Friday, June 14, 2013

Best of the Best Parks in Pinellas County

Best Beaches in Pinellas County: Small Entrance Fee $5-$8 at Beaches.

Fort De Soto's North Beach has won the Parents Magazine's award of Best Family Beach in 2011. In 2005. Dr Stephen Leatherman, professor of environmental studies and Director of Miami University's Laboratory of Coastal Research, rated USA coastal beaches on 60 criteria, including water temperature and water and sand quality, and Ft De Soto came out #1. Who am I to argue with national awards? We love this beach. It is not overcrowded, even at the peak of tourist season, and there are fabulous birds to watch, a large picnic area nearby, free fishing, camping, kayaking, an historical museum, and trails to hike.

Caladisi Island was named the nation's #4 best beach by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Miami University's Laboratory of Coastal Research.  It is only reachable by ferry boat from nearby Honeymoon Island, which is just off of the main street in Dunedin. Both islands have uncrowded beaches, snack bars, wooden ramps and hiking trails. Honeymoon Island has swings to sit on, however its beach is rocky and is better for wading then sunbathing. 

Sand Key Park is a small beach park, south of the huge Clearwater beach. There is a fishing pier, a hiking trail, dog park, playground and picnic shelter. It is on the Florida Birding Trail. There were plenty of parking spaces on a week day during spring break when I visited.You don't pay an entrance fee, just a $5 parking fee.
Best Parks to view turtles:

George C. McGough is definitely the park to go to see the greatest variety of turtles with in the shortest period of time. You can see them from your car.  They are in the pond, they are on the shore of the pond, and they climb on overhanging tree limbs. It helps that there is suitable turtle food available for purchase, so you can see them up close. There are also gopher tortises on the trails.

Eagle Lake Park has both soft-shelled and hard-shelled turtles, but they are scarce until you see someone feeding them bread. However feeding the animals is illegal. 

Sawgrass Lake Park has many turtles swimming in Sawgrass Lake that can be seen from the observation areas on the boardwalk. If you don't mind some walking, you can see the turtles in their natural element. 

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve has gopher turtles that you can see coming out of their burrows. I saw them right by the sign on the trail near Wax Myrtle pond. 

Best Parks to view alligators: 

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve has 3 juvenile alligators that can be seen from Wilow Marsh bridge. I also saw a mother alligator and tiny babies on Maggiore Island, but be careful as they are close to shore and there are no barriers. Most everyone stayed away and the mother seemed placid enough that day. Because of sheer numbers I chose this park as number one.

Sawgrass Lake Park is the park where I always see an alligator, even whole families of them. Because you are on an elevated boardwalk, it is the safest viewing area in Pinellas County.

Largo Central Nature Preserve has an almost guaranteed large alligator resident along the southwestern section of the pond. He can be viewed safely from the boardwalk. 

The Florida Botanical Garden has some large alligators in Lake. The ones that I have seen have been across or in McKay Creek.

At Walsingham Park you need to be near the southern portion of the lake, off of the trails, and have a lot of patience. Alligators don't like to bask along the shore on 60 degree days. 

Lake Seminole also has a big alligator to the right on the trails in the pond.  

Best parks to view armadillos: 

Honeymoon Island is where I see armadillos scurrying across the trails, everytime I visit. Sometimes I miss a photo opportunity, because  these remarkable creatures come and go so quickly.

Best parks to learn about history:

Heritage Village has an enormous amount of historical material displayed in 18 original homes, built between 1852-1939, including a school, a church, an auto repair garage, a post office, a train station with caboose, a telegraph station, etc. There are thousands of antiques: furniture, implements, cars, linens, clothing, photographs, and books. It is free, too. Besides a museum, it is a great place to listen to music during an impromptu musical recital or music festival.  

Fort De Soto is my close second park to learn Pinellas County history. It is not free, but at $5 a carload, it is reasonable for a military fort with posters, uniforms, artillery, and remnants of the original fort. When the kids get tired of the history there is the beach or the pier.

Best parks for photography, especially of birds:

The Largo Central Nature Preserve, which is not crowded, has many of the harder to find birds, such as the Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Pileated Woodpecker, and Roseate Spoonbill, in addition to herons, limpkins, ibis, and egrets.

Walsingham Park has it all: It has a fitness trail for the walkers, bicyclists, runners, an area for playing frisbie, a dog pasrk, etc.  The more elusive Roseate spoonbills and Cormorants can be seen there, in addition to the herons, limpkins, ibis, anhingas and egrets. The lake is a magnificent backdrop for your photography with it's pines and palms, deep blue or gray water, beautiful sunsets, butterflies, flowers, alligators, snakes, tortoises, and turtles. It is popular however,  especially in the evenings. 

Lake Seminole is third, in my estimation, for bird photography. You have to hide behind trees and follow the water, whether it be a canal, river, pond or Lake Seminole. It was at Lake Seminole, in the picnic grounds near a playground, of all places, that I saw my first Wood Stork. 

Honeymoon Island is number one for ospreys.They have dozens nesting high in the pines along the Osprey Trail and on platforms. There is also a sign where the Bald Eagle family nests at the northern most part of the trail, and an owl nest. 

Best parks for walking and bicycling:

Walsingham Park, in my opinion, is the best and preferable for someone who wants flat, paved terrain for a more intensive workout.  it is suitable for bicyclists who like to ride 6 miles instead of the 2 - 4 miles that going around the Lake Seminole Fitness Trail once or twice provides. Walsingham park is larger with a centrally-located lake, and as such, has more of a variety of birds than the Florida Botanical Gardens, which makes for an appealing walk. 

Lake Seminole Park has several miles of shaded trails with mile markers. It is paved for bicyclists too. Off to the right is a pond with many nesting blue herons high in the pines, white egrets, and an large alligator. There is another dirt path with nesting ospreys and an eagle.

Florida Botanical Gardens is for walkers only. The garden has easy, rambling trails, but more enthusiastic hikers will appreciate the uncultivated Sandhill or Flatwoods Loop Trails. For color and interest, the Florida Botanical Garden with the constant blooming of new plants is unequaled.  There are alligators and turtles, birds, and butterflies to keep you entertained, as well as varied greenery and flowering fruits, herbs, and bushes. There is also a fascinating landscape to meander around with plenty of benches, bridges, and overlooks, formal and informal gardens, rivers, and orchards

Best Rose Garden:  

The Sturgeon Memorial Garden is a must-see if you like roses, especially during spring and fall. There are 452 bushes of over 131 varieties in ten closely spaced garden beds, according to a brochure at the garden. There are china, climber, English, floribunda, grandiflora, hybrid tea, landscape, miniature, old garden, polyantha, and shrub roses. There are a lot of gardens with roses in Pinellas County.There is the Sunken Gardens in St Petersburg, The Florida Botanical Garden in Largo, Busch Gardens in Tampa, etc. However, there is only one AARS accredited rose garden in the Tampa area, and only 3 in Florida.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Discovering the Pinellas County Parks

As a snowbird, I hope to share the unique perspective of a retiree, who lives in Florida for 4 months each year, and how I enjoy the Pinellas County parks, which teem with unique flora and fauna. In Pinellas County, there is a bio-diverse ecosystem comprised of seashore and inland wetlands, with various lakes, canals, estuaries, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, cypress swamps, and pineland forests. There is tropical foliage, reptiles that cannot live in colder climes, and unusual resident and migrating birds.  I love it all.

From my experience, I find that one does not fully appreciate what is in one's own backyard. For example,there is a wonderful park about 12 miles from my house up north. It has over ten beaches,  some with lifeguards, a multipurpose trail, lighthouses, an historical monument, and a multilevel environmental education center with interactive exhibits.. They hold an annual bird count there, as many rare and endangered birds migrate through the area. I visit it about 1-3 times a year, as I get distracted with other things in the summer, such as family, taking care of a big house, and it's just too far away..

 I place a priority on exploring nature when in Florida. It helps that there are several parks within a mile or two of our rental property. No excuses that I don't have the time.  And we just don't have the same creatures and vegetation where I come from.  I am enthralled with the big wading birds. While stretching my legs, I can study their habits, resulting in unique photographs. Often I spy an occasional snake or alligator. I know that those pictures will elicit oohh's and aahh's from even the most bored family member at home.  The grandchildren especially like the turtle, fiddler crab and squirrel pictures and the gardeners and botanists of the family appreciate the exquisite tropical flower and bird pictures.