Birding the Byway

Birding the Byway

by: Gallus Quigley, Jr.

Gallus_PicThe Green Mountain Scenic Byway offers birders many great places to stop and do some birding. Oakland Nature Preserve with its nearly mile long boardwalk terminating at Lake Apopka and over 150 species on its checklist is a great spot. In winter it is one of the best local spots for Painted Buntings which regularly come to the feeders. As one travels north a short jog off the byway into Montverde one can go to Truskett Park, do not let its size fool you, the boardwalk leading out into Lake Apopka under a pavilion is great in winter to scan the lake for gulls, terns, ducks, and raptors.

Continuing on north to the town of Ferndale one can stop at Ferndale Preserve, located on the western shore its topography provides stunning vistas of the lake and downtown Orlando on clear days, not to mention the more than 190 species of birds documented at the preserve, fall migration can bring in numerous warblers, tanagers, buntings and cuckoos and in winter sparrows abound with up to 12 species possible! Check out Lake County Parks & Trails for guided hikes and Bird & Butterfly Surveys which are all FREE.

Continuing north on CR 455 one comes to the Green Mountain Scenic Overlook & Trailhead with amazing views of the north shore and the western trailhead to the Lake Apopka Loop Trail which runs all the way to Magnolia Park in Orange County over 18 miles!

The location offers access to the trails of Clay Island, part of the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area and the birding here can be spectacular especially in fall when early morning flights of warblers and other nocturnal migrants may number in the hundreds, as the day warms raptors dominate the skies, in late July numerous Swallow-tailed Kites may be seen as they prepare to move south. After passing through Astatula along CR 48 there are wet fields at Ranch Rd and CR 48 often hold numerous wading birds and in winter Wilson’s Snipe and American Pipits often occur in large numbers. Turning on to Ranch Rd. watch the fields for birds, a Say’s Phoebe turned up here for 6 straight years!

Once you arrive at the Clay Island Trailhead off Caroline Ave. look for migratory warblers in season and in winter Painted Bunting, Northern Waterthrush, Swamp Sparrow, and rare Lincoln’s Sparrow. The trailhead has held rarities like Wilson’s Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat in winter, hiking the levies watch for wading birds, bitterns and rails, in late July hundreds of Swallow-tailed Kites may occur and listen for singing Orchard Orioles and Blue Grosbeaks. From here one can hike or bike either the Clay Island Loop Trail which has 4 observation towers including one on Lake Apopka or follow the Lake Apopka Loop Trail towards the North Shore Trailhead and Magnolia Park.

Continuing your trek along CR 48 make the right at the stop sign onto CR448A which dead ends at the North Shore Trailhead and McDonald Canal Boat Ramp (Soon to open to the public). This trailhead is the gateway to the North Shore of Lake Apopka. The North Shore has had over 367 species of birds observed and is by far one of the best birding hotspots in North America. This location is a rare bird magnet with species like Vermillion Flycatcher, Groove-billed Ani, Brown-crested & Ash-throated Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, Short-eared Owl and Eurasian Kestrel among the notables. Early mornings in the right season will get you King and Virginia Rails, Least and American Bitterns, Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-duck and maybe even a Snail Kite among the numerous raptors that are often found, especially in winter.

Hiking the marshes the open water areas will yield numerous species of ducks and shorebirds at the right time of year and a lucky few may even see Whooping Crane among the sometimes massive numbers of migratory Sandhill Crane. Returning to the byway and CR 448A/CR 48 one can take a slight detour to Lake Jem Park & Boat Ramp which is only 14 acres but a good December morning may yield 50 species before 11:00AM. Now continuing into Mount Dora several downtown parks and Lakeside Inn offer opportunities to scan Lake Dora for ducks, terns, gulls and wading birds depending on season as well as migratory and resident passerines along the wooded shorelines.

Gallus Quigley is a passionate birder, and has led many birding outings in Florida.

Gallus C. Quigley Jr. Trails Specialist
Lake County Parks & Trails Division
Birding Adventures TV – Featuring Gallus