Tidewater Tours

You are invited to experience the pristine waters surrounding Cedar Key and the Cedar Keys and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuges.  We offer Cedar Key Island  Tours, Suwannee River Tours, Coastal Estuary Tours, and Special Birding Tours, Also Airboat Tours .
   History, Environmental Education, Numerous Birds, and Bottle Nose Dolphin are a part of almost every trip.     

BIRDING IN CEDAR KEY

The remote and undeveloped islands and coastline of the Cedar Keys and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge offer truly rewarding, year-round birding opportunities.  The following pages present an overview of our birding opportunities on a seasonal basis.  Unfortunately, because of the remoteness and inaccessibility of our islands and coastline, most of our best viewing sites can only be accessed by boat.  The end of this section will also suggest places and strategy for birding by land.

SEPTEMBER - Migratory shorebirds begin arriving in large numbers.  For the most part, these early arrivals have spent their short nesting season in the Arctic Tundra.  Upon arrival, and for a short time afterward, these birds are in their more distinctive and more recognizable breeding plumage. 
On low tides these birds, along with many of our resident shorebirds (Willets, etc.), scatter about the mud flats and exposed beaches to feed.  As tides begin to rise, these birds begin to gather on higher shell bars and remote beaches.  The more the tide rises, the more the birds concentrate in fewer areas.  This practice sometimes results in astounding numbers of birds huddled in relatively small areas.  Our tour routes target these key areas.
Common Migratory shorebirds beginning in September: Sanderlings, Black-bellied plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, Western and Least Sandpipers, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrels, Yellow Legs, Red Knots, Snowy Plovers, Piping Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones and Black Necked Stilts during migration.
Resident shorebirds common in September: A large number of Oystercatchers nest here and are year round residents.  They are joined by large numbers of migratory Oystercatchers later in September.  Also, Wilsons plovers nest in these same areas. Numberous Willets are year round residents.

OCTOBER -  NOVEMBER - Magnificent Frigate birds and Roseate Spoonbills leave until Spring.
Shorebirds and other migratory birds continue to arrive through October and by mid-November the winter population is stable.  By November add the following birds:  Dunlin, Avocets, Long Billed Curlew, Piping Plovers, Snowy Plovers, Spotted Sandpipers, Forester Terns, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, and Caspian Terns and numerous Black Skimmers.  Also, White Pelicans, Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads, and Scaup Ducks are common sightings. 
Other birds of the Fall through Spring birding season include Bald Eagles, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcons, Merlin and Wood Storkes. October begins Bald Eagle nesting season.

MARCH - MAY - The Cedar Key bird population seems to remain relatively stable from November through February.  Beginning in late March, many migratory species begin to leave.  These include White Pelicans, Loons, Mergansers, Buffleheads, Grebes and Avocets. 
By late April most of our migratory birds have left, except those bound for the Arctic Tundra.  These include most of our Sanderlings, Turnstones, Sandpipers and Plovers.  These birds, again in breeding plumage, begin to leave in late May.
March also begins the nesting season at the Seahorse Key Rookery.  While estimates vary, it is accurate to say that thousands of White Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Yellow and Black Crowned Night Herons,  Tri-colored Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Cormorants and Brown Pelicans nest in the relative safety of this refuge island.  Although landing on this island is prohibited from March through June, rewarding viewing opportunities can be experienced by cruising the shoreline, just outside the posted boundaries. 
Hundreds of Magnificent Frigate birds begin arriving at Seahorse Key by late April and May.  These entertaining birds remain until late Fall.  By late Summer and Fall the mature male birds begin to "display".  This practice involves inflating its bright red throat pouch, usually while roosting in shoreline trees.

JUNE - AUGUST - Least Terns make their brief appearance during this short period.  Other common summer birds include Osprey, Herons, Egrets, Ibis, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Terns, Skimmers and Oystercatchers.
The birds mentioned in the preceding pages are those that I see on a fairly regular-to-very regular basis (often in very large numbers).  I occasionally see less common birds, i.e., Masked Booby, Northern Gannett, Sooty Tern,Stilt Sandpipers, and White Herons. etc.  This site also hopes to encourage responses from local birders and visitors regarding other unusual sightings.
Also note that some of these birds are seen on Coastal Marsh Tours while others are seen on Island Tours.  All birding tours are strongly affected by tides.  Therefore, it is strongly suggested that you contact us ahead of time so that we can arrange your tour for optimum bird viewing.

We enthusiastically strive to make your tour an experience rather than just a boat ride. Our Captains are  historians, naturalists and an avid birders. We operate Cedar Key's only Coast Guard Inspected Touring Vessels certified to carry more than six passengers.  Choose from several distinctly different tours which include virtually all of Cedar Key's natural and historic attractions. 

  Captains are graduates of the Florida Master Naturalist Program 
BIRDING FROM LAND
All of the birds mentioned in the preceding pages can be seen from land but usually with less frequency and at greater distances.  A spotting scope is extremely beneficial while birding from land.
During low tides, the marsh area often consists of oyster beds and exposed mud flats.  During this period, most of the birds are scattered over wide areas.  There are a number of areas along Highway 24 where one can park his/her car along the right of way.  Sometimes the birds are close enough to the roadway to view with binoculars.
As tides begin to rise, the birds begin to gather on top of the shell bars.  The higher the tide the more they concentrate.  Unfortunately, most of the best sites are too far from the roadway for good identification without the use of a scope.
Tides vary greatly.  Sometimes optimum viewing times begin about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before high tide.  If the tide for a given day is forecast to be especially high, good viewing can begin 2 to  2 1/2  hours before high tide.  The East side of Bridge #3 offers excellent viewing with a scope and proper timing. Note, often times the tide will eventually cover the gathering site. When this happens most of the birds along highway 24 go to the Corrigan's Reef area while the birds at Shell Mound go to McClamery Key and Derrick Key.
The same principle applies to the Shell Mound area.  If you arrive at very low tide, a few good birds may be visible.  If you can time your visit so that only a few inches of the shell bars are above the water line on a rising tide, you can be richly rewarded with hundreds of birds.  Again, most of these gathering sites are just out of easy binocular range.
Good shorebirds are often found around the Cedar Key Public Beach and our sand spit area. 

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