Francis M. Weston Audubon Society
Pensacola, Florida

 
 

BIRDING NORTHWEST FLORIDA.
 - by Ann Forster


2007_fl_bird_fact_sheet copy-5.pdf


The major habitat types of the upper Gulf coast are well represented in our public access lands. The best birding is during migration on the tips of peninsulas which serve as migrant traps. If weather conditions are right (or wrong for the birds), the birds stack up like airplanes at a closed airport.


The best times are April and late September through October. In the autumn, there is a major movement of hawks along these beaches. Botanizing and natural history studies are good all year. All these areas are shown on the Gulf Islands National Seashore Map.


OPEN BEACH/ RIPARIAN WOODLAND

Fort Morgan, Alabama has traditionally offered some of the most exciting birding and has good access. a walk to the point produces as many as nine species of terns as well as Snowy and Piping Plovers, gannets, gulls, etc.

On Saturdays many local birders are around networking information so all you need do is ask someone with binoculars where the action is. There is a bird-banding station in April and October and visitors are welcomed. If the birding at Fort Morgan is excellent, a trip to Dauphin Island may be worth it (ferry rates are high and the schedule is irregular). Birders usually carpool or hitchhike. The Audubon Sanctuary is within walking distance of the ferry landing but the legendary "shell mounds" are several miles away. The Mobile Causeway leading off the island has good shorebirds and wading birds (American Oystercatcher, Wilson's Plover, Reddish Egret, rails).

Fort Pickens, Florida/ Naval Live Oaks are interesting both as historic parks and as wildlife habitat. Birding is good for the same reasons as Fort Morgan and a walk around the point is beautiful and birdy. The bicycle trail from Battery Langdon to the main fort can be excellent in late April and has nesting Least Bitterns and Gray Kingbirds. Both forts are major gathering points for migrating Monarch butterflies in October.


OAK WOODS/FRESH WATER MARSH

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama has two good nature trails. The Pine Beach Trail has an excellent brochure which makes it a great introduction to the special plant communities of the area.


PINEY WOODS

Blackwater State Park and Forest north of Milton, Florida is mostly old growth yellow pine uplands and cypress/ hardwood bottoms. The southern pineywoods complex of birds is well-represented - Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman's Sparrow.


BIRDING THE FORT WALTON BEACH, FLORIDA AREA

There is an excellent area in Fort Walton Beach for birding. It encompasses the Wright Landfill at the end of Beal Street Extension. At the first road north of Green Acres Road, turn left and continue north on Beal Street Extension to the end. Upon entering the landfill area (show binoculars to the guard), check the pond for water birds. When the entrance road turns left (west), park safely off the road and walk the dirt road that angles NNE. You may be able to drive down this road and park under the power lines, depending on road condition and your type vehicle. Birders call this Vagrant Trail. This is good in migration and in winter for sparrows.


The landfill mounds are accessible for walking and one may find Sprague’s Pipits and meadowlarks in winter. Also, Wilson’s Snipe and LeConte’s Sparrows may be found in the wetter areas. A Black Rail was flushed in the wet area a few years ago.


Return to Beal Parkway and go NNE until you turn left on Roberts Road. This leads to the locally known (to birders) Mama Rosa sewage plant. Mama Rosa's is an Italian café at the turn. I'm sure they don't mind the association since most birding groups arrange their schedule so that they can eat lunch there. In 2009-2011, the water treatment facility was significantly changed, and little water remains in the two ponds. However, the ponds remain good for shorebirds and pipits in season, and occasional ducks when a little water and muck remain. The fencing around the wide open area is a good place to look for Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds (mostly in migration), and Vermilion Flycatcher in late Fall and Winter.


NAVARRE AREA  You can cross over to Santa Rosa Island on the Navarre Bridge from Hwy 98. After you have crossed the bridge, turn left, and go to the dead-end to Navarre County Park. Park and walk out into the dunes on the Sound side away from the Gulf of Mexico. You can often see five species of plovers and various peeps, gulls and terns. In winter, scan the Sound for Redhead and scoters. The grassy areas to the east have been an excellent area for winter sparrows. DO NOT drive onto the sand. It will not support a car and the towing fee is outrageous.


Drive west on the island toward Fort Pickens. Stop at the Gulf Islands National Seashore parking areas along the Gulf and scan the horizon for gannets, jaegers, etc. At the Opal Beach picnic area of GINS, you can walk north and east .8 mile to shallow tidal pools that harbor a number of shorebirds. There may be flocks of ducks returning from the Yucatan in the spring seen out over the  Gulf. Fort Pickens can be a good migrant trap in spring and fall. The best areas are behind Battery Langdon and in the wooded area to the east of the Battery Worth picnic area. There are usually other birders around so networking with them is a good idea.


AN APRIL TRIP TO THE APALACHICOLA/ST. MARKS NWR AREA HAS NO EQUAL EAST OF TEXAS.

This area combines the best of biodiversity, botanizing, and birding. Because so many habitats are represented in such a compact area, a bird list of 150+ is probable.


FLORIDA CAVERNS STATE PARK (Marianna, FL)

Wonderful nature trail through a relict plant community composed of Canadian zone flora left over from the last Ice Age. Because of this, it is a migration stop-over for many warblers and other northern nesters. In addition, it has a beautiful hardwood bottom along the Chipola River which supports the typical southern swamp complex - Barred Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, Hooded and Prothonotary Warblers, Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, etc.


BRISTOL, FL

Stop at the US Forest Service on SR 20 just east of town for information. Get a brochure for Leon Sinks and for the Scenic Byway through Sumatra, FL home of the unique Apalachicola National Forest pitcher plant prairies.


ST. GEORGE ISLAND

There is a State Park on the island which has some birds and nice picnic facilities. The most interesting birding can be along the Causeway where you can find nesting Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, and Wilson's Plovers. A Sprague's Pipit shows up every other winter or so.


OCHLOCKONEE RIVER STATE PARK

Old growth pine/wire grass community with a large population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers as well as Bachman's Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Pine Warblers and other piney woods specialists.


PANACEA, FL

Nearby birding areas include Mashes Sand Beach, Otter Lake, and Bald Point.


WAKULLA SPRINGS STATE PARK

This priceless sanctuary has been protected for so long that the birds accept ogling birders as part of the landscape. The Jungle Cruise is a must. The magnificent stand of Bald Cypress would justify the visit but the anhingas, gallinules, osprey, eagles, and limpkins take center stage.


ST. MARKS NWR

Stop at the headquarters for information and a look at the interpretive displays. There is an observation deck and good nature trail just behind the building. Drive and bird down the refuge road to the old lighthouse. Be sure and walk the Mounds Interpretive Trail which can be a good migrant trap and has an active Bald Eagle nest.


LEON SINKS

This beautiful blackgum swamp is the headwater of the Wakulla River. The excellent nature trails illustrate the unique geology and can be good for migrant.   top of the page

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Created: 05-jan-02 • Modified: 16-Feb.14

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