With more than 175 documented bird types, Boca Ciega Millennium Park is one of more than 500 stops along the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a 2,000-mile circuit of highway locations notable for excellent bird-watching opportunities. A four-story, 35-foot wooden observation tower overlooks Boca Ciega Bay, where you'll find an aquatic preserve with miles of canals and seawalls, as well as submerged habitats like coral, oyster bars, beds of sea grass and caves. The park is home to a number of natural ecosystems, with pine flatwoods, mangrove swamps, salt marshes, wetlands and coastal forest, making it a natural paradise for a variety of bird types. A number of shorebirds and waterfowl can be found along the plentiful pathways like snowy egrets, brown pelicans, white ibis, roseate spoonbills and pileated woodpeckers. Uniquely, the park's vegetation is also comprised solely of native foliage. The park is close to another amazing county park, Fort De Soto Park, a collection of five offshore Florida Keys islands. As the largest park within the Pinellas County Park System and home to more than 300 species of birds, Fort De Soto attracts birders and photographers from all over the world as a gateway starting point for the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Located in Seminole, the temperature of Boca Ciega Millennium Park averages 73° F, roughly the same as the statewide average temperature of 72° F. This makes for comfortable exploring and photography any time of the year, with averages hitting the low 90s in high summer. This is also when there's the most precipitation. Winters are still comfortable, with average highs of 69º F, but the water is often too cold for swimming. Birding will change by season, though plentiful wildlife can be found year-round.
Many raptors and waterbirds live and nest in the park, so it offers a varied shooting experience. I've also encountered coyotes and fox. I prefer to travel light, so my standard carry-around rig with which I do virtually all of my shooting is a Canon EOS 70D camera equipped with a 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 L IS USM zoom. I don't like to use a shoulder/neck strap, preferring just a wrist strap for security. I find that I can hold this camera-and-zoom setup comfortably for hours and still not miss a shot with the zooming abilities and image stabilization of the lens. I've even been able to get handheld macro shots of butterflies and dragonflies quite clearly at 400mm.
My preference for shooting is the "golden hours" during sunrise and sunset; however, I've attained great results at any time of the day in the park. Although there's usually something of interest to photograph all year long, the greatest amount of shooting opportunities are found between December and March. The park seems to be quite populated with various creatures during those months.
Boca Ciega Millennium Park, www.pinellascounty.org/park/03_Boca_Ciega.htm.