Brown pelicans in an aviary of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary recovering from injuries.

A few fun freebies

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Okay, so it rains in Florida, too. The weather isn’t all that great right now. Some of that cold, wet, miserable stuff from the north has crept into our tropical itinerary, forcing us to don winter clothes or stay inside. Spending all day inside the confining space of a 42-foot sailboat gets to be… cramped. Winter clothes it is.

Tampa Bay offers a few fun freebies. Shelling on the beach is free and fun. The Pinellas Trail is a free, multi-use path that spans the peninsula north to south. People skate, run, walk, and cycle this 38-mile path all year and in all weather. Clearwater Beach hosts free movie nights on their beach when weather allows. There are farmers’ markets, flea markets, malls, and boardwalks to explore, too.

One fun freebie few visitors to Tampa Bay know about is the Florida Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary on Gulf Boulevard in Indian Shores. Admission and parking are free. Donations are much appreciated. This seabird hospital sees 8000-plus injured seabirds a year, but you wouldn’t know this from the meager plot of land they use to save so many birds.

I remember visiting these aviaries as a young boy on field trips from school. Feeding time is still the most exciting time to be here.

The sanctuary’s history is rich and deeply rooted in the small-town persona of the Gulf Coast. The legacy of a single family lives on to this day, helping birds and educating the public to be conscientious of the wildlife. Simple things like garbage and fishing line can end the life of these beautiful and delicate creatures. Most of the birds this hospital serves are injured by our apathy.

Brown pelicans preening and drying out after a morning rain.

Brown pelicans preening and drying out after a morning rain.

The free pelicans roam the walking paths mere feet from visitors.

The free pelicans roam the walking paths mere feet from visitors.

Up close, their features are quite beautiful and distinct.

Up close, their features are quite beautiful and distinct.

Other birds naturally look frazzled.

Other birds naturally look frazzled.

For a few more dollars than free ($6.25 with tolls), Eric and I spend the afternoon at Fort De Soto Park on Mullet Key. This is a Spanish-American War era encampment of underground magazines and big guns. It’s a sister fort to Fort Dade across the shipping channel on Egmont Key.

While the park takes its namesake from the fortress, it’s best known for beautiful white-sand beaches and stunning views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Tampa Bay. Miles of biking and hiking trails parallel the beautiful beaches, and a huge campground offers year-round accommodations to visitors who wish to spend more than a day enjoying the park.

One of the batteries of Fort De Soto on Mullet Key.

One of the batteries of Fort De Soto on Mullet Key.

Looking down the barrel of a 12-inch gun.

Looking down the barrel of a 12-inch gun.

Looking down the barrel of a 12-inch gun.

Looking down the barrel of a 12-inch gun.

Eric and I explore the unlit and often very dark underground magazines.

Eric and I explore the unlit and often very dark underground magazines.

Eric enjoying the view of Tampa Bay through the palm trees.

Eric enjoying the view of Tampa Bay through the palm trees.

Just lock us up now.

Just lock us up now.

At the end of the west fishing pier; Corpus Christi, Texas is about 900 miles to our backs.

At the end of the west fishing pier; Corpus Christi, Texas is about 900 miles to our backs.

A view of Fort Dade on Egmont Key from across the shipping channel.

A view of Fort Dade on Egmont Key from across the shipping channel.

Brian

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