Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published July 1, 2015... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Be prepared for all kinds of wildlife



Black-crowned Night Heron

Red-shouldered Hawk

Roseate Spoonbill

“Stick Marsh” is about as uninviting a name as one could conjure up for a premier birding location. To make matters worse, it is only open one day a week, Thursdays, no less, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and to make matters even worse yet, it is managed primarily for hunting from November to January, so all the water fowl are quite skittish, and move quickly away from cars driving the perimeter roads. Notwithstanding all that, it can be a spectacular birding destination. Located near Fellsmere, Florida, about three miles west of Exit 156 off I-95 between Vero Beach and Melbourne, and down 6 miles of a sometimes very dusty road, “Stick Marsh” is the colloquial name for the officially named T. M. Goodwin Wildlife Management Area.

In February and March, after the shooting has stopped, the birds settle down and are more approachable. Thankfully, there is no hunting on Thursdays, so birders are not subjected to the war-like sounds of gunfire as sometimes occurs at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, it will never be a Wakodahatchee or Green Cay. Click for T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area.

Concentrations of large American Alligators are fairly common, and on one occasion we were met by this phalanx of Raccoons marching down the road. Actually, it was this same cohort (different photo) that started me on this HartBeat writing journey back in 2011. stlucieaudubon.org/hartBeat/hb2012/hb120228.html

One of the most common and accommodating species at the Stick Marsh is the Red-shouldered Hawk, which often can be found road side at eye level where it is very photographable. The other common and accommodating species found regularly, and particularly in late March and early April when nest-building, is the Roseate Spoonbill. Actually, the Roseate Spoonbills can be well seen from the boat ramp parking lot just outside the entrance gate to the Stick Marsh any day without restriction and without entering into the WMA, as they go about their nesting activities on an island just across the canal from the parking lot. It is the best place in Florida that I am aware of for seeing this species.

Even during hunting season the birds that aren’t shot at can be accommodating and seen at fairly close range. Pied-billed Grebes are common, and sometimes can be seen with their cousins, the Horned Grebe. Both Night Herons can be found (Black-crowned here,) and they, as well as Great Blue Herons, and all other herons which are not game birds, are not as skittish as the ducks. In my experience there are only two Florida birding locations that are reliable for Fulvous Whistling Ducks: STA-5 (see www.hendrygladesaudubon.org/?page_id=214); and the Stick Marsh. Sometimes a Fulvous Whistling Duck will try to hide behind even a single blade of grass though.

Hawks are another reason to visit the Stick Marsh. Osprey are ubiquitous; Northern Marsh Hawks are reliable, and both Sharp-shinned (shown here with its squared off tail) and Coopers Hawks are found on most trips; and one or more of all three Florida falcons (Merlin shown here) can be found regularly in the winter.

In addition, if dickie birds are your thing, just about everything you can find in Florida in the winter is present at the Stick Marsh. I have included photos of a Swamp Sparrow, and a White-eyed Vireo taken there, but there is a large variety of species from which to choose. And I haven’t even mentioned all the shorebirds. The hunting information for the Stick Marsh mentions Bobwhite Quail as a target species, but I must confess we have never seen or heard one there.

While I understand and appreciate that a lot of excellent wildlife habitat has been acquired with the aid and assistance of funds from Ducks Unlimited, including the Stick Marsh, with the related hunting that goes with it, I can’t help but think how nice it would be for the ducks and game birds to be safe and secure and more readily available for all of us to enjoy. Still, life is a constant stream of trade-offs. Now if we could only come up with a more inviting and compelling name for the place than “Stick Marsh.”

NOTE: I have been corrected by birders more intimately familiar with the location, and pass on to you that the Stick Marsh and the T. M. Goodwin WMA are two distinctly different places. The Stick Marsh is south of the parking lot for the T.M. Goodwin WMA, and is not accessible by vehicle. Boating and fishing only, but 24/7. The excellent birding location that I described in the article, and which is quite commonly referred to by birders as the Stick Marsh, albeit mistakenly, is actually the Broadmoor Marsh area of the T. M. Goodwin WMA, entered on the north side of the parking lot, secured by a gate when the area is closed, and is only open on Thursdays. 

Horned Grebe

Great Blue Heron

Fulvous Whistling Duck


Northern Harrier


Sharp-shinned Hawk

Swamp Sparrow

White-eyed Vireo

Click photos for larger versions