“A string of counties studded with emerald-like gulf waters, deep springs and rivers, stretching along the same Florida coast”John Muir 1867 https://www.naturecoaster.com/discover-the-history-of-floridas-nature-coast/
“A string of counties”: Eight counties to be exact. Eight counties carved from the Big Bend Coast geological region. Eight counties that came together in the 1990s to form an unofficial region that draws on their unique natural resources and geography for tourism branding purposes .
As the Big Bend it had (has) minimal appeal to residents or tourists entranced by the appeal of Florida: Pristine white sand beaches lightly touched by blue green Gulf waters. The simple reason for this lack of appeal to many of folks is you simply do not have these beaches. A reason for this is because there are no substantial barrier islands (few barrier islands at all) between the northwestern boundary of Ochlockonee Bay in Wakulla County (due south of Tallahassee) at the end of the Panhandle and the southern boundary of Anclote Key in Pasco County (just north of Clearwater\Tampa Bay).
The coastline of the one million acres of the Big Bend geological region is marsh and river delta, including the famous Suwannee River, bordering mile of very shallow grass flats, studded with propeller-busting rocks (do not ask how I know) that extend for miles out into the Gulf. You can go miles out into the Gulf before you get to waist deep water.
This is the typical Florida developer’s worst-case scenario. It is nature lover’s, outdoorperson’s paradise. It is Florida’s last remaining ‘nature coast’. As a bonus, it is studded with the last remaining Old Florida towns and their cultures. As the saying goes, they are ‘a small drinking town with a fishing problem’.
There are one hundred refuges, preserves, and parks in the branded region: http://floridanaturecoast.org/Explore.aspx. Go just a little inland, and there are even more, including two of my favorites near Gainesville, FL featured in these photos: Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park (https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/paynes-prairie-preserve-state-park) and Sweetwater Wetlands Park (https://www.sweetwaterwetlands.org/about_us) Two places where you have the potential to see Federally and State Endangered Snail Kites.
Seven National Wildlife Refuges are among the one hundred locations. Two have excellent car nature drives making them very accessible. St Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/st-marks) and Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/lower-suwannee) are sources for many of these photos.
To experience an Old Florida ‘drinking (and seafood eating) town, with a fishing (and wildlife viewing) problem’ visit Cedar Key (https://cedarkey.org/). There are several eBird Hotspots inside the city limits making birds, boiled shrimp, and cold beer very accessible.
One feature that I think sets this part of Florida even further apart from the other regions is the abundance of springs. These springs are amazing natural phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of freshwater push through the karst geography to create rivers, lakes, and “holes” of clear, clean 72 degrees water. They have been a stable source of drinking water for fauna including fish and manatees, as well as humans for millennia. They are also where many of us certified for scuba diving, and braver yet, cave diving.
Here are a few birding highlights: