Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Birding Hotspot
The bird watching at the 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore property near Orlando is ranked as one of the top three winter birding areas in Florida after Everglades National Park and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It also is Central Florida’s best inland birding hotspot.
The Lake Apopka North Shore holds the birding record for the most species (174) recorded inland during the one-day Christmas Bird Count in 1998. More recently, 362 species have been counted using the area. The Audubon Society calls the annual Birdapalooza held in January on Lake Apopka’s North Shore one of the nation’s top five events in the U.S. for bird watchers.
Birds likely to be seen include anhinga, bald eagle, black vulture, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, great egret, green heron, glossy ibis, little blue heron, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, red-winged blackbird, swallow-tailed kite, tricolored heron, turkey vulture and white ibis. Other wildlife spotted here includes alligators, turtles, otters, bobcats, coyotes and 65 species of butterflies.
Ironically, this rich habitat was once the farming area that introduced so much pollution into Lake Apopka-- the state’s third largest lake-- that it became Florida’s most polluted waterway. The restoration efforts to transform the north shore farming fields into shallow marshland to filter Lake Apopka’s nutrients created the more healthy wildlife environment. How Lake Apopka became toxic. How Lake Apopka is being restored.
You have two ways to view the rich birdlife on the Lake Apopka North Shore: From a vehicle on a Wildlife Drive or the designated north shore loop hiking trail drive near the lake edge.
The Wildlife Drive bordering Lake Apopka is open between sunrise and sunset only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. The entrance gate closes one hour before sunset.
The one-way, 11-mile Wildlife Drive through the lake’s northeast section begins at Lust Road, 2803 Lust Road, Apopka, 32703. It ends on Jones Avenue (Map). The speed limit is 10 mph. Stopping is limited to designated pull-outs, which means cars can get backed up when it's crowded on weekends and holidays, especially in winter. Port-a-lets are provided at one location but no drinkable water is available anywhere. Bring your own.
A portion of the drive intersects with a multi-use trail where drivers need to watch for hikers, bicycle riders and other users using the road. Vehicles using the road are limited to 25 feet and no towable trailers allowed.
The Lake Apopka Loop Trail covers more than 20 miles, much of it on the lake’s edge. Planned as a trail that will circumnavigate Lake Apopka one day, the loop trail currently is an out-and-back trail on the northern half of the lake. The trailheads for the Loop Trail are the Green Mountain, North Shore/McDonald Canal boat ramp and Magnolia Park. A port-a-let is available on the trail at the historic pump house.
Perhaps the easiest starting point for the wildlife drive entrance at Magnolia Park at 2850 Lust Rd (off South Binion Rd)
Apopka, 32703. See the wildlife trail map. An audio guide for the North Shore wildlife drive loop is available here.
The Clay Island area has 5.8 miles of multi-use white trails that include three observation towers. This is an area to look for mottled duck, black-bellied and fulvous whistling-ducks, glossy ibis and bald eagle. Shorebirds and songbirds are present in migration and winter as well as overwintering flycatchers such as western kingbird and scissor-tailed flycatcher. Overwintering waterfowl have become regular visitors. The Clay Island trailhead is located at 22526 Carolyn Lane, Astatula, 32703.
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