Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge

Sunday April 7, 2013
Site 9, Ochlockonee State Park
Sopchoppy, Florida


These are my people.


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Ochlockonee State Park borders the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge.  There are NWR property signs all along the road.  I love National Wildlife Refuges so I think ‘great, let’s go’!!

St. Mark’s encompasses 70,000 acres and includes 43 miles of north Florida’s Gulf Coast.  It is divided into 4 distinct units. 

The St. Marks Unit of the refuge is primarily slash pine flatwoods, man made pools, swamps and marshes.  To the west is the Wakulla Unit which is mostly hardwood hammocks, swamps and pine flatwoods.  Further west lies the Panacea Unit, which is the one next surrounding Ochlockonee.  It is mostly longleaf/wiregrass habitat, flatwoods and sandhills dotted with lakes and tidal marshes.  East of the St. marks Unit is the Aucilla Unit, which includes a boat ramp on the Aucilla River and 650 acres of adjacent wetlands and swamp forest.  There are maps to access all of these areas and some hiking trails within each but no visitor services except at the Visitor’s Center.

We find that the Refuge’s offices and Visitor Center are located 32 miles from here in the St. Mark’s Unit.

No matter, I really like National Wildlife Refuges so we pack our lunches and set out.

I can see when we pull into the parking lot that these are my kind of folks just by the license plates and bumper stickers.

National Wildlife Refuges are all about habitat protection for wildlife.  There are trails, pools and bayous as you can see from the map.


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These are also my people.


We begin with a short hike of the Plum Orchard Pond Trail behind the visitor’s center.  A great egret and a great blue heron are not quite hidden.


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Carrie is the only one of us to get this great picture of the Prothonotary Warbler that we see flitting back and forth on the trail




The CCC was here TOO.

The St. Marks unit also has an interesting CCC history.  There were 33 camps located in Florida.  Camp BF-1, BF stands for Bird Refuge, was assigned to the St. Marks Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, as it was called at the time.  It was one of the few African-American camps in the CCC. 

Between 1934 and the early 1940’s men from this camp built the refuge.  Almost everything was fabricated by the CCC men.  Poles that carried the power and telephone lines, fence posts and cypress for siding and roofing were cut on the refuge and trimmed by hand.  The earthen levees surrounding the pools we will be seeing, miles of ditches, 30 acres cleared for the reservoir and the road to the Lighthouse were all done by these men/  They built dwellings and other buildings, a diversion dam and two lookout towers.  They strung 30.89 miles of telephone line and 4.5 miles of power line, cleared a 24 mile truck trail, 21.5 miles of firebreaks, ran surveys, installed cattle guards and devoted 415 man days to fighting forest fires.  With little heavy equipment available at the time, their main tools were shovels and muscles.  Sadly most of the structures they built no longer exist.  Their legacy lives on in the Lighthouse road and the pools that provide habitat for migratory and resident wildlife.


Lunch at the Lighthouse.


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The Lighthouse and the pools are on down Lighthouse road so we drive down the road built by the CCC.

The Lighthouse is the focus for this end of the St. Mark’s unit.  It is located on the shore of Apalachee Bay and has had a bit of a rough history.




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It has guided maritime activity since 1842 and has survived gun boat battles, the landing of Federal troops during the Civil War and many major storms.  Today it is on the National Register of Historic Sites.  Transfer of the Lighthouse from the U.S. Coast Guard to the Refuge is underway.  Were you ever here Paul??


We walk around the lighthouse and find an arbor like opening that goes to a path along the shore.  Looks like a great place for lunch.


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After lunch, we walk to the end of this spit and back. 

The water sparkles, the blue sky, puffy white clouds, white sand and green green greenery are a feast for the eyes.  We flush red winged black birds all along the way.  Soft breezes, no bugs.  It looks and feels like paradise. 


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I guess they don’t have a bench out at the tip because they don’t want folks to stay too long.  :-)


Once back at the light house we see the perfect bench up in the air overlooking the ponds.


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At the foot of the stairs, this indigo bunting is flitting around.  He is quite noticeable in his bright blue garb.

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I spot what I think is a Scaup.  Greater??  Lesser?  I’m not sure.  But that’s a blue bill no doubt.

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We have trouble deciding whether to next take the trail across the parking lot and down the other side of the pond where we see this Scaup or to go up the road to two other trails.  Too many treasures, too little time to see them all.  And we are only in one small section of one of the 4 units of this large National Wildlife Refuge.  What great places they are.



The Headquarters Pond trail wins.

Turns out it is a short trail to another wooden viewing platform.  First thing we see when we climb up is a sunning alligator off to our left.  He looks very content.   The little blue heron is keeping watch.  I love his green legs.


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The common morehen is also feeding in this lovely area.  And then we see a second gator swimming toward us from the distance.  Will we have another gator war like the one we witnessed on the La Chua trail??

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He’s heading right for the spot above just beyond the lower right where the sunning alligator is still resting.   But at the last minute he hangs a hard right and disappears into the far grasses.


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The coots and little blue heron don’t seem to pay any attention.

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As we leave the platform, I call to Carrie and David to stop and pose. A nice father/daughter shot in this wonderful place.

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Tower Pond Trail is a bit longer. 

It goes down one side of Tower Pond, across the back and up the other side.  David has the camera now.  I have the binoculars.


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We can see many birds out on the little islands but they are fairly far away.  We are past the spring migration here and so the number of birds and variety are less than in the winter or in the fall when they return.

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We head back into the woods as we reach the other side of the pond.

We discover a bird blind down a little spur off the trail.  We can get much closer to the birds here.  I do love wading birds that stand relatively still so I can get pictures of them and hopefully increase my ability to identify them and then even more hopefully remember who they are.


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I think this may be a willet but I’m not positive.  Are you out there Judy?

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I know this is a black necked stilt.

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I think the large bird in the middle is the American Avocet.  He’s a really rare bird for me to see.

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Time to head for home.  It’s a bit of a drive and we have dinner to fix.  We haven’t even begun to see all that St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge has to offer.  But I’m so glad it is here to return to.


The End

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  1. Another wonderful NWR!!! Thanks for all the photos and love the Warbler and Bunting in particular. I have never seen either of those birds:o)

    Our list for next winter is getting longer and longer!!

  2. What a fun day! Love all the birds!

  3. Definitely an Avocet there, but I'm too tired to look into the other bird. :(

  4. Been a few years since we've visited there so your photo essay was a nice journey back. Yes, refuges are a wonderful place to visit... and even nicer places to volunteer your spare hours.

  5. Okay, who in the world ever came up with the name on that warbler? That's a tongue twister for sure.

    Another example of nature's wonders in this NWR. How can you even decide what pictures to post, they're all amazing! Thank you for bringing us along on your hikes. :c)

    I've been to a lot of lighthouses during my career, but not this one. It sure looks like it will be worth a visit, though, if we ever get rolling again.

  6. That trail to the lighthouse would have drawn us out there for sure. Glad the weather cooperated for Carrie's visit.

  7. I remember driving past/through that wildlife refuge after I picked up my RV in Florida, but I did not have time to stop. Like everyone else, I will need to add it to my list of places to go. Great pictures of the warbler and bunting.

  8. The NWR are as precious as our NPs. And seem to get less use. This is yet another beautiful place. Sure hope you find the time to explore some more.

  9. I think you are correct. It is a Willet. Looks like another beautiful Florida place

  10. Your pictures look so familiar. St Marks was the closest beach area when we lived in Georgia, so we went often. Monarch butterflies stop over there in September before their migration.

  11. Loved the shot of the indigo bunting! Looks like a lovely, lovely day...

  12. So glad Carrie was able to visit again. What a beautiful refuge and I love all the great bird photos. Well done!

  13. Great summary of all our fun & great indigo bunting picture! And, of course, it's lovely to see my pictures on display as well :) Visiting is wonderful - can't wait for next time!!

  14. This NWR is on my list but we may not make it there this trip. I have always wanted to see a Bunting--lucky you. What a wonderful place for the three of you to explore.

  15. That indigo bunting is a beauty! But my favorite pics are the father/daughter and mother/daughter shots. Family time is the best!


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