By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
Photos courtesy the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Welcome back snowbirds. We’re happy to have
our favorite flocks back in town and know you’re looking for new and interesting things to do.
Want to hang out with some other really cool
birds? Florida is known for its rich assortment of
colorful and unusual winged wildlife – some found only in this state. And birding is a great way to get outside in the fresh air and see Florida’s impressive
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail offers a
chance to see a dazzling array of flashy birds like the Painted
Buntings, Roseate Spoonbills, Purple Gallinules and Reddish Egrets.
The Trail is a network of over 500 places in the state to spot birds,
butterflies and other wildlife (like gators and crocodiles!) in their natural settings.
From Pensacola to Key West, many state and local parks and conservation areas host the Trail. You can find them by looking for the iconic brown sign on the roadside, or pull up the website, floridabirdingtrail.com on your mobile device to search for a Trail site near you.
Use the Trip Planner on the website to get directions and plan your adventure. The state is divided into four trail areas: the Panhandle, East, West and South. Each of those is separated into counties with lists of parks, preserves, trails and beaches where some of these showy splendors can be found.
Habitats include tropical and hardwood hammocks, pinelands, tidal flats, freshwater lakes, mangrove and cypress swamps, prairies and beaches.
Before setting out, you’ll want to make sure you have a good pair of binoculars, with magnifications and diameters like 8 x 36 or 10 x 42. Spotting scopes may give better magnification than binoculars but require a tripod. Field guides in the form of books or smartphone apps will help you identify the birds you see.
Another valuable tool for both you and the birds is ebird.org where you can keep track of your lists, access dynamic maps and graphs, and share your sightings with the eBird community while contributing to science and conservation.
Like they say, birds of a feather flock together and what could be better than birding festivals to meet fellow birders and learn more about the hobby? For starters the Everglades Birding Festival, Jan. 11– 15, takes participants through south Florida’s ancient moss-covered cypress swamps and the Everglades prairies and marshes. And if you enjoy wildlife who said it has to be limited to birds? The Florida Manatee Festival is Jan. 13-14 and held in downtown Crystal River and features manatee tours.
See the Trail website for a complete listing of all the winter wildlife festivals as well as other pertinent information. Because of recent hurricane activity some of the trails may be closed so be sure and check the website for current information on the status of each trail before you set out on your adventure.