Big Talbot and Fort Clinch – a birding twofer

Big Talbot Island State Park (Duval County, FL) opens at sunrise – perfect for birders. I often start here, bird for a couple of hours, and then drive north to Fort Clinch State Park, which opens at 8:00 AM.

Roseate Spoonbill

At Big Talbot, wading birds are returning to Spoonbill Pond. This week there was a small flock of Roseate Spoonbills and a collection of Wood Storks. A Reddish Egret, a bird usually seen in the fall, was also spotted.

Reddish Egret

If you are trying to stay safe during Covid, wear a mask that you can pull up quickly. Few people in the area are donning masks, in spite of the fact that numbers in Florida are skyrocketing.

Florida –New Covid cases per day (from Wikipedia)

  • May 28 – 379
  • May 29 – 1,212
  • June 1 – 667
  • June 2 – 617
  • June 3 – 1,317
  • June 4 – 1,419
  • June 5 – 1,305
  • June 6 – 1,270
  • June 7 – 1,180
  • June 8 – 966
  • June 9 – 1,096
  • June 10 – 1,371
  • June 11 – 1,698
  • June 12 – 1,902
  • June 13 – 2,581
  • June 14 – 2,016
  • June 15 – 1,758
  • June 16 – 2,783
  • June 17 – 2,610
  • June 18 – 3,207

This is an increase of 846% in 19 days.

I’ve also encountered cyclists who seem to take pleasure in huffing and puffing past pedestrians, often coming as close as possible to those on foot while shouting loudly to companions. The bikers in this photograph were considerate of others and did not do this.

At Big Talbot, there is a paved boat ramp. Near the ramp, there is a short boardwalk with a high railing. On this day, someone left a watermelon rind on the railing, possibly for the birds. While birds ignored the fruit, Mangrove Tree Crabs scaled the barrier and enjoyed the feast.

Mangrove Tree Crabs (Aratus pisonii)

Fort Clinch State Park is less than an hour away. Once there, I decided to try Willow Pond Trail. As you step onto the trail you are immediately met with a huge sign. It reads:

CAUTION. Alligators are present along the trails and waterways of this park. They usually eat fish, turtles, and other small animals but may attack larger animals such as deer. Alligators have been known to attack humans.

A few feet away, there is a post topped by a roll of plastic bags: 

Hmm. Will that be necessary?

There had been heavy rain in Northeast Florida, and the footpath was closely bordered by swamp. Here and there, I passed benches at the water’s edge. Again, mixed messages.

I stood up straight, trying to make my 5-foot 3-inches look as large as possible. “No pausing,” I thought. “They’re ambush predators.”

Still, I couldn’t resist stopping for this sign. Those who are politically minded will see the humor.

After Willow Pond, I drove over to the Atlantic Beach outlet and bird-feeding station. The parking lot was nearly full.

Argh! Covid nightmare!

Instead I went to the Visitor’s Center parking lot and accessed a less-used trail. While heading to the beach, I glimpsed a white-tailed deer.

The north beach was quieter; to be expected since there are no facilities.

Beach at Fort Clinch State Park, FL

I walked south, and found that the dunes had been cordoned off for breeding shorebirds. I was lucky to see several Wilson’s Plovers, including a parent feeding a juvenile. One Wilson’s followed me suspiciously, but seemed to relax when I repeated its call. Then, we strolled the beach together.

Wilson’s Plover

I walked the entire beach until I reached the rock jetty. On the other side of the jetty, there are often shorebirds. Today there was a mixed flock of Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls. Also a few Ruddy Turnstones and Willets. But my walk ended here. Just past the jetty and extending to Fernandina Beach were crowds of unmasked people. Time to head home.

I cut across to the Atlantic Beach parking lot, and then to the main road going into the park. There is heavy forest along either side of the road, and I hoped to spot some songbirds. No luck there, but I did see a young buck in velvet. I was surprised that this deer had a long, black tail. Was that normal? When I got home, I checked my field guide. White-tailed deer vary in appearance; and there are 13 subspecies in Florida. It seems that every outdoor trek leads to a new discovery.


Photo of Roseate Spoonbill by P. Melrose by Pixabay.
Photo of Reddish Egret by Mike’s Birds from Flickr.
Photo of Wilson’s Plover by Andy Morffew from Flickr.
All other photos by the author, Carol Fullerton-Samsel.


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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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