Little Big Econ State Forest (Brumley Rd Trailhead)

Econ River SF (Brumley Rd Entrance)
Common Yellowthroat
Earlier this year I "discovered" a new place for birding in Seminole County.  For a couple years now, I've been looking for a way to get to the St. John's River at Puzzle Lake from Seminole County. Strangely, I've birded Brumley Rd several times but I've never gone to very end of the road, so I've never seen this trailhead. And to my knowledge, no other birders have taken these trails to the St. John's River before.  So in February of this year, I decided this would be my new adventure for Seminole County.  I walked from the trailhead to the St. John's River and back. I've done so six times now, and already I've racked up 116 bird species along the trail and at the river [field reports].

The Trails
Here's a map of the route I took on my second trip on March 7, 2015.  I'm showing this map because it allows you to see two ways to get out to the flats and back.  Since this trip, I've walked out to the St. Johns by the northern route and walked back the same way I came. If you walk out to the St Johns, expect to travel between 7 and 9 miles, depending on how much wandering you want to do at the river's edge and how high the river is.  In February, the river was considerably closer than it was in June.

There's another trail that you can take north to the Econ River.  I'm somewhat surprised I haven't done this yet.  It's more shady and you can follow the Econ River, which may help me find more breeding birds, like Nigh-Herons, Prothonotary Warblers, and Acadian Flycatchers.

It will take about 2.5 miles (along the northern trail above) before you arrive at the Econ River and the flats leading out to the St. Johns.  The flats are a great expanse, and you really need to be careful to mark where you left the trail because you could easily get lost, and by that I mean, unable to find the trail entrance to lead  you back to the car.  I always use my GPS app (My Tracks by Google) to keep track of where I've walked to ensure that I find my way back.  The best landmark to look for, though, is a bend of the Econ River that's pretty visible while out on the flats.  The trail that leads you back to the parking lot can be seen from this landmark.  You'll need to keep that landmark in your mind as you walk.  And once you're out on the flats, there is no shade and no opportunity to shield yourself from the sun.  You'll need to prepare for this with water, sun protection and hat.  During the hot summer months, you can easily become dehydrated and overheated out there.  I speak from experience on that point.

If you plan to head out to Puzzle Lake, you'll need wading boots.  The area can get very wet and muddy. In order to get close enough to the river to see the best birds, you'll need wading boots.

What I love about this trail is the wonderful diversity of habitats that allows you to see many different types of birds and other wildlife.  Along Brumley Rd near the trailhead, you are likely to see Crested Caracara, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, and a host of other common species. Yet from the trailhead you'll shortly be walking through farmlands and a hammock of live oaks and other hardwoods.   Here you're likely to hear and see warblers, vireos, cardinals, and owls.  For part of this walk, you'll follow a small stream as well.

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Roseate Spoonbill
Once out on the floodplain, the wildlife will change dramatically.  There are blackbirds, meadowlarks and grackles in the grasses, and during migration you can see/hear Bobolinks as well. During the winter months, Savannah and Swamp Sparrows are common. The closer you get to the St. John's River at Puzzle Lake, though, you'll see many more wading birds (including bitterns and spoonbills), and during the right times of the year, gulls and shorebirds.  This may be the best place I know of in Seminole County for shorebirds (its only competition would be Marl Bed Flats). So far I've seen  13 species of shorebirds beginn in February of this year: Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Wilson's Snipe.

Econ River SF (Brumley Rd Entrance)
Black-bellied Plover
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Mostly Short-billed Dowitchers
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Least Sandpiper
I've seen more species at Marl Bed Flats (where I've seen 17 species), but I've been there many more times, and I've never seen the sheer numbers there that I've seen at Puzzle Lake.  I've seen literally hundreds of Dunlin, LB dowitchers, yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers here in March.  So I'm expecting to find some new species here during Fall migration. It seems to me this should be a good place for American Avocet, American Golden Plover, Pectoral and White-rumped Sandpipers as well as Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and perhaps even a phalarope.

Econ River SF (Brumley Rd Entrance)
Black Skimmers with Ring-billed Gull
There's nothing here by way of accomodations.  There is a sign, a fence a parking lot, and some blazes on trails. There are no restrooms, no maps, no picnic areas, and no other amenities.  Once you leave the parking lot, you're on your own, save for the cows and horses you may see while you're walking.  So make sure you have a GPS or map, bug spray, sun protection and water.  But it's a wonderful place, and quickly it's becoming one of my favorite places to visit, especially during the cooler months, in Central Florida.

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