Clearwater is a Birders’ Paradise

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.

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 ParkTake 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.


RESOURCE:Pinellas County Birding Checklist

Bay Life: The Great Egret

Cool Facts

  • The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest environmental organizations in North America. Audubon was founded to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
  • Not all young that hatch survive the nestling period. Aggression among nestlings is common and large chicks frequently kill their smaller siblings. This behavior, known as siblicide, is not uncommon among birds such as hawks, owls, and herons, and is often a result of poor breeding conditions in a given year.
  • The oldest known Great Egret was 22 years, 10 months old and was banded in Ohio.
  • The pristinely white Great Egret gets even more dressed up for the breeding season. A patch of skin on its face turns neon green, and long plumes grow from its back. Called aigrettes, those plumes were the bane of egrets in the late nineteenth century, when such adornments were prized for ladies’ hats.
  • In mixed-species colonies, Great Egrets are often the first species to arrive, and their presence may induce nesting among other species.
  • Great Egrets fly slowly but powerfully: with just two wingbeats per second their cruising speed is around 25 miles an hour.
  • Though it mainly hunts while wading, the Great Egret occasionally swims to capture prey or hovers (somewhat laboriously) over the water and dips for fish.

Mangrove Expeditions

Explore the mangrove forest with Chris…on a paddle board.  It rocks.

Mangroves are various types of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics – mainly between latitudes 25° N and 25° S. The remaining mangrove forest areas of the world in 2000 was 53,190 square miles (137,760 km²) spanning 118 countries and territories.[1][2]

The term “mangrove” comes to English from Spanish (perhaps by way of Portuguese), and is likely to originate from Guarani[disambiguation needed]. It was earlier “mangrow” (from Portuguese mangue or Spanish mangle), but this was corrupted via folk etymology influence of “grove“.

Mangroves dominate three-quarters of tropical coastlines.[4] The saline conditions tolerated by various mangrove species range from brackish water, through pure seawater (30 to 40 ppt(parts per thousand)), to water concentrated by evaporation to over twice the salinity of ocean seawater (up to 90 ppt).[4][5]

An increase in mangroves has been suggested for climate change mitigation.

Approximately 35% of mangrove area was lost during the last several decades of the 20th century (in countries for which sufficient data exist), which encompass about half of the area of mangroves.[51] The United Nations Environment Program & Hamilton (2013), estimate that shrimp farming causes approximately a quarter of the destruction of mangrove forests.[52] [53] Likewise, the 2010 update of the World Mangrove Atlas indicated a fifth of the world’s mangrove ecosystems have been lost since 1980.[54]

Grassroots efforts to save mangroves from development are becoming more popular as their benefits become more widely known.