Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Photographing Birds in Florida: St. Mark's National WIldlife Refuge

Located about 20 miles south of Tallahassee along the Gulf of Mexico is the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge contains amlost 65,000 acres of land and water stretching from St. Marks, FL to south of Panacea, FL.

The main route people use for viewing wildlife is the Lighthouse Road (C.R. 59). This is a seven mile paved road which winds through the refuge from the Visitor Center to the Lighthouse at the end. Along the road a pull-offs and trailheads for hiking throughout the facility. At the end of the road is a parking area for the St. Marks Lighthouse which was built in 1866. Though entry to lighthouse is usually closed to the public, each night the light continues to shine across Apalachicola Bay.

You should begin your visit by stopping at the Visitor Center to check on wildlife spottings, obtain maps of the facility, visit their museum displays and visit their gift shop. There is also a 1/3 mile Plum Orchard Pond Trail around a pond behind the center. As you begin driving the road to the lighthouse, be sure to check the ponds and reservoirs beside the road. About five miles from the Visitor Center you will note a turn out with rest rooms. Near the parking area is the trial head for the Mounds Intrepretive Trail, a one-mile hike through the hammock.

At the end of the road near the Lighthouse is the trail head for the Levee Trail a 1/4 miles trail along the edge of the bay. There are also other trailheads for longer primitive walking trails along the pathway. While at the Lighthouse note the long dock skeleton jutting out into the bay. Often pelicans, terns, and other birds can be seen occupying each site along the top of the dock support posts.

During October, Monarch butterflies pass through St. Marks by the thousands on their migration into Mexico. In January a small group of whooping cranes are led by ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to nearby St. Marks, Florida. While their final location is a highly guarded secret the refuge sponsors a flyover event when they arrive in the area. St. Marks is usually where I begin any bird photography journey I make to Florida.

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