Celebrating the Great Florida Birding Trail in the Panhandle
Signs marking 78 designated birding sites along the 2,000-mile Great Florida Birding Trail began appearing in the Panhandle in December. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hopes to have all the signs in place from Tallahassee to Pensacola by the end of this month.
The FWC will celebrate with a sign-dedication event, complete with birding tours by FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers, at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 17, beginning at 9 a.m. The sign dedication will take place at 1 p.m. at the Environmental Education cabin next to the Visitor Center.
The Great Florida Birding Trail is a conservation program initiated by the FWC in response to the rapidly expanding activity of bird watching. More than 485 exceptional sites throughout Florida have been chosen based on their quality and compiled into trail guides representing four geographic regions.
The signs help bird watchers find the designated sites. Gateway sites at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, near Tallahassee, and Big Lagoon State Park, in Pensacola, provide extensive trail-related resources, with loaner optics available on site. They also act as hubs of regional birding information. Field guides in English and Spanish also are provided to enable visitors to identify which birds they are viewing. Additional materials for beginning bird watchers also are available at each gateway site.
The Florida Panhandle offers outstanding birding experiences and fewer crowds, with sought-after species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites, snowy plover, Swainson’s warbler, Sprague’s pipit and a remarkable diversity of winter visitors (including hummingbirds) not typically found in the peninsula. The Panhandle’s coastline is an important migration corridor for waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and birds of prey.
Birding is big business in Florida, and the Great Florida Birding Trail is an integral part of the Sunshine State’s $5.2 billion wildlife viewing industry. More people travel to Florida to see wildlife than to any other state, and approximately 3.3 million residents and visitors watched birds and wildlife in Florida in 2006, according to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey.