Thursday, June 4, 2009

Saturday is the day to hit the wildlife trails

Following is from FWC but don't forget there are also trails at Camp Bayou ...

For immediate release: June 4, 2009
Contact: Wendy Dial
Photos: Go to and click on “Newsroom.”

Saturday is the day to hit the wildlife trails

Do you want to venture into unfamiliar territory Saturday to chance seeing something new? Then try Florida’s wildlife management areas, which are underexplored troves of trail-laced waterways, woods, marshes and scrub.
Besides footpaths, they have overlooks, where visitors can glimpse wildlife; and there are boat launches, so people can paddle the many creeks, rivers and lakes throughout the 5.8 million, mostly undeveloped, acres of wildlife management areas (WMAs) and wildlife and environmental areas (WEAs).
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manages these habitats that wildlife call home.
The Great Florida Birding Trail offers another unique approach to wildlife viewing.
Saturday is National Trails Day, so named by the American Hiking Association. While some people will take to more traditional park trails, the management areas and birding trail are often off the beaten path, thereby promising wilder experiences.
Jacksonville and St. Augustine sandwich Guana River WMA. This picturesque estuary is home to countless wading birds. Visitors are apt to spot the roseate spoonbill (look for a pink bird with a beak shaped like a big spoon) along the water’s edge. New sites await those who bring a kayak or canoe to launch along a river or on Lake Ponte Vedra.
“Deep in the southern section of the state is Fisheating Creek, a place that draws rave reviews from paddlers taking to the water trail,” said Jerrie Lindsey, director of FWC’s Office of Recreation Services.
This Lake Okeechobee tributary is home to alligators, not houses. Swallowtail kites fly over the tree-lined banks. Paddlers will like the cool shade too, Lindsey noted.
“Right now is the perfect time to hike here,” FWC biologist Grant Steelman said. “We just burned some acreage, so the hiking visibility is great. You can see turkey and deer.”
The best place to hike there is off State Road 78, south of Lakeport. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the FWC campground, off U.S. 27 in Palmdale. Steelman said the water level is good after the recent rains.
A trail in the middle of the state is the place to find butterflies. The FWC’s Chinsegut WEA features a butterfly garden and trail and an air-conditioned nature center. Visitors to this Brooksville Ridge spot can see sandhill cranes and wild turkeys up-close and personal, from the garden or from the center’s windows. Center hours Saturday are only from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, you can look for deer and hawks from the hiking trails through the WEA’s Big Pine and Chinsegut tracts during any daylight hours.
If these spots have not whetted your appetite for exploring faraway places, check out the stops along the Great Florida Birding Trail. Babcock-Webb WMA in Charlotte County still has plenty of red-cockaded woodpeckers and purple gallinules (marsh birds). This is one of the WMAs with horse trails.
“In the Panhandle is the famous Apalachicola River WEA, which contains the largest expanse of floodplains forest in Florida,” Lindsey said. “Its nationally recognized paddle trail has four segments. This time of year, Cash Bayou is good for paddling and birding.”
In Central Florida, Three Lakes WMA (lakes Jackson, Marian and Kissimmee) offers boating, while the area’s 29.4 miles of trails offer hiking.
“Either way, you stand a chance of seeing 15 of the top 40 birds in Florida,” said Mark Kiser, a biologist with the FWC’s Wildlife Viewing section. “There are 150 species of birds on the Three Lakes WMA bird checklist.”
Most of the trails are part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Paths can be wet at times.
Check out one of the other 489 Great Florida Birding Trail sites if you want to stay close to home. Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County is a good place in the summer. Abundant trails lead away from the swimming beaches and picnic grounds to a variety of trails, paved and not. Summer is a good time to watch beach-nesting birds, but remember to watch your step for eggs, and do not disturb birds nesting in the dunes.
For more information on these and other sites, go to Pick your wildlife trail adventure for Saturday. Happy trails.

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