Clearwater, Naturally

From brown pelicans to bald eagles . . . Clearwater's natural beauty is inspiring.

Take the opportunity to look up, down and on the ground to see wildlife aplenty.

Pinellas County has 15 sites officially designated as portions of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Over 2,000 miles long and including over 480 species, the Trail was formed to promote bird watching, environmental education and eco tourism.

Sand Key Park houses the base of operations for the artificial reef program. On the beach, sea turtles annually deposit eggs while the CMA tracks their progress. Dogs are welcome in the dog park, but not on the beach.

Unspoiled Brooker Creek Preserve is home to more than 160 bird species, 20 amphibians, 50 reptiles and 40 mammals. Its Environmental Education Center is a treasure trove of information. Explore nature trails, a nine-mile wilderness trail and a horseback trail.

pelicanCaladesi Island State Park was named the #1 Beach in America. Activities include swimming, fishing and kayaking through the three-mile mangrove shaded trail or hike the nature trails, picnic or eat at Café Caladesi. Ferry service to the island departs from Honeymoon Island State Park. Boat dockage is available during the day as well as "boat camping" overnight.

Honeymoon Island State Park is known for pristine beaches, scenic coastlines, diverse plant and animal life. Spend time on the trails, viewing platforms or the nature center. Choose from playgrounds, a dog beach, swimming, fishing, canoeing, surfing, bird watching, hiking and lunching at the picnic pavilions or the outdoor café.

Close by, the following parks and preserves appeal to many.

Shell Key Preserve is a 1,755 acre sanctuary and refuge to the American oystercatcher, snowy plover and black skimmer. Ninety-five acres have been set aside for nesting, migrating and wintering birds. Accessible only by boat, swimming and occasionally by wading, camping is permitted.

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve offers more than three miles of trails and boardwalks representing various ecosystems within 245 acres of natural beauty and is on the Great Florida Birding Trail. It has an aviary for birds of prey and an environmental education center that provides programs on natural history topics.

Weedon Island Preserve is a rich mosaic of mangrove forests, open salt flats, pine flat woods and oak hammock. Its 3,164 acres include the Cultural and National Historic Center featuring Native American culture. Rent a kayak, hike trails or stroll the elevated boardwalk to glimpse an intimate view of the flora and fauna.Blue Heron

Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg is over 100 years old, and is Florida's oldest "living museum." Nestled in four acres of exotic flora from around the world, there are 50,000 specimens here, representing 500 different species. The gardens are also home to tropical birds, flamingos and butterflies.

Fort DeSoto Park offers endless possibilities for fun whether you stay a few hours or a few days, you'll never run out of things to do. The park's 1,136 unspoiled acres include seven miles of white sand beaches, plus amenities: great shelling, a 109 year old fort to explore, fishing, boating of all types, bird watching, biking and a dog park. There are four major trails including a 2,200 foot barrier-free trail. You can picnic, barbecue or spend the night camping under the stars.

Four wildlife sanctuaries in addition to CMA, focus on rescue, rehabilitation and release of different animals.

Red EgretMoccasin Lake Nature Park is a 51 acre preserve with rescued and rehabilitated birds. It features reptile, mammal, amphibian, insect and fish displays; plant and energy exhibits; and nature trails.

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is home to more than 600 healthy and recuperating birds. A breeding program for permanently disabled birds works towards releasing their offspring back into nature and treats over 10,000 injured birds annually. It is the largest nonprofit wild bird hospital in the country.

Nowhere else but at Big Cat Rescue can one be face to face with more than 130 huge felines and 20 plus species of exotic and endangered cats. Some of the more unusual ones include snow leopards, geoffroy cats, siberian lynx and servals.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary cares for common as well as rare primate species. Unique ones include vervet monkey and the lesser spotted guenon. One of its more famous residents was "Cheetah," one of the chimps who starred in the Tarzan movies.