Located on the Gulf of Mexico just south of Tallahassee, St. Marks offers a tremendous variety of wildlife throughout the year. Perhaps its most unusual feature is the annual monarch butterfly migration in October, when thousands of monarchs gather at the refuge while in transit to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
Monarchs won't fly directly across the Gulf to Mexico. Instead, they follow a coastal route. Thousands of monarchs flying down the East Coast of the United States end up, at least temporarily, at St. Marks because of its unique location in the Big Bend area.
The best time for viewing the normally huge butterfly population is on quiet, still days when they fill the skies like miniature Chinese kites. Yet it's difficult to get good portrait shots of constantly moving butterflies.
The best time for picture-taking is on windy days when the butterflies cling to the vegetation while waiting for better flying conditions. You can approach within two or three feet of a bush covered with the orange and black beauties when the wind is blowing.
The best place to photograph butterflies is also one of the easiest to reach: the St. Marks lighthouse. Follow Lighthouse Road past the visitor's center to the lighthouse. Park there and start looking. You will probably be amazed at the number of butterflies present.
At other times of the year, look for shorebirds, brown pelicans, gulls, and terns near the lighthouse, particularly around the pilings and the narrow strip of beach. Wading birds are common in the pools by the roads, as are hoards of waterfowl during the winter months.
If you want to test your luck, hike the dikes to Stony Bayou and the Mounds Pools where you may spot nesting bald eagles in winter. Early or late in the day, anytime of year, you might also spot bobcats and white-tailed deer.
Go to more information on St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
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