BIRD ISLAND AND

LAKE JESUP

On May 22, 1837, Lieutenant Peyton, with a command of twenty men and four Creek Indians, set out from Fort Mellon to explore the little known upper reaches of the St Johns River. They camped that night on what is now aptly known as Bird Island in Lake Jesup. One hundred and sixty four years later to the day, four members of Seminole Audubon Society, accompanied by two biologists from St Johns River Water Management District, surveyed birds on the island, finding an amazing 512 wading birds.

Lake Jesup is the only really large lake wholly within Seminole County. As you cross the lake on the expressway (Greeneway or 417), you can see Bird Island to the East. It is roughly circular in outline, low enough to be sometimes covered in water, and about one quarter of a mile in diameter (giving it an area of some 31 acres).

For years we have known that Bird Island was a significant roosting and nesting area for wading birds. It was also used as a nesting site by bald eagles. Perhaps because of its relative inaccessibility, there appears to have been some lack of documentation of all this.

Wading Birds. The most conspicuous birds on the island at present (May 22, 2001) are the wading birds, many of which are nesting there. Numbers and variety seem higher than in recent years, possibly because of dry conditions at other nest sites. Many of these birds nest in colonies on islands or over water. Presumably this protects them from predation from raccoons and perhaps other mammalian predators. Their use of alligator attractions such as Gatorland for nesting is well known, where they probably get some protection from the alligators – which, unlike raccoons, don’t climb trees! The birds could still be vulnerable in the future from vegetative changes or inappropriate human activities.

We believe that this is easily the largest colony of wading birds (herons, ibis etc) in Seminole County. We observed the following birds on Bird Island May 22, 2001:

Number observed

Nesting Species

2

Double-crested Cormorant

3

American anhinga

2

Great blue heron

13

Little blue heron

216

Cattle egret

32

Great egret

49

Snowy egret

10

Tricolored heron

75

Glossy ibis

110

White ibis

1

Wood stork (nesting uncomfirmed)

Eagle Nest. Following our reporting the eagle nest being active in 1998 and 1999 (it is listed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as nest SE056), they apparently could not find a nest in the spring of 2001 when they did their annual aerial census. However, on May 12th 2001 we noted two adult eagles and a juvenile flying around the island, suggesting that the territory is still active, and on May 22 we were able to locate a large stick nest that is almost certainly that of the eagles. Leafy vegetation (and the need not to disturb other nesting birds) partially hides the nest, which unusually is in a broad-leafed tree.

History. There is a plaque at Clifton Springs, the Seminole County Natural Lands property on the South Lake Jesup shore, recording the fact that naturalists John and William Bartram camped there during their excursion up the St Johns River in 1765-66. Scientists distinguished Clifton Springs again in this century as the location where an endemic fish (Fundulus bartrami) and snail (Aphaostracon theiocrenetus) were first identified. There was reportedly an indigo plantation on the shores of the lake in the late eighteenth century. However, it appears that little was known of the area, and the territory was largely left to the Indians and escaped slaves until its "rediscovery’ in 1837. Lieutenant R H Peyton of the Second Artillery was sent by Colonel Harney to make a map of the area upstream of Lake Monroe. His report, from Fort Mellon, May 24, 1837 states:

"Col: I have the honor to report that in obedience to your orders I started on the morning of the 22nd of May, 1837, with a command of 20 men and four friendly Creek Indians, to explore the St Johns River of which but little was known above Lake Monroe.

After leaving Lake Monroe, the river pursues a serpentine course…. winding through marshes and occasional live oak and cabbage palm hammocks…. about 11 miles, when it reaches a large lake…. it gradually expanded into a noble sheet of water and stretched in a southwest direction…. the whole length being 13 miles. In honor of our commanding Gen. I have called this Lake Jesup. In the middle is a beautiful island of a circular form containing about 200 acres covered with a high rank grass; in the center of this we observed a very picturesque clump of cabbage trees which were filled with nests of white heron, blue crane and a red bird with a spoon bill called by the Indians "hololo". From its position and shape I have called this "Circle Island".

Bird Species found at Bird Island (info & photos)

Vegetation Assessment at Bird Island

Colony Counts, starting in 2001

Photos by Roger Grimshaw

 

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