BIRDING EMERALDA - how to get there

Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area (EMCA) is managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, and is located north of the small community of Lisbon.  It is one of the Great Florida Birding Trail (East Section) sites; the complete Great Florida Birding Trail guide can be downloaded here.   EMCA can be accessed from several points on either Emeralda Island Road, or on State Road 452.  Maps of the area showing general location and access points can be found at the St. Johns River WMD website here.    

Lisbon Road is about 5 miles west of Eustis on State Road 44. I have little or no experience with several of the sites shown on these maps - my censuses have been restricted to the area labeled Lake Griffin Flow-Way Area I, and the road connecting Emeralda Island Road and Rte. 452 just south of the Yale Canal.  Keep in mind that access to  many of these areas is by foot or bicycle only.

INTERPRETIVE WILDLIFE DRIVE

A 4.3 mile loop drive was opened to the public in 2003, due primarily to the efforts of the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society.  This drive is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., opening some time in  February and normally extending through March, April, and May.  The initial opening date in February varies unpredictably from year to year.  Call (352) 821-2066 to inquire about open dates for the wildlife drive.

   A brochure with map describing the wildlife drive is available here.

The one-way drive begins at Wood Duck Parking Lot on Emeralda Island Road.  The two maps below show the areas I survey weekly.  The map on the right is from infrared aerial photography, and shows the 6 sectors into which  I subdivide my survey.  It's linked to a larger version that you can view by clicking on the map.  The Wildlife Drive is indicated by the arrows on the map at left, and includes the sections colored red, yellow, and green below, and the small connecting strip of blue in the map on the right.  All other areas are gated and accessible by foot or bicycle only.

                    

The color coded sections are as follows:

A - 0.75 miles - Beginning at Wood Duck Parking Lot, this area comprises primarily successional fields and hammock, with dredged roadside ditches along most of its length.
B - 1.15 miles - a mixture of habitats, including some successional field, wetlands, and hammock islands.

C - 1.8 miles - the southwestern perimeter of the Flow-way, with mostly marsh and wetland habitat to the east,
and hammock and creek/canal habitat to the west.  A corridor hammock of hackberry and red maple is present along much of the levee itself, and there is generally a dense swath of elderberry and other shrubby vegetation on the Flow-way side. This part of the route parallels Haines Creek for much of its length; Haines Creek returns water from the Flow-way to Lake Griffin.
D - 2.75 miles - These two levee roads cross the middle of the Flow-way, and include mostly marsh/wetland habitats and a large amount of open water.  The east side of the the levee crossing the Flow-way from east to west (Airstrip Road) also has successional field and brushy border habitat.
E - 1.75 miles - This levee is the northern boundary of the Flow-way, and includes a small amount of cypress swamp at its southwest corner.  The rest consists mostly of marsh and open water habitat to the south, and canal/impoundments to the north.
F - 1.8 miles - The western half of this levee crosses former pasture land, and the eastern part is between two large shallow-water impoundments.  Along most of its length, the Yale Canal, just north of the levee road, is bordered by a corridor of dense willow thickets.

RECOMMENDED LOCATIONS

On the right map above, I've numbered spots that are typically productive for particular species or groups of birds.  These are best seen on the larger linked version of the map. 

1. The first section of the Wildlife Drive passes through mostly hardwood hammock.  This area is good for migrating warblers and mixed species flocks of wintering passerines.  Sapsuckers are usually found in this area in winter.  Painted buntings have been seen just inside the gate in the brushy thickets by the road.

2. Hammock gives way to canals, marsh, and wet fields towards the end of this section.  Sedge wrens are sometimes seen and heard here, and the brushy margins (mostly willow) along the road are good for migrating and wintering passerines.  Orange-crowned warblers are often present in these willows in winter.

3. Marsh, varying in water depth.  Sedge and marsh wrens can be found here during winter and early spring.    Wood ducks are often here, particularly where there are wooded areas of the marsh.

4. This area is formed by the junction of hammock, marsh, and old field habitat to the north.  This is frequently a concentration point for migrant and wintering passerines, especially warblers and vireos.  Sparrows can be abundant in the fields to the north all along this stretch of the road. Blue grosbeaks and indigo buntings are sometimes here as breeders.

5.  The pool below the pumps at this point is sometimes the site of large concentrations of egrets and herons, and is a good place to look for black-bellied whistling ducks.  Mottled ducks sometimes congregate here in summer.

6.  The red maple hammock and shrubby border in this area is another great concentration point for migrant warblers and other passerines, especially in late summer and fall.  This is the most reliable area in which to find prothonotary warblers in fall migration.  Painted buntings are sometimes found here in small flocks.

7.  Subject to water levels in the impoundments, the fields in this area are often a good place to look for bobolinks in the late April-early May.  Lincoln's and grasshopper sparrows and yellow-breasted chats have been seen in this area as well.  In late summer, yellow warblers, waterthrushes, and other migrants can be abundant here.

8. Along this entire stretch of levee, dense elderberry thickets line one or both sides of the road.  A corridor of hackberry trees lines much of this drive on the lake side.  In late summer, yellow and prairie warblers , along with other migrants,  are usually abundant along this entire stretch.  A couple of yellow-breasted chats sing from the elderberry thickets on the flow-way side in this area every summer.  Wintering warblers are often abundant here.  Purple gallinules are present year-round in the canals on the lake side of this area.

9.  These are the deeper water areas of the main impoundments, and are the best areas to see the widest variety of aquatic species.  This is the best area to look for waterfowl.  All of the herons and their allies that occur here can be seen here at one time of year or another.  American bitterns are abundant in winter (though cryptic and hard to find), least bitterns and purple gallinules are common as breeders.  A purple swamphen appeared here in September 2004.  When water levels are low enough to produce mudflats, these are the best areas to look for shorebirds.  Black-necked stilts nest throughout these habitats. 

10. The shrubby edges and successional fields to the north of the drive in this area are the best areas to look for sparrows.  Swamp, song, savannah, field, chipping, white-crowned, white-throated, grasshopper, and Lincoln's sparrows have all occurred here.  Blue grosbeaks are common as breeders, along with an occasional indigo bunting. 

11. The willow thickets on the south side of the road can be good for migrant and wintering warblers, including orange-crowned,  and sparrows, including white-crowned.

12.  Large rookeries of herons and egrets occur in the willow islands in these areas, including cattle, snowy, and great egrets, great blue and little blue herons, glossy and white ibis, and anhingas.  Great blues begin nesting as early as January; most of the others are most abundant from about April-July.

13. The bonnet beds in the canal to the north are a good place to see purple gallinules and limpkins; marshes to the south are good for harriers, soras, and least bitterns.

14. Willow thickets along either side of the Yale-Griffin canal are good for wintering and migrant passerines.  Ash-throated flycatchers show up in this area nearly every winter. 

15. Yellow-breasted chats have been seen several times in winter and migration in this area.

16. Most winters a flock of 100+ lesser scaup is regularly seen on this impoundment. There are often flocks of Forster's and Caspian terns here as well.

A checklist of the birds I have observed in these areas and my subjective assessment of their abundance can be found here .

If you have questions about where or when to find specific  birds at Emeralda Marsh, e-mail me at pmay@stetson.edu .

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