Bird Watching Vacation In Florida
Birds are not the only ones flocking to Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands – the people who love to observe them are discovering the expansive outdoor offerings and the amazing array of avian residents of this section of Southwest Florida. Located along the Florida Gulf Coast portion of the North American Migratory Flyway with seven sites listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail (www.FloridaBirdingTrail.com) within its borders, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands offers endless ways and places for both migratory and year-round birding. Traipse along deserted beaches, traverse walking and driving trails, paddle or cruise along mangrove-shaded rivers, or join in organized outings lead by the local chapter of the Audubon Society to discover over 190 different species of birds.
Year-round, Charlotte County’s wetlands, flatwoods, fresh and saltwater marshes, and second largest estuary system in Florida are home to herons, egrets, waterfowl, woodpeckers, nuthatches and over 95 species of birds. The area’s pristine natural resources provide refuge to eight Federally-listed and 22 State-listed threatened and endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker, wood stork, and the Florida Scrub Jay. Peak birding starts in September and runs through spring when the population jumps to more than 190 species as swallows, wading birds, warblers, white pelicans and other neotropical migrants arrive to spend the winters here. For a complete listing, birders can download their own —Southwest Florida Bird List” at www.PeaceRiverAudubon.org.
On land, the Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area, the seventh largest wildlife management area in Florida at more than 79,000 acres and a member of the Florida Birding Trail system, boasts drivable trails through pine flatwoods and freshwater marsh habitats.
—The belted kingfisher’s arrival signals the start of fall migration,” says Mike Kemmerer, Wildlife Biologist for Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area, a prime birding location. —They are followed by flocks of tree and barn swallows numbering in the thousands, gold finches, warblers and several other neo-tropical species.” These winter residents join bald eagles, ospreys, and Babcock/Webb’s star attractions, the limpkin, a rare wading bird, and 32 active colonies of red-cockaded woodpeckers.
—Last year we documented the first chicks from our limpkin population,” Kemmerer said. Limpkins were almost hunted to extinction in Florida by the beginning of the 20th century, but with legal protection they are making a fair comeback, a comeback greatly appreciated by outdoor enthusiasts.
Seasonal feathered visitors to Placida and Amberjack Park, also on the Florida Birding Trail, include white pelicans, one of the largest birds in North America. World-renowned bird photographer Arthur Morris (www.birdsasart.com) has created a photo essay on these rare, beautiful birds that return to Charlotte County annually. The white pelicans share their winter home with semipalmated, snowy, black-bellied and Wilson’s plovers; peregrine falcons; magnificent frigates, and ruddy turnstones, which will join a year-round population of royal terns and ospreys.