The author has travelled extensively and writes illustrated articles about his experiences, with advice on must-see sights.
Each year, and throughout the year, millions upon millions of men, women and children pack their bags, lock up their houses, and head off into the skies in jet airliners, enticed by the thought of sun and fun. And they are all heading for the same place on Earth, all converging on one state in the nation of America, the state which has been described as the vacation capital of the world. And the object of the collective desire which drives this mass migration?... A cartoon mouse.
Well of course it's not just Mickey Mouse. Today the State of Florida has much more than Disney World to offer to the tourist. Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Cypress Gardens and any number of other theme parks. There are also coastal resorts, great golf courses and the Cape Canaveral Space Centre.
But whatever your reasons for flying to Florida, and whatever celebrated human and man-made attractions you visit, most of us like a bit of tranquility and a bit of natural beauty, and these are facets of Florida which can add significantly to your enjoyment of time spent in the state. It is easy to forget that this sophisticated tourist haven, is also a subtropical haven for wildlife. This page is written to encourage anyone who visits the State of Florida to take time out from the creations of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Walt Disney, to see the more natural creations which are so easy to find, and which make this place such a rewarding vacation destination.
N.B: Please note, all my articles are best read on desktops and laptops.
All photographs on this page were taken by the author in the State of Florida. They were taken during the course of five short vacations in the state with amateur equipment. These were not wildlife photography themed vacations - they were trips in which a little time out was taken from normal tourist life to visit the places where wildlife lives.
The natural history of Florida - and particularly the natural history likely to be encountered by the casual visitor - owes a great deal to its geographical location as a peninsula state in the south-east of the country. Three aspects of this are key to the wildlife which is found here:
- First, the state is surrounded by water on almost all sides - the Gulf of Mexico to the west, the Straits of Florida to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
- Second, the land throughout is low lying - the highest point of land is only 345ft (105m) above sea level.
- Third, the state lies close to the Tropic of Cancer, and is prone to humid subtropical weather, rain-laden winds in the hurricane season, and torrential downpours during the spring and summer months.
The consequence of these factors is that this one time swampish Hell first encountered by the conquistadors in the 16th century, is a land in which water is a key wildlife habitat not only on the 1000 mile coastline, but also inland. Florida is a land of more than 7000 large lakes, more than 11,000 miles of waterways, and home to the great Everglades National Park.
This may seem like a rather simplistic overview, but for the tourist visiting Florida, these are the environments which are most likely to yield the most sightings of wildlife - the beaches, the islands of the Florida keys, the lakes and rivers and the wetlands. They are not, however, the only places. There are animals to be seen in recreational parks, on golf courses, in residential gardens, and even in the well known Florida theme parks. Where ever one goes in Florida, keep the eyes peeled and something exotic may be seen.
Driving Along The Roads
Whilst I would never suggest taking your eyes off the road, any journey between cities, towns and theme parks in Florida opens up all kinds of possibilities for the alert tourist. Birds on the ground, birds in the sky, the occasional mammal or tortoise risking life and limb as they dash across the road. There is much to see and enjoy. Most prominent will be large birds - the vultures soaring high in the sky, hawks and storks in the trees, and if you're lucky, sandhill cranes in the fields. And when driving, keep an eye open for likely wildlife habitats and stop if you can. Travel a few miles down the side roads. Walk along the riversides. Wander on the beaches.
There now follows a selection of photos of some of the creatures you are most likely to encounter if you spend time in Florida, visit the right places, and open your eyes.
The Insect World
Insects are of course among the most numerous of creatures likely to be seen on any visit to the nature parks of Florida. Many human beings feel the need to avoid insects. But whilst even I can see a case for avoiding mosquitoes, the majority of insects are inoffensive, and many of Florida's species are intriguing to watch, and some are beautiful - most notably of course the butterflies. If you have the equipment, they make great subjects for photography.
Among the most attractive butterflies are the large winged swallowtails and the narrow-winged heliconids such as the familiar black and yellow striped Zebra Longwing. My advice for any interested visitor is to get hold of a simple guide to the more common and colourful species of insect which can be found here. Identifying these will add interest to anyone's vacation.
Orb Weaver Spiders
Anyone travelling along the back roads of Florida will sooner or later come across the huge and impressive silk webs of the orb weaver spiders. These webs are sometimes so big they will actually stretch across a two lane road from trees on one side to trees on the other. Even from the car, the spider at the heart of these webs will often be clearly visible, because the spider - as befits the web - is also often pretty big. They are also very colourful, as can be seen in the two images here.
The spiders of course tend to stay put in their webs and will usually allow a close approach so photography is relatively easy, so long as you have the ability to take close-ups. Even if you don't, the orb weavers are well worth seeing, as they are some of Florida's most distinctive creatures.
Florida is a state with a warm and humid climate, and that makes it a paradise for frogs and salamanders. Many of these are colourful creatures worth seeking out at night when they are most active. The frog illustrated here was seen in the Jay B Starkey Wilderness Park close to New Port Richey on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
Reptiles of Florida
Not everybody's favourite animals, but reptiles - crocodiles, snakes and lizards, tortoises and turtles - are fascinating creatures to watch, and Florida has more than its fair share. Lizards such as the anole abound in gardens and parks, and are easy to see. If you are lucky (yes, I do mean lucky) you may see one of Florida's 50 species of snakes. Of course one has to air a note of caution to be wary of getting too close to a snake, as some - a tiny minority - are very poisonous, but snakes by nature will keep out of your way, given half a chance. Visit any of the state parks and wild areas and one is also likely to see one of Florida's numerous species of tortoise or terrapin. it's not unusual for box turtles and gopher tortoises to cross the path as you walk along a nature trail.
Florida must be one of the very few ultra sophisticated 21st century localities, where ordinary people in their own houses with their swimming pools and gardens, motor cars and shopping malls, live in close proximity to a genuinely very big and potentially dangerous animal, the American Alligator. There are over a million of these reptiles in Florida alone. Most live well away from towns and cities in wild areas, but smaller individuals may be found in community lakes and ponds (once they get too big, they may get removed by the authorities).
Alligators aren't much of a problem as long as humans are sensible, don't feed them, and don't go swinmming in alligator pools! There are one or two fatalities most years in the state, but alligators will normally steer clear of humans if they possibly can.
Birdlife in the State
As in most parts of the world, it is the bird life which is most apparent and most welcome to the majority of tourists in Florida. Most cannot be easily approached, but some birds in domestic surroundings and in the very public theme parks will come close as they become so used to the human presence around them.
Every visitor who spends more than a few days here can easily see dozens of species. Anybody with a keen eye, a pair of binoculars, a guide book and the desire to seek out a few natural places will see and identify a lot more. The bird book is something I almost always carry with me wherever I go on holiday, because birds are always clearly visible, and - even if one is not particularly interested in wildlife - bird spotting will add something extra to any vacation (and may give children something to do on a long drive).
Unsurprisingly in Florida, water birds are many in number, large and easy to see, and often quite tame and approachable because mankind - like the water birds - tend to frequent the seaside, the rivers and lakes, so a familiarity develops. Birds also know that where tourists and fishermen are, there may also be food coming their way. For anyone with a love of birds, a visit to water-plentiful Florida, will be a rewarding experience.
During my visits to Florida, more than half of all wildlife photos taken were of water birds, including pelicans, gulls and waders, herons and cormorants, and distributed throughout this article are a few selected photos of these. However, I have many more and that is the reason why this particular group of Floridian birds form the basis of a companion page to this piece. (See above).
Mammals, sadly are not the wildlife most likely to be encountered by the casual tourist though squirrels, rabbits and raccoons are commonly seen on the roadside. Off the coast of Florida you may well be fortunate enough to see wild dolphins. Unfortunately, the most likely way to see other wild mammals - as in many parts of the world today - is in the form of roadkill.
What to Take With You - A Checklist
This is a brief list of all you require to add nature to the unforgettable experiences of a Florida vacation.
- A map. You may not need one for getting to the theme parks, but If you are self-driving, a good map which shows the beach roads and the parks, will be invaluable to find the best nature sites.
- Nature books. A bird book would be essential. Interest is a hundred times greater if you can put a name to the birds you see. If you're really enthusiastic, then a book or a quick guide to the reptiles or the more common insects and invertebrates may be useful.
- Binoculars. You can't identify the birds if they are small dots in the distance.
- A camera and lenses. If photography is your thing, then clearly a good camera with telephoto lenses or zooms (for birds) and close-up focusing or macro lenses (for insects) is a must to preserve the memory and the images you see.
- Precautionary supplies. The 'wilds' of Florida are relatively tame, but any venturing off the beaten track inevitably may require some precautions - Insect repellant (even I don't want to see mosquitoes), first aid, basic supplies such as bottled water, and some common sense about where you go and where you tred.
Florida is a great place to visit for so many reasons. Many who travel here may see it as just a fun capital, as a children's paradise, as a place of leisure and recreation. It is, of course, also a state in the subtropics, and as such Florida offers much which has existed long before mankind ever set foot in these parts. The advice on this page is not for dedicated naturalists or photographers - it's for ordinary travellers who like nature. Taking a few days, or even a few hours, out of your vacation schedule to appreciate these natural sights will enrich your stay with memories of beauty, of colour and of intricate design.
Future articles in this short series will look at water birds, nature reserves on the Gulf Coast, and selected other photographs from my visits to Florida
Photographs on this page were taken in the following natural locations:
Brevard County - Merritt Island
Levy County - Cedar Key
Hernando County - Bayport
Pasco County - Green Key, Hudson Bay, Jay B Starkey Park
Pinellas County - Boyd Hill, Fred H Howard Park, Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island, Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Sarasota County - Myakka Park
Also SeaWorld (Orange Cty), Silver Springs (Marion Cty), Homosassa (Citrus Cty), Cypress Gardens (Polk Cty), Port Richey, and the Everglades National Park
The Companion Page to this Photographic Guide to Florida's Wildlife
In this page I look at one particular aspect of wildlife in Florida - the wildlife which will be most conspicuous, most appealing and easiest to photograph for the majority of visitors. Florida has more than its fair share of water birds, and in this page I feature the most common, and most readily identified. Visiting the lakes, the wetlands and the coasts to see these birds will undoubtably enrich any visit to the Sunshine State.
- Florida Wildlife Guide - Florida eco travel guide
- List of reptiles of Florida - Wikipedia
- Florida State Parks
- Ecology of Florida - Wikipedia
© 2012 Greensleeves Hubs
I Would Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on December 18, 2012:
Thanks velzipmur for your visit, and for your generous comments. Very much appreciated. Alun.
Shelly Wyatt from Maryland on December 18, 2012:
This is a very well put together article, informative and interesting. I enjoyed this well written hub and the photos were wonderful also.
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on November 18, 2012:
AudraLeigh; thanks so much for such a nice comment both on the writing and the photography. Of course my article is aimed at casual nature enthusiasts on vacation, and one of the nice things about Florida, and probably all other American states, is that there are plenty of localities where one can see wildlife, without necessarily having to forego 21st century conveniences. The nature parks I mention all have genuine wildlife living wild, but most have boardwalks and informative signposts, which makes them really easy for any tourist to visit - apart from having to actually get out of a car and walk, there's no hardships involved!
About the photography, I like to travel light so I tend to carry just two zoom lenses (35-70mm and 75-300mm) which cover most of the shots I want, though I also have a macro lens for insects and flowers, a wide angle lens for landscapes etc, and a 2X teleconverter for birds if I need them. At the time I took these photos I was using slide film and a Canon EOS 100 (called 'Elan' in the USA), so I've had to scan these pictures for digital use. Today I have a digital Canon EOS 40D, though I still have a fondness for my old camera and slide films!
Thanks for sharing the page AudraLeigh. Much appreciated. Best wishes. Alun.
AudraLeigh on November 17, 2012:
It is nice to meet you and was a pleasure to read your hub! I really love your photographs, especially all of the insect nes and the one with the racoons! What kind of camera and lens are you using?
The one thing I saw in your hub I have never seen before was...you wrote what locations in Florida were best to take pictures! I am voting this up and sharing!
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on October 03, 2012:
Many thanks for your visit and comment aviannovice. Appreciated. Alun.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on October 02, 2012:
This is another wonderful piece that i also enjoyed.
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on October 02, 2012:
My thanks to you lesliebyars for your generous comment. I guess many of these animals would also be familiar to those who live in Alabama too? Thanks. Alun.
lesliebyars on October 01, 2012:
Great hub my friend. Very informative.
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on August 27, 2012:
Thanks Derdriu. It's sometimes hard to believe in the tourist capital of the world how difficult it must have been for the early settlers. I'm sure trudging through mosquito infested swamps must have been absolute misery. (I sometimes do the same thing now, but only if I have liberal supplies of insect repellant and a nice shower and clean clothes and a comfortable bed to look forward to at the end of the day ! :-)
Derdriu on August 27, 2012:
Alun, The Seminoles say that their culture is so vibrant precisely because of the challenge posed by Florida's natural elements to European settlers in the beginning (and even nowadays)!
Up + UFABI.
Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on July 14, 2012:
It'll be interesting to see your hub when you write it; it might bring back some nice memories for me. I've got a few other hubs in the pipeline, so it'll be a few weeks probably I do the second Floridian page which will be a collection of photos of water birds. I have to scan them first though - these photos were taken in slide form before the days of digital! Cheers. Alun.
rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on July 14, 2012:
My pleasure! I plan on writing a nature related hub about Florida's Nature Coast, which includes many of the areas you have highlighted in this hub. It begins at the southern tip of Pasco County (which includes Port Richey and Starkey Park) and stretches north to Wakulla County. Much of this part of Florida is still undeveloped and is preserved. As you have shown, it is a nature haven. I haven't been near Orlando in years! I prefer this part of Florida. I look forward to reading more of your future hubs!
Greensleeves Hubs (author) from Essex, UK on July 14, 2012:
I thank you so much for your comments (and I envy you for where you live!) Thanks for the info about the black racer snake, and also for the mention of the sandhill cranes. I only saw a couple of these on one occasion when driving along a main road, but it remains a treasured memory.
I first went to Florida way back in the 1980s for a couple of weeks, but I was fortunate too, in that my parents later briefly had a home in Port Richey, which was why I visited four more times.
I know how in my country (the UK) wildlife programmes on television are always very popular, and yet I know that many who travel to Florida will spend all their time in Orlando, and not even think about the nature of the place they have come to. I'm quite sure many visitors to Florida would have a much richer experience if they just take a bit of time to look around away from the cities and theme parks; hence my desire to encourage visitors to do just that.
Thanks again. I appreciate your visit (and sharing). Alun.
rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on July 14, 2012:
I absolutely love this beautiful, well-written hub. The photographs are fantastic. I live here so I'm familiar with most of your photo locations.
The best part of Florida is the natural beauty of the water and the land.
The creatures are endless and every day I see something that makes me pause in wonder. We slow down to let a tortoise cross the road or pull over to watch a family of river otters cross the street scurrying to their water/grasslands home amongst the trees. A few minutes ago I looked out my office window and saw a black racer slithering along the fence. I ran to grab my phone to take a picture, but I was too late. The snake in your photo looks like the harmless black racer. If we leave them alone, they pose no threat. I've looked out my front window to find sandhill cranes on my front sidewalk near the door. It's a beautiful place to live even if we have to endure the torrential downpours and natural occurrences while living on a peninsula. Florida means 'land of flowers'. I'm happy to tweet and share this beautiful hub on FB. Thanks!