In the first and second parts of this series, we looked at some Pinellas County and State parks. There are many non-park settings where birds and wildlife can be photographed. Many public areas, private areas, and open lands can be accessed that provide excellent bird and wildlife photography. Nobody tells the birds they have to stay in the parks.
Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
One of the best places to find a large number and variety of shorebirds and wading birds is the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary on Indian Shores. The Sanctuary is an Avian hospital that rescues injured and trapped birds, and takes in injured birds brought in by people who find them. They average 20-45 birds that are rescued or admitted each day. As a result of the large population of recovering birds at the Sanctuary, other birds flock to the location. They know it is a safe location and there will be food, a combination that will draw any bird. There are many photo opportunities at the Sanctuary, with many recovering and hatching birds in enclosures, and the birds that reside in the trees, on roofs, and anywhere else they can find a roosting or nesting place. Look up, and you will see many Egrets and Herons nesting in the trees. The best advice I can give you is to bring a camera and wear a hat! The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is located at 18328 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, FL 33785
Gateway Centre Business Park
Although Gateway Centre is a business park and not a Bird Sanctuary, it offers many open spaces where birds congregate. One area in particular is generally filled with birds waiting to be photographed. MCI Boulevard is a loop that is accessible from both 28th Street N on the East, and Grand Avenue on the South. There is a large multi-story vacant building on MCI Boulevard that was once home to (amazingly enough) MCI Corporation. There is a large parking lot in front of the building that is bordered by several ponds and marshy areas. Behind the building is a large lake. This is a formula for bird photography, and it generally does not disappoint a bird photographer. Bring a tripod or monopod. I have seen and photographed many Spoonbills and Wood Storks at this location. Gateway Centre Business Park is accessible from either U.S. 19 by way of Gateway Centre Boulevard, from Gandy Boulevard by turning North on Grand Boulevard and turning left on Gateway Centre Parkway, or from 28th Street N by turning West on either MCI Drive or Gateway Centre Parkway.
Pinellas County Beaches and Shorelines
Anywhere you find a beach, lake, or pond in Pinellas County, you will find shore birds and wading birds to photograph. Where there are fish, you will find birds. In a county that has more water than land (of 607.67 square miles of area, 279.92 sq. mi. are land and 327.75 sq. mi. are water), that gives you unlimited opportunities for bird photography. Add to that the fact that there are 35 miles of sandy beaches and the possibilities are endless. Most of the beaches have public access, some with free parking, and some with paid parking.
Your Own Back Yard
Living in Pinellas County comes with many advantages if you are a nature photographer. Among them is the fact that there is abundant wildlife everywhere. Although Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in the State of Florida with a population greater than seven states (Wyoming, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont) and Washington D.C., birds and animals thrive here.
Many housing developments, neighborhoods, and individual homes have small lakes and ponds within walking distances, and many homes are even situated on one of these. If you are fortunate enough to live on or near one of these, you have a built-in nature viewing and photography location.
If you live here, Pinellas County is your back yard.
If you happen to live in or near Pinellas County, you don’t have to travel far to find the perfect bird photography location. If you read the Photography magazines, they will show you the favorite photography sites of Professional Photographers. Many will guide you to remote parks and rookeries in South Florida, such as the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Big Cypress National Wildlife Preserve, or the Everglades National Park. These are all tremendous places to go for bird photographs, but if you prefer to stay close to home or don’t have time to take a short vacation, you can find many opportunities for bird photography close to home.