RFI: Florida mammalx

Hi, I have a week long family vacation from UK to Port Charlotte area of the gulf coast of Florida at the end of May. It’s primarily a family break, then a birding trip but my son and I are well and truly starting to get the mammal watching bug and would love to be able to see something of interest in the limited time we have. We’ve visited Florida many times but never really made any great attempts to see mammals. We’ve seen manatees, raccoons, white-tailed deer, armadillo….and that’s about it. We’re novices, but keen!

so, I guess I’m after help in a few areas…

1. We will be based around Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda area. Any tips on local (up to an hour away) sites that could be interesting, especially places that we could easily spotlight?

2. We may be able to sneak away one evening for a more adventurous trip, maybe up to 2 hours away if there are any more interesting evening/nighttime locations.

3. We are flying into/out of Miami and so will have the opportunity to drive across the state a couple of times. We will be leaving the airport in Miami around 6pm to drive to Punta Gorda and will have the whole of the last day to make our way back to the airport , needing to be there about 4pm. Could we use this time usefully to spend a bit of time chasing down mammal sightings?

We are keen to see opossums, skunks, marsh rabbits…well just about anything really!

Sorry for so many questions, I hope someone can help. We’re going to have limited time and want to use it as best we can. I have read the trip reports in this site but not really managed to get my head around where we should be trying.

Thank you. Nick Holmes



  • Jon Hall

    Hi Nick. Good to know the mammal bug has bitten. You might consider a night’s spotlighting at Kissimmee Prarie State Reserve. Looks like it’s about 2 hours from Punts Gorda. I’ve been here three or four times always looking for the rather rare Eatern Spotted Skunks. Never succeeding. But they are there. Opossums are quite common and I’ve seen grey fox and a striped skunk, an Armadillo, lots of raccoons, deer etc. it’s excellent for snakes too. Cheers Jon

  • Mike Richardson

    Hi Nick. I’ve not much to add that I’ve haven’t already written in my report (in Florida section). I second Jon’s suggestion of Kissimmee Prairie State Park although note the gate to the actual park closes at sunset (or at least it did). The dirt roads outside the park should be good for herps and mammals after dark (and birds during the day). I saw both Eastern Spotted Skunk and Coyote here. Bobcats are also relatively common in the area.

    Opossum and Marsh Rabbit should be easy enough in Big Cypress National Preserve. A couple of night drives along the Loop Road should at least give you the Opossum (and a slim chance of a Florida Panther).

    A very early morning visit to Corkscrew Swamp is also recommended. Those first to walk the boardwalks often see Bobcat and River Otter. Black Bears and Panthers are also seen by a lucky few.

    Finally, you could perhaps try driving the W. j. Janes Scenic Drive at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park at dawn or dusk. I didn’t have much luck here but it’s supposedly a good place to see Panthers and Black Bears (I once saw a photo taken on the road showing a panther in the foreground and black bear crossing the track in the background!).

    Hope this helps


  • holmesneg

    Thanks Jon and Mike, we really appreciate the advice.

    I think we might be able to try both Kissimmee Prairie State Park and Big Cypress loop road. Is there any particular area that is good after dark near Kissimmee Prairie State Park?

    Also, I have checked on Google maps and most of the roads look unsealed to me, will I be okay in a regular 2WD, low clearance rental car? Or is the best technique to walk and spotlight rather than do it from the car? The only experience we have is in SA where getting out of the car is not advised!

    What is the optimum time for spotlighting? Around dusk or a lot later?

    Thanks again.


  • Mike Richardson

    All the roads should be fine in a 2WD. I would favour spotlighting from the car around Kissimmee Prairie as it’s mostly open farmland so you should spot eye shine easily. There’s no particular area to concentrate on, we just drove around the same roads (not straying too far from the park entrance) until we found the Eastern Spotted Skunk. The reptiles were most numerous in the hour after dusk, although for mammals I find the later the better. The actual park is worth a visit too, especially as you’re interested in birds.

    Spotlighting isn’t allowed on the Loop Road (at least according to a ranger who pulled me up on my first visit 10 years ago) although it is possible to do so discretely so long as no other vehicles are around. You’re probably best mostly using your car headlights, keeping a flashlight handy in case something like an Opossum dashes across the road. Every so often stop the car and spotlight the surrounding swamp, this is how I found the Marsh Rice Rat on my last visit. If nothing else you’ll see lots of Alligators. I guess any time after dusk is good for mammals on the Loop Road as it doesn’t see much traffic (even in the day, at least not when I’ve visited). I’ve seen several photos of Otters and Panthers crossing the road in daylight.

    Good luck and let us know how you got on.

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