We are very fortunate in Charlotte County to have a natural tidal wetland. Lemon Lake is a bonanza for birds during times when the water level has declined due to low rainfall, elevated evaporation, and less tidal flow. Under these conditions, fish are concentrated and predatory birds can capture them more easily.

In addition, aquatic plants on the bottom are made available to surface dabbling ducks. Herbivorous ducks primarily feed on ditch grass (Ruppia), a third cousin to the famous turtle grass eaten by manatees and sea turtles.

Lemon Lake is part of Amberjack Preserve and is fed via Lemon Creek, which comes through Wildflower Preserve from Lemon Bay. It is quite unusual in that it is tidal through a tenuous connection via Lemon Creek, but also receives periodic rainwater runoff from the surrounding uplands. So the salinity varies quite a bit. It may be nearly fresh during times of plentiful rain up to saltier than seawater due to evaporation in hot, rainless weather. Indeed, the lake may go dry in some months.

Most of the wetlands famous as places to see aquatic birds are constructed habitats utilized for treatment of sewage effluent or roadside or agricultural storm water runoff. The fact that this natural estuary has persisted while so many other wetlands have been destroyed or severely altered is a wonderful thing, and a tribute to the foresight of county planners who purchased and preserved the land. The presence of Wildflower Preserve, owned by the Lemon Bay Conservancy, and its role in preserving Lemon Creek are also important.

Remember that this marvelous lagoon is not a zoo, and birds come periodically for food and to rest. They are most abundant after a cycle of high water (leading to reproduction of food organisms) followed by low water to concentrate the prey and allowing for dabblers and waders to reach the bottom.

Bill Dunson is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University, thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. Contact him at WDunson@comcast.net.

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