Leading through a little-birded area of cattle ranches and sod farms, Canoe Creek Road passes cypress swamps and big lakes. It is one of my favorite places in Florida outside of the Everglades, because the open country, open sky, and open water make it easy to spot many of the larger specialty birds of the Southeast.
Lots of barbed wire, fence posts, old snags, the occasional road kill, and several public boat ramps where fishermen clean their catch create a perfect storm of conditions for raptors seeking prey and carrion.
Nearby Lake Kissimmee has the largest concentration of nesting Bald Eagles this side of Alaska. It’s one of a chain of lakes that are home to the expected egrets, herons, and Osprey but also to less common, more eagerly sought species, such as Anhinga, Limpkin, and Wood Stork. The stars of the lake show are the Snail Kites, fairly recent nomadic pioneers to the shallow waters of central Florida, and Sandhill and Whooping Cranes. Both feed along the lakeshores and in cattle pastures.
Red-shouldered Hawk is the default buteo, and Barred Owls are often seen in broad daylight. — Jim Burns
Pine woodland, wet prairie, cypress swamp, and freshwater lakes.
Flat, easy to bird by car. Some trails along lakeshores.
Year-round: Mottled Duck, Wild Turkey, Anhinga, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Snail Kite, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Crested Caracara, Limpkin, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, Barred Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-cockaded and Pileated Woodpeckers, Loggerhead Shrike, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren. Spring, summer: Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Nighthawk, Bachman’s Sparrow. Winter: Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler.
When to go
Good all year, but temperatures and humidity are lower in winter.
Lake Cypress Boat Ramp has food, water, restrooms, and airboat rides. Restrooms also at Joe Overstreet Boat Ramp, Three Lakes WMA, and Lake Marian Boat Ramp.
County road. It provides access to three public boat ramps and three dirt roads into lakes and woodlands. No fees except at Three Lakes WMA ($3 per day).
Take sunscreen, bug repellent, and water in the car with you. If you park along the dirt feeder roads, leave room for passing boat haulers and the occasional ranch traffic. Watch for Palm Warbler, the only abundant small passerine in winter, in the tall grass along fences.
Lake Cypress Rd. to Lake Cypress Boat Ramp 11.5 miles south of St. Cloud on Canoe Creek Rd. Watch for Crested Caracara on fenceposts, Osprey near boat ramp.
Joe Overstreet Boat Ramp
19.5 miles south of St. Cloud. The best place for Snail Kite and Whooping Crane.
Lake Marian Boat Ramp and Fish Camp 34.5 miles south of St. Cloud on Lakeside Blvd. May be the most productive stop along Canoe Creek Rd. Anhinga, Wood Stork, Tricolored Heron, Snail Kite, and Barred Owl are likely.
Jim Burns is an outdoor writer and photographer and the author of four books illustrated with his photos: A Beginner’s Field Guide to Phoenix Birds (Maricopa Audubon Society, 2004), North American Owls: Journey Through a Shadowed World (Willow Creek Press, 2004), Jim Burns’ Arizona Birds (University of Arizona Press, 2008), and Owls Rock (e-book, 2012). In the October 2016 issue of BirdWatching, he described a close encounter with an Elegant Trogon, and in our April 2017 issue, he wrote about toucans and barbets in Costa Rica.
Jim Burns on social media
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