It’s a Bird Thing in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, Florida
“Be vewy, vewy qwiet. I’m hunting wabbits*,” I thought to myself while walking through Tippecanoe Environmental Park in Port Charlotte, Fla., one Saturday morning last month. Instead of wabbits, err, rabbits, we were on the lookout for Florida Scrub-Jays.
Why Are Florida Scrub-Jays Special?
Why are these birds special? Well, their habitat is pretty limited as they live in scrub and scrubby flatwoods and that type of habitat is disappearing in Florida. Southwest Florida’s Charlotte County is one of the best places to spot them. Something else that makes them pretty unique is they live in family groups, suppose you could call them clans as the “children” tend to hang around with the parents for a year or two.
What I found fascinating during this walk was in one season, a Florida Scrub-Jay can bury up to 6,000 acorns to consume during the winter. And, the depth to which they bury them is dependent upon the type of acorn.
How could a bird know that? I’m not sure but those are some of the things making Florida Scrub-Jays unique so seeing one is a treat.
Yup, This Was a Work Trip
Having seen the movie “The Big Year” starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, based on the book (The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession) by Mark Obmascik I was totally pumped to find birds during this media weekend. Yup, this was a work event in which I hosted six members of the media on a nature-based familiarization trip throughout Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands (geographically, it’s Charlotte County and includes the areas of Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Englewood, Cape Haze and Placida), which has seven segments of the Great Florida Birding Trail. VISIT FLORIDA, the Sunshine State’s official source for travel planning, contributed some financial support to the program through a reimbursement grant.
Over the four-days, we saw more than 30 species of birds including what I consider to be common birds as White Ibis, Anhingas and Great Egrets to the rarer birds as Florida Scrub-Jays, American White Pelicans and Wood Storks. We also saw a host of seabirds including Sandwich Terns, sandpipers and gulls (sorry, I forgot their specific names!)
After spotting the first bird and checking it off the list, I was hooked. More than 485 species of birds have been spotted in Florida and thinking about the three plus years I spent living and working in Everglades National Park, I’ve seen some cool birds in my lifetime.
Of course, the trip wasn’t all about birds, although I was spotting bird hood ornaments at Rick Treworgy’s Muscle Car City in Punta Gorda. Most of the time was outdoors but the group also experienced the destination’s urban amenities such as dining, learning about Punta Gorda’s murals and Fishermen’s Village, a resort, dining and entertainment complex.
Birding in Charlotte County, Florida
Want to experience what the group did? Check out these bird-centric and nature-based activities:
Babcock Wilderness Adventures – Enjoy a 90-minute buggy tour through a working cattle farm and Telegraph Swamp. We spotted Anhinga, Wood Stork, Red-Shouldered Hawk and Osceola Turkey. As a bonus, pet a juvenile alligator and chances are pretty good you’ll see a few gators along the way. Florida cracker cattle are abundant, too. And pay homage to Lulu, the three-horned cow. (www.babcockwilderness.com, 8000 State Road 31, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-637-0551)
Grande Tours Kayak Center – Glide through mangrove tunnels in a kayak but keep your eyes in the sky for all sorts of birds. We watched an Osprey grab a fish from the water then soar through the sky being chased by a raven. Overhead we watched as a pod of White Pelicans in their V-shaped formation headed to White Pelican Island for the evening. (www.grandetours.com, 12575 Placida Road, Placida; Tel: 941-697-8825)
King Fisher Fleet – Best way to appreciate the destination is a Charlotte Harbor cruise with King Fisher Fleet. A variety of cruises are offered throughout the day including a sunset cruise which is a great way to watch birds return to their rookeries each evening. (www.kingfisherfleet.com, 1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-639-0969)
Margaret Albritton Gallery – Browse the colorful gallery located in the old Florida fishing town of Placida and enjoy the nature-inspired art by Margaret Albritton and Garry Albritton. Outside, take in the colorful art in the form of giant, mermaids and wall murals. I love this area for photo opps especially with a boat dock and fishing shacks. (www.margaretalbrittongallery.com, 13020 Fishery Road, Placida; Tel: 941-698-0603)
Palm Island Beach Walk – Palm Island Resort is located on the northern end of Knight Island and only accessible by car ferry, water taxi or private boat. Guests staying at the resort can stroll the beach to spot shorebirds and comb the beach for treasures such as fossilized shark’s teeth. On site is a restaurant which serves up fresh seafood fare but also has amazing ribs! (www.palmisland.com, Tel: 800-824-5412)
Peace River Wildlife Center – See the tender care administered to native Florida wildlife including birds, mammals and most reptiles. Patients are either orphaned, displaced or injured and those fully recuperated are returned back to their native habitat. If they can’t return to the wild, they have a permanent home at Peace River Wildlife Center. Schedule your visit around the 2:30 p.m. daily pelican feeding frenzy! (www.peaceriverwildlifecenter.com, Ponce de Leon Park, 3400 W. Marion Ave. Punta Gorda; Tel: 941-637-3830)
Tippecanoe Environmental Park – “Migratory fall out!” That’s a line from the movie indicating a storm grounding migratory birds. A similar thing happened the morning of our trip to Tippecanoe, a storm passed through the night prior and October is the beginning of the bird migrating season. Some of the birds seen that morning include Florida Scrub-Jay, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and Belted Kingfisher. Walk the park alone or check with the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center’s schedule (www.checflorida.org) for a guided hike. (Tippecanoe Environmental Park, 2400 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte)
Birding definitely works up an appetite and I made sure no one left hungry. Where did we dine? Check out this post by outdoor travel writer/blogger Erika Wiggins called “Eating My Way Across Charlotte County.”
Resources for Birding in Charlotte County
When planning your visit, be sure check out CharlotteHarborTravel.com/birding
Two guide books I like when exploring the local great outdoors:
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida –
- The Living Gulf Coast: A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida