A Portrait of the Tampa Bay Estuary
Fall is a terrific time of year to enjoy one of Tampa Bay's treasures -- its incredible assortment of sea, shore and songbirds.
In addition to the bay's full-time avian residents, fall brings thousands of "snowbirds" who -- just like their human counterparts -- spend the winter in the bay area, or at least stop by to refuel before continuing on to Central and South America. Begining in late August, birdwatchers flock to their favorite parks to catch a glimpse of these temporary visitors, including beauties like the painted bunting, black tern and hooded merganser.
Some great birding hot spots at this time of year are:
- Fort DeSoto Park, at the southern tip of Pinellas County. Beaches, mangroves and upland hammocks make this island park a "fielder's choice" for avid birders. Look for red knots, black-bellied plovers and marbled godwits on the beach; tanagers, orioles and buntings in the interior. Follow experienced birders to the "mulberry tree" for best songbird success. Call (727) 866-2484
- Honeymoon Island State Park near Dunedin in North Pinellas County. Beaches, mangroves, upland forests, even a lagoon, Honeymoon Island has it all! Look for plovers, terns and sandpipers on the beach, warblers, orioles and other songbirds inland. Honeymoon Island also is a stopover for monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico. Call (727) 469-5942.
- Lettuce Lake Park, on the Hillsborough River just outside Tampa. Pine flatwoods and sprawling cypress swamps with an extensive boardwalk system provide ideal winter habitat for a variety of warblers, as well as year-round residents like the limpkin, little blue heron and wood duck. Hawks, wild turkeys and swallow-tailed kites round out a successful day here. Call (813) 975-2160.
- McKay Bay Nature Park. A refuge for nature in the heart of urban Tampa, McKay Bay is a maze of mangroves, salt marshes and mud flats that attract hundreds of ducks and wading birds. The elusive clapper rail and mangrove cuckoo also can be found here. A boardwalk and observation tower offer panoramic views. Call (813) 274-8391.