The Naples, Marco Island and the Gulf Coast Everglades region in Southwest Florida is blessed with an abundance of open park land that serves as an irresistible attraction for 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, Everglades 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, thanks to a portion of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, three State Parks, a State Forest, the Audubon-
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission completed the Great Florida Birding Trail when it launched the completed Southern Section in 2006.
Each section has a Gateway site with guides and information about the entire section. Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary just outside Naples is the Gateway site for the Southern Section of the trail. Collier County has twelve sites currently on the trail and hopes to have additional sites added in the years to come.
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, along with the flocks of white pelicans that 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 Birding 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. The next festival takes place January 18-