Naples, Fla. - The Naples, Marco Island and Gulf Coast Everglades region of Southwest Florida is blessed with an abundance of open park land that is irresistible to birds, both resident and migratory species. The birds in turn bring in flocks of avian enthusiasts, many searching for rare species like the least bittern, snail kite and wood stork to add to their life lists.
Collier County, the largest county in Florida by land area, has approximately 80% of its land designated as some type of park or preserve, including a portion of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, three state parks, a state forest, the Audubon-owned Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and numerous county, city and private parks and nature preserves.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Great Florida Birding Trail was completed in 2006. Each section of the trail has a "gateway" site with guides and information about the entire trail. Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary just outside Naples is one of two gateway sites for the Southern Section of the trail. Currently, Collier County has 12 additional sites on the trail, which are listed below.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to the world's last old-growth bald cypress forest, and it is the world's largest nesting site for the endangered wood stork. The sanctuary is also home to countless year-round and migratory bird species, as well as many mammal and reptile species, all visible from the sanctuary's 2.25-mile boardwalk, which takes visitors through upland, wetland and cypress forest habitats.
Visitors to Everglades National Park's Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City will be rewarded with many sightings of osprey, hawk, swallow tailed kite and other birds of prey, as well as roseate spoonbill and many species of heron. In addition, flocks of white pelicans arrive each fall to stay through spring. Guided boat tours are available from Everglades National Park Boat Tours, or you can hire a private boat or kayak guide for trips to the Wilderness Waterway or the Paradise Coast Blueway for spectacular natural scenery.
On the third weekend in January, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve holds the Southwest Florida Nature Festival. There are many fun and educational events, and displays at the reserve's Environmental Learning Center facility, as well as guided tours to the many wonderful locations for bird watching throughout the area. Visit www.rookerybay.org for details about the upcoming festival.
Great Florida Birding Trail Sites in Collier County:
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Collier-Seminole State Park
- Conservancy of Southwest Florida Naples Nature Center
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
- CREW Marsh Hiking Trails
- Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
- Eagle Lakes Park
- Everglades National Park—Gulf Coast Visitor Center
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
- Picayune Strand State Forest—Sabal Palm Hiking Trail
- Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
- Tigertail Beach, Marco Island
For more information on bird watching, eco activities and other things to do in the area, visit www.ParadiseCoast.com or call 1-800-688-3600 for a free visitors guide.
The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau promotes Florida's Paradise Coast as a visitor destination and is the official destination marketing and management agency for Collier County, Florida, supported entirely by the Collier County Tourism Development Tax.