Kristi and I moved to Amelia Island in June of 2012. I feel like I’ve been on vacation every day since. A vacation will most likely bring you to Amelia Island and two of the best reasons to take a vacation here are beaches and birds.
Amelia Island boasts 13 miles of beaches. What makes the beaches here special? For starters, ease of access.
Amelia Island is a simple 40 mile drive from the Jacksonville International Airport which can be reached with one layover from almost anywhere in the country. All of the Island’s public beaches are free to use, as is the abundant parking along their length just a short walk to the water.
Forget waking up early to claim your spot on the beach and wrestling with other vacationers for breathing room, the beaches here could only be considered “crowded” around the major summer holidays, and even then, the crowds pale in comparison to what you’d experience at Myrtle Beach or Panama City on a typical summer weekend. Amelia Island, and Fernandina Beach – the proper name of the city located on the Island – remain a hidden gem.
Even during the summer it’s not at all uncommon to have 50 yards of beach or more all to yourself. Little Talbot Island State Park, less than five miles south of Amelia Island, offers an even more private experience.
The beaches of Amelia Island are generally wide, rarely see rough surf and clean with fine, comfortable sand. A special treat during the summer months is an opportunity to observe nesting and hatching sea turtles.
I am not a beach bum. I become antsy after only a few minutes sitting still. I am a birder. While not the birding wonderland which is the Florida Everglades, Amelia Island and vicinity offer enough birding opportunities to keep even serious bird-watchers engaged for a week’s stay.
Start your viewing at the Egan’s Creek Greenway. Egan’s Creek offers multiple entry points, again, all free and never crowded with plenty of parking.
The full complement of wading birds – herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills and wood storks – can be observed here. Wood storks are a year-round resident; roseate spoonbills arrive for the summer months. Multiple varieties of hawks and woodpeckers can be seen, including the pileated woodpecker.
With flat, wide, mowed paths, birding at Egen’s creek is a breeze. Do bring bug spray and sunscreen and try to arrive at low tide when the waders are more likely to be feeding. Along with birds, alligators are commonly observed and if you’re very fortunate, as I have been, you might see a bobcat.
Fort Clinch State Park on the northern tip of the Island and Little Talbot Island just off the southern end offer more woodland habitat for tanagers and buntings in the summer, warblers, and owls. Little Talbot Island is your best bet to spot the spectacular painted bunting in the summer.
Little Talbot Island became famous in the Florida birding community offering the state’s third ever recorded sighting of a snowy owl during the unusually cold January of 2014. Kristi and I were fortunate enough to see it.
Immediately off the Island’s south end to your left as you’re driving south is a freshwater pond. On an evening visit in April of 2016, we spotted 22 species including abundant white pelicans, glossy ibis, black-crowned night heron, green herons, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, black-necked stilt, lesser yellowlegs, blue-winged teal, pied billed grebe and tri-colored heron. Viewing platforms and parking across the road, along with nearby access to the beach, make this a top birding spot in the area.
Not 10 miles south of Amelia Island past Little Talbot Island is Huguenot Memorial Park. The highlight here is springtime nesting gulls and terns which fill the air. A rare treat are migrating Red Knots spring and fall.
Along the beaches at various times of the year can be seen laughing gulls, numerous varieties of terns, sanderlings, rudy turnstones, northern gannets, brown pelicans and black skimmers.
Whether you come for vacation or for the rest of your life, I hope you find Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach as wonderful as Kristi and I do.