A couple of birdwatchers hiking the 2.2-mile Osprey Trail at Honeymoon Island, a state park on the Gulf Coast of Florida, observe a pair of ospreys nesting in the lush, slash pine forest, one of the few in Florida that survived the aggressive logging industry of the early 20th century. Four amber eyes glow through the binoculars, watching those who watch them. The female sits on a clutch of eggs, and a large male, showing off his downy white belly, hovers protectively on the parameters of a stick nest massive enough to accommodate a human.
But the raptor can’t stay in the nest for long. He will be on the hunt soon, diving feet first into the Gulf of Mexico and, with any luck, emerging triumphantly with a live fish clutched in his curved, razor-sharp talons that he will take back to the nest and share with his mate.
Ospreys can be spotted in the park year-round, but the nesting season is December to April, and birders come from afar to observe them on this idyllic subtropical island off the coast of Dunedin (pronounced Done-EE-din), Florida, 25 miles west of Tampa.
“Last year we had 14 pairs of nesting ospreys,” said park manager Peter Krulder. “They have a beautiful natural habitat here that’s close to the Gulf, so they’re right at their ‘restaurant.’ They survive solely on fish.”
Ospreys share this patch of sky with great horned owls, eagles and other raptors, and occasionally compete for food. Bald eagles have been known to pursue ospreys, forcing them to drop their catch.
Honeymoon Island seems remote and is usually uncrowded, but it’s actually the most visited state park in Florida. Only five miles from Dunedin, it feels a world away from the tourist scene on the other side of the Dunedin Causeway.
It’s not just birders that come here. Honeymoon Island and neighboring Caladesi Island State Park are consistently ranked two of the best beaches in the country.
The two barrier islands were once united, but a hurricane in 1921 divided them, and now Caladesi Island is accessible from Honeymoon Island only by ferry, which runs every 30 minutes everyday but Thanksgiving and Christmas, weather permitting.
Otherwise, the 1,000 acres of coastal wilderness that sprawls across these sister isles has changed little since Spanish explorers first came ashore in the 16th century. Vast expanses of mangroves, marshes and coastal flatlands teem with the same flora and fauna.
On the beaches, the pace is as unhurried as that of the gopher tortoises that burrow into the sandy soil.
Miles of powdery white sand framed by turquoise waters seems to stretch out to infinity. Beach-goers collect shells, build sand castles or just chill on beach blankets listening to the lull of the waves and the call of shorebirds.
The tranquility of this pristine oasis is not rattled by the ear-splitting sound of personal watercraft spewing polluting fumes. The only rentals are kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and sailboats.
Caladesi Island is a kayaker’s dream. Nature lovers paddle rhythmically to the dull thrumming of insects as they make their way through shadowy tunnels of red mangrove trees where tangles of exposed roots seem to reach out like creepy skeleton hands, but there’s nothing ominous here. On the contrary, the maze of roots in this unique ecosystem provides a safe haven from predators for some of the tiniest, most vulnerable creatures, such as miniscule crustaceans and juvenile fish.
Settled by Scottish immigrants, Dunedin itself is a coastal gem worth exploring, and many visitors do so by electric bike.
Caroline Harbaugh, owner of Pedego Electric Bikes, guides most of the tours, pulling a pet trailer occupied by her West Highland Terriers, Max and Wesley. Besides the annual Dunedin Highland Games, which will be held April 4, this pair of dogs is among the few truly Scottish things in this Pinellas County hamlet, but no matter. There are many points of interest, Scottish or not, to see.
“To your right is air mail, and to your left is snail mail,” Harbaugh said, referring to an airplane-shaped mailbox on one side of Aberdeen Street and a snail-shaped mailbox across from it. Novelty mailboxes are a hallmark of this quiet residential street, and cyclists get a kick out of the line-up of whimsical flamingos, manatees and alluring mermaids.
Next, Harbaugh points out the Fenway Hotel, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, that overlooks St. Joseph Sound. A grand Jazz Age icon built in the Mediterranean Revival style, the hotel was shuttered for extensive renovations. It reopened in 2018 and, true to its era, features live jazz in the lobby most nights. At sunset, guests gather at Hi-Fi, the hotel’s rooftop bar, to sip cocktails like the Jam Session, a combination of Redemption bourbon, berry jam and lime, and the Cool Cat, made with Wheatley vodka with lime and basil.
Other sights along the bike tour are cafes, funky shops and the TD Ballpark, spring training ground for the Toronto Blue Jays, Canada’s only Major League Baseball team.
The ride traverses portions of the Pinellas Trail, a nearly 50-mile urban rail-trail that stretches north from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, passing several parks and other inviting green spaces.
When the going gets tough, these electric bikes with a 500-watt hub motor keep you cruising effortlessly. Very little pedaling is required. And if you want to escape civilization and explore the natural beauty on Honeymoon Island, Pedego can get you there.
IF YOU GO
Dunedin, Florida, is a seven-hour drive south of Atlanta on I-75. It is 20 miles from the Tampa International Airport.
Where to Stay
Fenway Hotel. Built in 1924, this Jazz Age landmark hotel was renovated and reopened in 2018 as a Marriott Autograph Collection property. $199 and up. 453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin, Florida. 727-683-5999, www.fenwayhotel.com
Where to Eat
HEW Parlor and Chophouse. A premier steakhouse at the Fenway Hotel. Entrees $15-$84. 453 Edgewater Drive, Dunedin, Florida. 727-683-5990, www.fenwayhotel.com
What to See
Honeymoon Island State Park. $8 per vehicle. 1 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin, Florida. 727-241-6106, www.floridastateparks.org/honeymoonisland
Caladesi Island Ferry. Departs every 30 minutes daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas as long as weather permits, starting at 10 a.m. End time varies. $14, $7 children 6-12, free 5 and younger. 727-734-5263, www.caladesiferry.com
Sail Honeymoon. Offers kayak, stand-up paddleboard and sailboat rentals. Single-person kayak $35-$60. Two-person kayak $45-$75. 61 Causeway Blvd, Dunedin, Florida. 727-734-0392, www.sailhoneymoon.com
Pedego Electric Bikes. $15-$25 an hour depending on type of bike. 324 Scotland St., Dunedin Florida. 727-432-5061, www.pedegoelectricbikes.com
Dunedin Highland Games & Festival. Festivities kick off with a parade April 3. The games and festival are April 4. www.dunedinhighlandgames.com
Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.301 Main St., Dunedin, Florida. 727-733-3197, www.dunedinfl.com
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