LodgingPacking & PreparationTransportationTravel DestinationsTravel Packages & Tours

Florida Vacation: A Photographic Guide to Wildlife in the Tourist Paradise

Updated on July 18, 2016
Greensleeves Hubs profile image

The author has travelled extensively in the world, and writes illustrated articles about his experiences, with advice on must-see sights

Source

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.

Introduction

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

Merritt Island on the Atlantic coast. This saltwater, marsh and scrub wildlife refuge lies just 5 miles across the bay from Cape Canaveral, home of the space centre
Merritt Island on the Atlantic coast. This saltwater, marsh and scrub wildlife refuge lies just 5 miles across the bay from Cape Canaveral, home of the space centre | Source
Palm fronds on Caladesi Island. Green vegetation attracts wildlife. And green vegetation in the hot subtropics attracts the most wildlife of all
Palm fronds on Caladesi Island. Green vegetation attracts wildlife. And green vegetation in the hot subtropics attracts the most wildlife of all | Source

These Photos

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cedar Key in Levy County. Beaches -  both those left wild as well as those cleared for human recreation - are great places to see Floridian wildlife The Cypress Swamp - one of the great natural habitats of Florida. This primeval habitat now forms part of the Silver Springs Theme ParkA dry woodland path on Honemoon Island, a place of tranquility on the Gulf Coast less than 20 miles from the two cities of Tampa and St PetersburgThe wetlands of the Everglades National Park form the largest expanse of wilderness in Florida, a national treasure, and a true wildlife haven An old tree battered by the water affords a link between the land and the sea. Such places as Cedar Key offer beauty as well as natural history
Cedar Key in Levy County. Beaches -  both those left wild as well as those cleared for human recreation - are great places to see Floridian wildlife
Cedar Key in Levy County. Beaches - both those left wild as well as those cleared for human recreation - are great places to see Floridian wildlife | Source
The Cypress Swamp - one of the great natural habitats of Florida. This primeval habitat now forms part of the Silver Springs Theme Park
The Cypress Swamp - one of the great natural habitats of Florida. This primeval habitat now forms part of the Silver Springs Theme Park | Source
A dry woodland path on Honemoon Island, a place of tranquility on the Gulf Coast less than 20 miles from the two cities of Tampa and St Petersburg
A dry woodland path on Honemoon Island, a place of tranquility on the Gulf Coast less than 20 miles from the two cities of Tampa and St Petersburg | Source
The wetlands of the Everglades National Park form the largest expanse of wilderness in Florida, a national treasure, and a true wildlife haven
The wetlands of the Everglades National Park form the largest expanse of wilderness in Florida, a national treasure, and a true wildlife haven | Source
An old tree battered by the water affords a link between the land and the sea. Such places as Cedar Key offer beauty as well as natural history
An old tree battered by the water affords a link between the land and the sea. Such places as Cedar Key offer beauty as well as natural history | Source

Florida Environments

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.

Palm trees form a backdrop to the grasslands near Bayport, Hernando County
Palm trees form a backdrop to the grasslands near Bayport, Hernando County | Source
A long causeway leads out to Fred H Howard Park and its pleasure beaches. Along the sides of this causeway, one can stop the car and walk and watch the many varieties of shore bird at close quarter
A long causeway leads out to Fred H Howard Park and its pleasure beaches. Along the sides of this causeway, one can stop the car and walk and watch the many varieties of shore bird at close quarter | Source

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.

Anisomorpha buprestoides, the two-striped stick insect (walking stick). I keep stick insects as a hobby, so it was a delight to find this species in Port Richey.
Anisomorpha buprestoides, the two-striped stick insect (walking stick). I keep stick insects as a hobby, so it was a delight to find this species in Port Richey. | Source
Syntomeida epilais, the Oleander Moth caterpillar, which - as the name suggests - feeds on leaves of Oleander plants. This was seen in a residential garden
Syntomeida epilais, the Oleander Moth caterpillar, which - as the name suggests - feeds on leaves of Oleander plants. This was seen in a residential garden | Source

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.

Southeastern Lubber Grasshoppers - beautiful residents of Florida
Southeastern Lubber Grasshoppers - beautiful residents of Florida | Source
A Golden Silk Orb-Weaver clings to its web with the remains of some of its victims. These large and attractive spiders are among the most prominent of the invertebrates to be found in Florida
A Golden Silk Orb-Weaver clings to its web with the remains of some of its victims. These large and attractive spiders are among the most prominent of the invertebrates to be found in Florida | Source

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.

Argiope aurantia - The Black and Yellow Argiope - a beautiful Floridian spider
Argiope aurantia - The Black and Yellow Argiope - a beautiful Floridian spider | Source
A small tree frog poses for me
A small tree frog poses for me | Source

Floridian Amphibians

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.

A gopher tortoise, photographed in Boyd Hill Nature Park
A gopher tortoise, photographed in Boyd Hill Nature Park | Source
An Anole lizard in a garden in Port Richey. Anoles are quite easy to find, but not quite so easy to photograph
An Anole lizard in a garden in Port Richey. Anoles are quite easy to find, but not quite so easy to photograph | Source

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.

A Floridian diamond back terrapin. This is one of just two photos on this page which was not taken under natural conditions - the photo was taken at the Florida Aquarium
A Floridian diamond back terrapin. This is one of just two photos on this page which was not taken under natural conditions - the photo was taken at the Florida Aquarium | Source
Snake in the grass. Not all Florida's wildlife lives in the wild - this was photographed in a residential garden. As far as I am aware, this was a harmless species?
Snake in the grass. Not all Florida's wildlife lives in the wild - this was photographed in a residential garden. As far as I am aware, this was a harmless species? | Source

Alligators

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.

The American Alligator - perhaps the best known of all Floridian residents
The American Alligator - perhaps the best known of all Floridian residents | Source
A bathing bird makes a splash in a puddle in one of the Orlando theme parks. Water attracts land birds in need of a clean up and a cool down
A bathing bird makes a splash in a puddle in one of the Orlando theme parks. Water attracts land birds in need of a clean up and a cool down | Source
A cormorant spreads its wings and goes for a paddle on the shoreline at Howard Park. These are among the most visible of all the water birds
A cormorant spreads its wings and goes for a paddle on the shoreline at Howard Park. These are among the most visible of all the water birds | Source

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).

A limpkin - a large wading bird - fishes for snails at Cypress Gardens
A limpkin - a large wading bird - fishes for snails at Cypress Gardens | Source
The brown pelican - one of the easiest of Floridian birds to photograph
The brown pelican - one of the easiest of Floridian birds to photograph | Source

Water Birds

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).

A marsh rabbit feeding on a coastal patch of grass near Port Richey
A marsh rabbit feeding on a coastal patch of grass near Port Richey | Source
The raccoon - perhaps the largest mammal the casual visitor is likely to see
The raccoon - perhaps the largest mammal the casual visitor is likely to see | Source

The Mammals

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.

Two raccoons venture out of the scrub on Honeymoon Island. To some Americans these are considered pests - to a foreign tourist, they are delightfully exotic
Two raccoons venture out of the scrub on Honeymoon Island. To some Americans these are considered pests - to a foreign tourist, they are delightfully exotic | Source
I couldn't resist this signpost by a lakeside in Boyd Hill. With the 'Do not Feed or Molest' warning in place, is the 'No Swimming' warning really necessary?
I couldn't resist this signpost by a lakeside in Boyd Hill. With the 'Do not Feed or Molest' warning in place, is the 'No Swimming' warning really necessary? | Source

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Binoculars. You can't identify the birds if they are small dots in the distance.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Reflections of Floridian wildlife
Reflections of Floridian wildlife | Source
Even in Orlando's renouned theme parks, there is wildlife to be seen. This egret was making use of the water attractions in SeaWorld
Even in Orlando's renouned theme parks, there is wildlife to be seen. This egret was making use of the water attractions in SeaWorld | Source

Conclusions

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

The laughing gull - one of the most common species of gull - at Howard Park
The laughing gull - one of the most common species of gull - at Howard Park | Source
Anole lizard
Anole lizard | Source

Photograph Locations

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

An egret at sunset stands quietly in the water, oblivious to the comings and goings of the tourists. The end of another day for the wildlife of Florida
An egret at sunset stands quietly in the water, oblivious to the comings and goings of the tourists. The end of another day for the wildlife of Florida | Source

All My Other Pages ...

I have written articles on many subjects including science and history, politics and philosophy, film reviews and travel guides, as well as poems and stories. All can be accessed by clicking on my name at the top of this page

I Would Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thanks velzipmur for your visit, and for your generous comments. Very much appreciated. Alun.

    • velzipmur profile image

      Shelly Wyatt 4 years ago from Maryland

      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 profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      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.

    • profile image

      AudraLeigh 4 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      Many thanks for your visit and comment aviannovice. Appreciated. Alun.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is another wonderful piece that i also enjoyed.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      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 profile image

      Buster Johnson 4 years ago from Alabama

      Great hub my friend. Very informative.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      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 ! :-)

    • profile image

      Derdriu 4 years ago

      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 profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      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 profile image

      rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay

      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 profile image
      Author

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      rebekahELLE;

      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 profile image

      rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay

      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!

    Click to Rate This Article