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  • Writer's pictureHannah

Fort De Soto Park (St. Petersburg, FL)

Fort De Soto Park is a county park just outside of Tampa. It is a fantastic spot during the warbler migration due to its location along the Gulf makes sense why it's one of the most popular birding destinations in the US. The park has also been known to have good shorebirding and vagrants. It is also a gateway site on the West Section along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. More than 330 have been reported on 10,000+ eBird lists.

There are several different types of habitat to explore, including: mangroves, wetlands, hardwood and palm hammocks, mudflats, and sandy beaches. This park is approximately 1,150 acres made-up from 5 islands, or keys. However, it seems like much more than that when you are driving around and checking it out! It's the largest park in Pinellas County and has a long and varied history, natural and cultural.

Cultural history-wise is the land was inhabited by Native American tribes, who lived on the plentiful fish, clams, and other bounty from the Gulf. In the 1500's, Spanish explorers came ashore, which would eventually culminate in the conquest of Florida for Spain. A couple hundred years later, Robert E. Lee surveyed the area and recommended that a fort be built for coastal defense. After some back and forth over the years, Fort De Soto was completed in 1906. The Army decided to close the fort in 1922 and it was abandoned by 1923. Pinellas County finally bought it from the Army in 1938 for $12,500. The site officially opened to the public as a county park in 1962.

It was named as America's Top Beach for 2009 by Trip Advisor and "Dr. Beach" named it the nation's #1 beach in 2005. Suffice it to say, it's a nice park. Fort De Soto is a popular site for anglers, picnickers, birders, hikers, and more with many trails, picnic areas, camping, and beaches.

Erik and I like this park, it's beautiful and we see some great species. We explore this site mostly by car. In our visit in April 2018, we were looking for migrants, but the weather was so stormy, we really didn't see much. But we got a feel for the park and headed out of there.

On our August 2018, we had a much better visit. We started off heading to the east along the shoreline, where we saw lots of shorebirds (Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, and other plovers and sandpipers)...until a few kitesailers came through and scared them away.

So we headed towards the beach access near the old fort. It was a good spot for Snowy Egrets and terns. And that is just a beautiful spot to view the water. After spending some time there hoping for Brown Boobys, we circled the park again and headed out to find the Nanday Parakeets.

In our experience with sighting parrots and parakeets, we drive around and listen for them to call. So we did that through the campground with hopes we'd hear something. Almost all the way through the campground...we heard them! We parked in an empty campsite and ran over to the power lines along the edge of the campground. Great views and I caught video of them hanging out at a cavity nest built into a power pole.

All-in-all, it's a great park and we are looking forward to visiting again during migration or any other time we are in

For more information on Fort De Soto, check out their website:

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