Florida Birding

A Hike at Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs

Located in Tarpon Springs in Florida’s Pinellas County, Brooker Creek Preserve is 8,700 acres of natural protected and preserved land in the midst of an ever-growing urban area.

This was John and my first visit to Brooker Creek Preserve, and we are always excited to explore new trails to hike. There are about 4 miles of hiking trails within the preserve, and the trails take you through 4 separate ecosystems.

The Wilderness Trail Loop, at approximately 4 miles in length, takes hikers through forested pine and cypress wetlands, along flowing creeks that eventually travel 13 miles to merge with Lake Tarpon. During the rainy season (May – October), the 13 channels that make up the creek system at Brooker Creek Preserve usually flood and spill out onto the trails; however, we found quite a bit of trail flooding on our January visit. In fact, there was so much flooding on the Wilderness Trail that, at our experience level, we felt the need to turn back. Perhaps if we were better prepared and worn boots to wade through ankle-deep water, we might have continued, but I am still a bit skittish about hiking through water, where water snakes and who knows what else could be present. I guess we are still pretty much amateur hikers.

There were two cutoff trails from the Wilderness trail, The Flatwoods Trail and the Blackwater Cutoff Trail, in which we could continue our morning hike. Altogether, John and I hiked about 3 miles of trails in the preserve.

Towering pines with a ground blanket of saw palmetto dominate the scenery of the Flatwoods trail. We found this trail to be somewhat muddy but at least not flooded.

Unfortunately, after hiking about a half-mile on the Blackwater Cutoff trail, we came to a section of pretty heavy flooding and, once again, had to turn back. The Blackwater Cutoff Trail crosses one of Brooker Creek’s channels, so I was very disappointed that we could not hike to that portion of the trail due to the flooding.

Bird Path is a short path through an oak hammock that ends at a freshwater marsh. If you are lucky enough, at the end of Bird Path you just may spot the eagle that returns to the nest atop a power line tower. We were not lucky enough to see the eagle on our visit but we did spot the nest.

We did indeed see many birds along all the trails, and the beginner bird watcher in me was completely inspired. I was able to spot and identify a Carolina Chickadee, a Pine Warbler, and a Pileated Woodpecker. There were many other birds too, but we were not quick enough to get a good enough look to identify, much less get a good camera shot.

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Even with the flooding on the trails, we would give the trails at Brooker Creek high marks. The drier trails are easy walking and if you keep your eyes open, spotting wildlife is pretty much a sure thing. We began our hike on the boardwalk by the education center, and within minutes spotted an alligator camouflaged in the water.

John and I spotted white-tailed deer tracks and what we think were wild hog tracks in several areas along the trail, and even though we did not see the deer ourselves, we did talk to other hikers that did.

There are restroom facilities located at the Education Center and some picnic facilities scattered about near the parking area. The picnic facilities are first come first serve.

The Education Center is currently closed due to Covid19; however, I did peek through the window, and when it opens up again, it looks like it would be a neat place to learn some facts about the ecology of the area.

Brooker Creek Preserve is located at 3940 Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs. There is no fee to take advantage of the trails but donations are accepted via a donation box.

The preserve is open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to dusk. Closed the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas day.

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