PANAMA CITY BEACH TRIP!
Duration: Tuesday, October 30 to Tuesday, November 6. However, only 4 full days were actually spent in the Panhandle as my family and I drove down instead of flying.
Reason for traveling: my brother was participating in Ironman Florida, an incredible event where athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles. You can access the event's official site here.
Weather conditions: the weather down there was beautiful for the entire trip, 70+ almost every day of the week where you could be comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt during mid-day but throw on a light sweatshirt or jacket in the evening.
#1 Target Species: Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Of course, being in Florida, I took full advantage of the birding there even though the Panhandle isn't renowned for its birds. In the fall, many birds withdraw from the region and travel to the southern peninsula. Some waders stay behind along with some of the more common eastern-ranged birds. Also, I knew in advance that staying at a resort hotel in Panama City Beach (ocean view!!) would not be the best place to go birdwatching. The beaches along the coast are under severe threat of development and condos are always being built (in fact, we saw one newly constructed building that had over 1,000 rooms, no doubt to cater to Spring Break).
Panama City Beach itself is now mostly urban areas and many of the small woodlots have signs posted 'for sale: commercial opportunities'. Very few marshes or ponds still exist in the vicinity. Nearby, there is a park, St. Andrews State Park, that is bordered by a saltwater bay and the ocean. There is a small spit of protected land here that holds a good variety of habitat, some bird and insect life, and a reliable pond for alligators as well (we saw one large adult basking in the sun).
We also visited Apalachicola National Forest, a 569,596 acre protected area that is home to the largest population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the world (611 clusters as of 1999). They are permanent residents year-round. The forest contains pristine pine flatwoods and savannas with controlled burning to sustain the land. Apalachicola definitely provided me with my best birding on the trip with a good variety of migrating warblers and other species, and a great diversity of woodpeckers (6 species). More on Apalachicola when I post an entry on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. We were also going to try Eglin Air Force Base for the Red-cockaded if things didn't pan out at Apalachicola, but since they did, I didn't have to visit. Eglin's bird list is second only to Everglades National Park at 327 species and holds the fourth largest population of Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
So there are the details of my trip. Coming up: my annotated trip list.