Birding on Dune Ridge Trail

Dune Ridge Trail, Little Talbot Island, near Jacksonville, FL

Although I’ve visited Little Talbot Island State Park (Florida) several times, I’ve never walked the Dune Ridge Trail. So this week, I decided to investigate this four-mile loop.

Driving into the park, there is a crosswalk. The trail starts here, and this is where most people begin their hike.

Passing through the ranger’s booth, hikers park in the first visitors’ lot. There are ample spaces, proper restrooms at either end, as well as several covered picnic tables.

From the parking lot, hikers can walk back to the crosswalk, where they will find a sign providing the trail’s specs. The sign reminds visitors that the beach may be impassable during high tide. I use an app called TidesNearMe to monitor tides at frequently-visited parks.

Alternatively, hikers can take a path out to the beach and turn left, reversing the trail’s course. (Note that, as of this writing, the beach-bound boardwalk at the near restroom has been closed due to erosion. However, there are two additional sandy paths close to the far restroom.)

I opted to visit the beach first.

Northern Gannet. Image by annca from Pixabay

I was excited to see a group of Northern Gannets folding their wings tightly to their bodies and diving like rockets into the sea. I saw Brown Pelicans, Willets, Sanderlings, and Forster’s Terns. And I watched as the wind carried spray from rolling waves into the air.

The wind tosses spray above rolling waves. Talbot Island State Park.

I had debated about whether to wear a sweatshirt, since the temperature inland was a comfortable 65˚F (18.3˚C). However, I erred on the side of caution and was glad I did. The closer I got to the water’s edge, the colder I felt.

When the cold became too distracting, I walked closer to the dunes, where it felt a bit warmer.

Palm tree graveyard. Little Talbot Island State Park.

I found myself intrigued by a palm-tree graveyard, where a forest of tropical trees had been battered by wind, sea, and salt. A ranger drove by in a little dune buggy as I snapped a few photos.

Palm tree graveyard. Little Talbot Island State Park.
Little Talbot Island State Park, FL.

I looked at shells for a time. There were many from Cyrtopleura costata, a clam with a white shell shaped and ridged like angel wings. However, I couldn’t find any without a broken edge – not surprising, since they are somewhat delicate.

I had been walking for some time, and was wondering whether I’d missed the path into the forested section of the trail. Then I noticed that the ranger’s buggy had left tire tracks, and I decided to follow those.

I reached an interesting formation of logs, and as I snapped a picture a woman appeared from the dunes. She sat atop a bike, looked out at the water, and turned back. It was the trail I was looking for!

These were the logs I was photographing when I saw the biker, and I’m posting them here to help others looking for the trail. Of course, the sea will eventually shift these into different positions.

There is also a trail marker, but it is somewhat obscured by angle and surrounding brush.

Junction of beach and wooded portions of Dune Ridge Trail, Little Talbot Island State Park, FL.

I saw a few birds on the trail – Eastern Phoebes, a Ruby-crowned Warbler, Carolina Chickadees, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Common Ground Doves. The birding wasn’t particularly good, but there were many low-lying areas to catch rainfall, as well as various perching levels. When moderate to heavy rainfall offers pools of fresh drinking water, birds are likely to congregate.

Dune Ridge Trail, Little Talbot Island, Florida

That same rain will bring more mosquitos, which buzzed around me when I stopped walking for more than a few moments. Next time, I’ll slather on some repellent.

Overall, the trail was scenic and easy to walk. I’ll be hiking it again.


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Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She is a [mostly] vegan, alcohol-free, [relatively] caffeine-free, Buddhist writer and day-hiker. Her novel, The Clones of Langston, was a Reader’s Favorite medalist and a New Century Writer Awards finalist. It tells the story of cloned workers who are abandoned to form their own society. As the facility housing them erodes, they discover a challenging new world—our own.

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