Map to Spoonbill Pond
Parking: $2.00 per car; exact currency is recommended since you must put your money in an envelope and then lock box. There is no park ranger stationed at this entrance. There is ample parking in the paved lot at Big Talbot Island State Park, which is at the foot of the Nassau Sound Bridge. This parking lot is primarily used by boaters, so many of the parking spaces are long enough to accommodate a vehicle and boat trailer. It’s advisable to find a smaller parking space for your vehicle.
Trails: In addition to Spoonbill Pond, this parking lot provides easy access to the shoreline of Nassau Sound, the George Crady fishing pier, and the newly constructed multi-use pathway. The pathway at this portion of the county is an elevated wooden boardwalk that connects to the other parking lot at Big Talbot Island State Park, where there are picnic tables, bluff overlooks, and small trails through the coastal scrub and maritime hammock.
Facilities: There are permanent restrooms in the parking lot at the boat ramp and a primitive port-o-let structure at the picnic area parking lot. There are no vending machines available.
The Dailey Birder’s Tips: The parking lot can fill up quickly, especially in summer months. Secure a parking lot and then go back to put your money in the kiosk. The location is fairly remote; the nearest convenience store to the south is across from the Ferry Slip south of Huguenot Memorial Park. Grab a snack and water on your way up. If you get hungry for lunch or a late afternoon snack, head north up A1A into Nassau County and stop at Horizons or Bar Zin for a great sandwich and glass of wine or beer.
Since this location is fairly out of the way, I would really suggest combining your outing with a stop at Amelia Island State Park (just across the bridge; separate entrance fee), the Black Rock Trail (Big Talbot Island, south on A1A), Little Talbot Island State Park, and/or Huguenot Memorial Park (separate entrance fee).
Target Species: American White Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Black-necked Stilt, Mottled Duck, Whimbrel, White-rumped Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Piping Plover, Wilson’s Phalarope, Seaside Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow.
Spoonbill Pond is an informal name for this pond that is directly across the street from the Big Talbot Island State Park parking lot, at the foot of the Nassau Sound Bridge and providing direct boating access to Sawpit Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway. The location is at the extreme northeast limit of Duval County; in fact, Nassau County begins as you get on the bridge heading across the sound.
Spoonbill Pond was historically excellent for many years until approximately mid 2000’s when the water dried up and the composition of the soil and water changed. Local conjecture is that a tropical storm surge flooded the pond with salt water and altered the habitat. As recent as 2013 that has started to change back to higher water levels and lower salinity, which has also brought back a higher concentration of birds and species diversity. In the summer of 2014, it was not uncommon to see literally hundreds of waders and over 100 American White Pelicans roosting at the pond in the surrounding trees. In 2016, the pond hosted the first “chaseable” Ruff in county history.
Start your birding as soon as you get out of the car; in 2005 a rare-in-county White-winged Dove was observed here and in 2012 Red-breasted Nuthatches were reported during an invasion of the species. Safely walk across A1A to the paved “breakdown lane” adjacent to A1A along the shore of the pond and spend some time scanning the area (preferably with a scope). In summer, you could expect to pick up Anhinga, American White Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill, Green Heron, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, and possibly Glossy Ibis in addition to Black-necked Stilts. In 1999, an extremely rare county record of Tropical Kingbird was recorded from this vantage point.
Next, walk towards the beach along the side of the bridge and a footpath will take you down to the sand. On the way, check for Seaside Sparrow year round and other sparrows in winter. Once on the sand, turn right and head south back towards the “bluffs” of Big Talbot Island. The shoreline could present Willet, Piping Plover, Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, Reddish Egret, Black Tern, Caspian Tern, and Least Tern. A couple hundred yards down the beach you’ll notice the vegetation on the right opening up a little bit; follow this sandy in-cropping and you should find a small berm about 2 feet high running along the back edge of the pond. Approach slowly and set up your scope for what will be the best viewing angles of the pond. Scan for ducks in winter, phalaropes and shorebirds in migration, and waders year-round. Depending on water levels, it may be difficult to find sandbars but if they exist study them carefully for peeps and other shorebirds. In July and August 2014, Least, Pectoral, Semipalmated, and White-rumped Sandpipers were all fairly easy to see from this location.
From there, it isn’t worth walking further south as you’d be better off driving to the other parking lot and scanning the sound from the bluff overlooks. I’d also caution you in scanning along the shoreline and the petrified trees that famously dot the beach – you are likely to find naked people sunbathing or posing for photographs, and trust me that these are not the types of people you want to see naked.
In winter, it is certainly worth scanning the bridge pilings in Nassau Sound for ducks; Scaup and Red-breasted Mergansers are fairly common and Common Eider have also been recorded there over the years.
If you have the endurance left – or perhaps you choose to start with this route – take the newly constructed boardwalk south back down A1A and bird the pond and mudflats for the same species previously mentioned. Be aware of runners and recreational bicyclists while on the boardwalk. There are two overlooks on the boardwalk that will provide a bit of shade and a bench or two on which to rest.
The parking lot itself can be quite good so take some time to bird the edges and behind the restrooms. There is a small pond in the parking lot that can attract migrant passerines; in late November one year it even provided an obliging Wood Thrush!
Lastly, the rocks around the boat launch is one of the best areas in northeast Florida to find all three marsh sparrows: Seaside, Nelson’s, and Saltmarsh. It is best to look for them in the morning when the tide is high; that combination is sure to net you at least two of the three species.