Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
The cool Florida weather is upon us… it’s the perfect time to get outdoors and discover nature.
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, established in 1997, is a program created by FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and supported in part by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida in hopes to encourage conservation of Florida’s native habitats and species.
There are over 500 viewing and trail sites listed for the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) within state of Florida and in Hernando County there are eight premiere locations to view a variety of birds as well as wildlife.
“The whole concept behind the trail was to try to accomplish a couple of different things. One: share with the public, places that they could go to have great wildlife viewing experiences and secondly to communicate with local communities that they have an economic value, that the tourism associated with that is an important asset in their community and hopefully people… take conservation action on the behalf of wildlife,” said Jerrie Lindsey, Director of Public Access and Wildlife Viewing Services with FWC.
Not only does the Great Florida Birding trail focus on providing the public with great viewing locations for those birding enthusiasts, it also has created opportunity to visit areas to view an extensive variety of wildlife species within their own natural habitats.
“The original trail really focused on birds, birding. We expanded it be a birding and wildlife trail a number of years ago, because we wanted to acknowledge and have people come out and experience other wildlife that they might see, like butterflies,” Lindsey said. “Generally if the sites are good for birding they are oftentimes good for other species as well.”
The Wings over Florida program is open for all those interested in learning more about what species of birds are year long residents and those that may migrate to Florida and of course, those that visit your own backyard.
“We have such wide variety of habitat and ecosystems and a huge diversity of species,” said Savanna Christy, Wildlife Viewing Program Specialist and coordinator for the Wings over Florida.
“The Wings over Florida program is an incentive to encourage people to participate and hopefully have them become stewards of wildlife and conservation and to really push that message forward,” Savanna said.
The incentive is not just the getting a certification from the Wings over Florida program but becoming educated on the importance of birds as well as wildlife and their habitats. It's also a great way to visit these areas around Hernando County by viewing these places differently and having a fun goal-oriented purpose to do so.
“We would like everyone to come away going.. ‘That as amazing!’ and wanting to know more and learn more,” Jerrie added.
Before you head out on your birding adventure, download your very own Florida Birds checklist on the website at http://floridabirdingtrail.com/checklists/. This is great project and experience for all ages and maybe an inspiration for the younger generation to become more conscience about the importance of conservation.
Listed below are the Hernando County locations within the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail:
Alfred A. McKethan/Pine Island Park (Hernando County Parks and Recreation)
Pine Island is loaded with a variety of common coastal birds like and a variety of gulls species to pelicans.
Bayport Park (Hernando County Parks and Recreation)
At Bayport more gulls perched on the pier and markers as well as a common place for Ospreys, Little Blue Herons. Bald Eagles are common in the marsh areas and of course otters, manatees and dolphins!
A Road Between Bayou Drive is between Pine Island Park and Bayport Park and it’s a great spot to add to your list of bird sighting areas. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Anhingas, Double Crested Cormorants, Eagles, Little Blue Herons, Hawks and the Belted Kingfishers have been seen at this location.
Linda Pedersen Park (Hernando County Parks and Recreation)
Inlets provides White Egrets, Wood Storks, Belted Kingfishers and more wading birds as well as owls, woodpeckers towards the back part of the park. Across the street keep a look out for Ospreys and Eagles.
Weekiwachee Preserve (SouthWest Florida Water Management District)
This preserve is a place where the winter migrating sparrows can be found. Cardinals and warblers are plenty in this area.
Chassahowitzka WMA (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)
With over 20,000 acres of nature, this is a great area to see a variety of birds and birds of prey live in their natural habitats. Barred Owls, Eagles, Swallow-tailed Kites, Kestrels, Red-shouldered Hawks are common as well as Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers.
Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Areas (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)
Chinsegut Conservation Center is the place to relax and just enjoy the outdoor scenery from the back patio of the center. Bird feeders are filled for Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Warblers and other small birds.
Take a hike around on the Nature trail to get glimpse of the Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-shouldered Hawks and Sandhill Cranes.
McKethan Lake Park (Florida Forest Service)
This peaceful park is centered around a beautiful lake, with Yellow-throated Warblers, Blue Jays, Eastern Phoebes, Red-bellied and Pileated woodpeckers, White Ibis and Anhingas.
Withlacoochee State Forest: Citrus Tract (Florida Forest Service)
The Citrus Tract is just over the Hernando | Citrus county line, and worth the 7 miles to its location.
Trail 10 is located off of South Pleasant Grove Road on the left heading north from Brooksville, Snow Memorial Hwy turns into South Pleasant Grove Road just past the Hernando | Citrus county line. Follow the paved/limestone road till you reach the Holder Mine Camp Site.
The trail begins just past the trail 9 access road on the left. It’s a beautiful hike in the depths of the Withlacoochee Forest and lots of areas to seek out new adventures. The endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is the main focus and a healthy force of longleaf pines within the Withlacoochee State Forest creates an opportunity for this woodpecker of making an incredible comeback.
You will notice a white band painted around selected longleaf pines, these pines have an artificial cavity insert embedded within the truck about 20 to 30 feet up, these are designed to overall help this particular species of woodpecker.
Be on the lookout for the those endangered woodpeckers as well as Downy Woodpeckers, Pine Warblers and Hawks can be seen and heard throughout the trail.
Things you need to know:
Visit the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail website and click on Trail Sites, and select the west section. Scroll to find Hernando County and there are links to each site.
Please be aware of daily fees that may apply at some these locations as well as seasonal hunting dates within wildlife management areas.