County Focus: Escambia

This week’s county focus takes a close look at Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail opportunities in Escambia County, in the Western Panhandle.

First of all we’ll use our Trip Planning Wizard to find out what trail sites are located in Escambia County.

as you can see there are 10 sites in Escambia County

Type Escambia in the search field and click search. Blue feathers appear! As you can see there are 10 sites in Escambia County

To find out more about each individual site, what amenities are available, what top 40 species have been recorded, and a link for directions, click on the blue feather and a pop-up window will appear just like in the image below.

more information for Big Lagoon State Park

more information for Big Lagoon State Park. Click on the directions link to open up a google map showing the entrance to the site. Click on the species name to find out more about that species.

So, let us take a closer look at each of the ten sites to whet our appetites for birding in Escambia County.

University of West Florida: Edward Ball Nature Trail

Take a stroll along the short boardwalk, which takes you through a nice ravine. Look for migrant and resident songbirds such as Summer Tanager and Great Crested Flycatcher. Keep an eye on the sky for soaring Swallow-tailed Kites during spring and summer. A Dark-eyed Junco was found by avid student birders in 2010 and 11 species of wood-warbler have been recorded during migration including Kentucky, Worm-eating and Prairie.

6. University of West Florida

ECUA Bayou Marcus Wetlands

Take a stroll along the 8,000 foot boardwalk and enjoy views of wintering and migratory ducks such as Hooded Merganser, Blue-winged Teal and the occasional Common Goldeneye. Weedy edges may be frequented by skulky sparrows and the pines are home to Brown-headed Nuthatches. The wetlands often produces surprises such as Virginia Rail, Groove-billed Ani and Painted Bunting.

Painted Bunting by J V O Weaver

Painted Bunting by J V O Weaver

Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park

This beautiful state park is renowned for its endangered pitcher plants, of which there are 4 species. It is also a great place to watch birds and other wildlife as well. Brown-headed Nuthatches, Pine Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat all breed and Common Nighthawks are regularly sighted during spring and summer.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

Big Lagoon State Park

This beautiful state park is one of two Gateway trail sites in the Florida Panhandle. Ask at the ranger station about the loaner optics program and to borrow a field guide if needed. Over 150 species have been recorded at this site including Common Goldeneye, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill (summer), Snowy Plover, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Loggerhead Shrike, Marsh Wren, Seaside Sparrow and Orchard Oriole. For the intrepid visitor kayak and canoe rentals are available providing excellent opportunity to explore the marsh and coastal waters.

1. Big Lagoon

Gulf Islands National Seashore: Perdido Key Area

During spring and summer this birding trail site provides important nesting habitat for Least Terns and Snowy Plovers. Perdido Key is also an excellent site during migration and neotropical songbirds often stop here to rest before and after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. In winter scan Big Lagoon for Common Loons, Horned Grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers. The occasional Red-throated Loon and Common Goldeneye are found here during the winter months.

Naval Air Station Pensacola: Trout Point Nature Trail

Take a stroll along the 0.5 mile trail and boardwalk to search for Brown-headed Nuthatches in the pines and wading birds such as both species of night heron along marshy edges. Over 20 species of shorebird have been recorded at this site including Piping Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper and Wilson’s Phalarope.

Project Greenshores

This small park affords views of the shore and bay, which are home to a nice diversity of species such as Common Loon (winter), Black-necked Stilt (spring) and American Oystercatcher. In 2011 Florida’s first King Eider in over 25 years was found, attracting birders from as far as Miami, Birmingham and Atlanta! Project Greenshores is one of those sites that is always worth a visit at any time of the year.

immature male King Eider by Andy Wraithmell

immature male King Eider by Andy Wraithmell

Wayside Park and Pensacola Visitor Information Center

After birding Project Greenshores head across the highway and look for birds at this rewarding site. The park offers an alternative view of the bay and at times species such as Common Loon, Forster’s Tern and Red-breasted Merganser feed very close to the pier allowing great photographic opportunities. Head inside the visitor center and pick up a copy of the Panhandle birding trail guide as well as information about the Pensacola area in general.

7. Wayside Park

Gulf Island National Seashore: Fort Pickens Area

This superb site needs no introduction as it’s been renowned as one of THE premier birding sites in Florida for many, many years. Over 300 species have been recorded at Fort Pickens over the years and during spring and fall migration it often attracts a plethora of songbird migrants and the occasional rarity. Over 30 species of wood-warbler have been observed including Nashville, Golden-winged and Cerulean. Rarities such as Groove-billed Ani are spotted almost annually and mega rarities such as Green-tailed Towhee, American Tree Sparrow and Varied Thrush have been recorded in the last 10 years. Sometimes during the right weather conditions the number of migrants present can defy belief!

10. Fort Pickens

We sincerely hope that this week’s County Focus has indeed whetted your appetite and encourages you to head to Escambia County to enjoy the superb birding and wildlife viewing opportunities that are available. Please share your experiences with us and your friends.

Next week’s County Focus will head to Hamilton County in North Central Florida.

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