Birding and Hiking Season Begins at GTM Reserve

After a searing summer and months of heavy rainfall, it’s finally cool enough to go birding again. At sunrise, I arrived at one my favorite locations, GTM Reserve (official name Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve) in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida . Below are photos from the orange and yellow trails.

Usually, the orange-trail boardwalks traverse dry ground. This is the first time in over nine months that I’ve seen water beneath the boards.

Innumerable dragonflies flitted across the prairie. Some, like this Green Darner (Anax junius), were as large as hummingbirds.

The westernmost end of the trail was flooded, and the standing water was fairly deep. Walking around the trenches allowed me to test the mud-resistance of my new Altra Lone Peaks. Once the mud dried and fell off, mud stains were absent or barely noticeable.

There were many animal tracks in the fresh much, including this raccoon print.

I saw something move next to my foot, and scanned the leaf litter. After several moments, I located this Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris), which had frozen in place and remained still as I photographed it. This species is identifiable by the ridges behind its eyes.

In the trees were various warblers, foraging frantically for food. Although quite small, Black-throated Blue Warblers were spotted with the naked eye – a deep, denim blue with a splash of white on the wings.

Suspended over the path was a large, furry spider I’d never seen before, Neoscona crucifera (about 15 mm). This spider is usually nocturnal, although females may hunt during the daytime as well.

Damp wood leads to dramatic mushroom displays.

The yellow trail dead-ends on the Tolomato River, along which are sweeping marshlands in the process of restoration.

I was fascinated by this succulent plant, known as Common Glasswort (Salicornia virginica). It tolerates brackish water, and secures the shoreline as it carpets the beach.

There was a brambly shrub that attracted many species of butterfly. Lycium carolinianum (or Christmasberry) produces a small, purple flower. The gray stem is heavily textured.

Fallen trees protect the shoreline as well, by reducing the number of people and animals crossing the beach.

On the wet sand, I noticed a wolf spider hiding in a shallow ridge, Gladicosa pulchra (about 12 mm).

The shoreline at GTM is being restored through the oyster shell recycling program, which collects spent shells from restaurants that are then used to create natural reefs to break up incoming waves. Even reasonably calm water can carry soil away.

This particular reef creates a footpath, which allows one to view marshland frequented by birds of prey. Hidden among the grass blades may be herons, egrets, and sandpipers.

Although the picture below looks as though it was taken in the evening, it’s close to midday. The sun is high; the temperature rising. Time to call it a day.


(Note that part of the adjoining Wildlife Management Area is open to hunting on particular days of the year. During this time, there may be audible gunshots and vehicular traffic on a dirt road adjoining the trails.  Click here for the 2020-2021 calendar.)

Click here for a GTM trail map.


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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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