As the end of 2016 drew near, my husband and I treated ourselves to a walk in the woods at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park in Alachua, FL. With an extensive trail network featuring hiking, biking, and horseback riding opportunities, we had a lot of routes to choose from.
Because I was interested in doing a bit of birding, we opted for the biking and equestrian trailhead, taking a lap around the Cellon Creek Trail in mid-afternoon (Note: hikers are allowed on the biking trails, but must allow bikers right-of-way). Towering oaks, pines, and other trees created a dense canopy, though small white flowers still bloomed near the trail-edge where just enough light permitted their growth. The trail partially traced the intersection of shady woods and sun-filled fields, creating edge habitat perfect for observing a host of species.
We weren’t disappointed. Soon after starting out a mixed flock of songbirds descended on a small tree right next to the path. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers buzzed at each other while flitting from branch to branch, amusing us with their energetic antics. Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers sounded off in the distance, while a pair of Black Vultures landed on a wide tree limb overlooking a bright green swamp.
Given my birding luck, it’s no surprise that the park has been designated as a site on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. A variety of birds are attracted to the diverse ecosystems within the park, numbering 18 biological communities in all and including sandhill, upland pine, and swamp. Birds aren’t the only wildlife attracted to the habitat here; near the duckweed-filled swamp we found new scrape marks from a male White-tailed Deer, as well as the colorful wings of Florida’s State Butterfly, the Zebra Longwing.
I actually prefer multi-use trails to hiking trails because I like seeing how many different ways people can enjoy the outdoors. While we walked and birded, multiple groups of mountain bikers waved as they pedaled past, rapidly disappearing into the green tunnel created by the cross-country trail. With all the different paths, there is plenty of room for everyone!
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.