6 June 2020. In recent months, I’ve purposefully been trying to do deeper and more prolonged hikes at some local areas to better explore the areas, reacquaint myself with them, and get a more sustained bit of exercise in while enjoying birding. Jacksonville has a ton of parks and many hotspots are in close proximity to one another, so it becomes a little too easy to dip into a place for a short visit and follow it up with another short excursion at a new location a few minutes later. This morning I headed to Betz-Tiger Point Preserve in North Jacksonville and realized I’ve never really written about the place much before. Here is a “Location” write up:
Address: 13990 Pumpkin Hill Road, Jacksonville, FL 32226
Parking: Entrance to the park is free, and the park is at the terminal end of Pumpkin Hill Road (you’ll drive right past Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park on the way here). The entrance is pictured above; note the pavement ends and the park is accessed via a hard packed dirt/gravel drive, but nothing you’d need a high clearance or four wheel drive vehicle for. The parking area is pictured immediately below, park “nose in” along the short board in the bottom of the image, and you’ll see the trail map kiosk and picnic pavilions immediately ahead.
Trails: There are miles of trails, split mainly between a “Blue”, “Yellow”, “Orange” and “Red” trail. I’ve included a map of the trails:
If you want a short, pleasant hike on a well maintained trail you should opt for the Blue trail. It runs along the edge of the saltmarsh, providing access to one of the fishing piers and plenty of overlooks of the marsh. The Red and Yellow trails are a little longer and less well maintained. The trails are broad, flat, and smooth in spots (mainly in the Red trail area) as they wind through planted pine forest, but the Yellow trail becomes a little more overgrown and in places, impassable.
As you can see below, the Yellow Trail is not well maintained in many areas. Just beyond the edge of this view, the trail is boggy with standing water and impassable.
Aside from the color coded badges you see on the kiosk above, there is very little in terms of additional trail markers, and no painted ‘blazes’ on trees along any trail. You are mainly left to guess where you’re at, and with many intersections along the way, it is very easy to get lost.
You can see above how many of the trail heads right off the main drive are unmarked, leaving you guessing as to where you’re heading. Another option that will still provide a very pleasant and lengthy walk is just to stay on the closed road, which extends past the parking area and leads out all the way to the brand new (as of 2020) pavilions and a second fishing pier.
It is worth the walk back to the new pier, as it provides a very tranquil retreat overlooking Pumpkin Hill Creek, and there is minimal mechanical noise (planes, cars, boats).
The other great part of this new pier area is the distance from the parking lot. The closest pier is less than one hundred yards from the parking area and is always crowded with visitors and fishermen and fisherwomen casting nets and tackle. This new pier is a good “3,000+ steps” from the parking lot, and is much less likely to attract people with their fishing tackle. On my visit in June 2020, I was the only person on any of the trails.
Facilities: There are two enclosed toilets in a primitive outbuilding. There is no plumbing, it just drops down from the commode into the hole in the ground. : )
The Dailey Birder’s Tips: Bring sunscreen, insect repellent, and water.
Target Species: American Woodcock, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Roseate Spoonbill, American Avocet, Northern Parula, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-throated Warbler, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron.
Betz-Tiger Point Preserve used to be the “go-to” spot to see American Woodcock in the winter, and we’d get it about every year on the Christmas Bird Count. The habitat has changed in recent years, and the Woodcock hasn’t been reported there since 2014.
The park is pretty large and there are miles of hiking trails, many of which meander through planted pine forest that is thick with saw palmettos. The trails vary in how well maintained they are, and the Yellow trail is subject to being wet and flooded; the Red and Blue trails are usually dry. The bugs can be thick, so bring repellent.
Positive aspects of the park include it’s trash-free, remote, quiet, and free. “Negatives” could be that the small fishing pier near the parking area is often very crowded, there are no trash bins, and no running water.
Honestly, most people that bird Betz-Tiger Point Preserve do their birding from the entrance gate to the parking area, get out of the vehicle, bird the parking area and the nearby fishing pier, and leave. This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, since the parking area has a good mixture of oak and pine trees, and it’s close to the marsh and pier. In just a few steps, you can easily record 15-30 species and sometimes upward of 40 (usually if it’s low tide and you manage some shorebirds).
I’ve found that winter here is best, and the parking area has been good for Golden-crowned Kinglet in several winter seasons. I’d also recommend timing a visit with low tide, as the pier affords sweeping views of the saltmarsh. At low tide, you can expect a variety of shorebirds, gulls, terns, and waders. In winter, this is a great place to look for American Avocet, and in spring and summer, for Black-necked Stilts. Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, and other shorebirds are relatively common. Clapper Rails can be heard in all seasons, and an occasional Virginia Rail in winter. Roseate Spoonbills are likely from either pier, as are Marsh Wrens and Seaside Sparrow. The wren and sparrow are around in winter, but are also breeding species and can be heard singing there in spring and early summer.
I’ve done a lot of owling there over the years and have never had much success. I have heard Barred Owls there, but don’t recall ever hearing an Eastern Screech-Owl or Great Horned Owl.
Honestly, I much prefer Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park over Betz-Tiger Point Preserve for both hiking and birding, and would recommend nearby Pumpkin Hill over Betz if you didn’t have time to visit both. Betz is certainly good for a quick stop before or after Pumpkin Hill, and you can see or hear several species easily there that you are less likely to find on a hike at Pumpkin Hill – primarily the shorebirds, gulls, and waders, along with Yellow-throated Warbler.