Visiting Florida in January -- suggestions? Advice? Places to visit?

So, in mid January, Elizabeth and I are going to go to Florida! I mostly want to go see the Manatees, but I'd sure like to see some of the other neat stuff in Florida... I know that January may not be the most opportune time to see some of the flowering plants, but perhaps some of the tropical climate will still allow for a few plants to bloom. :) I checked out the species list for Florida in January:

So, anyone have any advice of where we MUST go?!? Again, I'm hoping to see the manatees, and I've been told that Three Sisters Spring is a good place to see them on the west coast of FL:

Anyone else have suggestions?
@gcwarbler @alisonnorthup @susanhewitt @jaykeller @joemdo @tpalmer @marykeim @gaudettelaura @lorax32 @ryancooke @j_appleget @javierahr @vijaybarve

Posted on 23 August, 2018 17:47 by sambiology sambiology


Keep yourself up to date on the effects of the Red Tide infestation they are having on the FL Gulf Coast. It is an extreme event right now, even killing some manatees! The bloom should certainly be over by January, but it may result in some short- to mediium-term changes in aquatic biodiversity in that region.

Posted by gcwarbler almost 6 years ago

Sam, I knocked around from Destin over towards Marianna down towards Tallahassee and back up the coast to Destin back in late June. It depends on where your roaming will be. I visited Florida Caverns State Park (cause you know I can't pass up a cave) it was a great little park good little cave with a guided tour. Plus I circled back on one of the trails and found a few salamanders at the cave exit (I also have that salamander problem).

From there I dropped down to Wakulla Springs State Park just south of Tallahassee. This is a great park with a massive spring coming to the surface creating a decent lake and it's own river of about 9 miles to the St. Marks river that empties into the Gulf about 5 miles from the convergence. For the film nerds it was also where many of the Johnny Weissmuller "Tarzan" movies as well as the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was shot, for the underwater clarity. I did see a couple of Manatee's on the boat tour that's run year round, but the Park Rangers giving the tour mentioned that they come back in droves during the winter months for the warmer water temps of the spring.

Here's my list of what I saw during that trip. But to your earlier point, my trip was early Summer you'll be there in Winter.

Posted by oddfitz almost 6 years ago

I neglected to mention Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park between Destin and Fort Walton Beach airport. I stopped there briefly as I had a late flight back. What was funny I had taken a pic of a Southern Cricket Frog in a boggy area in bright sunshine. I didn't realize until I was getting a better angle on the frog that it was in the middle of a bunch of Spoonleaf Sundew's.
It seemed like a great park, just couldn't explore more from a time standpoint.

Posted by oddfitz almost 6 years ago

Sam, that depends largely on where in Florida you will be going. The number of habitats in Florida took me by surprise considering its size and consistent elevation relative to Texas. I see manatees in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties ALL THE TIME, but I imagine the recommended areas will also have them. My experience has been that they're not hard to find. I really only know about extreme South Florida, so if you're headed that way, let me know. I may have a few simple pointers for some other counties too, but not much.

Posted by bennypoo almost 6 years ago

If you want to try for an American flamingo, they seem to be pretty consistent via a ~1 hour paddle from Flamingo (Everglades National Park, about an hour and a half drive from the Miami area). Both times that I went out there were two flamingos. They've been reported year-round although because of the difficulty in getting here, it's hard to say for sure. The place is called Snake Bight. There will also be tons of shorebird species and on my first trip I also saw a couple sawfish (not sure what time of year they'd be around, I saw them in June). My last trip out a friend and I also ventured into the mud and found all kinds of interesting life... here are our observations from August 11th:

You can also expect lemon sharks and maybe other species of shark depending on the tide. There are always a couple manatees or more at the marina where you launch the canoe (they have rentals there). If you'd consider it, let me know so I can give you more info... it's quite the trek to get out there and sometimes the tide can leave you stranded until it comes back in (which is why we were walking around in the mud looking for life!) so getting the timing right can make a big difference but you'd usually need to spend almost the whole day out there to really "get your money's worth" in terms of seeing as much as you can!

Posted by joemdo almost 6 years ago

This is big state, so my first advice is to pick a section of the state to explore so you don't spend half of your vacation behind the wheel. Manatees are a gimme in winter. If you're looking for birds, check eBird and if you're in the Miami area, check out Tropical Audubon's bird board.

Posted by tpalmer almost 6 years ago

Big Pine Key Blue Hole area to see the Key Deer. You won't see it anywhere else in the world and its endangered. You can also find White-crowned Pigeon in the same area. Florida is the only state in the US where this species can be seen in the wild, I believe. Also, if you're really lucky, you might come across Smooth-billed Ani.

Posted by lovebirder almost 6 years ago

As you're coming through the FL Panhandle, a nice spot is Torreya State Park. It's got some of the most diverse forests in the state, including tree species like the critically endangered Florida torreya. Nice hikes with bluffs along the Apalachicola River. Birding can be good in the winter.

Posted by eickwort almost 6 years ago

If you find yourself in Southwestern Florida near Fort Myers, I would strongly recommend a quick visit to Sanibel, especially if you can hit a low tide. You won't believe the numbers and variety of shells and other sea life, not to mention the birds, fish, insects, and so on. As well as hitting one or more beaches, I would recommend taking the electric bus guided tour of Ding Darling Nature Preserve, but wear lots of bug repellent. :)

I can give you lots of info on Sanibel if you end up thinking about it. Also check out the iNat Wild Sanibel Island project:

It would be expensive to stay on Sanibel in January, which is high season, and it does cost $6 to take the causeway over. But you could stay one or two nights in the Fort Myers Beach area, and just drive over to spend all day on Sanibel (to save on restaurant $ take your own sandwiches and water). If you do stay in the Fort Myers Beach area, take the time to check out the nature preserve at Bowditch Point Park

Posted by susanhewitt almost 6 years ago

This is GREAT advice, all -- thank you so much! It'll all be new for me, so I'm excited.

It's funny, I haven't really even selected which section of the state we'll explore! I agree with many of you that I should just select a section of the state and explore around there... It's also good to hear that manatees are abundant in various parts of the state.

I assume that the further south in the state, the more tropical (especially in January), so I'd expect to see some more flowering plants and bugs. So, we may just stick around the southern part of the state -- around this bounding box on iNat:

It'd be cool to see some birds, of course, but I'm really more of a 'plant and bug' guy. I'll have the camera ready for whatever shows up though!

@gcwarbler and @susanhewitt have boasted on the magnificence of the shell diversity at Sanibel island, so we may have to stop there too.

This is really helpful guidance, all -- thank you so much for spending the time to respond! :)

Posted by sambiology almost 6 years ago

I will just mention that pretty much anywhere on the coast of Florida, even in January, the "no-see-ums" will be out for a couple of hours around dusk and dawn, unless the weather is quite cool or a bit cold (which it can sometimes be in the winter, even in the south!) or rather windy. The no-see-ums are really minute biting insects, and they tend to hurt even if you don't have an itchy long-lasting reaction to them, so I would be sure to have a good bug repellant with you. I use a geranium-based product called "Bug-Out" that you can buy in a health food store. It lasts about 2 hours, then you have to re-apply, but it smells nice and is all-natural.

Posted by susanhewitt almost 6 years ago

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Black Point Wildlife Drive are amazing! They are near Titusville on the east coast of Central Florida. You can also see lots of manatees easily in that area on Haulover Canal.

Posted by raulagrait almost 6 years ago

Key West is my favorite! I went to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and snorkeled on the beach. If you have a superb underwater camera, the water really is clear enough to distinguish all sorts of species. This park is also swarming with iguanas in the overgrowth areas- really the Keys in general have lots of invasive species, so it's interesting to see. And of course, it's Margaritaville, so Key lime pie and margaritas are a must!!

Posted by madisong almost 6 years ago

@madisong I don't think a "superb" underwater camera is required at all! I've taken lots of pictures with a camera that I bought for $130 on ebay (Ricoh WG-30) and I wouldn't use the word "superb" to describe the little camera at all. However the pics are always better than decent and usually IDable to species! If anyone is interested in snorkeling without having to use a boat to go out to a reef, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is also an amazing place to see some incredible reef life only a short swim from the beach. Here are some of my pics from the first reef line (taken with my point-and-shoot camera):

Posted by joemdo almost 6 years ago

Thanks everyone for all of the great suggestions! I'm getting more and more excited about it, and I think I've got a bit of a 'game plan' of where we'll go...

We'll fly into Miami on day 1, and stay there (hitting some of the quilt and fabric stores for my wife, and I'll be looking at the plants and bugs in the ditches). Day 2 we'll drive down to the Florida Keys and stay in Marathon. Day 3 we'll drive back towards Miami but stay in Homestead. Day 4 we'll go on a bit of a drive to Naples, stay there. Day 5, we'll explore and document EVERY SINGLE sea shell at Sanibel and stay at Fort Myers. Day 6, we'll drive a bit more inland towards Lake Okeechobee and stay at Clewiston. Day 7 and 8, we'll hit all of the fabric stores that we missed around Fort Lauderdale and Miami while I see most of the ditches and weedy plants. :) Oh, and all of this is tentative -- hopefully the weather will cooperate with my itinerary!

The bounding box of iNat observation in January looks pretty good:

And the January species seem to be fairly bird-heavy (prime time for birders, I suppose!):

It's good though -- I'm excited to see what's there!

Again, many thanks for all of the great suggestions!

Posted by sambiology almost 6 years ago

Ah good -- you are talented and hardworking, Sam, so I am sure you will have no trouble at all documenting every shell (and all the other marine life washed up) on Sanibel in a day. ;) I look forward to seeing those posts.

Also, in the Naples area, there is good shelling at Marco, and I understand that Tigertail Beach is really superb for shelling if you don't mind wading waist deep across the lagoon.

Please check the tide curve when planning a day that might include shelling -- low tide is always best, like maybe an hour before and an hour after the time of low tide.

Also, if you are going to be walking on beaches that have a lot of shells (like Sanibel) please consider buying in advance some inexpensive beach shoes/water shoes to protect your feet from sharp shell fragments. Some people use flip flops, but I think more protection that that is advisable.

Posted by susanhewitt almost 6 years ago

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