In the first part of this series, we looked at three Pinellas County parks in the south part of the county. This time we move east and north. Here are three more suggested locations for serious bird photography.
Sawgrass Lake Park
Sawgrass Lake Park in the northeast part of St. Petersburg can be a little difficult to find if you have never been there before. If you have not visited this park, you should make every effort to get there. It is only accessible from 62nd Ave. N just west of I-275 (there is NOT an exit for 62nd Ave. N). There is a stoplight at 25th Street, and a small sign pointing north telling you it is there. You must drive through a residential neighborhood to enter the park.
Once you are there, you will find yourself in what the National Audubon Society claims to be ‘one of the premier birding sites in Florida.’ The park is also listed as a Great Florida Birding Trail site.
Sawgrass Lake is a unique collaboration between the Pinellas County Parks system’s Conservation Resource Department, the Pinellas County School District, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. As a result, there is an air conditioned education center near the park entrance that includes nature and wildlife displays and classrooms.
There is a system of trails and boardwalks throughout the park. After crossing a wooden foot bridge, if you take the left branch of the boardwalk, you will find an observation tower overlooking Sawgrass Lake.
The park, which includes one of the largest maple swamps on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is home to herons, egrets, ibis, wood storks, alligators and turtles, among other wildlife. Many types of butterflies are also seen here.
The 400 acre Sawgrass Lake Park is located at 7400 25th St. N, St. Petersburg, FL 33702
Honeymoon Island State Park / Caladesi Island State Park
Originally called Hog Island, a developer built 50 palm-thatched cottages on the island and rented them to honeymooners who visited Dunedin. Today you can drive across the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island and see and photograph one of the finest beaches and wildlife observation areas in Florida.
The park includes mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in Florida. Nesting ospreys and a tremendous variety of shorebirds can be photographed here.
There are fees associated with State Parks. Admission fees for Honeymoon Island are $8.00 (2-4 people), $4.00 (single occupant vehicle), $2.00 (pedestrians or bicycle), and $4.00 (sunset fee – one hour prior to sunset).
To extend your photography experience, you can take a ferry boat ride from the park to Caladesi Island State Park, one of the few completely natural coastal islands along the coast of Florida. This island’s beaches were rated America’s Best Beach by Dr. Beach in 2008.
The island contains several nature trails and bird observation areas. There is also a three mile kayak trail through the mangroves with tours led by Park Rangers.
You can’t drive there, but a ferry boat leaves Honeymoon Island hourly starting at 10:00 a.m., and each visitor is allotted four hours on Caladesi Island. The cost of the ferry is $12.00 for adults, and $6.00 for children ages 4-12. You can also take your own boat to the island, and there is no time limit for your visit. Because you paid a fee to enter Honeymoon Island State Park, there is no entrance fee to Calades Island iother than the ferry fee.
If you arrive at Caladesi Island on your own boat, the entrance fees are $6.00 per boat (up to 8 people – $2.00 for each additional person) or $2.00 per kayaker.
Honeymoon Island State Park is located at the extreme end of State Road 586 at #1 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin, FL 34698.
Sand Key Park
The 95 acre Sand Key Park is actually two parks in one. Pinellas County describes the two parts as a ‘beach’ and a ‘park’.
The beach is the reason most people go to Sand Key Park. This is a popular beach for swimming, as well as special events and weddings. Because of the large number of events scheduled at Sand Key Park, a permit must be acquired to hold a special event or commercial/non-commercial wedding. There is a portion of the beach that is set aside as an area where sea turtles annually lay their eggs. This area is monitored by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
For photographers (and other nature lovers), the ‘park’ half is where you want to go. There are boardwalks and nature trails along a salt marsh where you can see many varieties of herons and egrets, along with roseate spoonbills, great horned owls, and many other birds.
Sand Key Park is at the extreme north end of Sand Key, just before the bridge over Clearwater Pass at 1060 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater, FL 33767.