Great Florida Birding TrailBy Julie Brashears, FWC birding trail coordinator
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is a largely aquatic preserve, so it comes as no surprise that one of the best ways to bird it is by canoe.
Thick hydric hammock surrounds the boat ramp, so bird the periphery for songbird migrants like hooded warblers before you launch your boat. A large vulture roost populates the boat basin, and as you follow the river towards the Gulf, don’t overlook the occasional bald eagle swirling on thermals with them. Along the river run, watch for skulking green herons and shy little blues at the water’s edge. From treetops, wood storks spy on anhingas that p
ly the main channel for fish. Calling prothonotary warblers and protective osprey on nests announce your progress down the river.
The freshwater river gives way to black needlerush saltmarsh, and the main channel is criss-crossed with tidal creeks leading back into the marsh. These are great fun to explore for clapper rails and sora, as well as shorebirds loafing on isolated mudflats.
Cautiously coax your canoe around corners to reduce the chance of flushing birds and to improve your viewing opportunities (good for both you and the birds).
Wintering ducks like bufflehead and hooded mergansers dive in the open water nearest the Gulf. Dog Island lies three miles west of the launch along the main channel. Restroom and picnic facilities are available here, so you can stop and relax before making the return trip upriver.
Airboats occasion this area, so be alert. The river is frequently shallow, sometimes nearly impassable when low tide conspires with easterly winds.
Directions: From the town of Homosassa Springs, drive south on U.S. 19 approximately six miles to the flashing light at U.S. 98. Turn right (away from U.S. 98) onto Miss Maggie Drive. Follow the road to the boat ramp/campground at the end, where you can launch your canoe.
The boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, (352) 563-2088. Birding is best in the mornings, October to April.
For more information,visit www.sandersonbay.com/citruscounty/birdwatching.html