TALLAHASSEE - When you want to know where to go in Florida to see native birds, butterflies and more, head for the Trail. Sites listed on the official Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail are selected for inclusion based on their unique wildlife viewing opportunities and ecological significance, educational opportunities, access for the public and resilience to recreational use. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has proudly selected 14 new sites to receive this distinction.
The Trail is a network of more than 500 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state. Every year, millions of people, residents and visitors alike, participate in wildlife viewing activities, contributing billions of dollars to Florida’s economy but the ultimate goal of the Trail is to encourage conservation of Florida’s native habitats and species.
The new sites are described below, organized by county. Follow the included links for site-specific photos and more information on visiting each location.
- Alachua County: Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville is a well-known hotspot frequented by rare birds and home to iconic Florida species.
- Indian River County: Oyster Bar Marsh Conservation Area in Vero Beach is a newly-opened site adjacent to Round Island Riverside Park and Conservation Area, extending the area available to birders looking to explore Indian River Lagoon.
- Leon County: Lafayette Heritage Trail Park in Tallahassee is part of an extensive trail network connecting Tom Brown Park to the west, L. Kirk Edwards Wildlife Management Area to the east and the J.R. Alford Greenway to the north, creating a valuable and extensive habitat for birds and other wildlife in an otherwise urban area.
- Manatee County: At the mouth of the Manatee River, Robinson Preserve in Bradenton is a popular recreation area where more than 200 bird species have been recorded.
- Marion County: Ocala Wetland Recharge Park is a constructed wetland that recharges the Upper Florida Aquifer. Birders and wildlife viewers will enjoy its diverse wildlife, easy walking paths and many educational displays.
- Palm Beach County: This county has six new sites. The Bureau of Land Management’s Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area offers excellent year-round birding and wildlife viewing at the confluence of the Indian River Lagoon and the Loxahatchee River. Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management manages the remaining sites; Cypress Creek Natural Area, North Jupiter Flatwoods, Pine Glades Natural Area in Jupiter, Winding Waters Natural Area in West Palm Beach and Yamato Scrub Natural Area in Boca Raton. These sites showcase a range of habitats (including cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, wet prairies, uplands and scrub) where visitors can experience south Florida’s abundant birdlife and wildlife.
- Polk County: The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve in Lake Wales harbors rare plants and animals found only in central Florida. Over 10 miles of hiking trails let visitors venture safely into this remote wilderness.
- Saint Johns County: Named for a prominent civil rights activist, Robert B. Hayling Freedom Park in St. Augustine is a favorite with its local Audubon Society. This small park on the tip of a peninsula overlooks an expansive salt marsh and the many birds that live there.
- Santa Rosa County: Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area is perfect for those seeking an outdoor experience off the beaten path. Fall and spring migration are the best times to go birding at this coastal site.
The Trail is a program of the FWC, supported in part by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Fish & Wildlife Foundaton of Florida, and is possible thanks to dozens of federal, state, and local government agencies, non-governmental organizations and private landowners.
For more information on all things related to The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, visit FloridaBirdingTrail.com. There, you can plan your visits, pick up viewing tips, or donate to support the Trail’s mission.
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