How would you like to journey down an enchanting trail in pursuit of 40 of the most rare bird species in Florida? You can take your pick of some 2,000 miles of trail at 515 birding and wildlife viewing sites throughout Florida.
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail was created in 2011 and is a program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, though parts of the Trail were built as early as the year 2000. The Trail was also designed to conserve and enhance Florida’s wildlife habitats. It is supported in part by both the Florida Department of Transportation and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
The Trail is divided into four sections: the East, West, Panhandle and South Florida trails. There are nine “gateways” to the Trail with staffed visitor centers that serve as hubs for trail information.
The Bald Eagle, the Breasted Caracara, the Florida Burrowing Owl, the Gray Kingbird and the Hairy Woodpecker are a few of the birds illustrated and described at each of the trail sites.
The West Florida Birding Trail Guide, which can be downloaded at www.floridabirdingtrail.com, is the appropriate guidebook for residents in the south Hillsborough County area. Other guidebooks are found online for the other trails in Florida. Guidebooks contain site descriptions, directions and maps
In the West Florida guide, sites 111 and 112 are located south of Sun City Center and east of U.S. 301. You can find both trails on the map in the guidebook on pages 26 and 27.
Site 111 is the Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center. The trail is on a sandhill and flat woods area fronting the Little Manatee River, and the Center offers educational programs if notified in advance. According to the guidebook, its bird garden and blind are good places to see woodland birds, but you can also see a rarer species: the wintering Lesser Scaup.
Site 112 is found on page 27 in the West Florida guide. Little Manatee River State Park has a 6.5-mile hiking trail, with the short loop of three miles. The best birding is found on the trail itself, according to the guide.
In Ruskin is E.G. Simmons Park, which is site 109 and found on page 26 in the West Florida guide. It is a coastal site with mangrove-sheltered mudflats, and is also a beachfront showcasing Tampa Bay’s best waterbirds: Reddish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Avocets, Terns and Skimmers.
On page 26 in the West Florida guide, site 107 is the Tampa Electric Company’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. A 900-foot boardwalk through the mangroves shows off the shorebirds that like the mudflats there. There are also bobwhite and nighthawks. This is a great site for beginners, according to the guide. You can also view the manatees that gather there.
To get a copy of any of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail guidebooks, you can download the guide as a PDF, order a free paper copy or, through Amazon.com, order a full color eBook version enabling you to use a Kindle, iPads and iPhones.
You can go to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail website at www.floridabirdingtrail.com to download guidebooks, or to plan your next birding adventure.