A national wildlife refuge and state park located at the mouth of Tampa Bay south of Fort De Soto. A large colony of pelicans, terns, gulls and skimmers nests on the south bird protection area, off limits to the public year-round. Egmont Key Ferry leaves from the south pier at Fort De Soto County Park, $15 per person, (727) 867-6569.
Cypress Point Park
A 50-acre city park located at the west end of Cypress Street in Tampa's Westshore District. Excellent for terns, seabirds, lesser scaup and common loons (in winter), Wilson's plovers, American oystercatchers, brown pelicans, night-herons, and other wading birds year-round.
Courtney Campbell Parkway
Stretching about 7 miles across Old Tampa Bay, State Road 60 between Tampa and Clearwater offers a terrific opportunity to see wading birds, wintering ducks, migrating shorebirds, black skimmers, ospreys, and American oystercatchers. Side-road access on both the north and south sides allow parking for bird-watching, sunsets and fishing.The Castaway Restaurant adjacent to the Ben T. Davis City Beach Park is a great place to watch birds foraging. The Hyatt Regency Westshore has a mid-mangrove forest walkway with an observation deck, a good site for observing roseate spoonbills, yellow-crowned night-herons, and American oystercatchers, particularly at low tide.
Boca Ciega Millennium County Park
A 185-acre Pinellas County park situated on northern Boca Ciega Bay. More than 170 species of birds have been seen there, including white pelicans, reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills, ducks, herons, and rails.
Located south of Honeymoon Island and one of the exquisite Gulf Coast barrier islands. Exhibits beach dunes bordering the Gulf of Mexico, mangrove shorelines facing the Intracoastal Waterway, and coastal strand, maritime hammock, mesic flatwoods, and salt marshes habitats. Donated to the state by the city of Dunedin, the park includes 1,474 acres. A motor-exclusion zone (includes personal watercraft) on the east side protects sea grasses. Mud flats on the north end host migrating and wintering shorebirds and beach-nesting birds in spring and summer (stay out of posted nest colonies). Access by boat or a ferry ( adults, $10; children 4 to 12, $6; under 4, free; no pets; call 727-734-5263) that travels between Honeymoon Island and Caladesi..
Hillsborough River Canoeing
The Hillsborough River enters Hillsborough County at its northeast corner and flow through Temple Terrace on its way to its mouth in downtown Tampa into Hillsborough Bay (northeast portion of Tampa Bay). Can see wading birds, chickadees and hawks. Canoe/kayak rentals: Hillsborough River State Park (Highway 301 near Thonotosassa, 813-987-6771), and Canoe Escape (Fowler Avenue east of Interstate 75, 813-986-2067).
A barrier island located north of Clearwater Beach at the west end of the Dunedin Causeway (State Road 586). Separated from Caladesi Island by a hurricane in 1921. Its 385 upland and 2,400 submerged acres became a state park in 1974. Habitats include pine uplands, sand dunes, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, and tidal flats. Ospreys (50 pairs) and great horned owls nest in the north end Osprey Trail area. Honeymoon Island is internationally famous for hosting large migrating and wintering flocks of birds, including rare Piping Plovers, egrets, spoonbills, grosbeaks, buntings, warblers, and shorebirds. Facilities include nature trails, nature center, bath house, restrooms, picnic tables and shelters, a pet-walk, snack bar, and a ferry to Caladesi Island.
Fort De Soto County Park
One of Florida's most visited destinations, with nearly 3 million visitors annually. Five keys connected by a causeway to Tierra Verde total 1,136 acres, including 6 miles of sandy barrier island beach. Mangrove shorelines, pine flatwoods, beaches, mud flats, and mulberry trees host migrating songbirds. Shorebirds and wading birds are abundant. Over 300 bird species have been documented. Recreational features include sandy beaches, fishing piers, nature and canoe trails, historic fort batteries and mortars, the museum, restrooms, snack bars, boat ramp, camping, and picnic facilities. Call (727) 582-2267.
Shell Key Preserve
This 1,755-acre preserve includes the 180-acre barrier island Shell Key, and east of the key, mangrove islands, mud flats, sea grass meadows and mangrove islands. Shell Key is listed by the FWC as one of Florida's most important sites for nesting, wintering, and migrating birds. The center of Shell Key is a bird preservation area, off-limits to protect birds. Loggerhead sea turtles nest on the beach. The northeast corner and south portion are popular recreational areas. The Shell Key Preserve Visitors Guide is available at www.pinellascounty.org. Call (727) 360-1348. Access is by private boat or on tour boats (Shell Key Shuttle in St. Pete Beach, 727-360-1348)
Lettuce Lake County Park
Located on east Fletcher Avenue 1½ miles west of Interstate 75 in Tampa, offers a boardwalk and observation tower to allow dry-footed access to the Hillsborough River to see wading birds, alligators, turtles, ospreys, woodpeckers, ducks, and other wildlife. Lettuce Lake is a shallow ox-bow now connected to the river at one end. Most of the park is in the natural floodplain of the Hillsborough River. Habitats include hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods. Facilities include a visitor's center with the Audubon Resource Center library and educational exhibits, nature trails, picnic shelters, and playground areas. Call (813) 975-2160.
Emerson County Preserve
Located in Manatee County west of Palmetto on Highway 45, west of U.S. Business 41. This county park is a point at the mouth of the Manatee River, just south of Terra Ceia Bay, south of the Skyway Bridge. Mangrove shorelines provide glimpses at bay ecosystems, sea grass beds, and wildlife, including wading birds and brown pelicans.
Ann Paul is Tampa Bay Regional Coordinator of the Audubon of Florida's Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries Program. She is an expert in management of waterbird colonies.
Ann B. Hodgson is the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Science Coordinator and has worked for Audubon of Florida since 2004. She is an expert in wetlands, environmental restoration and habitat design.