A walk to Crane Island

  • A pair of bald eagles has a nest and two offspring in a tall pine tree some distance away, but still viewable, from the new boardwalk to the Amelia River on Crane Island. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    A pair of bald eagles has a nest and two offspring in a tall pine tree some distance away, but still viewable, from the new boardwalk to the Amelia River on Crane Island. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

Like just about everyone else, I am mostly staying at home except for almost daily walks from my neighborhood off Simmons Road that has recently been enhanced by the new Amelia River-to-Sea Trail that runs past it. So, with time on my hands and my inquisitive nature intact, I’ve been exploring different parts of this trail on foot.

There is a part of this trail that fascinates me, with close views of nature all around me. It’s the part of the trail that ends up on Crane Island, with gravel paths running through a preserved canopy forest, across the salt marsh on a wooden boardwalk, and on to the Amelia River where another boardwalk stretches out.

On a recent day, I parked my car at the Ybor Alvarez Sports Complex – the soccer fields – and set off toward Crane Island from there. I’ll take you through this walk now and point out some sights that you can see too if you venture along this path.

The first stretch of the walk borders the playing fields and edges the city’s airport property, but off to the right is a barren-looking patch of open land. But wait. Look and listen. There are many songbirds of various species, mostly invisible, calling to each other in their own rites of spring. You can also take in the wildflowers of a handful of species with petals of purple, yellow, orange, and white. Beautiful.

Eventually, you will come to the boardwalk bridge over the marsh. I guess this marks the geographic place where Crane Island becomes an island. The view from this boardwalk takes in vistas of the marsh and wet meadow nearby, but that’s not all. Stop and look into the water below you and, if it’s low tide, you just might see a horde of fiddler crabs roaming the ground and jostling with one another with their oversized front claws. When the tide is higher and water is flowing through the small channels, you might even get a glimpse of their larger cousins, the blue crabs that inhabit these tidal wetlands.

Beyond this boardwalk, there are a few options. You can take a path around a natural tidal pond or you can head into Crane Island under a canopy of maritime forest oak and pine trees. Here’s another spot it pays to listen. More than likely, you will hear a woodpecker tapping away on a tree trunk as it forages for insects. Large pileated woodpeckers and smaller red-bellied woodpeckers, and maybe others, call this forest home. With some patience, you can usually spot the woodpeckers by following the sounds.

The end of the Amelia River-to-Sea Trail takes you right to the Amelia River. Another new boardwalk stretches through the marsh and out to the river itself. Here is a great spot to look for egrets, herons, wood storks, and other marsh birds. And it’s fun to see the Thomas J. Shave Jr. Bridge far out in the distance.

The real pot of gold for this walk right now is viewable from this boardwalk. A pair of bald eagles has been nesting for a number of years now on Crane Island. Although the pair moved their location about a quarter mile from their original nest, they are still on the island. If you are on this marsh boardwalk heading to the river, look to your left. There is a large pine tree towering above the other trees on the shoreline. A crook of that tree holds a bald eagle nest. Recently, I saw two eagles there, one in the nest and an adult eagle on a branch nearby. Those who have been watching this nest report that there are two young birds there too, just about ready to fledge.

Now that the young eagles are about ready to fly, it is unlikely that a few visitors so far away from them will be disturbing, but if you do go to see this nest, keep up the social distancing from other people and stay quiet and respectful of the birds. The nest is far from the boardwalk, so you will need to bring binoculars and a telephoto lens for the best views.

I hope this gives some of you another idea for a nature walk, but please be careful. A recent report said coronavirus particles can spread for many feet behind a moving bicycle or jogger, not just six feet away. Stay healthy and safe.

Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.