Tropical hardwoods, dunes and beaches, cypress swamps, woodland forests, and freshwater rivers help make up the incredibly diverse Florida landscape. The safety of these regions, from the tall pines to the hidden dunes, helps make Florida prime real estate for birding, and the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is testament to this. The trail itself is no trail at all, but rather 515 separate spots throughout the state, with well over 50 within the panhandle region, but that doesn’t stop professionals and amateurs alike from flocking to site after site to catch a glimpse of their feathered friends.
What Makes It Great
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail spans from the coastline to the northernmost forests, and the panhandle section stretches from the Alabama border in Perdido Key to the forests and marshes of Tallahassee area. This network of sites is possible only by the network of people who dedicate their time and resources to it: federal and state parks, NGOs, and private citizens all pool together to make trail possible. Donations, volunteers, and shopping via the trail’s official site are all welcomed support methods to ensure the sites’ longevity for generations to come.
With an emphasis on conservation, these locations have been able to both protect and educate the public on the fragility of the ecosystems and the majestic creatures who inhabit them. Educational tools, maps, recommendations, and guides are all available online and in print. Visitors to any location are encouraged to prepare their guide sheets, phone applications, and viewing devices before they embark, and with species ranging from the common to the colorful to the rare, quiet hikers with a bit of patience are almost guaranteed to be rewarded.
Who is Going to Love It
Because of the trail’s diversity and countless sites, and thanks in large part to Northwest Florida’s temperate climate and mostly flat lands, the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is enjoyable for first timers and experts alike. The panhandle offers an incredibly pleasant Fall season, which often coincides with migratory patterns for several avian species. Several of the trail’s sites offer additional adventure opportunities, such as camping, paddling, and additional hiking, so planning the perfect weekend wildlife getaway presents countless options.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
As with all lands set out to preserve the beauty of the natural world, the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail asks that all sites be respected, with the general and age old rule of taking only pictures, and leaving only footprints. The heavy emphasis on wildlife conservation also means that the trail has a few guidelines for observing animals in their natural habitat, all of which most veteran birders likely already practice.
Staying quiet and keeping a reasonable distance from any birds or other animals seen on the trail is not only pragmatic to ensure the best look or photograph, but helps ensure the safety of the animals as well. Birds startled into flight may be already exhausted migratory birds, and nests left unattended can fall prey to predators. Just remember to pack your whisper voice right alongside your binoculars and guide.