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Central Florida's Wildlife: An Abundance of Diversity
by Susanne Pacher

When you go to Florida, wildlife confronts you everywhere. Especially all the exotic birds fascinated me, often you come up close to subtropical bird species while playing golf or picnicking in a public park.

We saw this wood stork at the Royal St. Cloud Golf Links. Central Florida is actually a much more interesting destination for naturalists than I would ever have expected. Both Florida's plant life and wildlife are surprisingly diverse and Florida is the 3rd most ecologically diverse state after Hawaii and California.

It is a nearly flat lowland that gently slopes to the sea on the east and west coasts. This lowland has unique physical features that are associated with the diverse ecosystems that exist here. The predominantly low-lying topography was created by fluctuating sea levels over time. Coastal features include dunes, barrier islands, lagoons and tidal rivers, which were formed by tides, currents and winds.

This white egret was perched on top of the Big Toho Pier.

The interior of Central Florida is characterized by swamps, marshlands and inland lakes, a haven for birds. South of Orlando is the Lake Wales Ridge, a ridge of sand hills paralleled by flatlands and sandy rolling hills. This ridge used to be an island in earlier geological times when ocean levels were higher. As a result many of the species that exist here are unique to this area.

My husband took a picture of this bird just as its neck arched forward to catch a mosquito, unfortunately the picture of the catch didn't turn out.

The Florida Birding Trail (http://www.floridabirdingtrail.com) is a collection of sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent bird watching or bird education opportunities. This 2000-mile trail is designed to conserve and enhance Florida's bird habitat and promotes bird watching activities, environmental education and economic opportunity.

Florida truly is a birder's paradise, due to its unique geographical location between tropical and temperate regions. Florida is also a destination for many migratory birds from the north, some birds fly 3,000 miles to get here. In total Florida is home to more than 470 verified species of birds. A great article about the different species of birds found in Florida can be found at the Florida's Birders List, provided by Visit Florida.

We observed this colourful duck on our outing to the Hawk's Landing Golf Course.

Some of the unique birds to watch in Florida include the following:

American Avocet Limpkin American White Pelican Mottled Duck Anhinga Pine Warbler Bald Eagle Purple Gallinule Black-Bellied Whistling Duck Roseate Spoonbill Black-Necked Stilt Sandhill Crane Crested Caracara Snail Kite Eastern Bluebird Swallow-Tailed Kite Florida Scrub-Jay Wood Stork The only alligator we saw was a stuffed version at Boggy Creek Airboat Tours.

Naturally, one of the most well-known Florida animals is the American alligator. And although this time we didn't see any (except for a gator tail sticking out from under some shrubs on our Swamp Buggy Tour), alligators have made an incredible comeback after they were headed for extinction due to overhunting earlier in the 20th century. Alligators were taken off the federal endangered species list in 1987, and on particularly warm days they can be seen sunning themselves on the edges of ponds and waterways. Timacuan Golf Course was where we saw these sandhill cranes, they are extremely tame and definitely not afraid of human beings.

Different species of fish also exist in Central Florida, a fact that makes it a popular destination with anglers. The species include large-mouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, sunshine bass, speckled perch, catfish and a variety of other sweetwater fish.

These beautifully coloured fox squirrels were playing catch with each other at the Timacuan Golf Course.

The wildlife of Florida is rich and varied, yet most of us are familiar with only a dozen or so species. Florida's amphibians include amphiumas, mudpuppies, newts, salamanders, sirens, frogs and toads. Kissimmee was also where we saw this lizard.

Many interesting mammals can also be found in Florida, including armadillos, bears, beavers, bobcats, deer, feral pigs, foxes, manatees, minks, moles, opossums, otters, panthers, pocket gophers, rabbits, raccoons, seals, shrews, skunks, squirrels, and weasels.

Of course reptiles don't only include the American Alligator, but also anoles, geckos, lizards, skinks and turtles. Hobby naturalists will really enjoy their getaway to Central Florida.

A wonderful summary of Florida's wildlife can be found in a Wildlife Calendar at Visit Florida.

About the Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of http://www.travelandtransitions.com. It deals with travel to foreign countries and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers, insights, cross-cultural issues, and many other features. Participate in our travel story contest http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm and win great prizes, a fabulous cruise to the Amazon. Life is a Journey - Explore New Horizons.