Officially, it’s the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve. A reserve of almost 25,000 acres deserves a big name to go with the size of the area. T. Mabry Carlton Jr. was a fifth-generation Floridian cattleman, and he was determined to preserve this land.

The Carlton is located right off Border Road in Venice and comprises pine flatwoods, oak hammocks and dry prairie. The property was originally purchased to provide drinking water for Sarasota County. The Myakka River serves as the western boundary, and canoeing and kayaking can be done from a launch on Border Road.

If you go hiking to this park, please pick up the trail map at the entrance — there are 100 miles of trails, and it can get confusing even to the best of trailblazers. Hours for this reserve are from sunrise to sunset.

One year ago, the Venice Area Birding Association had Nancy Edmondson and Deb Johnson organize and lead this same trip. On that day, we wore rain slickers and sloshed through puddles. This year, VABA had a clear crisp morning. All 18 of the group were in good spirits and happy to be welcoming the New Year with the annual VABA birding trip to Carlton Reserve.

We had to squish into four vehicles, as that was the limit for this day. When you are birding in a large group such as this, not everyone gets to see every bird. That’s one reason some leaders only take eight or 10 on a birding trip. We drive in a caravan most of the time, unless the last car lags to see more birds or take some photos.

We had a few guests along. One was John, in his early 20s and an amazing birder. John was introduced to nature at an early age, as he grew older he became interested in birdwatching. When you introduce children to nature and continue to educate them regarding the environment, they carry this interest with them for life.

I first took my grandson Justin birding when he was 6 years old, and I continued our little trips into nature through the years. This has led to his interest and respect for nature today. Justin, in turn, is teaching his son about nature and wildlife. Take a child out into nature and reward him with this lifelong gift.

We always first check out the parking lot on the search for red-headed woodpeckers. Unfortunately, none showed up for a portrait, so we were off on our stop-and-go birding expedition. As we drove, we spotted ground doves, mourning doves, flocks of black-bellied whistling ducks overhead, American kestrels, and many species of woodpecker — red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers and northern flickers. I was also thrilled to see so many Eastern bluebirds, and even more thrilled to see a brown-headed nuthatch.

As we moved through wetter terrain, we began sighting American bitterns and least bitterns. Then in a section of pine woods, we saw rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue-headed vireos, and five species of warblers: Prairie, yellow-throated, pine, palm, and one black-and-white scurrying along the branches of a huge pine tree.

At one stop we startled several sandhill cranes from their hidden feeding place and they flew off with huge admonishing noise. We also sighted eastern phoebes, loggerhead shrikes, white-eyed vireos, tufted titmice and many tree swallows. Along the drive and stops, many of us sighted the usual wading birds such as great blue herons, great egrets, wood storks, little blue herons and several belted kingfishers. One lone white pelican flew over, and we also spotted an immature eagle.

The day became quite warm and folks were shedding their lightweight shirts and jackets. After nearly six hours out in the field, folks had eaten through their snacks, drunk all their water and were ready to go for lunch. Thank you to Nancy and Deb for leading this great trip to T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve. To secure a spot in one of our upcoming trips, contact me!

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.

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