Carla Rhodes: Conservation, Photography, and Birding in Kissimmee

Nature is wild, and so is Florida in this hilarious episode of Experience Kissimmee's hit show featuring Carla Rhodes.

Carla Rhodes and Jen Bonner birdwatch with a long-lens camera at Omni Resort.

Tag along with Carla Rhodes in the sixth episode of The Kissimmee Experience.

Conservation photography is a passion for Carla Rhodes, the sixth guest of The Kissimmee Experience. In Kissimmee, there’s no shortage of nature-focused activities for photographers like Carla to get up close and personal with Florida’s wildlife. At Twin Oaks Conservation Area she observed birds such as the Snail Kite in its natural habitat. The nature tour at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate led her to the elusive Roseate Spoonbill. And, of course, no trip to Central Florida is complete without an airboat ride through the headwaters of the Everglades. 

Explore More Episodes

Carla Rhodes

Carla Rhodes is a hoot, which makes sense since her wildlife and conversation photography so heavily focuses on birds. It didn’t all start with photography, though. At 9 years old, Carla was inspired to teach herself ventriloquism after seeing Shari Lewis on television. By the time she was a teenager, she was performing regularly at the local comedy club in Louisville, Kentucky. After a life on the road with her successful career as a comedian and ventriloquist, she discovered a love of telling stories through images and shedding light on misunderstood and overlooked species. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Smithsonian, National Wildlife, Audubon, and The Guardian.

One of my favorite things about visiting Kissimmee was learning to properly pronounce Kissimmee!  Once I had that sorted, I was ready to explore! 

— Carla Rhodes

Nature at Its Finest 

Twin Oaks Conservation Area  

For a photographer intent on capturing wildlife in its own true habitat, Osceola County has several locations for nature walks and ecological adventures, such as Twin Oaks Conservation Area in St. Cloud. There, Carla and show host Jen Bonner enjoyed spotting birds from the various wood piers jetting out into the water. Jen also took Carla on a walk through the natural landscape of the conservation area where Carla used her skills of observation to identify telltale signs of native Florida fauna.  

The 370 acre landscape allows guests to enjoy fishing, hiking, paddling, picnicking, camping, and other eco-friendly activities beneath ancient oak trees and surrounded by expansive views of the water. 

The Snail Kite 

Carla arrived in Kissimmee with the goal of spotting two particular bird species she’d never seen—the Roseate Spoonbill and the Snail Kite. As a bird of prey, the everglade snail kite feeds almost entirely on apple snails, which live in the wetlands of Central and South Florida. However, as water quality declines and snail habitats become unsuitable, the snail kite population has been affected as well. As a result, with an estimated 1,000 estimated remaining snail kites, it is listed by both the State of Florida and the federal government as an endangered species.  

Off the Twin Oaks pier, Carla identified a few snail kites by the conspicuous tuft of white feathers near their tails, getting the day off to a great start. 

As the largest lake in Osceola County, Florida, Lake Toho exceeded my expectations with its hidden treasures. I was thrilled to spot endangered Snail Kites, while the sight of prehistoric Wood Storks was a true delight, for I hold a special fondness for storks.

— Carla Rhodes

Airboats—Florida's Original Thrill Ride 

Their sightseeing journey sped up a bit on a classic Florida airboat ride with Spirit of the Swamp. The private 6 passenger boat allowed Carla and Jen to truly immerse themselves in the environment, with microphones on the headsets so they could chat throughout the whole ride. This was a particularly meaningful moment for Carla, reminiscing on her career and personal journey which has allowed her to pursue her passions. It was truly a beautiful experience, complete with a few gator sightings along the way!    

Eco Tour Adventure 

Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate 

One of the most interesting undiscovered experiences in Kissimmee is the eco tour at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, guided by Certified Florida Master Naturalist, Captain Eric Gilhart. The 800 acre property tour began by golf cart, pausing occasionally for Captain Eric to explain the environment and for Carla to snap photographs of the wildlife, including several species of birds and alligators of all sizes. The views of the resort from the golf course are nothing short of picturesque. 

To book, you’ll have to call ahead to reserve the eco tour since it books up fast. The tour is also great for families and kids—Captain Eric will answer all their questions about nature and wildlife. 

The Roseate Spoonbill 

The second species Carla sought to photograph was the Roseate Spoonbill, a uniquely pink and white bird with a long bill rounded at the end like a spoon. Spoonbills feed in shallow waters, making Central Florida the perfect habitat. It's not uncommon to spot a Spoonbill on the Omni property, so during the eco tour, Captain Eric had the golf course staff search around every pond and marsh. With barely ten minutes of filming to spare, the captain and Carla (and TKE’s brave cameraman Austin) hopped in kayaks to paddle out to the location of the Spoonbill spotting. Mission accomplished!  

Throughout my visit, my heart yearned for a glimpse of the majestic roseate spoonbill. As we prepared to conclude our filming, I was on the verge of letting go of this dream — until, in a breathtaking final moment, Captain Eric spotted a delicate, powder-pink spoonbill, reaffirming that Florida is indeed a magical place!

Carla Rhodes

Curate Your Own Eco Experience in Kissimmee 

Whether you’re looking to photograph wildlife in their natural element or use your binoculars to search for the more difficult-to-find species, Kissimmee offers plenty of options. Kayaking at The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek is a relaxing favorite. You can walk or bike along the trails at Celebration Bike Rental before grabbing a bite in Downtown Celebration. In addition, whether you’re visiting or local, sign up for the Kissimmee Birding Club to spot birds and win prizes! 

Explore More Episodes