The Emerald Coast of Northwest Florida is a fabulous place to see wildlife, from wading birds and waterfowl to deer and alligators. A fine spot to look for such native critters within shouting distance of Pensacola is the Bayou Marcus Wetlands, traced by a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.
This 1.5-mile-long trail explores the mostly forested wetlands and open ponds helping compose the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s Marcus Water Reclamation Facility wastewater treatment complex. The boardwalk is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, offering both a nice fresh-air stroll amid natural scenery and a prime opportunity to spot animals.
The site, in fact, is one of the 500-plus locations making up the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail, which spans the Sunshine State and encompasses some 2,000 miles. Whether you’re a hardcore birder dutifully maintaining a “life list” or just a casual nature enthusiast, you’ll relish the opportunity to see such a wide variety of feathered species in the Bayou Marcus Wetlands: from bufflehead, mergansers, goldeneyes, and blue-winged teal along the waterways to wild turkeys and songbirds such as pine warblers and brown-headed nuthatches in the fringing pinewoods.
This coastal wetland complex protects more than just birds, though. Sharp-eyed walkers might see anything from white-tailed deer to river otters and gators. Bobcats, gray foxes, and beaver are somewhat more elusive, but around. Other wildlife finding refuge here include such imperiled Florida residents as gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes.
If you’re a botany buff, meanwhile, you’ll be pleased to know of the Bayou Marcus Water Reclamation Facility’s share of rare plants such as the Panhandle lily and the white-top pitcher plant.
Did we mention the Bayou Marcus Birding Trail boardwalk is dog-friendly, as long as you’re keeping that pooch of yours on his or her leash? And its accessibility and relatively short length mean it’s the sort of place that all ages can enjoy.
Just remember to dress for the weather when exploring these backwaters. This can be a hot and muggy walk on a summer afternoon, needless to say, so bring plenty of water and wear sun protection. These wetlands are also prime mosquito country, though keep in mind even those bloodsuckers have a place in the ecological community here.
Even if you’re not seeing a ton of wildlife on a walk here, you’ll likely hear plenty, what with the regular murmur of birdsong, and meanwhile the habitat mosaic itself is mighty pleasing on the eye. Here’s a place to slow down and lock into the deeper, more natural rhythms of greater Pensacola.
– You’ll generally have the best opportunity to spot wildlife in the early morning and evening hours, particularly when it comes to otters, deer, and other mammals. Just remember the trail closes at dusk!