Home to wading birds, raptors, and songbirds 25 miles west of Daytona Beach.
By Justine E. Hausheer | Published: 10/16/2013
Lake Woodruff is perfect for indecisive birders because it has both wetlands and woods. I go when I can’t decide between the two. The refuge lies on the eastern edge of the sprawling Ocala National Forest, the largest tract of wild lands in central Florida. Marshes and waterways make up the majority of its holdings, but it also has pockets of hardwood swamp and pinewoods.
Raised trails trace the edges of water impoundments, providing an elevated view above sawgrass marshes that abound with wading herons, cranes, ibises, ducks, and occasional Limpkins. Winter, when wading birds stand out against the grays and greens of the swamp, is my favorite season. Red-shouldered Hawks hunt from perches in the palms, while Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and Osprey circle overhead. The stretch of pinewoods and palmettos is a great place to listen for woodpeckers.
Be prepared to spot more than birds. Armadillo, raccoon, and bobcat tracks crisscross the sandy trails, river otters often gambol near the parking lot, and you may have to tiptoe around an eight-foot alligator. — Justine E. Hausheer
Justine E. Hausheer is a science writer, editor, and photographer based in Washington, D.C. She writes often about birds and wildlife, especially those from her native Florida.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Sawgrass marshes, hardwood swamps, pinewoods, lakes, and canals.
Wide, level dirt paths above the marsh and canals.
More than 200 species. Winter: Sandhill Crane, American Bittern, Great and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored, Great Blue, and Little Blue Herons, Glossy and White Ibises, Red-shouldered Hawk, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Bald Eagle, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Barred Owl, American Coot, Wood and Ring-necked Ducks, Anhinga, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker. Limpkin and Wood Stork uncommon in winter. Spring and fall: Solitary, Western, and other sandpipers, Palm, Pine, Yellow-throated, Prothonotary, and other warblers, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
When to go
December through March, when temperatures are cool and mosquitos less common.
Downloadable bird checklist on website. Bird walks every Saturday. Restrooms at visitor center.
National wildlife refuge. Open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Admission and parking free. Visitor center open Monday-Friday 8-4:30 and Saturday-Sunday 8-5, November-May.
Bring sun protection and insect repellant. Don’t miss the observation tower, which provides shade and a wide view of surrounding canals. Be alert for alligators sunning on trails. River otters are often seen near parking lot.
For more info
Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, (386) 985-4673.
Friends of Lake Woodruff, (386) 985-4673.
Pittman Visitor Center located about 25 minutes from Lake Woodruff at 45621 State Rd. 19 in Altoona. Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Scrub-Jay, Bachman’s Sparrow.
About a six-minute drive from Lake Woodruff at 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd. Good spot for migrating warblers.