I’ve got a big Christmas present for you, one that keeps on giving year-round. This is one of my favorite birding spots in central Florida.
Start with a leisurely windows-down drive on six-mile-long Powerline Road. Look for Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow in the pine flatwoods and Wood Stork, Crested Caracara, and American Bittern in the marshes on the St. Johns River. Endangered Snail Kites turn up on occasion. And Limpkins and other wading birds skulk along the creek crossings, ditches, and lake edges. At road’s end, you can launch a canoe or kayak to bird from the water.
Don’t miss the miles of other unpaved roads and trails that wind through the interior’s hammocks, hardwood swamps, and flatwoods. I watch for breeding birds such as Barred Owl, Chuck-will’s-widow, Hairy Woodpecker, and Swallow-tailed Kite. Numerous migratory songbirds move through in spring and fall, and 10 warbler species are present in winter, including Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow-throated, Prairie, and Palm Warblers. — Mark Kiser
Palm/hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, creeks, and lakes.
Flat. Sixty miles of rustic walking trails and unpaved roads.
More than 200 species: Wood Stork, Limpkin, American Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, herons, egrets, rails, Purple Gallinule, ducks, shorebirds, pelicans, Sandhill Crane, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Crested Caracara, Swallow-tailed Kite (spring and summer), Snail Kite (rare), Northern Bobwhite, Brown-headed Nuthatch, gulls, terns, Common Ground-Dove, owls, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, warblers, vireos, thrushes, Eastern Bluebird (year-round), Painted Bunting (spring and fall), Rusty Blackbird (winter), Henslow’s, Grasshopper, Swamp, and Lark Sparrows (fall through spring), and Bachman’s Sparrow (year-round).
When to go
October through April. Morning hours are best.
Office (with restrooms) open 8-4 weekdays. Map and bird checklist at entrance kiosk.
State wildlife area. Daily use fee $3 (have exact change), or annual Wildlife Management Area stamp $26.50. Open every day from 8 a.m. to sunset. Register at kiosk at main entrance. Contact office in advance when entering via Florida National Scenic Trail.
A scope is helpful, particularly for marshes along the river. Rain sometimes floods trails and roads, so call ahead. Bring plenty of water and sun and insect protection. Seasonal hunting September through April (45 days total), so check schedule on website, and wear blaze orange if you visit on hunting days.