Jockeying for a better view, I spot the birds battling with a red shouldered hawk over nearby Sleepy Lagoon. The aerial combat continues for several minutes until the hawk relents and drops a spotted sea trout from its grasp.
One osprey keeps the raptor at bay while its mate dives to retrieve the abandoned trout. With the battle won and the prize trout in posssession, the two birds fly off to a nearby nest in an old pine tree.
It’s just another day in Key Vista Nature Park, a Pasco County preserve, located on shores of the Gulf of Mexico. You will find all of Florida’s classic habitats in this birder’s paradise – sandhills, pine flatwoods and mangrove marsh – just a short drive from nearby Holiday.
The park, open from sunrise to sunset, has a system of primitive trails as well as well-maintained boardwalks giving wildlife watchers rare access to this well-preserved ecosystem.
You will see everything from rare gulls to bald eagles in this nature park, which can be found off Baillies Bluff road near the popular Anclote River Park, another top birding spot on the west coast of Florida.
Take most of the morning to explore this 100-acre gem and when you are done, head over to Eagle Point Park, another natural park with trails, a small fishing pier and a canoe and kayak launch.
This coastal park, located off Strauber Memorial Highway in New Port Richey, sits adjacent to a 100-acre nature preserve, making it a prime wildlife habitat for reptiles, mammals and birds.
During the winter, spring and fall, these parks, as well as others in the Pasco system, are the destination of choice for birders from all over the country looking to add new species to their “life lists.”
Pasco County provides a variety of year-round birdwatching opportunities. The area’s mild climate, geographic location and wide variety of habitats attract nearly 500 different types of birds throughout the course of the year.
Rare birds such as the Florida burrowing owl and the elusive Florida scrub-jay are just two of the species that most birdwatchers hope to see. Other species, such as the swallow-tailed kite, are found only during certain times of the year.
You can explore on foot or take to the water. Nearby Withlacoochee River Park, a 146-acre tract of land owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District is a great place to access one of the state’s most scenic rivers.
The river, which starts in the Green Swamp and flows for nearly 100 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, is home to a variety of water birds. The park is a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail, which links key viewing areas throughout the state.
But if you would rather walk than paddle, explore a five-mile section of the Florida Trail that also runs through this unique riverfront park.
Be sure to bring your field guide, binoculars, sunscreen, insect repellant and plenty of water and hit the trails to see these feathered beauties any time of the year.
This article was brought to you by the Pasco County Office of Tourism Development. To plan your trip to Pasco County visit www.visitpasco.net/Birding or follow their birding adventures on Facebook at Pasco County Tourism.