flamingo
- Enjoy tropical bird species that occur nowhere else in the USA: Mangrove Cuckoo, Short-tailed Hawk, White-crowned Pigeon, and more
- Visit the unique Florida pineland ecosystem as we seek Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, and endemic wildflowers
- Wonder at the bustling heron and stork rookeries of Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands, where these birds display and nest at close range – yes, even in January!
- Spot Florida’s only endemic bird, the charismatic Florida Scrub-Jay, in its native oak-scrub habitat
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Day 1: Arrivals
You arrive today at Miami International Airport. Once the group has gathered, we enjoy a welcome dinner with an orientation before we depart on our birding adventure in the morning.
Accommodations south of Miami at Kendall (D)
Day 2: Everglades National Park
Published in 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ The Everglades: River of Grass highlighted the uniqueness of the Everglades. Lying at the southern tip of the state, the Everglades is a vast subtropical sawgrass prairie broken only by cypress domes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pinelands, and mangrove swamps. There is nowhere else in the United States with such a decidedly tropical suite of habitats.
Throughout the day we work along the length of the main park road that terminates in Flamingo, exploring
these various habitats for several birds difficult to see anywhere else in the country such as Short-tailed Hawk and Wood Stork, along with a strong supporting cast of various wintering songbirds such as Black-throated Blue, Pine, Black-throated Green, Prairie, and Magnolia Warbler. American Crocodile and West Indian Manatee are possible at the marina in Flamingo. The highlight of the day will be a scheduled boat trip out onto Florida Bay, where we will be able to access extensive mudflats that host hundreds of waterbirds and raptors: Bald Eagle, Osprey, Roseate Spoonbill, Great ‘White’ Heron, Reddish Egret, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Wilson’s Plover, Black Skimmer, and so many more. If we are lucky, we might even see American Flamingo!
Accommodations south of Miami at Kendall (B,L,D)
Day 3: Miami Metro Area
The nearly tropical climate and exotic vegetation of the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metropolitan area offers a unique landscape of opportunity for a myriad of introduced bird species from all over the world. We spend the morning in Miami exploring this urban landscape in search of exotics such as Spot-breasted Oriole, White-winged Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Common Myna. However, introduced species are only a small fraction of the avifauna of Miami, a county which claims one of the longest bird lists east of the Mississippi River. The parks and preserves peppered throughout the city provide habitat for a wide array of both resident and wintering species that include White-crowned Pigeon, Piping Plover, Burrowing Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Summer Tanager, Bronzed Cowbird, Loggerhead Shrike, and so many more.
Accommodations south of Miami at Kendall (B,L,D)
Day 4: Tamiami Trail | Green Cay | Wakodahatchee Wetlands
This morning, we travel along the road that skirts the northern edge of Everglades National Park—Tamiami Trail. Open sawgrass prairie north of the road regularly holds small numbers of Snail Kite, and we make several stops along the way to get good views of one. As we continue westward, the habitat quickly changes over to bald cypress forest. The trees are covered in a wide variety of bromeliads, orchids, and other epiphytic plants, making for a very picturesque and lush scene.
After a delicious lunch in Miami, we head north to Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands, two artificially created wetlands that host nearly all of Florida’s wetland specialties: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Gray-headed Swamphen, and Purple Gallinule. The rookeries at Wakodahatchee Wetlands should be very active at this time of year, providing excellent photo opportunities of nesting Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Wood Stork, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and others.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Juno Beach (B,L,D)
Day 5: Jonathan Dickinson State Park | Palm Beach
After an early breakfast, we drive to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The pine flatwood and oak-scrub communities in this lovely park are more typical of Central Florida. As a result, several species reach the southern limit of their distribution here, such as Bachman’s Sparrow and the endemic Florida Scrub-Jay. Other species we should encounter as we explore this part of Florida include Wood Duck, Bald Eagle, Pileated Woodpecker, and Sandhill Crane. We will also be able to see Hobe Mountain, which is the highest natural point south of Lake Okeechobee at 86 feet above sea level!
Later in the day, we visit a couple of sites to the south in Palm Beach County for some additional birding: Peaceful Waters Sanctuary, Okeeheelee Park, and Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge all offer a slightly different mix of species depending on habitat and prevailing water levels. Along with large numbers of herons, egrets, and other large waders, we have more chances to see American Bittern, Roseate Spoonbill, Snail Kite, King Rail, Hooded Merganser, and more.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Juno Beach (B,L,D)
Day 6: Departures
After some morning birding at a coastal site or two as we make our way back south, the main tour ends at Miami International Airport. Please schedule departing flights around noon or later. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the main journey is $TBD based on double occupancy, from Miami, FL (MIA).
This cost includes: accommodations for five nights, most meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), airport welcome and transfer or hotel shuttle, land transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
Cost does not include: round-trip airfare to and from Miami, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or personal services. With fewer than 6 participants, a small-group surcharge (typically $100 – $300 per participant) may apply, or we may request that you pick up the cost of a few additional dinners in lieu of this surcharge.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
The arrival airport for this tour is Miami International Airport (MIA) in Miami, FL.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Please talk with your doctor about general health needs. It is a good idea to consult with your doctor about general vaccinations recommended for travel.
- Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed. After you make travel reservations, please send a copy of your travel itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Remember to pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
We will share a copy of your health and emergency contact information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important in case of a medical emergency. In addition to bringing any prescription medications with you, we recommend that you have a copy of the prescriptions in case of loss.
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Food & Drink
We carry water and juices/cold drinks in the cooler each day, and sodas if people like them. Please also plan on bringing and filling your water bottle for hiking each day. We try to use as few plastics as possible!
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Please pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Dress is informal and is casual even at restaurants. Layering is a great way to stay comfortable. Protective clothing is essential, whether it be from from sun, rain, cold, insects, or vegetation. You need closed toe shoes, and we comfortable walking shoes with good tread. Hiking boots with good support for hiking and on rocky terrain can work well.
Many people ask how much to plan to bring as spending money. Part of that depends on how much you want to shop. Most shops will take VISA and MasterCard or American Express. Typical items people purchase include local souvenirs and T-shirts, caps, and natural history books. You may want to bring cash for drinks with dinner (if available) or smaller local purchases.
Expect the normal tipping protocol to apply for hotel maids and bar service. If at the end of the tour, you would like to show your appreciation to your guides, tipping is entirely appropriate but at your discretion. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services. Gratuities for group meals are included. For your birding tour guide, we suggest $10-$15 per day per guest. Note that if there is more than one guide, this amount can be split among them.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
Wi-Fi and cell phone service are available in most US destinations, although there are some exceptions in remote locations. Wi-Fi is generally provided in all hotels, lodges, and restaurants you visit, at least in public areas. Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers unless it appears to be an emergency as this disrupts other guests – please plan cell phone calls on your own time.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
For this tour, your guides will drive travelers in either full-size or mini-vans or a combination of those two. We ask all attendees to please rotate your seating, so you ride with different drivers and alternate between front and back seats.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives permission to record photos and/or video of your participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochures, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please Pack Light!
Soft luggage is easier for us to pack in a vehicle than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one suitcase that does not exceed 50 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a daypack for field trips, so this is the ideal carry-on. We recommend checking your airline’s luggage size and weight restrictions about a week or so before your departure.
In general, the weather during your stay should be warm and dry. Average highs are in the mid-70 °F and average lows of 55-65 °F. Since weather can be unpredictable, you could still see some rain, but usually comes in short stints. Check your favorite weather website, like www.weather.com, closer to your departure to better predict what the weather will be on your adventure.
Dress is very informal. Lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing, as they are more protective from sun, insects, and vegetation. But if you like to wear them by all means bring some shorts. Choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty – and things that are comfortable and easy. Layering is your best strategy for comfort.
Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend khaki or muted colors (navy, greens, gray, black, dark burgundy, or similar) as they are spotted less easily than very vivid/saturated colors (brilliant white or blue, fiery red, neon pink or green, etc.). It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent; two options are Craghoppers Insect Shield and Exofficio’s Bugs Away collections. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.
Clothing & Gear
- Lightweight long pants, 2 pair
- Shorts (optional)
- Lightweight long-sleeved shirts (2-3)
- T-shirts or equivalent (4-5 – remember you may be buying some!)
- Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes or a skirt, sundress, etc.)
- Personal underclothing and pajamas
- Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Hat with broad brim
- Bandana (gel bandanas work well to keep you cool)
- Comfortable walking shoes (such as tennis shoes)
- Lightweight hiking boots
- Sandals for evenings, travel days (optional)
- Lightweight Jacket; fleece fabric is ideal, but a sweater or sweatshirt will do
- Lightweight raincoat or poncho
- Field vest (optional), a great source is Big Pockets, http://www.bigpockets.com/
Equipment & Miscellaneous
- PHOTO IDENTIFICATION
- Airline tickets or e-ticket verification
- Passport with copy kept elsewhere (for international travelers)
- Umbrella – compact and not brightly colored
- Small daypack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Small flashlight with fresh batteries
- Alarm clock
- Sunscreen/Chapstick with SPF
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect repellent
- Toilet articles
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
- Camera and extra batteries/battery chargers, film or digital chips, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
- Tablet or laptop for personal use and/or transferring photos, USB cord and charger (optional)
- Chargers for cameras and/or phones, and three prong adapters if needed
- Water bottle (or you can use one of ours and refill during the journey)
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Earplugs (if hotel noise or roommates snoring may bother you; these are optional)
- Cell phone
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical & First Aid Items
- Personal medications (and copy of vital prescriptions)
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, Antihistamine cream or tablets, Eye drops, etc.)
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van drives, etc.
- Copy of eyeglass prescription, medical prescriptions, Covid-19 vaccination record, and any medical alerts
- Insurance information
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-Aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
- Small bottle of antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer
Suggested Reading List +
Merlin App. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. You can download it here.
Photo Instruction & Resources
History & Culture
There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
The Everglades – Florida– Encyclopedic Overview
Miami– Encyclopedic Overview
Tamiami Trail– Encyclopedic Overview
Biscayne Bay – Encyclopedic Overview
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Great Florida Birding Trail
Florida Ornithological Society
Tropical Audubon Society
Eco-regions in Florida
The National Wildlife Federation - Everglades
National Park Service - Everglades
Florida Museum - Everglades
The Nature Conservancy - Everglades
Florida Audubon Society - Everglades
The Everglades Foundation
National Parks Conservation Association - Everglades
Tamiami Trail – Various articles – The Everglades Foundation
Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands - Article by Florida Rambler
Parks and Reserves:
Everglades National Park
Biscayne Bay National Park
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Peaceful Waters Sanctuary
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Geology & Geography
History & Culture
People of the Everglades
Helpful Travel Websites
Miami International Airport (MIA)
Homeland Security Real ID Act
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Date & Time – Florida
Photo credits: Banner: Roseate Spoonbills by Carlos Sanchez; Black Skimmers by Carlos Sanchez; Florida Scrub Jay by Carlos Sanchez; Bachman's Sparrow, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Prairie Warbler by Carlos Sanchez; Everglades National Park, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Swallow-tailed Kite, Carlos Sanchez; Reddish Egret, Carlos Sanchez; White-winged Parakeets by Carlos Sanchez; Purple Gallinule, Carlos Sanchez; Mangrove Cuckoo by Carlos Sanchez; American Crocodile by Carlos Sanchez; Anhinga by Greg Smith; Zebra Longwing by Carlos Sanchez; Black-and-white Warbler by Carlos Sanchez; Burrowing Owls by Carlos Sanchez; Painted Bunting, Carlos Sanchez; Florida Scrub-Jay by Carlos Sanchez; Wilson's Plover by Carlos Sanchez; Savannah Sparrow by Carlos Sanchez; Sandhill Crane by Carlos Sanchez; Blue-headed Vireo by Carlos Sanchez; Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake by Carlos Sanchez; Common Buckeye by Carlos Sanchez; Black-throated Green Warbler by Carlos Sanchez.