Severe weather and health related conditions may create destination hazards and closures. It is recommended that visitors check destination websites, or contact the facility to determine if the site is open, scheduled programs are available, or if there are any other circumstances that might alter birding opportunities. Birders and birding photographers are reminded to always follow ethical birding practices, such as those recommended HERE.
Click the binoculars to expand and collapse the information about each hotspot.
The Sarasota Audubon Society is pleased to include this interactive website component, updated for 2022-2023, called the Online Guide: Our Favorite Local Birding Hotspots, or simply, the Online Guide. These favorite birding places are located mainly in Sarasota County, with a sampling in Manatee County. Each favorite hotspot was selected, first, because of the high number of bird species recorded at that location (based on eBird All Years Species Counts greater than 135, including exotics) which entice repeated visits by many local and out-of-area birders, both national and international. Second, the selected Sarasota County favorites are located within a driving time of approximately 45 minutes, or less—and often considerably less—from a central, downtown Sarasota City location (using Google Maps driving time data). For Manatee County locations, the selected locations have the highest bird counts and also meet our driving distance requirement. Third, all locations must be accessible to the public, although some destinations are privately owned and may require admission fees. Lastly, these places should provide opportunities for enjoyable outdoor birding adventures while offering iconic southwest Florida scenic landscapes and/or other wide-ranging family activities.
The information offered for each of our favorites is based initially on the Sarasota Audubon Society pamphlet Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Editors: Naomi Deutsch, Mark Leggett, Stuart Hills, Jeanne Dubi, 2014, Reprinted 2019. The revised Online Guide, however, provides updates to pamphlet information, adds new favorite hotspots and offers new features, such as GPS coordinates and “Insider’s Tips.” We have also included internet links to numerous websites, anticipating that these links will provide visitors with additional, up-to-date data about, for example, recent bird sightings, trail maps, current fees, site hours-of-operation and amenities, as well as Google Maps driving directions from any starting point. The pamphlet version of Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties continues to be available. It provides information on more than 70 hotspots and is a “must have” for birders seeking a portable guide that describes great birding locations further afield or not currently included among our local favorites.
Thanks to Karen and Don Schneider for drafting and coordinating development of the Online Guide, and to Barb Males and Betty Neupert for their website management expertise which made this web-based version possible. Numerous other members and friends of the Sarasota and Manatee Audubon Societies contributed their local birding knowledge to this project, especially Jeanne Dubi (Primary Editor), Peter Brown, Susan Daughtrey, Kathy Doddridge, Rick Greenspun, John Groskopf, Nancy Edmondson, Sue Guarasci, Margi Haas, Claire Herzog, Lynn Jakubowicz, Robert Kraft, Gloria Markiewicz, Daniel Olson, Valentina Roumi, Aaron Virgin, Sharon Wilcox, Kylie Wilson, Stu Wilson, and Kathryn Young.
Sarasota County Hotspots
From October through April, guided walks led by experienced Sarasota Audubon Society birders are scheduled at many of the Sarasota birding Hotspots included in this Online Guide, as well as at other great birding locations in Sarasota and other nearby counties. You can find out about these walks by clicking on our Activities Calendar.
BAY STREET PARK is an 18.5-acre neighborhood park in the town of Osprey. This prime location, just a quarter-mile inland from Little Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and two miles north of Oscar Scherer State Park, is positioned to attract a great variety of species. In 2018, Sarasota County, which owns and operates the site, carved wide paths through the once impenetrable north end of the park. Since then, eBirders have reported sighting more than 185 bird species. The park is roughly rectangular in shape, with Bay Street as its southern border, residential housing on the fenced west side, and a golf course community bordering most of the remaining sides. A swale and stream (the “canal”) splits the park roughly in half, creating northern and southern sections. The park entrance is off Bay Street, in the southern section, with an expanded parking lot, picnic area, playground, restrooms, and an enclosed, one-acre dog park (dogs must be leashed elsewhere in the park). A paved sidewalk east of the parking lot leads to a pond in the southeast corner. Beyond this area, the park is mostly undeveloped and wooded. To access the northern part of the park, use the trail on the west side of the parking lot, go past the playground, across the canal viaduct, and then head further north onto other perimeter trails. Just before the viaduct, you can take a trail east along either side of the canal to reach a stepping-stone shortcut across the canal; this shortcut may be safe only in the dry season. Trails are unpaved, unmarked and cross at multiple points, helping to create an impression of a larger, isolated wilderness area. No Admission Fee.
Featured Birds: Numerous species breed in and around Bay Street Park, including Barred Owl, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite, Sandhill Crane, Green Heron, and three species of woodpeckers, to name just a few. Broad-winged and Short-tailed Hawk also have been seen. Wood warblers may be present during migration, with 31 species sighted to date. The park received statewide attention with documented sightings of a Townsend’s Warbler during the 2020 and 2021 spring migration. In all seasons, the pond often attracts Osprey, Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and numerous waders and shorebirds. Swallows and Chimney Swifts are frequently seen visiting the pond for a drink.
Insider’s Tip: Each section of the park offers something different, so be sure to wander. The northeast quadrant, known as “The Sticks,” is an overflow flood area with small bushes and grasses, providing cover for sparrows and buntings in winter and nesting habitat for Red-winged Blackbird in summer. The numerous stands of exotic grasses throughout the park attract Indigo Bunting, with Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak also regular winter visitors. A neighboring small family farm with a blueberry grove attracts large flocks of Cedar Waxwing in winter. Beehives draw Summer and Scarlet Tanager.
Address: 300 Bay St., Osprey, FL 34229
GPS Coordinates: 27.196499, -82.485202
Blind Pass Beach Park is located on Manasota Key in Englewood (not to be confused with a similarly named park on Sanibel Island in Lee County). The park is owned and operated by Sarasota County. The park’s 66-acres have gulf-to-bay access, including about 3,000 feet of sea-oat-and-sand-dune adorned beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico. This picturesque, rustic beach is known locally as Middle Beach and it is the southernmost beach in Sarasota County. Across Manasota Key Road, on the park’s bay-side, is a large unpaved parking lot along with showers and restrooms, a small picnic area, playground, boat dock/fishing piers, kayak launch and the Fred Duisberg Nature Trail, which wanders through mangroves to a view of the bay/intercoastal waterway. More than 135 bird species have been recorded here by eBirders. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Along the beach, look for a wide range of shorebirds, such as Willet, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and sandpipers. Royal and Sandwich Tern are present most of the year, as are Laughing Gull, with Ring-billed and Herring Gull, and Forster’s Tern and other terns and gulls arriving in the winter months. Brown Pelican and Osprey can be seen regularly on the gulf and bay sides. Check out the mangroves and trees along the parking lot/roads and bay/intracoastal for Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Heron, as well as ibis, egrets and herons. During migration, an array of songbirds join the normally present Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and Northern Mockingbird.
Insider’s Tip: The Fred Duisberg Nature Trail is an easily accessible unpaved path with a half-dozen short boardwalks that cross through a pretty mangrove forest. It can be walked to the bayview turnaround point and back in about 30 minutes, depending upon birding opportunities and photography interests. There is ample parking, but the unpaved lot and roads can flood during rainy periods. At the beach, don’t expect the powdery white sand of Siesta Beach; rather, the sand is coarse and mixed with broken shells. The beach is reported to be good for shelling and finding sharks’ teeth. To see an aerial view of the park, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map.
Address: 6725 Manasota Key Rd, Englewood, FL 34223
GPS Coordinates: 26.963455, -82.384582
CARLTON RESERVE (officially known as the T. MABRY CARLTON, JR. MEMORIAL RESERVE) is a very large Sarasota County reserve containing more than 24,500 acres. The natural, undisturbed habitats in the reserve include wet prairies (marshes), oak hammocks, pine flatwoods and forested wetlands (swamps). The reserve contains more than 100 miles of interconnecting trails, including the 12-mile Myakka Wilderness Trail that continues to Myakka River State Park on the reserve’s northern border. The reserve may be closed during periods of flooding. Check the reserve’s website or call Sarasota County offices at 941-861-5000; you may be transferred to the reserve’s Land Manager or other staff. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Sightings of more than 160 bird species have been reported by eBirders. American and Least Bittern may be seen in winter, as well as more common long-legged waders. Winter is also the time to look for American Kestrel and ducks. During migration, numerous passerine species visit and mingle with resident species. Year-round, look for Wood Duck, Barred Owl, Wild Turkey, Red-headed Woodpecker and other woodpecker species. Nesting birds include Swallow-tailed Kite, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird and Bachman’s Sparrow.
Insider’s Tip: Near the parking lot, a .8-mile trail loops around a depression marsh. The hike is described as easy-to-moderate in difficulty, wheelchair accessible for a short distance and providing an introduction to the many habitats and flora and fauna of the reserve: see Carlton Reserve Hikes. If planning a back-country hike, be sure to check reserve websites, as trail conditions can change quickly. A great way to see the backcountry is to join a guided birding tour. The reserve has offered two types of tours periodically from December through April: a 3-mile walking journey and a carpool trek (suitable for persons with limited mobility). The carpool trek uses interior roads that otherwise are accessible only to authorized vehicles, and tour registration may fill quickly. Call the number above for information and registration. Guided birding tours may also be offered by the Venice Audubon Society; check their “Events” list at https://www.veniceaudubon.org/events
Address: 1800 Mabry Carlton Parkway, Venice, FL 34292
GPS Coordinates: 27.126763, -82.339479
The CELERY FIELDS comprise Sarasota County’s regional stormwater retention area for the Phillippi Creek Drainage Basin—the largest such basin in the County. Prior to its purchase in 1995, this 440-acre tract was used for agriculture, with celery as the primary crop. Today, the site is acknowledged as a unique bird and wildlife habitat, enticing visits by local, national and international birders. Since 2001, 248 bird species have been tallied by Sarasota Audubon’s expert survey team; eBirders have counted a few more species, but it is unlikely that this tally can be fully substantiated. The County completed most construction and renovation work at the Celery Fields in 2011. In 2019, the County began working with the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to develop an additional 27-acre area (“the Quads”) adjoining the Celery Fields and established a conservation easement for that parcel. Planning for “rewilding” of the Quads is underway.
Currently, at the Celery Fields, more than 10 miles of trails run alongside ponds and wetlands, and two boardwalks extend into the marsh. Trails also climb to the top of an observation hill boasting one of the highest elevations in the County. The privately-operated Sarasota Audubon Society Nature Center lies at the southern base of the hill. A “microforest” has recently been planted nearby. If you are on Apex Road (on the Celery Fields’ western border) and passing by ACKERMAN PARK—an eBird Hotspot with 162 eBirder-reported species—check for birds on the lake and along the shoreline. No admission fee for the Celery Fields, Nature Center, Ackerman Park or boardwalks. To park at the Celery Fields, enter the County’s lot off Palmer Boulevard. Restrooms are in a separate building west of the County lot.
Featured Birds: Near ponds and at the boardwalks, look for herons, egrets, gulls, terns, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, cormorants and coots. Wetlands breeding species often include Wood Duck, Limpkin, Black-necked Stilt, Purple and Common Gallinule, Least Bittern and King Rail. In winter, the wetlands provide a haven for Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Sora, Virginia Rail and American Bittern. Also watch for Indigo Bunting, and House and Marsh Wren. In bushy or wooded areas, look for woodpeckers and warblers. Keep an eye out for American Kestrel, Cooper’s Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk, as well as Osprey and Bald Eagle. In fall and winter, Northern Harrier patrol the fields. From April to mid-May, Bobolink visit the slopes of the observation hill where tall grass is left unmowed. At the Nature Center’s feeders, Nanday Parakeet, Bronzed Cowbird and Painted and Indigo Bunting now make annual appearances. Eastern Bluebird and Purple Martin regularly raise their young at nearby nesting boxes and houses. At Ackerman Park, look for gulls, terns, herons, egrets, gallinules, coots, Osprey and Bald Eagle and, in winter, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup and both night-herons.
Insider’s Tip: Providing a starting point for visitors, Sarasota Audubon Society Nature Center docents offer maps and information about current sightings, including sightings at the Center’s bird feeders and in the native plant and butterfly gardens. Check at the Nature Center or visit the Sarasota Audubon Society website for information about Celery Fields guided walks and other activities. The Nature Center is open daily, from 9 a.m.- noon, October through May. Check the SAS website (below) for extended hours during January through March. Early each morning, November through April, Sarasota Audubon Society Bird Naturalist volunteers are stationed at both Celery Fields boardwalks—one at Palmer Boulevard and the other at Raymond Road—to help visitors spot and identify birds and other wildlife. Bird Naturalists are officially scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., but many arrive early and stay later.
Celery Fields Address: 6893 Palmer Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34240
Sarasota Audubon Society Nature Center Address: 999 Center Road, Sarasota, FL 34240
Nature Center GPS Coordinates: 27.325492, -82.432337
Ackerman Park Address: 400 Apex Road, Sarasota, FL 34240
Ackerman Park GPS Coordinates: 27.334256, -82.441422
A single eBird Hotspot provides recent sightings for the Celery Fields. An additional Hotspot is available for Ackerman Park.
The Celery Fields
CROWLEY MUSEUM AND NATURE CENTER is a 191-acre privately-owned preserve located on ecologically sensitive land northwest of Myakka River State Park. The preserve is dedicated to discovery of “Old Florida” pioneer history and conservation of native habitat. In September, 2022, with collaboration between the property’s leadership, Sarasota County, and the Conservation Foundation, the property was placed under a conservation easement providing for its permanent protection. A wide, two-mile long, self-guided nature trail winds through five Florida habitats. The trail includes a half-mile boardwalk—closed for reconstruction until further notice—leading through a mixed hardwood swamp to an observation tower overlooking Tatum Sawgrass Marsh and the Myakka River. Trails are suitable for all ages and abilities, but may be slippery after rain. The preserve is usually open to the public at 10 a.m. on several days each week, weather permitting. Phone the Nature Center (941-322-1000) or visit Crowley’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Crowleyfl/) to be sure the park is open. A guided “early morning bird walk” is also available seasonally (see Insider’s Tip). An admission fee is required. Parking and restrooms are available.
Featured Birds: About 200 species have been counted here by eBirders. The Swallow-tailed Kite is part of the Crowley logo and has been seen on the property since the early pioneer days. Barred Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle and Red-headed Woodpecker nest here. Northern Harrier and Sandhill Crane are often seen from the tower. The tower offers good views of the marsh, but a scope is helpful. During migration, warblers may be spotted almost anywhere.
Insider’s Tip: Seasonally, usually beginning in October and continuing through April, a guided, “early morning bird walk” is offered specially for birders every Friday. Gates open at 7:30 a.m. and promptly close 5-10 minutes later, so cars line up at the gate to be sure of entry. The early morning walk takes birders to multiple Crowley locations, and may include a trail walk to the Observation Tower, trail conditions permitting, or, depending on birding opportunities, the walk might begin outside of the preserve proper, but overlooking it. For the guided walk, contact the Nature Center or email email@example.com for all details before visiting. If you happen to be birding at Myakka River State Park on a weekend or state holiday, you can reach Crowley through the north Myakka Park entrance (and vice versa).
Address: 16405 Myakka Rd, Sarasota, FL 34240
GPS Coordinates: 27.306007, -82.260402
GLEBE PARK on Siesta Key—a small, 10-acre neighborhood park, owned and operated by Sarasota County—is only a five-minute drive from the Siesta Key Beach Pavilion and the Gulf of Mexico. Obtained in a land swap in 1984, the park has baseball and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, and a picnic area and playground. It also boasts an impressive count of about 160 eBirder-observed species. The part of the park of primary interest to birders is a narrow, heavily wooded area that, along with a chain-link fence, forms the perimeter of the rectangular park and separates the athletic fields from the surrounding residential community. The Glebe Park Aerial View (see below) offers a perspective of the athletic fields and bordering woodlands. At the west edge of the looping parking lot (with spots for about 26 cars), is the start of a mostly unpaved, but easily-walked trail that winds through the wooded area. Where the trail ends, birders can continue their search by walking along the southern tree boundary while crossing the field towards the parking lot. Restrooms available. No admission Fee.
Featured Birds: During migrations, the park welcomes many woodland birds, including cuckoos, thrushes, vireos, warblers, orioles, and other songbirds. Due to its coastal nature, this park may be the recipient of multiple “fallouts,” hosting scores of migrants during periods of inclement weather. Spring migration, especially, has yielded excellent birding; key species of interest have been Swainson’s Warbler, Black-whiskered Vireo, Dickcissel, and Nashville and Bay-breasted Warbler. The park’s location and plantings have attracted rare vagrant species, even during off-season, e.g., in January 2020, a Bell’s Vireo was found. In summer, the park is often home to breeding families of Downy, Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal and Blue Jay, as well as Eastern Screech-Owl. In any season, with the Gulf of Mexico so near, a fly-over of shorebirds or waders is always possible, as is the chance—during the spring and even through summer lulls—of finding special rarities, such as Caribbean vagrants!
Insider’s Tip: Visiting birders should pay attention to the park’s vegetation and the habits of target species. In the spring, Swainson’s and Kentucky Warbler have been easily viewed in the understory along much of the edging of the park; look for these birds in the NW corner and along the north-central perimeter fence line. The park also has good plantings of fruiting fig trees (large trees are in the SW and north-central zones, with smaller ones scattered about); privet bushes and blooming firebush (at the NE corner); and invasive carrotwood trees (scattered through the park, with a large planting behind the fence, just before the NW corner). These plants attract many migrants and provide an area of focus for birders. Given the park’s emphasis on local athletics, and, being the home of the Suncoast Sports Club, it will not be surprising for birders to learn that parking availability and noise level may be subject to scheduled and unscheduled sporting events. Additionally, parking at an adjacent church may overflow during church events, further reducing available parking at Glebe Park.
Address: 1000 Glebe Lane, Sarasota, FL 34242
GPS Coordinates: 27.273704, -82.549248
Ken Thompson Park—named after Sarasota’s City Manager (1950-1988)—is a 22-acre, mixed-use park on Lido Key’s 58-acre City Island. The park is adjacent to the current site of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. (Although not a birding site, Mote Marine’s Sea Life Encounter boat trips offer a seasonal opportunity to view birds, including pelicans, herons and egrets, in their nesting habitat). The park is owned and operated by the City of Sarasota. More than 150 avian species have been reported by eBirders in and around the park and City Island. The park offers many views of Sarasota Bay and boasts walking/biking trails (leashed dogs permitted), fishing, kayaking and picnic areas, as well as a playground, ample parking and restrooms. City Island is also home to Save Our Seabirds, an organization committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured birds while maintaining the goal of releasing them back to their natural habitats. There are no admission fees at City Island, Ken Thompson Park, or Save Our Seabirds. Another favorite hotspot, Quick Point Nature Preserve, is a 5-minute drive away from Ken Thompson Park on City Island.
Featured Birds: Depending upon the season and tides, scan the mudflats and mini-beaches that surround City Island for shore birds and waterbirds, including Common Loon, Reddish Egret, Osprey, Royal and Sandwich Tern, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. Search the sky for Magnificent Frigatebird. Along paths and boardwalks, look for Belted Kingfisher. Gray Kingbird and Loggerhead Shrike (year-round) both breed here and are seen regularly. At Save Our Seabirds, a waterfall, pool and nearby trees attract egrets and herons and, during migration, songbirds. During nesting season, the small island just offshore (follow the parkway to the boat launching area) is a rookery that can provide good views of colonial nesting species, such as Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron and White Ibis.
Insider’s Tip: Birders should not miss the Mangrove Boardwalk, whose trail leads through a rich bird habitat composed of mangrove forest, tidal lagoons and wetlands (located adjacent to the large field and NNE of the public boat ramp). The area attracts Yellow-crowned Night-Heron—often seen stalking crabs—and a variety of migrating warblers, vireos and thrushes. The boardwalk has recently undergone repair and is open and accessible, although visitors may encounter narrow passages and low hanging branches integral to the mangrove canopy experience. (Another trail with boardwalks, known as the Sarasota BayWalk, is located just to the west of Mote Marine at 1500 Ken Thompson Parkway, but it has fallen into disrepair). To see an aerial view of the park and City Island, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map.
Another “don’t miss” opportunity awaits at Save our Seabirds. While the facility tries to rehabilitate injured and sick birds so they may be returned to their natural habitats, release sometimes is not possible. The organization, therefore, operates a lifelong sanctuary offering specialized medical care for those birds that become residents. In addition to telling their stories to educate the public about avian conservation, this facility (across the parking lot from Mote) provides opportunities for visitors and experienced birders alike to view resident birds close-up.
Address: 1700 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS: 27.334667, -82.576358
LAKE OSPREY is a privately-owned, unusually shallow lake located just south of University Parkway, within the Lakewood Ranch subdivision (and not to be confused with a similarly named lake in Oscar Scherer State Park). Access to the lake is most often gained via Lake Osprey Drive, off University Parkway. Note that Lake Osprey Drive begins a two-mile driving or hiking loop that goes all the way around the lake: University Parkway>Lake Osprey Drive>Professional Parkway W>Town Center Parkway>University Parkway (and vice versa). Lake Osprey is one of only a few places in northern Sarasota County where Purple Gallinule breed. At various points around the lake, it is possible to see birds up close; however, a scope is often very helpful in scanning for birds along more distant shorelines. Birders may consider combining a visit to Lake Osprey with a trip to Nathan Benderson Park, only a few minutes’ drive to the west (across I-75). No public restrooms. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: About 140 species have been reported in the Lake Osprey area by eBirders. Open water and wetlands of reeds and Spatterdock (Nuphar advena) provide the most common view from the shoreline. At most times of the year, look for wading birds, as well as Purple Gallinule and other local breeders, such as Least Bittern, Common Gallinule and Wood Duck. From sidewalks that ring the lake, check bushes and trees for Brown Thrasher and Common Yellowthroat, and, recently, White-winged Dove. Migrating warblers may be spotted here in spring and fall. Northern Bobwhite sometimes may be seen along meadows at Professional Drive and Lake Osprey Drive.
Insider’s Tip: Sidewalks and parking lots on the lake side of the roads can get you close to the lake at many points. Hiking around the lake is a good strategy, but lake views are sometimes obscured by buildings, especially on the west side of the lake. Another good strategy might be to find an unrestricted parking spot, bird the nearby lake area, walk a bit on adjacent sidewalks, and then drive to another parking location. Please use caution around the lake—alligators may be lurking—and be careful to respect all parking restrictions. At the western edge of the lake, the best birding and parking are often found at the Keiser/Everglades University lot; however, a sign at the lot entrance at 6001 Lake Osprey Drive indicates that this area is available for parking by permit-only and unauthorized vehicles may be towed. Nevertheless, visitors have successfully birded here when remaining close to their vehicles. Roving university guards generally have been receptive in allowing birding. Another favorite spot to park and view Purple Gallinule is the currently vacant, former Lakewood Ranch Visitor Information Center, at 6220 University Parkway (just west of the 1st Citizens’ Bank); when driving from the west on University Parkway, pass Lake Osprey Drive and make the next right into the Visitor Center. The EVEN Hotel, at 6231 Lake Osprey Drive, and one of the two main entrances for Keiser University (the one closer to I-75), do not appear to have parking restrictions, nor do most office and retail parking lots on the lake south of there. Also, at this time, a number of business buildings appear to be vacant and their parking lots may be unrestricted.
GPS Coordinates: 27.384610, -82.441621
LEMON BAY PARK is a multi-use park located in urban Englewood that is operated by Sarasota County. Beginning in 1984 as a 48-acre parcel, the park has grown through additional land purchases to 210-acres. More than four miles of mainly unpaved nature trails (generally accessible to most visitors) cut through the roughly triangular-shaped park, traversing black mangrove forest, mangrove fringe and shoreline vegetation, as well as pine and scrubby flatwoods. With the property’s western edge extending for 1.7 miles along the Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve, the park provides opportunity for woodlands, wetlands and bayside birding. The main entrance—with its Environmental Center, substantial parking, restrooms, and the half-mile (roundtrip) Bayshore Trail—occupies the southern corner of the property. Contact Sarasota County offices at (941) 861-5000 for information on scheduled bird walks and other activities. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: More than 175 avian species have been sighted in the park by eBirders. Bald Eagle, Pine Warbler and Wood Duck are known to breed here and both species of crowned night-herons hunt in the mangroves throughout the year. In winter, overlooks on the Bayshore Trail may provide views of the open water where Red-breasted Merganser and loons might be seen, while plovers, sandpipers, gulls and terns patrol closer to the shoreline. Spring and fall migration bring numerous warblers and vireos, while Northern Bobwhite may be seen into the summer months, along with more common resident species, such as Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, herons, egrets, woodpeckers and Osprey.
Insider’s Tip: From the Environmental Center, the wide, packed sand-shell Eagle Trail meanders for two miles (round-trip), through pine and scrubby flatwoods towards the park’s north boundary. As the park is adjacent to a residential area, expect to see walkers, joggers and dog-walkers. “You-Are-Here” signs are posted at intervals along the trail, and several mowed-grass trails diverge from the Eagle Trail and head towards the bay. The entrance to the half-mile, out-and-back Flatwoods Trail, located in the northwest corner of the park, can be accessed via a “walk-thru” fence at 1063 Bayshore Drive (look for a small sign off the right-of-way).
Address: 570 Bay Park Blvd. Englewood, FL 34223
GPS Coordinates: 26.972241, -82.373972
The LIDO BEACHES run the entire Gulf-side length of Lido Key—a barrier island just northwest of St. Armands Circle. At the north end of the Key, especially during migration, birders visit NORTH LIDO BEACH PARK, where they have a chance to see both seashore and woodland birds in one outing, and where eBirders have reported about 215 species. Additional shorebird activity can be accessed about a half-mile south, at LIDO KEY BEACH, with more than 140 species sighted, and substantial beach parking available. At the south end of the Key, birders also seeking both woodland and shorebirds can combine a visit to SOUTH LIDO COUNTY (BEACH) PARK (more than 205 species), with the TED SPERLING NATURE PARK AT SOUTH LIDO (about 140 species). Parking is available at both northern and southern ends of Lido Key. No admission fee, although parking lots may be metered. At North Lido Beach Park, the nearest public restrooms are at Lido Key Beach.
Featured Birds: Along the sandy beaches, look for plovers, terns, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, and Marbled Godwit, as well as common shorebirds and occasional warblers. In the spring—in the wooded areas—watch for all kinds of warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, orioles, buntings, and thrushes. In fall/winter, American Kestrel patrol the area and warblers arrive, some staying for the season. At North Lido Beach Park, look for Bald Eagle and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. For several years during summer, North Lido Beach Park has been home to protected nesting species, like Black Skimmer and Least Tern, with large colonies of Black Skimmer also often nesting on Lido Key Beach. Nesting birds are especially sensitive to disturbances; birders/photographers are reminded to always use ethical birding practices.
Insider’s Tip: When visiting the north part of the Key, bear right and park in, or close to the small metered lot at the end of John Ringling Boulevard (where Ben Franklin Drive, with its currently free on-street parking, veers to the left), a few blocks beyond St. Armands Circle. You can enter North Lido Beach Park from the parking lot by walking a short distance back down John Ringling Boulevard (towards St. Armands Circle), turning left onto N. Polk Drive, and then onto Emerson Drive, with its park entrance sign. A nice hike also starts near this parking area, where a short boardwalk heads towards the beach. At the end of the boardwalk, instead of walking towards the water, turn right and take the sandy path that parallels beach homes and heads towards the woods. Follow the path past the beach homes and make a right into the woods and then turn left (north) on the wooded trail. Continue to walk north in the woods as far as you can along an overgrown and mostly hidden lagoon, taking time to explore trails that wander off towards the beach. You can then exit the woods and walk back along the beach. If you plan to make this hike in the early morning and want the sun at your back, it’s recommended that you walk to the water’s edge first, then head north on the beach for about two-thirds of a mile until you traverse a concrete seawall. Retrace a few steps and enter the woods from the east, then, in the woods, follow sandy trails in a generally southward direction towards the park entrance at Emerson Drive. To see an aerial view of the area and some trails, click on the Map & Directions link (below), change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map.
To visit the southern end of Lido Key, park in the lot at South Lido County (Beach) Park, at the end of Benjamin Franklin Drive; then walk towards the trailhead to the north, beyond the restroom pavilion. From the trailhead, unpaved trails diverge into the southern part of Ted Sperling Nature Park, looping through marsh and mangroves, while generally paralleling the bayside beach. Or, just walk north along the bayside beach, entering the woods at trail openings. To get from South Lido County (Beach) Park to the northern part of Ted Sperling Nature Park, with its kayak rental area, mangrove tunnels and trails, drive back north on Benjamin Franklin Drive and turn right on Taft Drive.
Address, North Lido Beach Park: 159 Emerson Dr. Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS Coordinates, North Lido Beach Park: 27.319574, -82.581975
Address, Lido Key Beach (Main Public Beach Access): 400 Benjamin Franklin Dr, Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS Coordinates: 27.311123, -82.577187
Address, South Lido County (Beach) Park (beach and south Ted Sperling parking): 2198 Ben Franklin Drive
GPS Coordinates: 27.299417, -82.566468
Address, Ted Sperling Nature Park (and Mangrove Tunnels): 259 Taft Dr., Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS Coordinates: 27.309164, -82.569693
Lido Beaches eBird Hotspots
eBirders Please Note: To better separate the adjacent eBird Hotspots of North Lido Beach Park and Lido Key Beach, local birders draw an imaginary line from Emerson Drive (last beach house with a red roof) extending west to the beach; birds sighted north of this line are recorded in the North Lido Beach Hotspot, while sightings south of the line are counted for the Lido Key Beach Hotspot.
Links to eBird Hotspots
MANASOTA SCRUB PRESERVE (not to be confused with a similarly named preserve in Charlotte County) was purchased by Sarasota County under the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program. Located adjacent to the heavily developed, suburban neighborhoods of Venice and Englewood, the preserve is dedicated to protecting the existence of Old Florida habitats, upon which rare and threatened species are dependent. The preserve has now grown to 179 acres, with the assistance of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast serving as the most recent acquisition agent for the County. Habitats in the preserve include pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, a hardwood swamp and a depression marsh. Hiking trails are primitive and unpaved, yet remain accessible to most visitors. From the main entrance on Bridge Street, a 330-foot boardwalk leads to a one-mile hiking loop—complete with trail markers and benches—providing access to the often tree-shaded trails in the preserve east of Bridge Street. West of Bridge Street, additional “walk-in and walk-out” trails, with trailheads identified by marked fence-openings, extend deeper into the preserve. Leashed pets are permitted to the east, but not west of Bridge Street, which may influence birding experiences. It is recommended that visitors bring water, insect repellent, sunscreen, sturdy shoes and a rain jacket, in case the weather changes. A compass or cell phone compass-app may prove helpful. The preserve has no restrooms. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Preserve eBirders have reported sighting almost 160 species, including woodpeckers, ducks, waders, raptors, and songbirds, with most warblers arriving during migration. Great-Horned Owl commonly breed in the preserve, and Red-tailed Hawk often may be seen soaring over the section west of Bridge Street. (Despite the seemingly appropriate preserve habitat, the endangered Florida Scrub-Jay has not been recorded here since 2007).
Insider’s Tip: Dedicated parking is very limited. There are a few parking spots at the entrance immediately after turning onto Bridge Street, but visitors may park on roadside shoulders—please pull off the road as far as possible and avoid parking on private property. The most rewarding time to visit the preserve may be during bird migrations. When driving or walking on Bridge Street’s gravel roadway, seek out the oak-canopied areas, as these often shelter migratory songbirds. Fifth Street, as it jogs east off Bridge Street to form the southern perimeter of the east section, bisects a wetland where waterthrushes and other species may be spotted in spring and fall. In the preserve’s interior, the picnic area (near the main entrance) and wetlands are good places to pause and scan for birds.
Address: 2695 Bridge St, Englewood, FL 34223
GPS Coordinates: 27.020668, -82.393930
The Downtown Sarasota Campus of MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS (a second Selby location is the Historic Spanish Point Campus, Osprey, Florida), is best known for its collection of orchids, but its 15-acre bayfront grounds also contain a wide array of colorful tropical plants in outdoor gardens and greenhouses. If you are already planning a trip to enjoy the gardens, be sure to bring your binoculars, as the exotic vegetation and bayfront location attract a wide variety of birds. In June 2021, work began on the first phase of a multi-year renovation of the Downtown Sarasota Campus. Check the website or call Selby at (941) 366-5731, for any construction-related updates. Parking and restrooms are available and paths are mostly paved. Please note that the gardens do not open until 10:00 a.m. and a substantial admission fee is charged. Check the website for fees.
Featured Birds: Shorebirds, such as Dunlin and Willet, are drawn to the shallow mudflats at the southern point of the Gardens, especially at low tide. In the winter, Redhead and other waterfowl may be seen on the Bay. Selby displays several other habitats, including: a hardwood hammock that may prove inviting to smaller migrating species and woodpeckers; a mangrove ecosystem where both night-herons might be viewed from a boardwalk, and a tidal lagoon often attracting herons and egrets. Historically, eBirders have sighted more than145 species here.
Insider’s Tip: You can experience several Selby habitats by following paths paralleling the shoreline (see Trail Map, below, for landmarks). After exiting Admissions, walk through the Bamboo Garden (Trail Map marker #8) and follow the trail to the boat ramp overlooking Hudson’s Bayou (near #15). Continue clockwise along the trail, past the Wedding Pavilion (#16) and then onto the Mangrove Walkway (#17). Finally, head north to see the tidal lagoon (#21) and hardwood hammock (#22).
Selby Gardens is a good jumping-off place for a “Driving Tour of Sarasota Bay Birding Hotspots.” From Selby, go north on US 41, stopping first at Bayfront Park (eBird) to look for Gray Kingbird in summer, and nesting Green Heron and Northern Rough-winged Swallow under the boat docks. Then, head to the 10th Street boat ramp, Sarasota Bayfront Recreational Trail (eBird), and, in winter, look out on the Bay for Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper (on the rocks), Red-breasted Merganser and Bonaparte’s Gull. Finally, stop at the Charles Hegener Memorial Nature Walk, located on Bay Shore Road and 40th Street (view a video of the nature walk by clicking here), as well as the overlook at 2701 Bay Shore (just before Hegener). During low tide, it’s possible to walk out onto the flats and get close to the birds. In early morning, the sun is at your back for both birding and photography. Parking is permitted on side streets at these last two locations.
Marie Selby Downtown Sarasota Campus Address: 1534 Mound Street, Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS Coordinates: 27.327079, -82.540233
MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK (MRSP) is the oldest and, at 37,000+ acres, or 57 square miles, the largest of Florida’s state parks. The Myakka River—a state-designated wild and scenic river—flows through the park for 12 miles. The main road winds past oak and palm hammocks that open to views of grassy marshes, sloughs and Upper Myakka Lake. Hikers may venture beyond the paved drive and hike on more than 39 miles of marked trails across large, open expanses of dry prairie, pine flatwoods and numerous small wetlands. The staffed, main (south) park entrance and Ranger Station is off SR-72 (Clark Road). Check the park website or the Ranger Station at 941-361-6511, for park closings during seasonal floods and all admission fees. Restrooms are available. The north entrance gate to SR-780 is only open to autos on weekends and state holidays, and only from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Park fees are placed in an “honor box” when no park personnel are present.
Featured Birds: Over the years, eBirders have reported sighting about 255 species in MRSP. eBird Recent Sightings, Myakka River SP Many shorebirds, waders, swallows and ducks can be seen while driving the main road, from the banks of the Upper Lake and from a wooden boardwalk that extends—during wet periods—into the Upper Lake. In wooded spots, prairies and open areas, a vast array of species are likely to be seen, including raptors, woodpeckers, Wild Turkey, vultures, and, mostly during migration, warblers and other smaller species. In all seasons, carefully scan kettles of vultures for Short-tail Hawk. The hawk breeds in the park in spring and frequently soars with the vultures. Both dark and light morphs have been recorded.
Insider’s Tip: Although there are many good places to bird within the park, the following locations can be visited sequentially while driving the main road north from the main park entrance (off SR-72):
Bridge (0.9 miles from entrance). Commonly seen are grebes, Common Gallinule, Wood Stork, ibis, egrets, Roseate Spoonbill, and…alligators. Park off the road, before or after the bridge. eBird recent sightings, Myakka River SP Bridge
Canopy Walkway, with its own parking area, is a family-friendly, hanging bridge and 76-foot high observation tower, with a nature trail branching out for longer hikes. eBird recent sightings, Canopy Walk.
Powerline Road: As you walk to the left towards the river, look for Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, vireos and warblers. Osprey may be nesting atop the power line poles. Park on the road shoulders.
At the fork in the main road, bear right and drive 1.8 miles to the Birdwalk, where Park Bird Naturalists are available, November through mid-April, most days of the week from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Call the Ranger Station at 941-361-6511, to see if a naturalist will be on duty the day you plan to visit. eBird recent sightings, Myakka River SP Birdwalk
Return to the fork in the road and turn right to the Concession and Boat Ramp area. Boat and tram tours are based here and canoes and bicycles can be rented. A footpath leads from the parking lot to the area where the Upper Lake now flows into the river (formerly the historic weir area) and, from there, you may bird along the banks of the Upper Lake. eBird recent sightings, Myakka River SP Boat Ramp Area
There are two additional MRSP eBird Hotspots,: “Myakka River SP–Deep Hole Road,” where more than 135 species have been reported and which leads to the Lower Myakka Lake (permit required; limited to 30 visitors per day): https://ebird.org/hotspot/L5135027 AND “Myakka River SP–South Entrance Pond” https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2602960
GPS Coordinates: 27.240270, -82.315427
NATHAN BENDERSON PARK, located near the mall at University Town Center, is a Sarasota County-owned park, managed by a not-for-profit organization primarily as a multi-use sports venue. A 400-acre lake, which attracts world-class rowing competition, is contained within the 600-acre community park. Handicapped-accessible paths include the 3.5-mile paved loop around the lake perimeter. The park can be a productive place to view birds, with more than 160 species reported by eBirders, but new construction, including a 110,000 square foot marine science education aquarium at the northern end of the park, changes in habitat, such as a decrease in plantings around the lake, large mowed areas, and alterations in the shoreline to enhance sporting activities, may adversely affect birding opportunities. Recently, however, planting of a “microforest” began on the southern end of Regatta Island. Check the calendar on the Park Website for scheduled events. Visitors may want to combine their visit to the park with a visit to Lake Osprey, only a few minutes’ drive to the east (across I-75). There is adequate parking at Nathan Benderson Park, especially when no events are scheduled. Restrooms are available and there is no admission fee to enter the park grounds.
Featured Birds: The park lake has been a good place to find wintering Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, American White Pelican, and American Coot. Other possibilities include Caspian, Royal, Forster’s and Gull-billed Tern, and Bonaparte’s Gull in the winter. Other birds that have been recorded include Limpkin, Glossy Ibis, Least Bittern, Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant, Carolina Wren, Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Killdeer. Sandhill Crane and waders roost at the north end of the lake in the evening. Domestic Helmeted Guineafowl, Monk Parakeet and American Kestrel (Southeastern) often nest here and rarities, such as Snow Goose, have been found occasionally.
Insider’s Tip: The park is roughly rectangular in shape, stretching north and south, with the lake in the center. A quiet place to bird is along a partially tree-shaded, crushed shell path at the park’s western border that runs parallel to World Championship Drive (with many small parking lots spaced at intervals). Look for Common Yellowthroat, herons and other waders in the wetlands under the power lines, and songbirds in the trees. At the south-east end of the park, just before World Championship Drive begins to loop east toward Cattlemen Road, take Athlete’s Drive to the West Boat Ramp and West Lake Parking lot and look for birds around the adjoining lakes and on the power lines. Monk Parakeet and American Kestrel may be seen year-round in this area. To see an aerial view of major trails/roads, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map.
Address: 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota, FL 34235
GPS Coordinates: 27.374345, -82.450069
OSCAR SCHERER STATE PARK (OSSP) is located in Osprey, FL, along US-41, just south of Blackburn Point Road. This 1,400-acre park offers birders one of the best chances in south-west Florida to see the Florida Scrub-Jay—a friendly, non-migratory species endemic to Florida—whose threatened population has steeply declined with loss of habitat. Periodic controlled burns are used to maintain the best habitat for the jays. The park has about 15 miles of well-marked, named and color-coded hiking trails, from 0.5 to 5.0 miles long, with surfaces that range from paved and handicapped accessible, to hard-packed sand, to deeper soft sand that may be difficult to traverse in spots. Restrooms and parking are available at OSSP. Check the park website for admission fees. In 2014, a 287-acre property with similar habitat, the SCHERER THAXTON PRESERVE, opened on the park’s eastern border, with its main entrance on Honore Avenue. The preserve has a small lake and adjacent Fitness Trail, as well as unpaved trails that veer off into the scrubby flatwoods and the taller trees of OSSP. Check the OSSP website for operating hours and admission fees. Restroom construction has been put on hold at Scherer Thaxton Preserve. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: In addition to the Florida Scrub-Jay—which might be seen on any OSSP trail—other birds that breed here include Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl and Red-headed Woodpecker. Five resident species of woodpeckers may be sighted. Numerous stands of large oaks attract warblers, vireos and gnatcatchers in winter, as well as other birds during migration. In open prairies, look for Eastern Meadowlark and Loggerhead Shrike, and in brushy shrubland, look for Eastern Towhee. Raptors include American Kestrel, Cooper’s, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawk, and, in winter, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Northern Harrier. Peregrine Falcon and Merlin are present in spring and Swallow-tailed Kite in spring and summer. From March to May, Bachman Sparrow breed and may be heard vocalizing in the park just west of the Scherer Thaxton Preserve. More than 225 species have been reported in OSSP by eBirders, with more than 120 species reported at Scherer Thaxton Preserve.
Insider’s Tip: The Green Trail at OSSP is a good place to see raptors and woodpeckers, including Red-headed Woodpecker, but it can be very hot where shade trees are lacking. Cooler walks—and, in season, migrating songbirds—may be found among the trees along South Creek (Lester Finley Trail and South Creek Nature Trail) and Lake Osprey (not to be confused with another Lake Osprey in Lakewood Ranch). The recently opened 0.3-mile Orange Trail provides a shortcut to Big Lake. The Yellow Trail connects OSSP trails to the Scherer Thaxton Preserve trail system and to the Legacy Trail. Each Sunday at 8:30 a.m., throughout the year, OSSP conducts a guided, one-and-a-half hour “Scrub-Jay Walk” through the park’s scrubby flatwoods. Check the park website, or contact the OSSP Park Ranger office (941-483-5956) for additional information about guided walks and “off-hours” permits for early morning entry to the park.
Links to recent sightings at Oscar Scherer State Park eBird Hotspots (two) and at the Thaxton Scherer Preserve Hotspot are displayed here:
Links to recent sightings at Oscar Scherer State Park eBird Hotspots (two) and at the Thaxton Scherer Preserve Hotspot are displayed here:
Oscar Scherer State Park
Address: 1843 South Tamiami Tr., Osprey FL 34229
GPS Coordinates: 27.169771, -82.476867
Scherer Thaxton Preserve
Address: 13125 Honore Ave. Osprey, FL 34229
GPS Coordinates: 27.192709, -82.441439
PINECRAFT PARK is a small, 15-acre Sarasota County neighborhood park, located in Sarasota’s Mennonite and Amish communities. The main entrance and an adequate parking lot are off Bahia Vista Street via Gilbert Street. From the parking area, you will see a paved walkway with many oak trees, picnic tables, a pavilion, playground, restrooms and a boat ramp for launching canoes or kayaks into Phillippi Creek, which makes up the park’s entire western border. Private residences and a small stream establish the border for much of the park on its eastern and southern boundaries. The entrance to the heavily wooded—and, for birders, most popular portion of the park—lies directly south of the parking area. A small bridge leads to numerous shady, interconnected dirt trails that wind between the tall canopied trees. For an aerial view of the park’s boundaries and parking lot, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map (interior trails are not visible). No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The combination of a diverse wooded habitat and streams found in this urban oasis attracts an amazing variety of birds; more than 215 species have been recorded here by eBirders. The wooded area—a mesic hammock unique to southern Florida—is particularly good for passerines, especially warblers, during migration. In periods of inclement weather that interfere with migration, the park has proven to be a safe harbor for birds, with many “fallouts” recorded. In all seasons, check the creek banks for wrens, herons, Common Gallinule, ducks, ibis, Anhinga and warblers. Species known to often breed here include Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Green Heron, Wood Duck and Northern Parula.
Insider’s Tip: Taking a circular path near the boundaries of the wooded area—close to the stream or Phillippi Creek—is usually the most popular birding route, but don’t forget to check-out the innermost portion, called “the Pit,” where special birds often “hide out” during migration. While some paths in the hammock are level and easily walked, many have protruding tree roots, encroaching vegetation, or can become slippery when wet. Short sections of trail, especially along the creek, may always prove difficult for those with mobility limitations. The heavily wooded part of the park is not wheelchair accessible.
Address: 1420 Gilbert Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34239
GPS Coordinates: 27.320952, -82.503629
QUICK POINT NATURE PRESERVE—a 34-acre preserve, operated by the Town of Longboat Key—was established for the purpose of protecting and restoring a unique wetland and mangrove habitat. The preserve features uplands, tidal swamps, and man-made and natural lagoons. Trails and boardwalks overlook the mangroves and offer good views of the mudflats of New Pass and the sandbars of Sarasota Bay. The preserve is located at the south end of Longboat Key, on the east (Bay) side of Gulf of Mexico Drive. Adequate parking is available at Overlook Park, on the west side of Gulf of Mexico Drive (with an additional 4-6 spaces found at 280 Gulf of Mexico Drive). The main out-and-back trail into the preserve begins at the south end of the Overlook Park parking lot. Walk under the bridge into the preserve. No admission fee. About a 5-minute drive away from the preserve, another birding hotspot, Ken Thompson Park on City Island, has the closest public restrooms.
Featured Birds: About 175 species have been reported in the preserve by eBirders. Birds you may encounter include many waders and shorebirds, such as American Oystercatcher, terns, ibis, and both night-herons. Osprey are commonly seen and Bald Eagle and Bonaparte’s Gull have been sighted. During migration, warblers, thrushes and flycatchers may be found in the canopy and brush.
Insider’s Tip: After walking under the bridge into the preserve—often past fishermen testing their luck—and passing the preserve’s welcome sign, the main trail (accessible for most, but occasionally consisting of deeper sand) heads off along the New Pass shoreline for about a half-mile. During spring and fall migration, warblers and other songbirds can be spotted anywhere along the trail, often beginning just as you enter the park. The main trail ends at the Sarasota Bay Lookout Point, which is the usual turn-around spot for the trip back to the parking lot. Before heading back, look on the immediate right after leaving the Lookout boardwalk for a narrow, mostly single-file, sometimes rough path. This out-and-back path provides good birding opportunities as it parallels the shoreline and mangrove fringe for a substantial distance, opening at several places to mini-beaches with nice views. Look for Connecticut Warbler in late spring! Upon returning to the welcome sign, birders might want to explore the tree-lined, paved sidewalk that heads to the parking area at 280 Gulf of Mexico Drive and the Water Tower Site.
Address: 100 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, FL 34228
GPS Coordinates: 27.334222, -82.582777
RED BUG SLOUGH PRESERVE is a small urban park, acquired by Sarasota County in 2000-2001, primarily under the County’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program. The 72-acre site, restored in 2014, contains hardwood swamp and mesic hammock, bisected by a lovely lake and water slough. The preserve is adapted for multiple uses and has a small playground, fishing dock, restrooms at the main entrance, and picnic shelters and benches overlooking the lake. Several miles of mostly unpaved trails, identified by numerical trail markers, cut back-and-forth through the preserve, attracting hikers, bikers, and dog walkers—some with dogs illegally off leash. Trails may be seasonally flooded in summer and, while accessible to most visitors, many trails may prove difficult for wheelchair-bound birders. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Since 2009—when eBirders began recording sightings in and around the preserve—more than 185 avian species have been counted. In wooded areas, look for Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and migrant vireos and warblers. Near water, you can view Belted Kingfisher, Anhinga, herons, egrets, ducks, and both night-herons, to name only a few. Wood Duck are commonly seen in a small pond located between Trail Markers 8 and 9. These ducks, Red-shouldered Hawk and many other species breed here.
Insider’s Tip: The main entrance and parking lot is located off Beneva Road, next to the small playground. Parking is limited and may be difficult at times, but construction of more parking and the addition of other amenities is slated to begin in late 2022. A second entrance is located where S. Lockwood Ridge Road dead-ends at Gypsy Street, at the intersection of the two major preserve parcels. This entrance has even fewer official parking spots, but visitors have been known to park their cars on the Gypsy Street road shoulder. To access the northwest parcel, you simply exit the southeast parcel and cross Gypsy Street to reenter the park, and vice versa (see Trail Map and Park Information links below). In the northwest parcel, a small area containing trail markers 30-32 is difficult to access, but, if the water level in the slough is low, it is possible to enter this area by crossing over a small concrete dam (about 130 yards north along the main trail, after the Gypsy Street/S. Lockwood Rd intersection). Two wooden bridges near marker 28 traverse swampy terrain that’s good for wading birds and migrating songbirds. Early morning and late afternoon visits are best for both parking and birding.
Address: Main Entrance: 5200 Beneva Rd, Sarasota, 34231
GPS Coordinates, Main Entrance: 7.277599, -82.497921
ROTHENBACH PARK is a Sarasota County-operated community park, located at the east end of Bee Ridge Road. The site was a landfill—now long-closed, capped and landscaped—with woods and lakes that border “the hill.” The park includes restrooms, picnic tables and grills. Two paved recreational trails separately circle the main parking area: the “Solar Trail” which loops around a solar power plant (a 1-mile trail) and the “Hammock Loop Trail,” which circles the hill (a 2.75-mile trail). These trails are suitable for all ages and abilities and are used for walking, running, cycling and, of course, birding. Although the trees next to the main parking lot provide some birding opportunities, the Hammock Loop Trail is of primary interest to birders; it runs through open grassland, alongside ponds, and through beautiful woodlands. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: eBirders have recorded about 155 species here. The mixed habitat is home to numerous woodland birds and open grassland species, including Eastern Meadowlark and sparrows. In open areas, Red-shouldered Hawk may perch atop trees and poles. In spring and fall, Bobolink can be found on the grassy slopes of the hill. The shady woodland provides habitat for Northern Parula, Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Wintering and migrating birds include many species of warblers, thrushes, tanagers, and orioles. Ducks and other waterfowl can be found on and around the ponds.
Insider’s Tip: When the Hammock Loop Trail circling the center hill enters the woodland, it becomes cool and shady, with benches available to sit and wait for birds to appear. However, long stretches of trail, both before and after the wooded area, are devoid of shade and can be extremely hot and sun-baked. A park road provides a shortcut to the woodlands (see Trail Map, below). After driving into the park, bear right at the fork towards the main parking area, but then make a left onto the paved, South Access Road, that runs along the base of the hill (parallel to the western part of the Hammock Loop Trail). It ends in a 45-car parking area and scenic overlook, which leaves only a 0.25-mile walk on the partly-shaded and paved “Turkey Trail,” to reach the cooler woodlands.
Address: 8650 Bee Ridge Rd, Sarasota, FL 34241
GPS Coordinates: 27.295732, -82.397337
SIESTA KEY BEACH, with its white, cool-to-the-touch, 99% pure quartz sand, is often listed among the top beaches in the United States and the world. It attracts beach lovers and birders alike. More than 220 avian species have been recorded at Siesta Key Beach by eBirders. An important birding strategy, especially during the “Tourist/Snow Bird” season, is to arrive in the early morning (before 8:00 a.m.) or late afternoon (after 4-5 p.m.), when crowds of beachgoers are less likely to be present and finding a parking spot may be considerably easier. Arriving at the main Public Beach parking lot, birders can walk about a mile north along a wide stretch of beach towards Beach Access 5. Or, head in a southerly direction for a similar distance towards Point of Rocks, where condominiums are located and the beach is known as Crescent Beach. Restrooms are located in the main pavilions at Siesta Key Beach. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Sanderling, sandpipers, gulls, terns, Brown Pelican, Osprey, Ruddy Turnstone, and Roseate Spoonbill are seen commonly. Egrets, sometimes including Reddish Egret, can be found along the shoreline and in marshy spots. In spring and summer, Least Tern and Snowy Plover may be viewed usually north of the Public Beach to Beach Access 5, and the plovers may nest in sectioned-off areas. Migrating shorebirds, such as American Avocet, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalarope, Marbled Godwit, and many others, may stop by.
Insider’s Tip: In the early morning (and late afternoon), if you plan to bird mostly at the northern end of Siesta Key Beach, a modest number of parking spaces may be available at Beach Access 5 (about 215 eBird species counted) and Beach Access 7 (about 175 species), as well as at nearby Beach Accesses 8 and 9. Or, park at the far north end of the main public lot and walk north on the beach—early morning sunlight will be mostly at your back (and vice versa for late afternoon birding and photography). In any direction, don’t forget to check out tidal pools for waders and shorebirds. Scanning the Gulf of Mexico horizon for birds in flight, especially with a spotting scope, can be very productive.
Address: 948 Beach Rd., Siesta Key, FL 34242
GPS Coordinates: 27.266042, -82.550960
Three eBird reports of recent sightings are available for Siesta Key Beach:
SOUTH VENICE LEMON BAY PRESERVE, an exciting, relatively new birding spot located in heavily populated South Venice, was conceived in 1999 primarily as a habitat refuge for the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay. The preserve, which mostly abuts Lemon Bay, is now viewed as integral to the protection of the Lemon Bay estuary, as well as providing habitat for Bald Eagle, scrub-jay families, wading birds, fish, gopher tortoise, bobcats, and other animal and plant species in need of protection. Sarasota County owns and operates the preserve; with the aid of its land acquisition agents—the Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, plus funding from state grants—the County has made incremental land purchases expanding the refuge to its current 222-acre size. About eight miles of unpaved hiking trails, which are accessible for most visitors, enable exploration of several coastal habitats, including open scrubby flatwoods, mesic pine flatwoods, tidal marshes and tidal swamp. A restored wetlands slough can be accessed by boardwalks. There are no rest rooms or shelters, but benches are scattered throughout. No entrance fee.
Featured Birds: While scrub-jays may be the initial attraction, visitors may encounter many of the more than 140 bird species observed in the preserve by eBirders. Bald Eagle nest here regularly and there have been reports of encounters between the eagles and Great Horned Owl, which try to force the eagles from the nest. Eastern Screech-Owl also may be seen. Lured by its bayside location, wading birds may be viewed through “windows” in the often overgrown vegetation along the bay. Warblers and vireos make their way to the preserve during spring and fall migrations.
Insider’s Tip: The preserve is divided into several parcels (see the Trail Map), with two main public access points; one at 6200 Osprey Road, with designated parking for eight vehicles, and another at 5472 Kenisco Road, where parking is on the road shoulder, parallel to the preserve; please watch for gopher tortoises when along Kenisco Road. Note that the northern parcel is bisected by tidal swamps, so there is no interior passage from the southern parking area to the northernmost part of the preserve. Most visitors drive the short distance between the two main access points. Visiting birders might choose to walk along the perimeter of the preserve, which offers more live oak-shaded trails and better potential for spotting migrating passerines. The scrubby flatwoods—in an area closest to the parking lot and dominated by shorter trees, e.g., sand live oak, Chapman’s oak, and myrtle oak—support the Florida Scrub-Jay, Brown Thrasher, and transient buntings. Raptors are more easily seen in the “big sky” over the scrubby flatwoods. Several trails may be closed from October 1 to May 15, to provide some protection for nesting eagles. Trail markers help to orient visitors, but a compass or cell phone compass-app may assist in navigating around the preserve. Some trails have little shade, so use sun protection and carry water. Sturdy shoes are also recommended because sandspurs (burrs) are found commonly. To adequately explore the preserve’s extensive trails and the wide array of habitats, many birders opt to make multiple visits.
Address: 6200 Osprey Rd, Venice, FL 34293
GPS Coordinates: 27.022405, -82.409299
URFER FAMILY PARK is a family-oriented park with a variety of play equipment designed for toddlers through teens. For birders, hikers and runners, a multi-use fitness trail and a separate, one-mile nature trail circle through pine flatwoods, providing views of forests and a few ponds. Just off the parking lot loop, a short, secluded boardwalk with an observation deck crosses a forested wetland. West of the developed part of the park, unpaved trails weave through oak hammocks and upland scrub. This was the first LEED Gold certified park in Sarasota County. Restrooms and substantial parking are available. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: More than 140 species have been sighted in the park by eBirders. This park is quite good for migrating and wintering warblers and thrushes. Sandhill Crane, Northern Parula, Brown Thrasher, Prairie Warbler, White-eyed Vireo and Great Horned Owl may nest here. Remember to keep your eyes on the sky; Urfer is a good flyby area for birds moving inland from the beaches.
Insider’s Tip: Most birders make a beeline for the west part of the park, with its two primitive Yellow and Red Trails, and smaller paths cutting across the interior and around the park perimeter. Seasonal rains can flood these trails. (Please note: a small, private, working cattle ranch continues operation in the north-west segment of the park). Although the west part of the park is the most popular for birding, early mornings can also provide good birding opportunities along the paved multi-use trail in the eastern section. Check the ponds in this area for Wood Duck.
Address: 4012 Honore Ave., Sarasota, FL 3423
GPS Coordinates: 27.297614, -82.465315
NOKOMIS BEACH, on the barrier island of Casey Key, and VENICE BEACH, on Venice Island, are both situated directly on the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are maintained by Sarasota County, have white sand, blue water and excellent birding, with about 150 bird species recorded by eBirders at Nokomis Beach and more than 135 species spotted at Venice Beach. Nokomis Beach is Sarasota County’s oldest public beach, while Venice Beach is within the municipal limits of the City of Venice and is close to downtown Venice amenities. The two beaches are only about 1.75 miles apart—as the crow flies—but are physically separated by a channel, dredged in 1937, that provides boating access to the Gulf from the Intracoastal Waterway and Dona Bay. Despite the channel barrier, the drive from one beach to the other takes only about 15 minutes. The channel is fortified by two parallel, artificial stone jetties, named the NORTH JETTY and SOUTH JETTY. Each Jetty has its own beach and park (known as Humphris Park at South Jetty), and each area has become a popular birding and fishing hotspot, with North Jetty Park also boasting more than 145 eBird recorded species. The distance walking on the sandy beach from Nokomis or Venice Beach to the North or South Jetty, respectively, is under a mile, and, if you’re driving, the time is less than five minutes. At all four public beaches and parks, restrooms and substantial parking are available, but parking can be difficult during “snowbird” season. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Along the beaches, a wide variety of shorebirds may be encountered, such as Willet, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover, and Sanderling. Terns often seen include Sandwich, Forster’s, Common (migration), Least (summer), Royal, and, less frequently, Caspian. Gulls include Ring-billed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed (winter), and the resident Laughing Gull. Watch for Black Skimmer over the shoreline, look overhead for Magnificent Frigatebird, and scan the Gulf horizon for Northern Gannet. Indeed, spending some time sea-watching from the Jetties can be especially rewarding, as flyby rarities are spotted periodically! Although many birds may be seen anywhere along the beach, the Jetties attract Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, and Snowy and Great Egret looking to steal a fish from a fresh catch. Ruddy Turnstone scramble over the Jetty stones and, in winter, Red-breasted Merganser hunt in the surf.
Insider’s Tip: While the beaches may offer the most interest for birders, don’t forget to check out the wooded areas in the parks, and scan trees near parking lots and picnic tables, where woodpeckers, Northern Cardinal, and Blue Jay are seen commonly, with Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant and Osprey sitting in taller trees. During migrations, the trees and shrubs may attract warblers and other songbirds. Also, along the roads, look up at utility wires for doves, grackles and corvids—a rare House Crow has been seen regularly at Nokomis Beach for several years. At Nokomis, also check out the Intracoastal Waterway, located just across the street from the main parking lot. Venice Beach provides a good jumping off point for an automobile tour of additional birding hotspots that extend south along the coast, including Service Club Park, Venice Fishing Pier, South Brohard Park, and Caspersen Beach. At Caspersen Beach, eBirders have sighted more than 135 species, as well as 80 species at the adjacent Venetian Waterway Park. Stop and bird at a location, then drive to the next!
Nokomis Beach Address: 100 Casey Key Road, Nokomis, FL 34275
GPS Coordinates: 27.124835, -82.470593
North Jetty Beach Address: 1000 S Casey Key Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275
GPS Coordinates: 27.114169, -82.466867
South Jetty Beach Address: 2000 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice, FL 34285
GPS Coordinates: 27.112352, -82.466624
Venice Municipal Beach Address: 101 The Esplanade, Venice, FL 34285
GPS Coordinates: 27.099990, -82.459989
The VENICE AREA AUDUBON ROOKERY is an internationally known photography and birding hotspot, providing a rare opportunity to view and photograph wading birds at very close range. The bird rookery is located on a tiny island situated in a small lake that was once a borrow pit. The combination of deep water and patrolling alligators offers birds a safe place to roost overnight throughout the year. Especially during the nesting season, starting as early as November and extending through early summer, the island can become crowded with birds in breeding plumage competing for prime nesting spots where they will raise and fledge their young. Sarasota County maintains the rookery in conjunction with the Venice Area Audubon Society (VAAS). The VAAS Center, with its butterfly gardens and Purple Martin houses, is nearby. Dogs are not permitted. No admission fee, but a donation box is available. Parking is located on site, with additional parking available at the County’s Anderson Administration Center.
Featured Birds: Although about 160 species have been reported to eBird, the main birds that frequent the rookery area are Black-crowned Night-Heron, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron and Anhinga. Other commonly seen birds include ducks, Common Gallinule, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, and, during winter, Pied-billed Grebe.
Insider’s Tip: In the soft light of early morning, the east side of the lake may offer the best views of the island, while at sunset, the best sightings are from the west side of the lake (opposite the covered, shady pavilion). Alternately, good views of wading birds and birds flying to and from the island may be had from an unpaved trail that goes all the way around the lake. Along the trail, check out the Purple Martin houses and, in the evening, the bat houses. On occasion, VAAS volunteers are available at the Rookery to assist visitors in learning about the birds, and are equipped with spotting scope, field guides and extra binoculars for visitors’ use. Contact VAAS at 941-496-8984, for more information. The nearness of the birds, and especially of nests, chicks and soon-to-be fledglings during breeding season, makes the Rookery an exciting place for families to see and learn about bird life.
Address: 4006 Annex Rd, Venice, FL 34293
GPS Coordinates: 27.046636, -82.400096
Manatee County Hotspots
From November through April, the Manatee County Audubon Society hosts guided field trips to several birding Hotspots that are highlighted in this Online Guide, as well as to other birding locations. Their schedule and information for participating in these trips located on their webpage.
EMERSON POINT PRESERVE is a state-owned, Manatee County-managed, 365-acre site located at the western tip of Snead Island, along the Manatee River. In addition to excellent birding, there is a fascinating Indian Temple Mound site (the “Portavant Mound”) that is more than 1,000 years old and has interpretive signs to help visitors imagine how native peoples lived here long ago. A road extends the length of the preserve, with boardwalks and nine trails jutting off and winding through coastal habitats and upland forested areas. Six miles of paved hiking/biking trails, as well as unpaved shell or sand paths, wait to be explored. At trail junctions, ”You Are Here” maps are posted. A 60-feet high observation tower offers a scenic view of Tampa Bay. Restrooms and picnic pavillions are available. No admission fee. Sarasota-based birders will often combine visits to the preserve with a trip to FELTS AUDUBON PRESERVE, only a 15-minute drive away.
Featured Birds: eBirders have reported sighting more than 235 species at the preserve, including 31 warbler species. Look for wading birds and shorebirds, ducks, terns, gulls, rails, American White Pelican, American Oystercatcher, woodpeckers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, hawks, Bald Eagle, shrikes, wrens, vireos, warblers and other passerines. Scan the sky for Magnificent Frigatebird and Northern Gannet.
Insider’s Tip: An efficient way to organize a day’s birding is to drive west along the length of the main road, making multiple stops along the way. Near the preserve entrance (see Trail Map below) are ponds and freshwater wetlands that may hold waders and ducks. The Portavant Mound is at the first parking lot on the main road. During migration, warblers frequent the short trails near the Mound. From the Visitor Center parking lot, birders might opt to follow the South Restoration Trail through hardwood, looking for Eastern Screech-Owl, thrushes, Pileated Woodpecker, kinglets and warblers. This trail takes you behind the duck pond (“Magic Pond”), then reconnects to the main road near the Paddle Access and third parking area. At the second main road parking area, a trail leads up the hill to the Observation Tower. Tower Trail birders should look for warblers, vireos, thrushes, and, during migrations, Cedar Waxwing. You can connect from the Observation Tower area to the Terra Ceia Trail, which winds through mangroves and overlooks Terra Ceia Bay. You can also reach the Terra Ceia Trail, as well as the North Restoration Trail, from the third main road parking area. At the far western end of the main road, you will find the sandy, 0.36-mile Beach Walk Trail—another mangrove habitat. In winter, birders may wish to drive directly here to look out on Tampa Bay; early morning can be a rewarding time for getting close views and photos of Horned Grebe and Common Loon, as well as large congregations of American White Pelican. At low tide, scan the offshore oyster beds for Marbled Godwit and American Oystercatcher. For current preserve conditions and closures, consult the Manatee County Website (below), or contact the Front Desk, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, at 941-742-5923 (then zero).
Address: 5801 17th Street West, Palmetto, FL 34221
GPS Coordinates: 27.532934, -82.625837
FELTS AUDUBON PRESERVE, an attractive, 30-acre parcel in Palmetto, was originally farmland and was donated to the Manatee County Audubon Society in 2002. The Audubon Society now manages the land under a conservation easement recently established to protect the preserve as a natural area in perpetuity. More than a mile of footpaths, mostly of mowed grass that may not be wheelchair accessible, provide access to a covered bird blind, uplands, pine flatwoods, ponds, wetlands and meadows that attract migratory and nesting birds. The preserve is open every day, sunrise to sunset. Park on the shoulder of the road (24th Avenue E, aka Oakhurst Road), and walk into the preserve through the pedestrian access. If you require handicapped access, locate the gate with the alphabetical lock and enter the combination “SAND.” An “Open House” is held on the first Saturday of each month, from September through April, from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., with a Guided Birdwalk, led by a Bird Naturalist, available at 9:30 a.m. For the Birdwalk, meet at the front parking lot entrance gate. Portable restrooms are located near the entrance. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: At Felts, the Manatee Audubon Society has documented sightings of 194 avian species, while more than 190 species have been recorded here by eBirders. Depending upon the season, birders may see: Great Horned Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, Indigo and Painted Bunting, thrushes, warblers, vireos, herons, egrets and ducks. Be sure to check out the Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes!
Insider’s Tip: The bird blind provides visitors an excellent opportunity for up-close viewing and photography of the wide array of species attracted to the blind’s many feeders. During migration and winter, the much-sought-after Indigo and Painted Bunting often visit the blind. The blind’s large windows may be carefully removed to afford unobstructed views. (Kindly replace the windows when departing, and move slowly and quietly within the blind and when entering and leaving, so as not to startle the birds).
Address: 4600 24th Ave E, Palmetto, FL 34221
GPS Coordinates: 27.555106, -82.539160
LEFFIS KEY PRESERVE, with its inviting COQUINA BEACH BAYWALK trail, is a Manatee County island preserve, located off the south end of Anna Maria Island on Gulf Drive, directly opposite the public Coquina Beach. The preserve is a spoil island planted with native coastal vegetation to create a more natural habitat, with a central 26-foot high hill offering panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay. Nature trails, consisting of packed shells and 1,500 feet of boardwalk—some with viewing platforms extending over open water—climb or loop around the hill, passing by mangroves, hardwood forests, mudflats, and tidal ponds. Dogs are not permitted. The Baywalk trail begins at a parking lot with spaces for about 15-20 cars. Covered picnic pavilions are located in the parking lot and atop the hill. Public restrooms are available at the public beach. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The Leffis Key bird list is extensive—with more than 240 species recorded by Audubon specialists and about 230 species sighted by eBirders. These birds include 37 warbler species, as well as herons, egrets, Brown Pelican, American White Pelican, and Magnificent Frigatebird. Low tide is a good time to seek out shorebirds—look for Reddish Egret and Spotted Sandpiper on the flats. Night-herons hunt in the mangroves. Prairie Warbler can be heard singing throughout the year and nest here. In the fall and spring, Leffis Key can be a “migrant trap,” with migrant songbirds seen and heard just about anywhere. During spring migration, make sure to look closely at fruiting fig trees for warblers, flycatchers, grosbeaks and tanagers. Locally rare birds, such as Connecticut, Swainson’s, Cerulean and Townsend’s Warbler, and Olive-sided Flycatcher, have been spotted frequently, especially during migrations.
Insider’s Tip: Not far beyond the first footbridge after entering the Baywalk trail, the trail forks (look for Common Ground-Dove in this area), becoming a loop around the center hill that eventually will return you to the footbridge. If you follow the trail as it veers right (walking counterclockwise around the hill), the first path on your right connects to a boardwalk overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway; look for Spotted Sandpiper and other peeps on the pretty strip of beach and search for wading birds near the marine docks. A bit further down the main loop trail, a path on the left heads up the hill to observation platforms, then runs back down the other side, meeting up again with the loop trail. A number of other paths split off the loop trail towards boardwalks that wind through the mangrove forests and to several bayside observation points. Most walks will eventually cover about one mile, start to finish. Trails are easily walked; please stay on the trails to protect ground cover. To see an aerial view of the preserve and major trails, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map, or click on the Trail Map Preview link. For current preserve conditions and closures, consult the Manatee County Website (below), or contact the Front Desk, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, at 941-742-5923 (then zero).
Address: 2351 Gulf Drive South, Anna Maria Island
GPS Coordinates: 27.452280, -82.689229
PERICO PRESERVE, located on Perico Island in Bradenton, near Anna Maria Island, has been open to the public only since 2016. The 176-acre preserve sits on the west side of Perico Bayou, creating an important wildlife corridor extending east across the bayou into Robinson Preserve. The property was abandoned farmland in 2007, when it was acquired by Manatee County. With the specific purpose of creating a unique bird sanctuary, the County began a program of extensive renovation that included removal of exotic vegetation and planting of native flora. The site has been transformed into a unique coastal wetlands habitat—with scrub hills, upland regions, and fresh and saltwater marshes—that attracts many animal species and a plethora of birds. The preserve provides a refuge for over 30 once-homeless gopher tortoises, which may often be seen near their burrows. No dogs are allowed in the preserve (except service animals). For current preserve conditions and closures, consult the Manatee County Website (below), or contact the Front Desk, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, at 941-742-5923 (then zero). A portable restroom, covered picnic pavilion and ample parking are available on site. No admission fees.
Featured Birds: Almost 200 bird species have been counted by eBirders in the short time that the preserve has been County-owned and managed. Birds commonly seen include Osprey, Bald Eagle, hawks, egrets, herons, ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, gulls, terns, Killdeer, Common Gallinule and Brown Pelican. In winter, additional waterfowl, wrens, sparrows, rails and shorebirds arrive at the ponds, lake, and bayou, and often include Blue-winged Teal, Canada Goose, mergansers, Ring-necked Duck, Spotted Sandpiper and Pied-billed Grebe, to name a few. In wooded areas, Red-bellied, Downy, and Pileated Woodpecker may often be spotted, and an array of warblers and other songbirds arrive during migrations. Rarities have included Canvasback, American Wigeon, American Bittern and Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Insider’s Tip: The trails in the preserve extend for about 1.5 miles; they are shell-covered with some boardwalks, and are accessible primarily to birders and walkers, although bicycles are permitted in some places. As you enter the preserve, the left fork leads to a pond-side bird blind and through hardwood hammock and brackish ponds, and then reconnects to the main trail; look for Wood Duck, Common Gallinule, Brown Thrasher, warblers, woodpeckers, Savannah Sparrow and Marsh Wren. The main trail continues past private homes on one side of the trail and brackish marshes and freshwater wetlands on the other, and then reaches a loop trail circling a substantial lake with a central rookery island. Observation decks extend from the loop trail, providing views of the rookery island and across Perico Bayou. A spotting scope is useful for viewing the rookery island and for sighting birds from the observation decks. Although there are some shady stretches along the trail, it is mostly sun-exposed and can be hot, especially in summer, so bring water, sunscreen and insect repellant. Visitors to Perico Preserve may wish to also check-out nearby Neal Preserve, where eBirders have sighted more than 135 bird species.
Address: 11700 Manatee Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34209
GPS Coordinates: 27.496654, -82.677556
ROBINSON PRESERVE is a coastal wetlands habitat in northwest Bradenton, owned and managed by Manatee County. In conjunction with nearby Perico Preserve, it creates an important wildlife corridor. Containing mangroves, tidal marsh and former farmland, the preserve is bordered by the mouth of the Manatee River to the north, Perico Bayou to the west, and Palma Sola Bay to the south. First opened to the public in 2007, the preserve has undergone continual habitat restoration. In 2016, the County leased a 52-acre property (Winston Tract) just south of the then existing preserve; the Tract is mostly dense mangrove, but can be birded successfully along its perimeter. Also in 2016, an additional 150-acre “expansion” parcel—and now a protected conservation easement—enabled the preserve to grow to an area of more than 680-acres. The expansion parcel added more natural areas, a tree canopy walk, trails (including a rubberized pedestrian-only trail), and an educational center (the Mosaic Center for Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology, or NEST), to the five miles of already paved and unpaved hiking and biking trails, lakes, paddling creeks, bridges, boardwalks and observation tower. Further restoration in the expansion parcel was completed in early 2021, including construction of additional pavilions, kayak storage and restrooms. Other restrooms are near the entrances, at 9th Avenue NW, and 17th Avenue NW. To look for birds along the perimeter of the Winston Tract, carefully pull off Manatee Avenue on the north side of the road, beginning just west of the Boat Ramp at Palma Sola Causeway Park. Further west along Manatee Avenue (opposite 107th Court West), a parking lot provides access to the Manatee Avenue Walk-Through Entrance, leading to both Robinson and Perico Preserves. Leashed dogs are permitted. No admission fees.
Featured Birds: Audubon specialists have recorded more than 225 bird species and more than 220 species have been sighted at Robinson Preserve by eBirders. In winter, check the freshwater and saltwater lakes and ponds for American White Pelican, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, and occasionally, hundreds of Redhead, and other ducks, waders and shorebirds. During summer, watch the skies for Magnificent Frigatebird and Least Tern, and search wooded areas for Great Crested Flycatcher. In all seasons, look for Osprey, gulls, terns, herons egrets, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork and Brown Pelican. Migrations bring swallows, warblers and Savannah Sparrow to join resident passerines. Rarities have included Snow Goose and Lincoln’s Sparrow.
Insider’s Tip: Birders have lots of places to explore at the preserve. In January-March, the expansion and NEST areas are the “go-to” spot for ducks. Walk the entire perimeter of the lake, but please stay on the trails. Check the sandbars on the west side of the lake for peeps and, perhaps, Bobolink. The area around the NEST Center is also home to woodpeckers, Bald Eagle, wading birds, and, depending upon the season, cuckoos, warblers, and Cedar Waxwing. The North (main) entrance affords good views of peeps, wading birds, rails, swallows and raptors. The Manatee Avenue Walk-Through Entrance takes you across Perico Bayou to Spoonbill Trail and the southern part of Robinson Preserve, where you can connect to other areas; look for wading birds. Even with the availability of several shaded rest stops, on summer days some trails can be surprisingly sunny and hot; be sure to take along water, sunscreen and insect spray. Consult the Manatee County Website (below), or contact the Front Desk, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, at 941-742-5923 (then select zero), for information about special events, such as closures, water quality conditions, scheduled fitness runs, weddings, and other activities that might affect birding opportunities.
Address: 1704 99th Street Northwest, Bradenton, FL 34209 (North Entrance w/Valentine House)
GPS Coordinates: 27.514446, -82.661078
Address: 10299 9th Ave NW, Bradenton, FL 34209 (Entrance to Expansion w/NEST facility)
GPS Coordinates: 27.507181, -82.663617
Address: 9800 Manatee Ave, Bradenton, FL 34209 (Parking Robinson Preserve, Winston Tract)
GPS Coordinates: 27.496363, -82.660473
There are three eBird Hotspots at Robinson Preserve:
Tom Bennett Park is a relatively new, 200-acre park in Manatee County, located close to I-75 and just east of Bradenton. Purchased by the County in 2003, former pasture land and woodland has been transformed into freshwater wetlands and upland areas, creating a park designed with both family recreational opportunities and nature conservation in mind. A looping, 1.2-mile, asphalt trail winds through the park, passing by some of the many serene ponds in the park. This easy trail is wheelchair accessible and takes about 20 minutes to walk, but it does attract bikers, runners and dog-walkers; dogs must be leashed, but unleashed dogs are often present. Unpaved trails are located at multiple points around the park. A canoe/kayak launch area offers visitors access to mangrove wetlands and the Manatee River. There is also an area for volleyball and a large mowed area used for ball sports, as well as a small fishing pier, children’s playground, restrooms and ample parking. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The diverse array of habitats found in the park attract a wide variety of birds. About 165 bird species have been reported by eBirders. Around ponds and wetlands, look for herons, egrets and ducks, including Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Wood Duck, and, in winter, Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup and Wilson’s Snipe. Occasionally, Virginia Rail and Sora have been spotted. Both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Heron may be seen, especially near mangrove wetlands. Listen for Marsh Wren, Limpkin and Least Bittern. Check the sky for Bald Eagle, hawks and American Kestrel. Songbirds, including more than a dozen warbler species, arrive during migration and join woodpeckers, Loggerhead Shrike, and other commonly viewed species. Rarities seen in recent years have included Yellow-headed Blackbird and Bronzed Cowbird.
Insider’s Tip: For a nice birding walk, start at the main parking lot and walk northwest on a shell trail past the fenced area and toward the fishing pier on the big lake (closest to I-75). Along the way, search for sandpipers, blackbirds, sora, and wading birds. Continue walking northwest on the grassy areas between the lake and a marsh, looking for Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat and wading birds; then double back towards the main parking lot. Caution: there are alligators in this lake! Next, cross Cypress Creek Boulevard to the paved trail–which winds through the hardwoods and along three ponds–searching the trees for migrating warblers, vireos and woodpeckers. Then, walk north alongside Cypress Creek Boulevard, until reaching a second, smaller parking lot on the west side of the road. A gravel trail exits the lot heading west and encircles a pond with a small center island with wooden bird perches; here you may find a variety of shorebirds, Limpkin, bitterns, Sora, and Marsh Wren. Before leaving the park, drive the road that leads to the canoe/kayak launch area in search of migrating warblers, Loggerhead Shrike, Limpkin and night-herons. To see a detailed aerial view of major trails/roads, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map. With the addition of Disk Golf as a popular park pastime, it is always best to visit early to avoid crowds and see more birds. Except for the paved trail through the woods, most grassy/shell trails are without shade and can be very hot in summer.
Official Address: 400 Cypress Creek Blvd., Bradenton, FL 34208
Alternate Address: Tom Bennett Park & Playground Pavilion, 280 Kay Rd, Bradenton, FL 3420
GPS Coordinates: 27.500203, -82.483808