Whether you want to see wading birds and winged creatures or the once-endangered alligator, you'll find lots of animals at these South Florida nature spots.
1. HUNGRYLAND BOARDWALK AND TRAIL: A 1.2-mile boardwalk and trail in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area passes through slash pine flatwoods, a sawgrass marsh, and oak/cabbage palm hammock, and a cypress swamp.
Wildlife: Early morning and late afternoon may provide a patient visitor with a glimpse of a white-tailed deer or bobcat. River otters and raccoons are sometimes seen on the boardwalk. Pileated woodpeckers, barred owls and screech owls are often heard in the canopy of cypress. Herons, egrets and common yellowthroats inhabit the marshes.
Directions: Take I-95 north from West Palm Beach to Northlake Boulevard exit. Drive west approximately 12.3 miles, crossing the Beeline Expressway (Florida Highway 710). Take a right on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. The entrance will be on the right. Follow the signs to the Hungryland Boardwalk and Trail, which is 0.7 mile from the check station to grassy parking area.
Information: 561-625-5122 or 561-625-5133
2. OKEEHEELEE PARK NATURE CENTER: One mile of paved trail and 1.5 miles of a shell rock trail wind through the Okeeheelee Nature Center, a 100-acre area located within the 1,000-acre Okeeheelee Park in Palm Beach County. The nature center offers regular natural history programs.
Wildlife: Check the wetlands along the East Marsh Trail for coot, common moorhen, ring-necked duck, blue-winged and green-winged teal, pied-billed grebe and wood duck. Scan overhead for red-tailed hawks and ospreys. Gopher tortoises and their burrows are located along the pine trail.
Directions: From I-95, exit onto Forest Hill Boulevard and travel west for about 5 miles. Park entrance is on the right. In the park, follow signs to the nature center.
Information: Phone: 561-233-1400 Web site: Okeeheelee Nature Center
3. ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: One of the state's birding "hotspots," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The 221-square-mile refuge is the northernmost end of the Everglades and is home to the American alligator and the endangered Everglades snail kite, as well as up to 257 species of birds. The Marsh trail takes visitors along dikes surrounding impoundments where water levels are manipulated seasonally to benefit wildlife. A boardwalk by the visitor center traverses a cypress swamp, while a canoe trail takes birders into the refuge's marshy interior.
Wildlife: Fall through spring offers the best birding at this refuge. A bird's eye view can be obtained by climbing into the observation tower on the Marsh Trail. Herons, egrets, ibis, limpkins, anhingas, purple gallinules, vultures and red-shouldered hawks are common. Winter brings seasonal residents such as the northern harrier and several species of ducks, including blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, fulvous whistling ducks and ring-necked ducks.
Directions: 10216 Lee Road, three miles north of Atlantic Avenue off State Road 7, Boynton Beach.
Information: 561-734-8303 or 561-732-3684. Web site: Loxahatchee
4. GUMBO LIMBO NATURE CENTER: Located in Boca Raton's Red Reef Park between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. There are exhibits (large saltwater tanks and smaller aquariums) inside the educational center, a boardwalk through the mangrove and tropical hardwood hammock communities and a 40-foot-high observation tower.
Wildlife: Gray squirrels, land crabs, migratory warblers and other songbirds inhabit the hammock. Brown pelicans, ospreys, ring-billed and laughing gulls and terns can be seen from the beach across the street.
Directions: Take I-95 from Boca Raton to Palmetto Park Road (exit 39). Drive east on Palmetto Road, which will end at Florida Highway A1A. Turn left, continue 1.2 miles to the entrance (on the left).
Information: Phone: 561-338-1473. Web site: gumbolimbo.org
5. DEERFIELD ISLAND PARK: Accessible only by boat, this island nature preserve has nature trails, a boardwalk, an 8-acre mangrove swamp, observation platform over the waterway, a picnic area with tables, grills and one shelter, a playground, guided tours, a marina and restrooms.
Wildlife: This 56-acre island park provides a critical habitat for the gopher tortoise and is a nesting place for squirrels, raccoons and armadillos. Both migratory and indigenous sea birds use it as a roosting and feeding place.
Directions: Intracoastal Waterway at Hillsboro Boulevard. Take Hillsboro east from Federal Highway and turn left on Riverview Road.
Information: 954-360-1320. Free parking is available near the shuffleboard courts in Sullivan Park.
6. FERN FOREST NATURE CENTER: This 243-acre forested island includes a visitor center, the Cypress Boardwalk, Prairie Overlook Trail and an arboretum. Cypress/maple swamp, tropical hardwood hammock, open prairie, and oak/cabbage palm communities comprise the natural communities found in the park.
Wildlife: Black-and-yellow striped zebra longwing butterflies and orange ruddy daggerwings flit through the forest. Songbirds, red-shouldered hawks and gray squirrels are common. Gray fox and bobcats are occasionally seen.
Directions: 201 Lyons Road South, just south of Atlantic Boulevard, Coconut Creek. Take Interstate 95 to exit 34 at Atlantic Boulevard. Drive west 2.9 miles to Lyons Road and turn left (south); park entrance is on the right.
Information: Phone: 954-970-0150. Web site: Fern Forrest
7. ANNE KOLB NATURE CENTER AT WEST LAKE PARK: This 1500-acre mangrove wetland includes an exhibit hall with a multi-level aquarium, walking trails, a bike trail and an observation tower.
Wildlife: Invertebrates such as fiddler crabs, mangrove crabs and snapping shrimp are visible or audible in the mangroves. Take the Mud Flat Trail or Observation Trail for good views of this habitat. White ibis, great blue heron, yellow-crowned night herons, roseate spoonbills, ospreys and kingfishers hunt the shallow waters of West Lake. Wilson's plovers and spotted sandpipers probe the mudflats. Mullet, snook and mangrove snapper are common in the lake. The South Trail provides good views of the mangrove restoration areas. Boats with electric motors only are allowed, or visitors can rent canoes and kayaks and follow the three well-marked canoe trails or opt for a 40-minute narrated boat tour; schedules vary, call in advance.
Directions: 751 Sheridan St., Hollywood. From I-95 head east on Sheridan Street past Federal Highway. West Lake Park's entrance will be on the south (right) side; the Anne Kolb Nature Center is a half-mile east of West Lake's entrance on the north (left) side.
8. TREE TOPS PARK: This Broward County park features nature and equestrian trails that wind through dense woodlands, including an impressive oak hammock. There is a 1,000-foot boardwalk with viewing platforms in addition to a restored freshwater marsh near the park entrance.
Wildlife: Winter brings waterfowl (including teal, mottled ducks, and American coots) to open water areas of the marsh. Butterflies are abundant throughout the park. Common moorhens and pied-billed grebes nest in the marsh. Look for great egrets, great blue herons, little blue herons, green herons and anhingas throughout much of the year.
Directions: The park is located in Davie, at the corner of SW 100th Avenue and SW 45 Street (Orange Drive).
9. GREYNOLDS PARK: Trails encircle a mangrove wetland and allow close views of the courtship activities, nest building and rearing of chicks. Guided bird walks are offered.
Wildlife: Nesting begins in late February and continues through the summer. Expect to see cattle egrets, great egrets, anhingas, white ibis, tricolored herons, little blue herons, green herons and double-crested cormorants. The birds roost here throughout the year and are stirring to watch as they return for the evening.
Directions: In North Miami Beach, corner of NE 22nd Avenue and NE 185th Street (Miami Gardens Drive).
Information: Phone: 305-945-3425. Web site: Greynolds Park
10. BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE PARK: The park anchors the southern tip of Key Biscayne, a barrier island just south of Miami. After 1992's Hurricane Andrew leveled 98 percent of the trees (mostly exotic Australian pine) in the park, an effort was launched to recreate beach dune, coastal strand, maritime hammock and freshwater and tidal wetlands. Visitors may walk the 1.2-mile sandy beach, pedestrian-only nature trail or other paths.
Wildlife: Shorebird migration in late summer is a good time to see plovers, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, willets and other species on the beach. Wading birds and marsh rabbits are common in the freshwater wetlands. Butterflies and dragonflies are found throughout the park. Magnificent frigatebirds and gray kingbirds are regularly spotted in the summer. Early morning visits Tuesday through Friday provide the best viewing opportunities at this busy park. Visitors must give nesting shorebirds a wide berth and heed any posted signs that restrict access to bird or sea turtle nesting areas.
Directions: 1200 S. Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne. From Miami, take I-95 to the Rickenbacker Causeway, all the way to the end.
Information: Phones: 305-361-5811 or 305-361-8779 Web site: Bill Bags Cape