Birding Hotspot: Orlando Wetlands Park
Take a break from the theme parks and visit a birding hotspot instead at Orlando Wetlands Park.
I’m always amazed at the number of places ideal for family birding in Central Florida. So many people travel to Orlando each year to visit theme parks, without realizing that a wealth of natural beauty is available so close by. Many of the wetlands parks near Orlando are actually wastewater treatment facilities, which draw birds in huge numbers. One such birding hotspot is Orlando Wetlands Park, man-made wetlands that clean water and offer easy birding for everyone.
Man-made wetlands clean reclaimed water by sending it slowly through a natural landscape of trees and plants. The plants remove nitrogen and phosphorous, making the water clean enough to rejoin local water systems. At Orlando Wetlands Park, the water takes 40 days to travel about 17 miles to the St. John’s River. The wetlands are entirely man-made on land that was cleared in the 1800s for the lumber and then turned into a dairy farm. The city of Orlando bought the land in the 1980s and began transforming it. They created a large lake and planted 2.3 million aquatic plants and 200,000 trees. The system handles about 35 million gallons of wastewater a day, in a peaceful natural setting that has become a local birding hotspot.
These shallow wetlands are ideal for wading birds like egrets and herons. In the winter, migratory ducks like coots, ring-necked ducks, and more gather in large numbers. During migration, white pelicans use the wetlands as a rest stop on their way north. Orlando Wetlands Park contains more than 20 miles of hiking trails, most of which are level and easily accessible for all. On Fridays and Saturdays, friendly volunteers lead an tram ride around part of the park. The electric tram is nearly silent and the volunteer drivers provide plenty of information about how the wetlands work and the birds and animals you’re seeing.
Admission to this birding hotspot is free (which you can’t say for much else in Orlando!). Fall through spring are the best times to visit, as Florida summers are hot, muggy, and full of mosquitoes. Get more information about Orlando Wetlands Park on their website: www.cityoforlando.net/wetlands/.