Sawgrass Lake Park

Sawgrass Lake Park

Five years ago this site was considered the best place in Pinellas County to see a Short-tailed Hawk. It still is! A pair has nested at the park every summer since 2007 and more often than not at least one remains for the winter. Likewise, Sawgrass is also the best place in spring and summer to see Swallow-tailed Kites in Pinellas. They were first found nesting in 2013 and have returned every year. Both species are most-often encountered from March through June and are usually seen in flight over the Visitor’s Center or seen out over the park from walking out to the lake tower and looking back towards the hammock. Additionally, Sawgrass has a park checklist of over 210 species with many of those coming during the fall season when warbler migration is at its peak here. Sawgrass is the best location in west central Florida for consistently recording Cerulean Warbler. The numerous oak trees over the main park road and parking lot is as good a place as any to start your search. Sawgrass hosted Florida’s only record of Golden-cheeked Warbler, has had a wintering Townsend’s Warbler, a couple of records of Western Tanager and Canada Warbler, as well as two instances of Mississippi Kite. It also is the location for Pinellas’ first record of nesting Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (summer 2016).

FALL: As early as late July a few of the early migrants may show (Yellow Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo), but it is mid-August when things start to heat up. During the next month or so expect to see Hooded, Cerulean, Prothonotary, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Prairie and Black-and-white Warblers to name a few. Both species of tanagers are always reported in fall, as are the thrushes, buntings and grosbeaks. The birding is always better during and right after a frontal system.

WINTER: The lake itself has undergone a facelift and most of the floating vegetation removed, thus few dabbling ducks have been reported here the past couple of years. But, in time, that may change again. The past few years the park has hosted wintering Summer Tanagers and Black-throated Green Warblers and, as mentioned above, Short-tailed Hawk. Walk the boardwalk out to the lake tower for best results.

SPRING: Sawgrass Lake Park isn’t strategically located for a major movement of spring migrants, but there are always a few spring migrants reported. So, if you’re in the area it is still worth a stop, especially in late April when migration is at its peak. Watch the skies for returning Swallow-tailed Kites by early March and also look out over the lake for summer resident Purple Martins and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

SUMMER:In June you should see and hear Great Crested Flycatchers, Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals and Carolina Wrens in the woods and around the parking lot. Limpkin can be found along the park’s creeks and out by the lake observers might see Black-necked Stilts, Green Herons, Least Bitterns and Common Gallinules. But, as mentioned before, keep checking the skies for Short-tailed Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kite. Their young will be flying in summer.

INSIDER TIPS: This is a busy county park with facilities. Most of the people on the boardwalk are just out for a walk or looking for the park’s many alligators. They are not a problem for birders. During migration don’t just bird the oaks around the Visitor’s Center, but you should also walk the main boardwalk out to the back hammock which has a trail that loops around it. There are plenty of oaks there, too, and that means plenty of migrants.