Marl Bed Flats is easily the most productive tract the Lake Jesup Conservation Area. It's located just north of Lake Jesup and east or Rte 417 in Sanford, FL [map
]. A trail map for all three tracts of the Lake Jesup Conservation Area can be found here
. And here's a link to a map
that may be helpful with driving directions. This area is made up of floodplain wetlands and wooded hammocks. During late September and early October, this area becomes filled with blooming Swamp Sunflowers. It's apparently a beautiful sight to see, though for some reason I haven't visited while the sunflowers are blooming. I visit mostly for the great birding, and especially for shorebirds. As of my July 2015 update of this post, I've seen 147 species here, including 17 species of shorebird at the flats.
The trail map claims there are two trail loops. One with red blazes (0.8 miles) and one with yellow blazes (0.5). I'll take them at their word, and I have seen trail blazes in the wooded areas, but in reality, once you get out of the wooded hammock the trail becomes irrelevant. Just walk where you're most likely to stay dry and where you're least likely to step on cow dung. The more grassy areas can become very muddy and messy, and since we share the area with cattle, you have to watch where you step. Now whenever I visit I wear my wading boots. It saves a lot of muddy clothes! The most interesting portion of the flats is near the slough. You can get there pretty easily if you always stay to the left. That is, once you enter the trail, you'll be forced to make a right hand turn, then at every fork in the trail stay to the left. You'll eventually make it out to the flats and see a large wet area to your left. This is the area where I've seen the most wildlife.
|Black-necked Stilts Breed along the Slough|
With this description of the trail, you may wonder why I would even write a guide to the area. Well, even when the Swamp Sunflowers aren't blooming, there is something quite beautiful about the area, and with proper precautions, you can appreciate its beauty without getting too wet. And then there's the wildlife, which is the main reason why I visit.
Once you get out of the hammock, you can see Lake Jesup in the distance. I've walked to the shore a few times, but there isn't always need; you can see a fair amount of wildlife without venturing that far. All the normal herons and egrets are here, including Roseate Spoonbills, and I often see ducks flying over as well: Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are common here in the summer, and Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teal and other ducks can be seen here in the cooler months. Osprey and Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks are here year round, as are Bald Eagles (though they are not as common here in the summer). During the fall and winter, look for American Pipit, Northern Harrier, American Kestrels, and Merlins. The parking lot can be a good place for warblers, especially during spring and fall migration. And in May, you might check here for Bobolinks as well.
|Krider's Red-tailed Hawk|
My favorite reason to visit here is to find shorebirds, both migrants and wintering birds. This area seems to be a magnet for them, and several species I normally see in coastal counties seem to like to stop by here where ever they're headed.
|Semipalmated Plovers are sometimes found in Spring Migration here|
|Semipalmated Sandpipers Migrate through Marl Bed Flats|
|Stilt Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs|
|Solitary Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs|
Marl Bed Flats is also a pretty good place to find wintering sparrows. Savannah and Swamp Sparrows are common here. Other more rare Florida sparrows like Song Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, and even Le Conte's and Grasshopper Sparrows can be seen. I'm told Henslow Sparrows can be found here too, but so far they have eluded me.
|Le Conte's Sparrow|
I've seen White-tailed Deer and feral hogs (be careful). I've never seen American Alligators there, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that you may see one. And while I've never seen a Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake there, I know people who have, and I suspect they are there in abundance.
I'm not very good at identifying plants and flowers. I need to get out there for the Swamp Sunflower bloom next year. But at different times of the year, especially in the summer months, there are sill some pretty flowers blooming.
|Marl Bed Flats |
Great post.....putting Marl Bed Flats on my "must visit" list. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
Beautiful pictures. I will have to make plans to get there!ReplyDelete
Scott. thank you for this beautiful description of Marl Bed Flats as well as sharing you outstanding photos. This field trip is one of the popular ones for the Space Coast Festival. Neta HarrisReplyDelete
Enjoy you blog very much. Regarding the flats and snakes, we did in fact encounter a Dusky pygmy rattler alongside the trail through the hammock. Nice photo op, but glad we saw it before we ventured too far off to the side of the trail.ReplyDelete