While Florida is well-known as bird watching mecca that includes native birds as well as migratory birds in the winter, it is also a great place to spot wildlife in the fall. Joining the wading birds, eagles, hawks, and more, South Florida is a great place to spot bears, panthers, alligators, crocodiles, manatees, and snakes – keeping a safe distance – of course.
There are plenty of sightings in the fall, so let’s get exploring in the best spots in South Florida for Autumn Nature Sightings.
- Lake Okeechobee, the second largest lake in the continental U.S. is a great place to start. Along the Lake’s Scenic Trail, from fall into winter, look for herons, and egrets, as well as waterfowl come south for the winter. In addition, seek out swallow tail kites heading to South America, plus burrowing owls, crested caracaras, and sandhill cranes. Plus, while at Lake Okeechobee, you’ll likely spot alligators, frogs, turtles, and snakes – just remember, observe with care.
- Biscayne National Park, though you’ll need to get wet for this one as most of the park is underwater, is also a great place to explore. Covered with mangroves, Biscayne National Park is home to shorebirds of all kinds including brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, snowy egrets, osprey, and black skimmers. The park hosts the world’s largest population of Schaus’ Swallowtail Butterflies. In the water, you’ll see sea turtles – hawksbill, green, and loggerhead along with endangered Florida manatees. Diving beneath the surface, look for beautiful corals, sea fans, and queen conch, Bahama starfish, spiny lobster, and Longspine see urchins, as well as rays and sharks. On top of that, you’ll find more than 500 species of fishes including but not limited to, angelfishes, barracudas, catfishes, eels, flying fishes, gobies, and sunfishes.
- Grassy Waters Preserve, features two sites, one to the south complete with nature center and boardwalk and one to the north with a lake, uplands, and wetlands. Head south and spot limpkins, red-shouldered hawks, ibises, great blue herons, great egrets, and even a bald eagle or two. In both areas, keep your eyes wide open for alligators, bobcats, foxes, and marsh rabbits, as well as frogs, snakes, and other native wildlife.
- John D. Macarthur Beach State Park, though known as one of the popular sea turtle nesting areas in summer, this barrier island park is a great place to explore in the fall while in search of nature sightings. Bird sightings in the fall include migrating warblers, as well as year-round residents including ospreys, anhingas, snowy egrets, cormorants, brown pelicans and shore birds like terns and gulls. Bordered by estuary and ocean, fiddler crabs, checkered puffers, and manatees call the park home. Plus, the Anastasia Limestone Rock Reef just offshore, is visible and accessible from shore and offers glimpses of parrotfish, damsel fish, and barracuda, year-round. The fall is also a great time so see the Monarch Butterfly migration in the park.
While this list merely scratches the surface of great places to explore in South Florida, remember nearly everywhere you go is a great place for a nature sighting. If you keep your eyes open in your own backyard, you may see hawks and falcons migrating south for the winter. Look for the sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, broad-singed hawks, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, and more, particularly following a cold spell to the north. Also in the fall, black bears tend to become active, looking for food prior to hibernation. While sighting a bear is exciting stuff, always take care and keep a safe distance! On the less exciting, but still fascinating side is a fall exploration of fungi – found in your yard, in parks, and on tree trunks. Keep your eyes wide and your camera ready, you never know what strange and interesting nature sightings you might come upon in the fabulous fall in South Florida.