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Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands is a birder’s paradise. Seven sites in the South Florida section of the Great Florida Birding Trail were recently designated within its borders, meaning there’s a very good chance you can add one or more species to your life list. At Alligator Creek in Punta Gorda, birders might catch a glimpse of a nesting pair of bald eagles at the park’s entrance. A small birding blind lets visitors observe birds through one-way glass.
White pelicans, endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and Bachman’s sparrows are among the star attractions for experienced birders at the Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area. Novice birdwatchers can take an Audubon Society tour to get started. The park’s driving trails make for easy access. Sandhill cranes, brown-headed nuthatches, king rails, American and least bitterns and sedge wrens have all been spotted in the park.
At Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park , the Old Datsun Trail wanders past wetlands, pine flatwoods and oak and cabbage palm hammocks. These varied habitats yield prime viewing of red-shouldered hawks, screech and great horned owls and white-eyed vireos. In the wetlands, reached by side trails, wood storks, green herons and ibis – both white and glossy varieties – live.
Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center is home to downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as wrens and vireos, along its flatwoods trail. Sparrows, warblers and flycatchers can be found in Charlotte Flatwoods Environmental Park , which is also home to belted kingfishers, wood storks and dabbling ducks.
The three other sites in the area along the birding trail are Tippecanoe Environmental Park in Port Charlotte, Cedar Point Environmental Park in Englewood and Amberjack Environmental Park in Rotonda.
Surrounded by water, Cedar Point Environmental Park is popular with snowy egrets and great blue herons year ‘round. Come winter, look for common loons and bay ducks. Other birds that frequent the park include killdeers, mockingbirds and rufous-sided towhees.
The diverse habitats of the 220-acre Amberjack Environmental Park – scrubby oak, pine flatwoods and a lake – appeal to ospreys, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills and Florida scrub jays, among others. White pelicans, tree swallows and green- and blue-winged teal spend portions of the winter here.
The mangroves, tidal creeks, flatwoods and scrub that surround the lake at Tippecanoe Environmental Park in Port Charlotte attract common moorhens and mottled ducks, while the tidal creeks are popular with black-necked stilts and ibis. Scrub jays and prairie warblers can be found in the flatwood and scrub habitats.
Gasparilla Island State Park , with its mangrove swamps, beach dunes, maritime hammocks and coastal strands, attracts anhingas, various gulls, black skimmers and an assortment of terns. A large flock of white pelicans visits seasonally, as do snowy, black-bellied and Wilson ’s plovers and ruddy turnstones. In spring, nesting white egrets and sandhill cranes and osprey chicks can be seen in the park.
Winter brings magnificent frigates, semipalmated plovers and peregrine falcons to the 245-acre Stump Pass Beach State Park . Year-round residents include royal terns and ospreys.
The beach areas, hardwoods and mangrove swamp of Ponce de Leon Park attract a broad range of birds. Hooded mergansers, cowbirds, tree swallows and double-crested cormorants, among many others, have been seen at the park.
More than 80 species of birds have been spied at Port Charlotte’s Audubon-Pennington Nature Park . Cyprus swamp, pine flatwoods and oak hammock lure birds to this eight-acre park.
The local Audubon Society chapter offers programs and volunteer experts for casual birdwatchers and dedicated birders alike. During monthly Walk-Abouts, local naturalists lead participants – mainly novice birders – through an area park. Experienced birders looking for a challenge may want to set aside time for the annual Charlotte Harbor 100 Bird-A-Thon, a six-hour challenge held in March to spot 100 species of birds in the county. It is a fundraiser for the Peace River Audubon Society. For a complete list of birding locations in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands , visit the Peace River Audubon Society’s website at www.peaceriveraudubon.org . You can also visit Charlotte Harbor & The Gulf Islands