There we were, having a nice warm Florida fall, when suddenly a cold front came into Southwest Florida, shifting the balmy 80-degree weather into a where-are-the-wool-socks wintry blast overnight. This did not deter a dozen adventurous Venice Area Birding Association members who had already planned a trip to Ollie’s Pond. (however, just thinking about it is giving me chills again.)
Five cars of bundled-up folks merged at the pond (18235 Avon Ave., Port Charlotte). Well, most of us were bundled. Deb from Minnesota was wearing shorts and a little T-shirt, and Don also had on shorts. I don’t know how they do it.
The trail around Ollie’s Pond is about a mile. Since we dawdle looking for birds, it takes an hour and a half to two hours to walk around the pond. This is a location where you’ll spot many birds off in the distance. To bring them up closer, we use a high-powered spotting scope on a tripod. It’s very useful to explore for ducks and waders hidden in the reeds. Scopes are bulky and can get heavy on a long walk. Don was the designated scope carrier for this trip.
We set up the scope in the parking lot and did a full scan of the pond. A green heron was sighted along the left bank, mostly hidden in the reeds. We also spotted common gallinules, great blue herons, anhingas and ospreys right away. We had come to the pond hoping for winter ducks — but, alas, none were to be seen except for the ever-present black-bellied whistling ducks.
These are beautiful waterbirds, painted in earthy colors. You usually can hear them coming before you see them, as their call is quite distinct. The colorful mature duck has a bright orange beak and pink or reddish legs. They have white spectacles (eye rings) and a rich russet chest with a black belly. We didn’t need the scope to see these beautiful creatures, as they were about five feet away.
I’ve had my trusty Kowa birding scope for many years. This brand was quite popular back in the Stone Age when I started birding in the field. It’s a good-quality piece of equipment. Today’s birders tend to prefer Swarovski, Zeiss and other brands of scopes, though Kowa is still in the business. The more you pay, the better quality the optics and the longer it will last. My scope is still as good as it was the day I bought it.
The only problem I have is that the original almost-antique tripod is quite cumbersome. Today’s easy-to-open tripods are much more convenient to use and more lightweight. But Don carries the scope (thank you, Don!), so I’ll just keep the tripod I have. However, one must be careful to avoid getting a tripod that is too lightweight. We have been birding in places with gale-force winds, and a lightweight tripod would be an expensive disaster waiting to happen.
When we have a large crowd on a birding trip, it’s a good plan to have several scopes with us. If there is a rare bird, one scope and a lot of people, there’s the unwritten three-second rule: One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, and then relinquish to the next in line. That way more of us can look through the scope to view the bird before it flies.
As we hiked around the pond, pulling our jackets close in as the wind made the day feel colder than it was, we sighted many tufted titmice, blue-gray gnatcatchers, a little blue heron feeding in the reeds and many anhinga,. Eagle-eye Deb spotted a yellow-throated warbler and a common yellowthroat. We also sighted pine and palm warblers, and Brenda had a yellow-rumped warbler and a downy woodpecker.
Several red-bellied woodpeckers were seen digging on the trees for insects. The usual cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, mourning doves and such were there to greet us. We heard the high-pitched call of the belted kingfisher.
A pied-billed grebe popped up after a dive and several cormorants followed suit. Common gallinules were around the entire pond, tucked into the reeds — probably trying to keep warm, like we were doing. Sometimes we sight owls at Ollie’s, but we searched for one and did not get lucky.
As we rounded the pond, the folks with thin blood ran ahead to the cars and were ready for hot coffee and tea. We straggled into the parking lot, always trying to get that last look at some great bird. But I had to agree it was time for some nice hot food and coffee.
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.