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.
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
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:
"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".