Nestled in suburban Orange Park in Northeast Florida are 510 acres of swamp and hammocks called Crosby Sanctuary. Owned by Duval Audubon Society, this limited access nature preserve is home to a full biodiversity of native plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. This special place, now included in conservation lands mapping by Clay County and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, provides respite amidst a busy, congested backdrop of human dominated landscapes.
Crosby’s swamp area is dominated by bald cypress, black gum, Carolina ash, American elm, swamp laurel oak, and red maple trees. The property perimeters contain transitional areas of herbaceous marsh, pine flatwoods and several impressive live oak hammocks. Crosby’s important wildlife habitats are connected to many thousands of acres of regionally significant conservation lands, including Jennings State Forest, Cecil Habitat Preserve, Cary State Forest, and Camp Blanding, through riparian habitat corridors. These habitat corridors consist of Little Black Creek, McGirts Creek, Ortega River, and Black Creek.
The connectedness of Crosby allows wildlife utilization by wide-ranging species such as river otter, white tailed deer, raccoon, red fox, bobcat and, believe it or not, North American beaver. The beavers have lived up to their reputation and caused drainage problems by building dams across drainage culverts. We like having them around anyway!
Birds abound! It is an important breeding site for the Prothonotary Warbler, which returns from Central America each year to Crosby from April through August. Rusty Blackbirds have been seen there occasionally during wintering and migration periods. There is a vulture roost on the west end of the property that has become the primary residence of local vultures, both turkey and black. It’s not uncommon to see 200 to 300 vultures roosting there. In all, over 100 species of birds have been documented on the site.
The presence of Crosby as an Audubon sanctuary helped to stop a poorly planned Florida Department of Transportation road project/elevated bridge through the area in the early 2000’s. The Sanctuary also provides us with valuable ecosystem services (for free!) such as flood water attenuation, storm water treatment, temperature regulation, wildlife enjoyment, and nutrient cycling.
At this time the sanctuary is being used mostly for monthly field trips/workdays. Because of an issue with beavers, a trench has been cut across our main access road to allow water to flow more freely through the swamp. This trench limits access, especially during the rainy season. Future plans include bridging the trench, creating additional trails, and developing trail signage. Recently we built an information kiosk. In the meantime, the wildlife populations flourish and we at Duval Audubon Society know that we have a very special place.