Lesser-Known Birding Sites in Central Florida.

by Donald E. Chamberlain

Three Cormorants on Posts
Three Cormorants on Posts
Contest Winning Photo

Sanford, Florida is a community of about 30,000 people located about 12 miles north of Orlando on the southern shore of Lake Monroe. I have found two sites in Sanford where bird photography has been particularly productive: Fort Mellonville Park in downtown Sanford and Lake Jesop Park.

Fort Mellonville City Park:

Fort Mellonville City Park can be found by exiting Interstate 4 at the Route 17/92 South exit. Route 17/92 runs along the southern edge of Lake Monroe. While driving along this road you may see many people fishing. Often a great blue heron or great egret can be seen standing near the anglers awaiting “handouts.” Upon approaching downtown Sanford (about three miles), the 17/92 highway will curve south toward Orlando. Rather than continuing the follow Route 17/92, turn to the left onto West Seminole Boulevard. As you drive along this Boulevard, fishing piers are visible.

Along the support poles for these piers, ospreys, cormorants, or anhingas may be seen perching or nesting. This image shows three cormorants on adjacent posts in the lake. A great amount of patience was needed to wait for them to turn in the same direction.

Great Blue Heron on Seawall
Great Blue Heron on Seawall

The city marina is on the left as you approach the downtown area. The many boats anchored there provide opportunities for interesting harbor shots. As you pass the marina, there is a small pond on the right. There is often a large wading bird (a great blue heron or great egret) wading and feeding at the pond’s edge. Snowy egrets, white ibises, Muscovy ducks and various types of gulls are regular visitors to this pond. These birds are used to pedestrian traffic and are reasonably tolerant of tripod–bearing photographers. I have often photographed an egret or heron perched atop a “No Swimming” sign found in the pond.

Crossing Seminole Boulevard from the pond allows another photographic opportunity. Wading birds, such as herons or egrets often stand atop the concrete sea wall that borders the south edge of Lake Monroe. There they scan the lake seeking their next meal. Alligators also inhabit the lake and may provide even more photographic opportunities. This Great Blue Heron on the seawall typifies that region.

Limpkin at Lake Jesep Boat Ramp
Limpkin at Lake Jesep Boat Ramp

Lake Jesop Park / Boat Ramp:

To reach Lake Jesop Park, return to Sanford Avenue at the west end of Mellonville Park. Turn left onto Sanford Avenue and follow it to its southern–most point (a drive of about three miles). Sanford Avenue ends at Lake Jesop Park. On the right side of the small canal that connects the boat launch ramp to Lake Jesop, may be seen many type of birds. The list includes three types of herons (tricolor, great blue, and little blue), three types of egrets (cattle, snowy, and great), white ibises, black buzzards, sandhill cranes, as well as various types of blackbirds.

Local residents say that Lake Jesop has the largest concentration of alligators of any lake in Florida so reptile photo opportunities exist here as well.

Back in the park proper, there are some unmarked nature trails that originate west of the small pavilion found in the park. I have photographed butterflies and other insects while hiking along these trails.

On one of my trips I encountered this limpkin carefully hidden in the reeds.

Great Blue Heron and Frog
Great Blue Heron and Frog

Blue Heron Wetlands Water Reclamation Plant in Titusville, Florida:
This site is a series of water treatment sedimentation pools. It is city–owned and requires permission to enter. The facility is open to visitors from 7:30 to 3:30 Monday through Friday.
To locate the facility take I-95 Exit 79 (Route 50 West). The entrance to the facility is about one mile from the exit ramp on the south side of the highway (to the left).
Driving toward the entrance, you will approach is a locked gate. It will open as you slowly approach. The facility office is the first building to the left. Visitors are asked to enter the office, sign in, and to carry a “Visitor” sign as you tour the facility.
You will leave the office and drive to an elevated road that encircles six sedimentation ponds. While there are some crossroads between each of the ponds, visitors should stick to the outermost path. Birds are more easily photographed from the car (a good idea because alligators also inhabit the site). During my visits to the site I have seen three types of herons, three types of egrets, anhingas, cormorants, limpkins, common moorhens, bitterns, and a variety of ducks. On one visit I observed a pair of sandhill cranes feeding among the reeds and this Great Blue Heron which had recently caught a huge frog.

Orlando Wetlands Overview
Orlando Wetlands Overview

Orlando Wetlands Park:

This park is located fifteen miles west of from the Blue Heron facility on Route 50. When you reach the village of Christmas, Florida, (about ten miles from Titusville) turn right at Fort Christmas Road. About four miles down this road will be a sign directing Orlando Wetlands Park traffic to the right.

As you drive along Fort Christmas Road toward the Orlando Wetlands Park, another photo opportunity will appear for those who enjoy history. On the left is Fort Christmas Park. The park contains a reconstructed fort (which doubles as a museum) and some homesteads from the 1800’s. They provide an excellent picture of the struggle between Indians and settlers in Central Florida during the nineteenth century.

Like Blue Heron Wetland, Orlando Wetlands is a series of sedimentation ponds. Over 75 miles of hiking and biking trails traverse the park. The Birding Trail will lead past a number of reed–filled bogs, small stands of trees, and large expanses of open water. This scene is typical of what you might see at Orlando Wetlands Park.

Additional information for these sites as well as many other Central Florida birding sites are available on–line (keyword: Birding Central Florida).