Birdwatching on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

Story highlights:
  • Snowy egrets, brown pelicans, pileated woodpeckers
  • 15 sites on Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail
  • Fort De Soto Park, Brooker Creek Preserve
Links within article correspond to map points.

Boca Ciega Millennium Park's mix of habitats makes for great birding.
 

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a collection of 489 sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent birdwatching or bird education opportunities. This 2,000-mile, self-guided highway trail is designed to conserve and enhance Florida's bird habitat by promoting birdwatching activities, conservation education and economic opportunity.

St. Pete/Clearwater is a favorite spot for birders. It offers 15 sites along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, with habitats including mangrove swamps, slash-pine forests, unspoiled beaches and an endlessly important estuary in Tampa Bay. In parks and preserves across the area, you’ll have the chance to see an amazing diversity species in unique and beautiful habitats.

Birds You’ll Spot in St. Pete/Clearwater

Among the many species you’ll see in the area, keep an eye out for these special birds during your visit to St. Pete/Clearwater.

Great Blue Heron: Known for its sometimes cranky demeanor, the great blue heron is a common sight along the waterways of St. Pete/Clearwater. These impressive birds can reach heights of 46 inches and have a wingspan of more than six feet.

Snowy Egret: This small white heron is often confused with other members of the same family. Just remember, the snowy egret has a black bill and yellow feet. Its cousin, the great egret, has a yellow bill and black feet.

Brown Pelican: Unlike its cousin the white pelican, brown pelicans feed on schooling fish by making spectacular dives from high altitudes. The brown pelican, once dwindling in numbers, has made a strong comeback thanks to strict conservation efforts.

Pileated Woodpecker: These birds love to roost or nest in the trunks of old pine trees. This bird is a common sight in woodland areas such as Brooker Creek Preserve.

Trail Sites in St. Pete/Clearwater

Brooker Creek Preserve, Tarpon Springs: The habitats here encompass a variety of fresh water, marshland and forest. Birding is typically done by foot along the preserve’s scenic trails. Guided tours are available on Saturdays, and specialty hikes, including ones focused on migratory birds, take place throughout the year.

John Chesnut Sr. Park, Oldsmar: This county park is located along the shores of Lake Tarpon with opportunities for birding by foot and boat along self-guided paddling and hiking trails. Regular residents include various waterfowl, hawks and vultures.

Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin: This barrier island is home to pristine Gulf beaches, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and a rare virgin slash pine forest. Whether exploring by paddle or foot, keep an eye out for osprey nests and a wide variety of shorebirds.

Caladesi Island State Park: Take the ferry from neighboring Honeymoon Island, and spend a day (or days) exploring the mangrove swamps, pines, hardwoods, mudflats and beaches. The flora and fauna are similar to what you’ll find at Honeymoon Island, but the remote feel of the island sets it apart.

Hammock Park, Dunedin: This habitat of scrub forest, hardwoods and salt marsh plays host to a remarkable variety of permanent and migratory birds. The self-guided walking tour is a great way to explore the beautiful grounds.

SR 60 Memorial Causeway Rest Stops: These surprising natural respites can be found in Tampa and Clearwater along the Courtney Campbell Causeway, from both eastbound and westbound directions. With their convenience to major roadways, these mudflats and mangrove swamps make excellent spots for beginners or for birding from your car.

Shell Key Preserve, St. Pete Beach: Shell Key, part of an 1,800-acre preserve protecting sensitive marine habitats, is one of the area’s largest undeveloped barrier islands. This is one of Florida’s most important areas for shorebird nesting and migration, and beginners and experts alike will be amazed by the variety of species here.

Sand Key Park, Clearwater: This beach park is a favorite for its beautiful beaches and convenient amenities. Shorebirds are common here, and the park amenities include viewing benches overlooking a vast salt marsh. You might spy heron, roseate spoonbill, great horned owl, anhinga and common moorhen.

John R. Bonner Nature Park, Largo: This hidden gem offers the chance to see a number of migratory shorebirds in a convenient, natural setting. Wander the grounds by foot and see what species you can find among the mangrove swamps, scrub and hardwood forests, bayfront shore, salt marsh and mudflats.

Boca Ciega Millennium Park, Seminole: Uncover shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds, birds of prey and a myriad of upland birds in this county park’s seven diverse habitats, including pine flatwoods, coastal oak hammock, mangrove swamp, salt marsh, bay head and wetlands. The 35-foot observation tower provides spectacular views of Boca Ciega Bay.

Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde: With pristine beaches, boat launches and trails for biking, hiking and paddling, this park has no shortage of ways to take in its amazing coastal habitats. More than 290 species of birds have been documented by ornithologists here.

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg: Featuring a variety of freshwater habitats such as swamps and lakes, as well as diverse woodlands, you can expect to see of a variety of species here. Explore by foot, boat or bicycle, but don’t forget to stop by the birds of prey aviary.

Clam Bayou Nature Preserve, Gulfport: Stop by in the morning to hike or paddle through the mangrove swamps, scrubland and the waters of Clam Bayou Estuary. Observation decks and docks provide excellent spots for taking in the estuary and surrounding habitats.

Sawgrass Lake Park, St. Petersburg: At 400 acres, this is one of the largest maple swamps on Florida’s Gulf coast. The mile-long boardwalk and half-mile nature trail provide ample opportunities to discover different species including herons, egrets, ibis and wood storks.

Weedon Island Preserve, St. Petersburg: This 3,700-acre preserve protects aquatic and upland ecosystems on the shores of Old Tampa Bay. Both the self-guided paddling trail and the interpretive boardwalk offer excellent ways to explore. The onsite Cultural and Natural History Center has exhibits to help acquaint you with the area, and also offers organized tours and hikes.

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