Click the binoculars to expand and collapse the information about each hot spot.
The Sarasota Audubon Society is pleased to include this interactive component called “Favorite Local Birding Hot Spots.” These Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties were selected, first, because of the substantial number of bird species counted at the site (based on eBird All Years Species Counts greater than 120) producing repeated visits by many local and out-of-area birders, both nationally and internationally. Second, these places are located within a driving time of approximately 30 minutes–and often considerably less—from a central, downtown Sarasota City location (using Google Maps driving time data). Lastly, these Hot Spots are accessible to the public, although some sites require admission fees. These Hot Spots often provide opportunities for enjoyable outdoor birding adventures while offering iconic southwest Florida scenic landscapes and/or 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, as appropriate, have been made to update older site information 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, driving directions from any starting point, recent bird sightings, current fees, hours-of-operation, site amenities, 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 Hot Spots and is a “must have” for birders seeking a portable guide that describes great Hot Spots further afield or not currently included among our local favorites.
Sarasota County Hot Spots
CARLTON RESERVE (officially known as the T. MABRY CARLTON, JR. MEMORIAL RESERVE) includes an approximately 100-acre Sarasota County Park, nestled within a 24,565-acre reserve. The natural, undisturbed habitats in the reserve include wet prairies (marshes), oak hammock, 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 website or call (941 861-5000); you may be transferred to the park naturalist. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: 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: A 1.6-mile trail that loops around a lake near the parking lot (described as easy-to-moderate in difficulty and wheelchair accessible for a short distance) 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 the 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 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. The County completed construction and renovation work at the Celery Fields in 2015. A network 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 Sarasota Audubon Society Nature Center lies at the base of the hill. Today, the site is acknowledged as a unique bird and wildlife habitat, enticing visits by local and international birders. Since 2001, 245 bird species have been tallied by Sarasota Audubon survey teams. If you are passing by ACKERMAN PARK, an eBird Hot Spot located on the Celery Fields’ western border (at 100 Apex Road, Sarasota, FL 34240, GPS Coordinates: 27.334256, -82.441422), 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 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 Harriers 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. 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 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
Three eBird reports of recent sightings (for last 10 yrs only) are available for the Celery Fields and one for Ackerman Lake.
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: 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
LAKE OSPREY is an 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 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 Gallinules 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. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: In addition to Purple Gallinule, other breeding birds include: Least Bittern, King Rail, Common Gallinule and Wood Duck. Around the lake—in bushes and trees—watch for Brown Thrasher and Common Yellowthroat, and, recently, White-winged Dove. Migrating warblers may be spotted here in spring and fall. Northern Bobwhites sometimes are seen along meadows at Professional Drive and Lake Osprey Drive. Waders frequent the lake at most times of the year.
Insider’s Tip: The best birding is along the south and west lake edges. 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 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 Visitor Information Center for prospective home buyers at Lakewood Ranch (next to a big yellow-orange building; when driving from the west on University Parkway, pass Lake Osprey Drive and make the next right into the Visitor Center; park on the right/west side of the building, as close to the lake as possible). Unfortunately, the prior Visitor Center tenant has moved, effective October 1, 2019, and it is unknown if any future owner/tenant will be as amenable to birders. 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 any office parking lots on the lake south of there.
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, birders often visit both North Lido Beach and, especially during migrations, NORTH LIDO BEACH PARK, combining the chance to see seashore and woodland birds in one outing. Similarly, at the south end of the Key, birders can combine a visit to the SOUTH LIDO BEACH PARK with the SOUTH LIDO NATURE PARK (TED SPERLING PARK). Parking is available in both areas, as well as at the large public lot at LIDO BEACH, located about a half-mile south of NORTH LIDO BEACH PARK. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: Along the beach, 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 Pine, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers arrive, some of them staying for the winter. At North Lido Beach Park, look for Great Horned Owl and Red-shouldered Hawk, and Least Tern nesting on the beach. Large colonies of Black Skimmer may nest on Lido Beach during the summer.
Insider’s Tip: When visiting the north part of the Key, a good place to park is at the end of John Ringling Boulevard, after it splits off to the right from Ben Franklin Drive, just beyond St Armand’s Circle. A nice walk begins to the north of the parking area, where a path goes along the edge of the woods, behind the dunes. Follow the path as it veers off into the woods and go as far as you can, then walk back along the beach (or, vice versa). At the south end of Lido Key, a boardwalk is located on Taft Drive, one block before entering South Lido Beach Park (turn right on Taft Drive). In addition to shorebirds and waders, the trees and shrubs can be active with migrants during spring and fall.
Address, North Lido Beach: 50 Benjamin Franklin Drive, Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS Coordinates, North Lido Beach: 27.314491, -82.579953
Address, Ted Sperling Park: 190 Taft Dr., Sarasota, FL 34236
GPS Coordinates, Ted Sperling Park: 27.309164, -82.569693
Four eBird reports of recent sightings are available for the Lido Beaches:
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.
- 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, 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 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 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. 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: 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, 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 list of 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
- First parking area after the bridge, on left. Limpkins can be found on the shore.
- Powerline Road: As you walk to the left, look for Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, vireos, and warblers. Osprey may be nesting atop the power line poles.
- 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 dam 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 remaining park Hot Spots.
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, 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 website for scheduled events. There is adequate parking and no admission fee to enter the park grounds.
Featured Birds: The 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 Parakeets 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 road (with small parking lots spaced at intervals) and a crushed shell walking trail, run parallel to 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 Parakeets and kestrels may be seen year-round in this area.
Address: 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota, FL 34235
GPS Coordinates: 27.374345, -82.450069
OSCAR SCHERER STATE PARK is located south of the town of Osprey, along US-41, just south of Blackburn Point Road. This 1,400-acre park offers birders a chance to see the Florida Scrub-Jay—a friendly, non-migratory species endemic to Florida—whose threatened population has steeply declined with loss of habitat. In 2014, a 287-acre property with similar habitat, the SCHERER-THAXTON PRESERVE (aka OSCAR SCHERER BUFFER PRESERVE) opened on the park’s eastern border, with its main entrance on Honore Avenue. Check the park website for operating hours and fees.
Featured Birds: In addition to the scrub-jay—which may 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.
Insider’s Tip: Oscar Scherer State Park has multiple, well-marked, 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. The 0.3 mile Orange Trail, newly open in 2019, provides a shortcut to Big Lake. The Yellow Trail connects the State Park trails to the Scherer-Thaxton Preserve trail system and to the Legacy Trail. Contact the Park Ranger (941-483-5956) for a schedule of scrub-jay guided walks and for information about “off-hours” permits for early morning entry to the park.
eBird Hot Spots 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 park located in Sarasota’s Mennonite and Amish communities. It lies between private homes on the east and Phillippi Creek on the west. 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, and a boat ramp for launching canoes or kayaks. The entrance to the heavily wooded portion of the park—with its numerous dirt trails that wind between the tall canopied trees—lies directly south of the parking area. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The wooded area—a mesic hammock unique to southern Florida—is particularly good for passerines, especially warblers, during migration. Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Northern Parula often breed here.
Insider’s Tip: Check out creek banks for wrens, herons, Wood Duck, ibis, Anhinga and warblers. Taking a circular path near the boundaries of the wooded area 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 that features uplands and man-made and natural lagoons. Trails and boardwalks overlook 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: Birds you may encounter include: many waders and shorebirds, such as American Oystercatcher, terns, ibis, and both night-herons. Eagles, warblers and Bonaparte’s Gull have been sighted.
Insider’s Tip: The best spot to search for migrant warblers is just as you enter the park (right after going under the access bridge). Check in the brushy areas between the impoundments and the bay.
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 primarily under the Sarasota County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program. The 72-acre site contains hardwood swamp and mesic hammock, bisected by a lovely water slough. The preserve is adapted for multiple uses and has a small playground, fishing dock and picnic shelters. Several miles of unpaved trails 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: In wooded areas, look for Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and migrant warblers. Near water, you can view Belted Kingfisher, Anhinga, herons, egrets, ducks, both night-herons, to name only a few. Wood Duck, 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 and at the intersection of the two major preserve parcels (see Trail Map and Website). Early morning and late afternoon visits are best for both parking and birding.
Address: 5200 Beneva Rd, Sarasota, 34231
GPS Coordinates Main Entrance: -82.497745, 27.277198
ROTHENBACH PARK is a County-operated community park, located at the east end of Bee Ridge Road. The site is a landfill—now long-closed and capped—with woods and lakes that border the “hill.” The park includes restrooms, picnic tables, and grills. Two trails, totaling about 3.75 miles of paved recreational trails separately circle the parking area/photovoltaic plant (1 mile) and the hill (2.75 miles). The trails, suitable for all ages and abilities, 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; it runs through open grassland, alongside ponds, and through beautiful woodlands. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: 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 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 world. It attracts beach lovers and birders alike. More than 200 avian species have been recorded here. A good birding strategy is to arrive in the early morning or late afternoon, when crowds of beachgoers are less likely to be present. 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 between Beach Access 5 and 11, 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 small number of parking spaces may be available at Beach Access 5 and 7. Or, park at the far north end of the main 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, there is a fitness trail and a one-mile nature trail that loops through pine flatwoods, providing views of forests and a few ponds. A short, secluded boardwalk with an observation deck traverses a forested wetland. This was the first LEED certified park in Sarasota County. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: This park is 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: While most birders make a beeline for the two primitive trails, early morning can also provide good birding opportunities along the 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
Manatee County Hot Spots
EMERSON POINT PRESERVE is 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: 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, and you can connect from here 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 White Pelican.
Address: 5801 17th Street West, Palmetto, FL 34221
GPS Coordinates: 27.532588, -82.628755
FELTS AUDUBON PRESERVE is an attractive, 30-acre parcel owned and managed by Manatee County Audubon Society. Footpaths provide easy access to wooded fields, a bird blind, ponds, wetlands and open fields that attract migratory and nesting birds. The preserve is open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Park on the shoulder of the outside road (24th Avenue E), and walk into the preserve through the pedestrian access. 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 number, if you require the combination to the handicapped gate, or to confirm event dates and times. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The many avian species recorded include, Barred Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, Indigo and Painted Bunting, thrushes, warblers, vireos, herons, egrets, and ducks, to name a few. Be sure to check out the Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes!
Insider’s Tip: The bird blind provides visitors an excellent opportunity to see and photograph, up close, a 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 COQUINA BEACH BAYWALK, 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 platforms extending over open water—climb or loop around the hill, passing by mangroves, hardwood forests, mudflats, and tidal ponds. No admission fee.
Featured Birds: The Leffis Key bird list is extensive and includes herons, egrets, Brown and White Pelicans, 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.
Insider’s Tip: The Baywalk trail begins at a parking lot with spaces for about 15-20 cars. Before crossing the footbridge onto Leffis Key note that the closest restrooms are on the beach side of Gulf Drive. Not far after the footbridge, the trail forks (look for Common Ground-Dove in this area). The left fork leads up the hill and down the other side; the right fork divides into several trails that loop around the Key and eventually return to the footbridge. Trails may split off for short distances. 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.
Address: 2351 Gulf Drive South, Anna Maria Island
GPS Coordinates: 27.452280, -82.689229