February - March

Spoonbills et al. at Ding Darling

Discover the natural side of South Florida, a land of pristine beaches, extensive wetlands, and turquoise waters, and still home to bald eagles, osprey, wood storks, and spoonbills. Natural Florida still resides, little known to most visitors, in a popular winter get-away, not far from bustling hotels and seaside development. This area remains a refuge for endangered species like the manatee and crocodile, as well as lesser-known plants and butterflies. Yet Natural South Florida, including the Everglades, is threatened on many fronts. This Nature Discoveries trip will help you discover and gain an appreciation for the natural wonders of this very special part of our country.

Spoonbills et al. at Ding Darling
Purple gallinule at Shark Valley

We begin on the Gulf Coast, where we’ll stroll along the scenic boardwalk at 6-Mile Cypress Slough. This area has protected a special wetland, and we should see some interesting birds, butterflies, and plants when we're there. Then it's on to Sanibel Island, with some of the finest shelling beaches in all of North America. Our comfortable accommodations on the Gulf offer opportunity for beachcombing as well as sunrise or sunset walks. Sanibel is a perfect introduction to some of Florida's amazing birds, from showy herons, egrets and other wading birds, to the thousands of shorebirds that winter along its beaches. At Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge we'll see many birds up close; perfect for photography or video. Later we'll be introduced to the unusual native plants of South Florida at the Sanibel - Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Spoonbills et al. at Ding Darling
White Ibis

As we gradually make our way south, we'll walk on boardwalk trails that give us access to the majestic cypress swamp forests of Fakahatchee Strand (the last remaining stronghold of the endangered Florida panther and endangered orchids) and National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp. Bald eagles, alligators, and a wondrous assortment of birds and butterflies are among the treasures that we should find. We continue through the Big Cypress, and witness the transition from increasingly dwarfed trees to the great grasslands of the Everglades. At Shark Valley we'll ride a tram, bringing us deep into this unusual landscape. In the heart of the Everglades, we'll walk on trails that highlight the diverse wonders of this great National Park. After two nights at Flamingo Lodge, deep in the "glades", we'll explore the unique environments of the Florida Keys.

From our base on Key Largo we'll head seaward towards Key West for a special day-long boat excursion into Florida Bay — its pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and mangrove channels. You can choose from a variety of activities — including snorkeling, sea kayaking, beachcombing, or fishing, to introduce you to the fascinating marine life of this special part of our country.


Sanibel Sunset

Our participants have told us that they leave this trip filled with a very special sense of the nature of South Florida. We're sure that you'll depart with a deeper appreciation, understanding, and caring for this unique and threatened environment.

Yellow-crowned night heron
Group in the Everglades

Your leader for this expedition is Douglas Bassett. Douglas has been a park naturalist at Letchworth State Park for nearly three decades, and has served as mentor to many. His expertise is wide-ranging, and he will guide you into many aspects of the natural world, from birds to butterflies and dragonflies, wildflowers and rare plants. He shares this knowledge in an engaging fashion, and with a characteristic dry sense of humor. This will be the 8th Nature Discoveries trip that Douglas has led to Natural South Florida. He has led many other trips for Nature Discoveries, to such destinations as Alaska, Yellowstone, Utah, and the Pacific Northwest.

With sufficient enrollment, we will welcome as additional leaders Bill O'Neill and Martha Zettel. This couple brings a vast scientific expertise, sensitivity to group needs, and easy-going nature. Bill is on the faculty of the University of Rochester, with years of research in bat, whale, and insect communication. Martha is a neuroanatomist, does educational programs on bats, and is a bird bander. Martha and Bill have a great interest in all aspects of nature, and assisted Douglas on the several previous Florida trips.

*Photos courtesy of  Bill O'Neill.

Comments from Past Participants
in Natural South Florida

"It is hard to imagine a more knowledgeable — and more congenial — team of leaders."

"I could not have had a better vacation — your options offered enough variety, and your willingness to change the itinerary to capture opportunities, made the trip really memorable."

"It was wonderful in every way!" [Highlights were] "Corkscrew Swamp..... barred owls.....anhinga trail.....kayaking.....Florida Bay!"

"Leaders and well-planned itinerary made the trip a huge success!"

"You never lost your focus — great for incredible learning. Thank you!"

"Every trip I take with Nature Discoveries seems like the best. Now this seems like the best — I loved it!"