Whether you are a casual bird watcher or a Professional Photographer hunting birds with your camera, Pinellas County, Florida is among the best places to be, not only in Florida, but in the U.S. From our length of shoreline to the large number of freshwater lakes and ponds, we have no shortage of sea bids and wading birds. Here are some suggested locations for serious bird photography.
Ft. De Soto Park
Any list of Pinellas County parks will include Ft. De Soto Park for two reasons – the sheer size of the park, and its excellent beaches. This park has been listed as the best beach in the country numerous times by many different rating organizations.
Located at the South end of Pinellas County, Ft. De Soto Park is accessible by paying 2 small tolls, one to enter the Pinellas Bayway, and the other to cross a toll bridge just before entering the park. This is the largest park in the Pinellas County Park System at 1,136 acres spread over 5 interconnected islands.
According to the park’s website, more than 290 species of birds have been documented by Ornithologists. The beaches are also nesting places for Loggerhead Sea Turtles between April and September of each year. There are miles of trails and beaches to find wildlife to photograph.
Although average yearly park attendance is more than 2.7 million, the park rarely seems crowded.
Ft. De Soto Park is located at 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715.
Boca Ciega Millennium Park
One of the newer County parks is Boca Ciega Millennium Park, opened in 2001. Located mid-county, the park is very accessible to anyone in the area.
The park has been named one of the stops on the ‘Great Florida Birding Trail’. The park’s website lists ‘shore birds, wading birds, birds of prey, upland birds & water fowl’ among the types of birds that can be viewed in the park.
The park is also made up of a variety of natural communities, including pine flatwoods, coastal oak hammock, mangrove swamp, salt marsh, bay head, and wetlands. This, along with the fact that it was the first park in Pinellas County to have been opened using only native plants in its landscaping, and was recognized by the Florida Native Plant Society for doing so.
One of the unique viewing areas is a boardwalk leading to a 35-foot high observation tower that overlooks Boca Ciega Bay.
The 182 acre Boca Ciega Millennium Park is located at 12410 74th Ave. N (Old Oakhurst Road), Seminole, FL 33772.
War Veteran’s Memorial Park
One of the smaller Pinellas County parks at 122 acres, many people overlook this park for photographing birds and wildlife. A few photographers call this their favorite park for a number of reasons – (a.) the park never seems crowded, (b.) there seems to be an abundance of birds, and (c.) The area around Shelter 5.
Some explanation is in order. The area around Shelter 5 is unique in that it is located closest to Boca Ciega Bay, and there is access to the water. Aside from a canoe and kayak launch site that allows you to enter an inlet that is sometimes filled with wading birds, there are also two small sandy beach-like areas that people use for fishing, viewing the bay, and many other non-swimming activities. But the most interesting thing about this area is a small, 10-12 inch high seawall between a stand of mangroves and the Shelter 5 parking lot which keeps salt water out of the parking lot at high tide. When high tide comes in, the grassy area fills with 3 or 4 inches of sea water, and small crabs come up out of the sand. The wading birds have figured this out, and the result is an abundance of feeding birds that don’t mind that you are close to them AND taking their pictures. (Writer’s note: I have ALSO figured this out, and have rarely seen other Photographers taking advantage of this situation. As a result, this is my personal favorite bird photography park)
The War Veteran’s Memorial Park is located adjacent to the Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital grounds at 9600 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg, FL 33708.
These are three prime spots in Southern Pinellas County. There are many other great spots that are featured in Part 2 and 3