With the COVID-19 pandemic and changeable weather creating potential destination closures or hazardous conditions, it is recommended that visitors check facility websites, or contact the facility to determine if the site is open, scheduled programs are available, or if there are any additional requirements, e.g., local mask ordinances.
Click the binoculars to expand and collapse the information about each hotspot.
The Sarasota Audubon Society is pleased to include this interactive component called Online Guide: Our Favorite Local Birding Hotspots. These Favorites, located mainly in Sarasota County, with a sampling in Manatee County, were selected, first, because of the high number of bird species counted at the site (based on eBird All Years Species Counts greater than 130), producing repeated visits by many local and out-of-area birders, both national and international. Second, Sarasota County sites are located within a driving time of approximately 40 minutes, or less—and often considerably less—from a central, downtown Sarasota City location (using Google Maps driving time data). For Manatee County locations, we have selected locations with the highest bird counts that also meet our distance requirement. These Favorite Hotspots must also be accessible to the public, although some sites require admission fees. Lastly, these Favorites often 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 site is based primarily 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. Additional edits have been made to update older site information, include additional Favorite Hotspots and offer 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, the sponsoring organization’s hours-of-operation, site amenities, driving directions from any starting point, recent bird sightings, current fees, and trail maps. 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 Hotspots further afield or not currently included among our local favorites.
Thanks to Karen and Don Schneider for drafting and coordinating development of Our Favorite Local Hotspots, and to Barb Males and Betty Neupert for their website construction expertise which made possible this online version. Numerous other Sarasota/Manatee Audubon Society members contributed their local birding knowledge to this project, including: Jeanne Dubi (principle editor), Peter Brown, Kathy Doddridge, Rick Greenspun, John Groskopf, Nancy Edmonson, Sue Guarasci, Margi Haas, Claire Herzog, Lynn Jakubowitz, Robert Kraft, Daniel Olsen, Valentina Roumi, Kiley Wilson, Stu Wilson, and Kathryn Young.
Sarasota County Hotspots
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, the County, which owns and operates the site, carved wide paths through the once impenetrable north end of the park. Since then, eBirders have notched more than 170 species. The park is roughly rectangular in shape, with Bay Street on its southern border and fencing and residential housing on the remaining sides. A swale and stream (the “canal”) splits the park roughly in half, creating northern and southern sections. Visitors enter the park off Bay Street, in the southern section, with its parking lot, picnic area, playground and restrooms. A trail east of the 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 north side of the parking lot, go past the playground, across the canal viaduct, and then head further along the shady “Oak Loop Trail,” and 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. The park is still under development, hopefully with future inclusion of birder-friendly improvements, such as trail names and benches. No Admission Fee.
Featured Birds: Numerous species breed in and around Bay Street Park, including: Barred Owl; Bald Eagle; Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, and 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 the County’s only documented sighting of a Townsend’s Warbler during the 2020 spring migration. In all seasons, the pond often attracts Osprey, Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, numerous waders and shorebirds, and Least Tern in winter. Swallows and Chimney Swifts are frequently seen visiting the pond for a drink.
Insider’s Tip: Each part 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. One neighbor often releases a flock of Tumbling Pigeon to exercise; these domestic birds are routinely seen tumbling backwards in flight over the park, attracting both enthusiastic birders—and raptors!
Address: 300 Bay St., Osprey, FL 34229
GPS Coordinates: 27.196499, -82.485202
CARLTON RESERVE (officially known as the T. MABRY CARLTON, JR. MEMORIAL RESERVE), includes an approximately 100-acre Sarasota County Park, nestled within an expansive 24,565-acre reserve. 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, and permits may be required for some back country trails. Check the reserve’s website or call 941 861-5000; you may be transferred to the park naturalist. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Sightings of more than 150 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, and many of the six species of woodpecker that reside here. Nesting birds include Swallow-tailed Kite, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird and Bachman’s Sparrow.
Insider’s Tip: Near the parking lot, a 1.6-mile trail loops around a lake (described as easy-to-moderate in difficulty and wheelchair accessible for a short distance) and provides 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 back country is to join a guided birding tour. The reserve offers two types of tours periodically from January through April; a carpool trek suitable for persons with limited mobility, and a 3-mile walking journey. Call the number above for information and registration. Guided birding tours also may be offered by the Venice Audubon Society; check their online trips and program list.
Address: 800 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 and international birders. Since 2001, 246 bird species have been tallied by Sarasota Audubon survey teams. The County completed most construction and renovation work at the Celery Fields in 2015. In 2019, the County agreed to work with the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, in developing an additional 30-acre area adjoining the Celery Fields and establishing a conservation easement for that parcel. Currently, more than ten-miles of trails run alongside ponds and wetlands, and two boardwalks extend into the marsh. There are also trails climbing to the top of an observation hill boasting one of the highest elevations in the County. (The SAS Detailed Trail Map, when enlarged, may help pinpoint bird sighting locations). The privately-operated Sarasota Audubon Society Nature Center lies at the base of the hill. If you are passing by ACKERMAN PARK—an eBird Hotspot with 155 eBirder-reported species, located on the Celery Fields’ western border—check for birds on the lake and along the shoreline. No admission fee for the Celery Fields, Nature Center, Ackerman Park or boardwalks.
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 and Sora. 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, and Cooper’s 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 western side of the observation hill and berms nearby. At the Nature Center’s feeders, Nanday Parakeet and Bronzed Cowbird have become regular visitors, with Painted Bunting making their first feeder appearances in 2019. 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 on the website for information about Celery Fields guided walks and other activities. The Nature Center is open daily, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., October through May. 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. To park at the Celery Fields, enter the County’s lot off Palmer Boulevard.
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: 27.325471, -82.432841
Ackerman Park Address: 100 Apex Road, Sarasota, FL 34240
GPS Coordinates: 27.334256, -82.441422
A new, relocated eBird Hotspot (combining three prior locations) 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 185-acre private 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. A wide, two-mile long, self-guided nature trail winds through five Florida habitats. The trail includes a half-mile boardwalk 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 their Facebook page to be sure the park is open, or to obtain details about the “early morning bird walk,” (see below). An admission fee is required.
Featured Birds: More than 190 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; the strategically placed benches on the boardwalk offer handy viewing places.
Insider’s Tip: Seasonally, usually beginning in October, a guided, “early morning bird walk” is offered specially for birders on one day of each month—usually a Friday. Gates open sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. and promptly close 5-10 minutes later, so cars line up at the gate to be sure of entry. As with general admission, contact the Nature Center 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 145 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. At the east 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 line while crossing the field towards the parking lot. Restrooms are 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 May, 2014, the park hosted a Bahama Mockingbird, and in January 2020, a Bell’s Vireo was found—it remained until spring and, hopefully, may return. 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, many Swainson’s and Kentucky Warbler were 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. Overflow parking may be available at the adjacent St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.
Address: 1000 Glebe Lane, Sarasota, FL 34242
GPS Coordinates: 27.273704, -82.549248
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 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 see birds up close, however, a scope is often 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). Parking may be an issue at Lake Osprey, depending upon the season and day of the week. 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, King Rail, 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 are 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. A 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 once advised about it. Another favorite spot to park and view Purple Gallinule is the currently vacant Lakewood Ranch Visitor Information Center (just west of the HomeBanc NA building); 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 parking may be unrestricted at lots for these locations.
GPS Coordinates: 27.384610, -82.441621
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 counted more than 210 species. If visitors wish, additional shorebird activity can be accessed about a half-mile south, at LIDO KEY BEACH, with about 125 species recorded, 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 (almost 195 species), with the TED SPERLING NATURE PARK AT SOUTH LIDO (about 125 species). Parking is available at both northern and southern ends of Lido Key. No admission fee, although parking lots may be metered.
Featured Birds: Along the beaches, look for plovers, terns, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, and American Oystercatcher, 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, American Kestrel patrol the area, and warblers arrive, some of them staying for the winter. At North Lido Beach Park, look for Bald Eagle and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, with Least Tern nesting on the beach in summer. Also, during summer, large colonies of Black Skimmer often nest on Lido Key Beach.
Insider’s Tip: When visiting the north part of the Key, bear right and park in the small lot at the end of John Ringling Boulevard (where Ben Franklin Drive veers to the left), a few blocks beyond St Armand’s Circle. A nice walk starts at the north end of this parking area; a short path heads towards the beach, but then quickly turns right paralleling beach homes and heading towards the woods. Follow the path as it again veers right into the woods and continue left (north) on the trail. Walk north in the woods, past the lagoon, as far as you can and then exit the woods and walk back along the beach. You can also 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. To see an aerial view of 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 beach. Or, just walk north along the beach, entering the woods at trail openings. To get from South Lido County (Beach) Park to the kayak rental area, mangrove tunnels and trails located in the northern part of Ted Sperling Nature Park, 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
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 Hotpot, while sightings south of the line are counted for the Lido Key Beach Hotspot.
In addition to the four eBird hotspots linked here, three other Lido Key eBird Hotspots are: “St. Armands Circle;” “Public Dock Near Mote Marine,” and “Ken Thompson City Island Park.” [Ed Note: Then, add a link to eBird:] Check Here for information about recent sightings for the remaining eBird Hotspots: https://ebird.org/hotspots
Links to eBird Hotspots
Sarasota County’s 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 they remain accessible to most visitors. From the main entrance on Bridge Street, with its limited parking, a 330-foot boardwalk leads to a one-mile hiking loop—complete with trail markers and benches—providing access to the preserve east of Bridge Street. Additional “walk-in and walk-out” trails extend deeper into the preserve west of Bridge Street. 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. There are no restrooms in the preserve. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Preserve eBirders have identified more than 145 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: 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 heads 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
MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS is best known for its collection of orchids, but its bayfront grounds also contain a wide array of colorful tropical plants housed in greenhouses and gardens. 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. Parking is available, but 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, 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 145 species here.
Insider’s Tip: You can experience several Selby habitats by following paths paralleling the shoreline (see Trail Map for landmarks). After exiting Admissions, walk through the Bamboo Garden and follow the trail to the boat ramp overlooking Hudson’s Bayou. Continue clockwise along the trail, past the Wedding Pavilion and then onto the Mangrove Walkway. Finally, head north to see the tidal lagoon and hardwood hammock.
Selby Gardens is a good jumping-off place for a “Sarasota Bay Birding Tour.” 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 look out on the Bay for Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper on the rocks, and Red-breasted Merganser and Bonaparte’s Gull in winter. 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. Early morning places the sun at your back for both birding and photography. Parking is permitted on side streets at these last two locations.
Marie Selby Address: 811 S Palm Ave, 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 is off SR-72 (Clark Road). Check the park website for 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, more than 250 species have been tallied In MRSP by eBirders. eBird Recent Sightings, Myakka River SP Many shorebirds, waders, swallows and ducks can be seen while driving the main road, or from the banks of the Upper Lake near the dam, and from a wooden boardwalk that extends—during wet periods—into the Upper Lake. In wooded spots, and 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… alligator. 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 area and boat ramp. Boat and tram tours are based here and canoes and bicycles can be rented. A footpath leads to 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
Check here for information about two additional MRSP eBird Hotspot Recent Sightings: “Myakka River SP–Deep Lake;” and “Myakka River SP–South Entrance Pond.”
Address: 13208 State Road 72, Sarasota FL 34241
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 loop around the lake perimeter. The park can be a productive place to view birds, with about 155 species reported to eBird in the past, but changes in habitat, such as a decrease in plantings around the lake, large mowed areas, and alterations in the shoreline to enhance sporting activities, have adversely affected birding opportunities. 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 and 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, King Rail, 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. Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Monk Parakeet and American Kestrel 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, walking trail that runs parallel to World Championship Drive (with small parking lots spaced at intervals), at the park’s western border. Look for Common Yellowthroat, herons and other waders in the wetlands under the power lines, and songbirds in the trees. 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. 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. No admission fee to Scherer-Thaxton Preserve.
Featured Birds: In addition to the Florida Scrub-Jay—which might be seen on any trail—other birds that breed here include Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl and Red-headed Woodpecker. Five resident species of woodpeckers may be seen. Numerous stands of large oaks attract warblers, vireos and gnatcatchers in winter, as well as other birds during migration. In marshy areas, look for Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal and Blue Jay. 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. About 220 species have been tallied in the park by eBirders.
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 0.3 mile Orange Trail, newly open in 2019, 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.
eBird Hotspots for Oscar Scherer State Park and the Thaxton-Scherer Preserve are classified separately and links to recent sightings at both locations are provided:
Oscar Scherer State Park
Address: 1843 South Tamiami Tr., Osprey FL 34229
GPS Coordinates: 27.169771, -82.476867
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 parking lot are off Bahia Vista Street via Gilbert Street. From the parking area, you will see a paved bike path/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. 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 most paths in the hammock are level and easily walked, many have protruding tree roots, 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 is a 34-acre park, operated by the Town of Longboat Key, 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 give 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. Parking is available at Overlook Park, on the west side of Gulf of Mexico Drive. The 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.
Featured Birds: More than 170 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 fisherman 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 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, however, check out birding opportunities along a narrow, occasionally single-file, and perhaps unofficial path that parallels the water and mangrove fringe (path is on the right after leaving the Lookout).
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 primarily under the Sarasota County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program. The 72-acre site 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 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, some may prove difficult for wheelchair-bound birders. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Since 2009—when eBirders began recording sightings in and around the preserve—about 180 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. A second entrance, with even fewer parking spots, is located where S. Lockwood Ridge Road dead-ends at Gypsy Street, at the intersection of the two major preserve parcels. To access the northwest parcel, you have to exit the southeast parcel and cross Gypsy Street to reenter the park (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). 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 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 totaling about 3.75 miles, separately circle the parking area/photovoltaic plant (1 mile trail) and the hill (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 trail around the hill 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 150 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 trail circling the center hill enters the woodland, it becomes cool and shady, with many 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. After driving into the park, bear right towards the main parking area, but then take the first left onto the road that runs along the base of the hill (parallel to the western edge of the trail). It ends in a small parking area and scenic overlook, and leaves only a 0.2-mile walk on a paved 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 here by eBirders. A good birding strategy is to arrive in the early morning or late afternoon, when crowds of beachgoers are less likely to be present and finding a parking spot may be 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. 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 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 and 7, as well as at nearby Beach Access 8 and 9. Or, park at the far north end of the main public lot and walk north—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:
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. A short, secluded boardwalk with an observation deck traverses a forested wetland. West of the developed part of the park, unpaved trails weave through oak hammocks and upland scrub. This was the first Gold LEED certified park in Sarasota County. Restrooms and substantial parking are available. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: More than 135 species have been recorded 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. Early morning, however, can also provide good birding opportunities along the paved multi-use trail. 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 135 bird species recorded by eBirders at each 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. 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 5 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: 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. 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. 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 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. 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. No admission fee, but a donation box is available. Parking is located on site.
Featured Birds: Although more than 150 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 the 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
EMERSON POINT PRESERVE is a 365-acre site located at the western tip of Sneed Island, along the Manatee River. In addition to excellent birding, there is a fascinating Indian Temple Mound site (the “Portavent 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. All told, more than six miles of paved hiking and biking trails wait to be explored. A 60-feet high observation tower offers a scenic view of Tampa Bay. Sarasota-based birders will often combine visits to the preserve with a trip to FELTS AUDUBON PRESERVE, only a 15-minute drive away. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: eBirders have logged more than 230 species at the preserve. Look for wading birds and shorebirds, ducks, terns, 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.
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 are ponds and freshwater wetlands that may hold waders and ducks. The Portavent Mound is at the first parking lot. During migration, warblers frequent the short trails near the Mound. At the second parking area, a trail leads up the hill to the Observation Tower; Tower Trail birders should look for warblers, vireos, thrushes, and 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 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.
Address: 5801 17th Street West, Palmetto, FL 34221
GPS Coordinates: 27.532934, -82.625837
FELTS AUDUBON PRESERVE is an attractive, 30-acre parcel in Palmetto, which was originally farmland and was donated to the Manatee County Audubon Society in 2002. The Audubon Society now owns and 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 fully wheelchair accessible, provide access to wooded fields, a covered bird blind, ponds, wetlands and open fields 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.” Open House is held on the first Saturday of each month, from November through April, beginning at 8:00 a.m., with a Guided Birdwalk, led by a Bird Naturalist, available at 9:30 a.m. or by appointment (phone 941-729-2222). For the Birdwalk, meet at the front parking lot entrance gate. Please also call the above phone number to confirm event dates and times. Portable restrooms are located near the entrance. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Included among the more than 180 avian species that have been recorded here by eBirders are: 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, 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). Construction of a second bird blind is planned.
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 restored spoil island, with a central 26-foot high hill offering panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay. Nature trails, consisting of packed shell 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. Public restrooms are available at the public beach. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The Leffis Key bird list is extensive—more than 230 eBird species have been recorded—and include herons, egrets, Brown Pelican, American White Pelican, as well as Magnificent Frigatebird. Low tide is a good time to seek out shorebirds—look for Reddish Egret in the flats. Night-herons hunt in the mangroves. In the fall and spring, migrant songbirds can be seen and heard just about anywhere on the Key. During spring migration, make sure to look closely at fruiting ficus trees for warblers, grosbeaks and tanagers. Locally rare birds have been spotted frequently at Leffis Key, especially during migrations.
Insider’s Tip: The Baywalk trail begins at a parking lot with spaces for about 15-20 cars. Not far after the footbridge, 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 for short distances towards bayside observation points. Most walks will eventually cover about one mile, start to finish. Trails are easily walked, but be aware that areas not designated as trails may be soft sand underfoot. To see an aerial view of major trails, click on the Map & Directions link below, change the “view” to “Satellite” and enlarge the map.
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 (which continues to date) including 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. No dogs are allowed in the preserve (except service animals). Restrooms and parking are available on site. No admission fees.
Featured Birds: Almost 185 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, Red-shouldered Hawk, egrets, herons, ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, gulls, terns, Killdeer, Common Gallinule and Brown Pelican. In winter, additional waterfowl 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.
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. The main trail leads to a side trail with a pond-side bird blind, continues past private homes on one side of the trail and brackish marshes and freshwater wetlands on the other, 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.
Address: 11700 Manatee Ave W, Bradenton, FL 34209
GPS Coordinates: 27.496654, -82.677556
ROBINSON PRESERVE is a coastal wetlands habitat in northwest Bradenton; it is owned and managed by Manatee County. The preserve—containing mangroves, tidal marsh and former farmland—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. 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 an observation tower. In conjunction with nearby Perico Preserve and the Perico Bayou, Robinson Preserve establishes an important wildlife corridor. Leashed dogs are permitted. Restrooms are near the entrances, at 9th Avenue NW, and 17th Avenue NW. Parking for the Winston Tract is at 9800 Manatee Ave W, just west of the Palma Sola Causeway Park. No admission fees. MANY TRAILS IN THE EXPANSION PARCEL (AND ASSOCIATED PARKING & ENTRANCES) MAY BE CLOSED FOR HABITAT RESTORATION AND CONSTRUCTION UNTIL ABOUT JANUARY, 2021. Please click here for more information.
Featured Birds: More than 215 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 and Gray Kingbird. 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.
Insider’s Tip’s: 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 Ave entrance takes you along the boardwalks to the south and west of the property (Winston Tract) and connects to the 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. Additional restrooms are to be constructed in the expansion parcel, but these may not help much when hiking other parts of the preserve.
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