The Great Florida Birding Trail
BEST FLORIDA RETIREMENT CITIES
What's on your Birding Bucket List? There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world. Florida's checklist includes 520 species, most of them native with a few introduced. The winter months bring an astounding array of migrating birds to the Sunshine State and The Great Florida Birding Trail is the place to see the rare and unusual birds of Florida - Roseate Spoonbill on your list? How about Sand Hill Cranes and the elusive Florida Scrub Jay? These birds and more can be seen in their native habitat on The Great Florida Birding Trail.
The retirement hotspots of Palm Bay, Ocala and Naples all have access to the trail if a day of hiking and some spectacular birdwatching is in your fall and winter plans. These areas are quickly accessible from the best Florida retirement cities.
NEAR PALM BAY FLORIDA:
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Located an hour north of Palm Bay, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of Florida’s premier birding sites with more than 330 species documented. Fall and winter are the best times to see the spectacular variety of shorebirds and wading birds. Roseate Spoonbills are found here as well as ducks like Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and Green-winged Teal. Rare birds that may be encountered include Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Ruff, Eurasian Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal and Reddish Egrets. Bald Eagles can be spotted here as well as gulls and terns. The hammock and scrub trails are excellent hiking trails, and the rare Florida Scrub-Jay may be seen on these trails.
Guided birding walks are held on a weekly basis during prime bird watching season November through March.
Turkey Creek Sanctuary
Turkey Creek Sanctuary is located in the City of Palm Bay. This is an 130 acre sanctuary with a boardwalk nature trail that follows the Turkey Creek as it winds to its end in the Indian River. The sanctuary is also great for canoeing or kayaking. Birds listed on the TGFBT for Turkey Creek include Warbler, Osprey, Duck, Herons, and Pileated woodpecker
NEAR OCALA FLORIDA:
Ocala is ground zero for the beginnings of public hiking trails in Florida. The Florida Scenic Hiking Trail was started here and TGFBT is well represented in the Ocala area as well. Ocala continues to grow in popularity as one of the best Florida retirement cities.
Salt Springs Recreation Area
The TGFBT in Ocala National Forest offers a 2-mile loop trail in the Salt Springs Recreation Area. The trail winds through scrub and flatwoods down to a hardwood forest along a clear spring. In season you will encounter many migrant songbirds in the scrub area and Florida Scrub Jays as well. When alongside the spring, wading birds and Limpkins will be seen. Trees that provide homes for Red-Cockaded Woodpecker are marked on this trail. If you are in the market for a long hike, a 4-mile trail connects the recreation area with the Florida National Scenic Trail, which runs north/south for 66 miles through the Ocala National Forest. This is also an excellent place for canoeing and kayaking as the Salt Springs Canoe Trail is located in the recreation area.
Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area:
Located less than 30 minutes from Ocala, this spot on the trail offers a glimpse into the birds of the Ocklawaha River Basin. A 3/4 mile hike takes you to a levee area that provides an overlook deck with panoramic views of the surrounding marsh. This area leads to a 10 mile loop hike or a much shorter hike on the extensive boardwalk in the marsh. Birds you are likely to encounter include ducks, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, sparrows and blackbirds. More unusual species include Mottled Duck, both whistling-ducks, Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, Red Shouldered Hawk, Blue-headed Vireo (winter only), Eastern Bluebird, Swallow-tailed Kite and Wood Stork.
NEAR NAPLES FLORIDA:
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
The Corkscrew Swamp has the largest stand of old growth Bald Cypress on the continent and the bird life in this sanctuary is nothing short of spectacular. The boardwalk is a little more than 2 miles and meanders through the swamp, offering the opportunity to see more than 200 species of birds. This is the place for an easy walk through a rare habitat that guarantees an outstanding wildlife viewing experience. Red Shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls are in the Bald Cypress trees and in the water you'll spy Egrets, Herons (Night Herons), Ibises, and Limpkins. The smaller Warblers, Blue Vireos and Painted Buntings are sighted in season. There is a Wood Stork Rookery in breeding season. This is an Audubon Keystone Site and you can stop in the Blair Audubon Center where expert naturalists can help with identifications.
The Venice Area Audubon Rookery
If you are a true bird enthusiast the Audubon Rookery in Venice will be worth the trip. Located about 100 miles north of Naples, this site is internationally famous for its bird life. Admired by professional nature photographers and amateur enthusiasts alike if - nature photography is something you enjoy this is a must see. A clearly marked trail provides an easy walk around the lake and a pavilion is located for watching the birds. The rookery island has a deep lake that provides nesting sites for all manner of shorebirds, nesting season is usually December through May. During nesting season Great Blue Herons, Tri Colored Herons and Night Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis and Anhingas can be seen around the lake nesting and raising chicks. Sunrise and sunset are optimum photography times.
Come to the Sunshine State to check out the appealing offerings of climate, retirement living and wildlife. The hiking and bird watching season is just beginning in the best Florida retirement cities. The first cold front of the season has swept away the heat and left perfect weather for a long walk in the woods.
Grab your camera, lace up your hiking boots and come experience the fabulous fauna on The Great Florida Birding Trail. You might just find a new nest for yourself.