In a region filled with opportunities for outdoor recreation, Wakulla County stands out, especially in the winter. If you are a birder and hiker like me, there are many opportunities for viewing a wide variety of species this time of year. The best locations include the Ochlocknee River or Wakulla Springs State Park, the beach at Mashes Sands or my personal favorite, St Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Each has its advantages, each is different and each is worth a visit during the winter season.
St. Mark’s Refuge and Tours
You don’t have to be a hardcore birder to appreciate St. Mark’s in the winter. The majesty and spectacle of hunting eagles, the choreographed twists and turns of sandpiper flocks in flight over the mudflats or the quiet beauty of a bobcat padding along the road require no special training or knowledge to appreciate. If you are a novice birder or just interested in familiarizing yourself with Wakulla County’s winter birds, you should consider trying one of St. Mark’s bird tours. Each is led by a knowledgeable and patient guide who can help you regardless of your skill level.
If you do not take a tour, try visiting Lighthouse Road. Lighthouse Road provides easy access to the refuge’s ponds, which were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps to create a habitat for wintering waterfowl. The dikes that separate the ponds are open for walking and biking. They provide easy views of mixed flocks of ducks and five different species of herons and egrets. On sunny days following a cool night, you can safely watch alligators that have come out to warm up in the sun. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see an otter swimming along searching for fish and frogs.
Bald Eagle Watching
Winter is also nesting time for Bald Eagles. They return to the refuge every fall to take advantage of the congregations of ducks and coots that form their food supply. They are easy to spot from Lighthouse Road, sitting in the tops of trees or soaring over the ponds, causing the ducks to fly. One good place to observe eagles is on the last stretch of road before the lighthouse. Off to the right across the salt marsh is a line of pine trees that contains a large and conspicuous eagle nest. This time of the year, if you look closely, you will see the white head of an incubating adult eagle sitting on eggs in the nest. When the eagle’s mate is not hunting, it can be seen sitting on a branch nearby, guarding its mate and the nest.
For more information on birding or visiting Wakulla County, please check out our birding or accommodations page.