Lifestyle » Vol. 54

Connect with wildlife – fall in Florida

Fall is the perfect time for eco-adventurers in Florida! The weather makes almost any day ideal for outdoor adventures jam-packed with opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the planet’s most majestic creatures – especially in a destination emerging as “king of the jungle” on Florida’s West Coast.

With many opportunities to see animals in their natural habitat (and still enjoy superb weather, beaches, accommodations, shopping, dining and more), the Bradenton area is becoming one of the top destinations for families looking for the perfect wildlife trip, with both fun in the sun and wild animal-watching, especially during the fall season.

Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key offer the following memorable (and safe) wildlife activities the entire family can enjoy this fall.

Florida Wildlife Care & Education Center at Mixon’s
As part of a tour though the groves of Mixon Fruit Farms (voted Florida’s No. 1 Grove Destination) on the Orange Blossom Express Tram, visitors can stop off at the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center. Here, they can watch a crocodile being fed by hand. This is also one of the only places in Florida where visitors will have the chance to hold a baby alligator, pet a 12-foot python, feed a wild hog and more. Run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations, the center is the largest rescue center around. Operating since 1980, it currently treats more than 4,000 birds, mammals and reptiles per year, from African crocodiles to exotic birds, wildcats and more. Tours operate daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Bird watching
Robinson Nature Preserve in Bradenton is an exquisite nature preserve that is a popular destination for wildlife photography and bird-watching. Tucked into the corner of northwest Bradenton, it includes 487 acres of coastal saltern, marsh and mangrove habitat. These systems attract a variety of rare wildlife, presenting careful observers with an opportunity to see roseate spoonbills, wood storks, white pelicans, bald eagles and least terns in their natural environment.

Air boat and tram tours
At Myakka Park, families can climb aboard one of the world’s two largest covered airboats, the Myakka Maiden or the Gator Gal, for a scenic cruise on Upper Myakka Lake. Passengers will discover what makes the Myakka unique among America’s freshwater lakes and hear stories about the alligator, anhinga and sandhill crane, as they become acquainted with the variety of creatures that make their home here.

“Old Florida” still thrives on all of the area’s white beaches, which are skirted by the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Families planning a beach day should not be surprised to see manatees or dolphins beyond the waves or elegant rays and exotic fish while snorkeling.

Turtle season
The Bradenton Area hosts one of the highest concentrations of loggerhead sea turtle nests in the Gulf of Mexico, and for the past 28 years, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch (and its close-to 90 volunteers) have worked to coordinate conservation efforts for roughly 12 miles of shoreline. Throughout the summer, visitors can shadow federally permitted volunteers on nesting beach tours, nest excavation tours and Turtle Talks, during which visitors observe staff analyzing nests, hatched shells and unhatched shells and learn about the important role the turtles play in the area’s marine ecosystems.

The world’s oldest manatee
Born on July 21, 1948, Snooty was the first recorded birth of a manatee in captivity. Today, he is the world’s oldest manatee and he resides at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, serving as the area’s mascot. Snooty’s life history has made him one of the most renowned stewards for endangered species and the environment. He is one-of-a-kind, having taught researchers a lot of what they know about manatees.

Wild about wildlife? Then the Bradenton area might be your best bet this fall!

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