Animal Kingdom is my favorite park at Walt Disney World -- and not because of the roller coaster, Expedition Everest! I love to watch, learn about and photograph the wide variety of wildlife in the park.
I’m going to share with you one of my favorite trails in Discovery Island, one that is often overlooked.
You get to this trail by heading toward Africa. Just after the ice cream kiosk, but before you reach the Africa signpost, take a right down a secluded path.
» IMAGE GALLERY: Discovery Island Trails at Animal Kingdom
The first thing you’ll find are benches. (By the way, this a good spot to escape from the very congested area right around the Tusker House restaurant and the Kilimanjaro Safari.) But we're not stopping -- we're just getting started!
The first viewing location is on your left, where you will find the Saddle-billed Storks. Their striking colors make them easy to spot. Look for the long orange/red bill and long black neck. These are among the largest storks in the world, and in nature they reside in the tropical areas of Africa. Disney's Animal Kingdom has a pair of these storks -- a male and a female. Can you tell the difference? Look carefully at their eyes – the male has brown eyes, the female yellow.
Continuing along the path, the Painted Storks are next. Their natural habit is Southeast Asia. They tend to be more social and may live with other storks, ibises, or spoonbills. During breeding season, their colors become much more pronounced.
Directly across the way are the African Crested Porcupines. More often than not, you will find them at the back of their habitat sleeping (they are nocturnal), but occasionally you will be surprised and see them out and about. These are the largest rodents found in Africa. Primarily vegetarians, they dine on roots, tubers and fruit.
The trail changes at this point, and you encounter the area of the Scarlet Macaws. They are a striking mix of red and blue, with a small white patch on their faces. They live in the forests of Central America and central and northern South America. There are several types of macaws at Animal Kingdom in various areas of the park. You can also find Military, Green-winged, Hyacinth, and Blue and Yellow Macaws. Of all the macaws, the Scarlet Macaw has the longest tail feathers.
To the right of the Scarlet Macaws is the home of the Giant Galapagos Tortoise and a relative newcomer to the park, the Nene Goose. The tortoise is a vegetarian, and if you are fortunate, you’ll find it munching on carrots and lettuce. They move extremely slowly and can live for more than 100 years.
The Nene Goose is the state bird of Hawaii, and is one of the most endangered waterfowl species in the world. Standing at about two feet tall, max, the Nene Goose has a black face and cream-colored cheeks.
Wandering along this trail will eventually take you to the base of the Tree of Life, where you will see carvings you can’t see from other parts of the park.
The end of the trail is actually at the exit of It's Tough to be a Bug. Your last stopping point is the Kidcot station on the far left.
Once you emerge from this trail, Asia will be on your left.
Be sure to check out this Discovery Island trail on your next visit to Animal Kingdom for a chance to see some incredible animals in a relaxed, natural setting.
Deb Wills is the founder and webmaster of AllEars.Net (established January 1996), which also publishes the AllEars weekly e-newsletter. A veteran of numerous trips to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Deb is an internationally recognized expert on these vacation destinations, as well as on the Disney Cruise Line. Deb actively participates in events designed to raise funds and awareness in the fight against Breast Cancer, of which she herself is a 25-year survivor. In addition to sponsoring Team AllEars, which participates in runDisney events while generating funds for this cause, Deb has participated in 11 Avon Breast Cancer Walks (both as a walker and a crew member), and has raised more than $325,000 since 2001. Follow Deb on Twitter at @allearsdeb.