Sweetwater Wetlands Park (Gainesville, FL)
Updated: Jun 22, 2019
Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a unique birding location. At only 125 acres of wetlands and ponds, there is a ton to explore. The site was created to improve the water quality for wetlands in Paynes Prairie and for the Floridian Aquifer. It is managed by the City of Gainesville and offers 3 1/2 miles to explore of trails and boardwalks with several viewing platforms overlooking the ponds. It also happens to be one of the best places to see Snail Kites! This was our second visit to this site. The first time we were there was the first time we had ever seen an alligator bellow and do the "water dance"--super cool experience. This time we went searching for the Egyptian Goose and Caspian Tern that had been sighted at the park. After panicking that I had lost my wallet...we started on the trail. At 12:00pm, it was already in the high 80's and really humid, so we didn't plan to stay long.
We started off at the first deck and scanned for any birds. There was a Tricolored Heron wondering on the boardwalk handrail, a Limpkin messing around, and a Common Gallinule swimming around the pond. Then in the distance, a goose took off from another pond. With a quick glimpse, we knew it was the Egyptian Goose because of the wing coloration as it flew off. A moment later, I saw a tern foraging off at the far pond and we were off to look for it.
One sweaty 1/4 mile later, we were at the edge of the large pond in the back watching the Caspian Tern fishing. Of course, this isn't a rare species, but it is uncommon in this county. I also love to watch Caspian Terns as it reminds me of when I was a beginner birder and I would see them fish in the Pacific Ocean off the jetty at Fort Stevens State Park in Astoria, Oregon.
A couple other highlights include a Snail Kite, Sandhill Cranes, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Check out our whole list here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S47328602.
Anyways, it is a great place. You should definitely check it out the next time you are in the Gainesville-area. My #1 tip would be to get there early and carry water.
It is located at: 325 SW Williston Road, Gainesville, FL 32608 and they are open daily from 7:00am to sunset. The entry fee is $5 per car and $2 per person for bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses. http://www.sweetwaterwetlands.org/