Every year, sea breezes bring a bounty to St. George Island and the greater Forgotten Coast. Whether it’s to provide a lift to the summer heat, pollinate the gorgeous flowers, or carry the scents of sumptuous meals to come, more often than not coastal winds help make the area more enjoyable.
These coastal gusts also bring us a host of winged creatures that infuse every day with color and variety. Bird and butterfly watchers flock to the region with binoculars, cameras, and notepads, ready to celebrate and chronicle the insects and animals who either call the Florida Panhandle home or stop by every year for a week or two on their way to other parts of the world.
And the beauty of being a birder — or a butterfly-er — is that anyone who appreciates them can participate. Just an hour or two over the course of a vacation can make all the difference if you know where to look and what to look for.
As they rely on sugary nectar to live, many species of butterflies flock to colorful flowers, but did you know they can prefer mud puddles and riverbanks as well? And some don’t go near flowers at all, favoring rotting fruit or even tree sap when it comes to lunch. And that means St. George Island, its state park, and the bike paths and hiking trails in and around the Apalachicola area are perfect places to find monarchs, long-tailed skippers, swallowtails, and dozens more species.
Going fishing in the mornings or afternoon? Keep a look out and a field guide handy so you can check off the types of winged creatures you’ve seen. It will boggle your mind how many different species you can see even in a few hours. And while spring is a good season for butterflies, late summer and autumn are when the larger ones get out and about.
For birders, flying friends abound all year long in our area, and southwestern Franklin County is actually home to Apalachicola Bird Island, a strip of land right off the St. George Island Causeway. Other areas, such as Gulf Island State Park, St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge and the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve are prime places to seek out shorebirds, migratory birds, and woodland species.
Nearly 300 native species have been identified, including the endangered piping plover, as well as black rails, boat-tailed grackles, merlins, Peregrine falcons, least terns, and American oystercatchers, to name a few.
A broad diversity can be seen by powerboat, kayak, and canoe around Apalachicola Bay and the Apalachicola River, and along the hiking trails in the above parks and reserves — as well as in Tate’s Hell State Forest and Bald Point State Forest.
Staying on St. George Island for your vacation? Consider putting out a birdhouse or feeder to see who you might get as a visitor. You have plenty of places to seek out the feathered flocks; why not let a few come to you, too?