VABA photo

An anhinga spears a brown bullhead catfish at the Circle Bar B Preserve.

The Venice Area Birding Association’s yearly trip to Circle B Bar was approaching. We had a new couple in our group: Tina and Richard, who were also new to birding.

Since this trip is a long one, we stop at a fast food restaurant for a pit stop. As we all sat and chatted over coffee and egg sandwiches, I was surprised to find out that Tina and Richard lived in the same development as Don and me. What a bizarre coincidence.

They couldn’t remember quite how they found out about the trip, but I was hopeful they would enjoy one of my favorite birding sites. Circle B Bar is a jewel in Polk County. Folks voted to create a tax to acquire land for preservation and management of sensitive lands. It’s an amazing preserve where one can see wildlife up close and personal.

This morning started out a bit chilly, but shortly turned out to be a glorious day full of Florida sunshine. We started out on the side trail and we were greeted by the rapping of a red-bellied woodpecker. Quite a few black vultures were circling, along with several turkey vultures. Three black vultures were sitting on the limbs of dead trees, creating an artistic silhouette. We looked for the owls at the cross walk, but none were there this day.

Soon we approached one of my favorite areas of this preserve, a short stretch of marsh. There are always quite a few waders feeding and flying in and out, and it is quite difficult tearing myself away from this spot.

We first sighted great egrets and white ibises. A little blue heron slowly stalking a prey in the water was close by. Several ospreys wheeled around in search of a fish breakfast. We had our scope to see if there was anything in the far distance.

The buzzy call of a kingfisher attracted our attention and we watched it fly back and forth several times. A snowy egret slowly walked behind a huge clump of grass.

We actually inched our way along this stretch. As we did, we spotted more birds. Appearing out of the grass were several common moorhens. On the opposite side of the trail, folks were admiring a great blue heron.

We always see quite a few limpkins at this site. Many birders from around the world travel to Florida to be able to see limpkin and add that bird to their life list. The limpkin, named for its limping gait, is common in our state and is seen mostly inland to the west coast. It also can be found in Georgia and is once in a while spotted as far north as Maryland.

We still were sighting birds on our first little section of the trail. A pied-billed grebe was diving, disappearing then reappearing for our little group. Someone said they had spotted a possible purple gallinule. I pulled the scope over and saw a little green heron, then realized they were looking in a different area. I slowly moved the scope around to scan the entire area and found the purple gallinule winding through the reeds.

Diane, Joe and I were attracted by some movement in the reeds. Bright yellow caught our attention, and after some discussion, we were sure we spotted a common yellowthroat. A few myrtle warblers (butter-butts) were seen flitting through the reeds. We had several eastern phoebes hawking for insects over the water. Tri-color herons were also feeding in the marsh.

One of the last sightings on this short stretch was a male and female blue-winged teal pair.

But we had to move on so those who have not been to Circle B Bar could get a glimpse of more of the expansive beauty.

As we turned the corner, we interrupted a blue-gray gnatcatcher convention being held in the corner trees. We had to watch them for a few moments — they are such cute little birds. They always seem so busy.

Finally turning the corner, we spotted our first double-crested cormorant. Steve pointed out a sandhill crane taking flight right near us. We started hiking down the trail, which was a bit more narrow and had much more growth along the bank. As we slowly hiked this trail, we sighted several cattle egrets and quite a few palm warblers.

We had to stop and take a peek at a frying pan-size turtle (probably a peninsula cooter) snoozing on the banks in the reeds. Joe picked up some whistling ducks. A red-shouldered hawk was sighted in the distance.

Suddenly, we spotted some two-legged birding types. We had bumped into Tony’s group from Peace River. After some hugs and some chatting, we continued on our way.

I wanted to at least get to the blind, which we did. From here, we sighted several small rookeries with huge great blue heron nests.

On our hike back, we had a female harrier swoop over us so closely that I felt the breeze from her wings. As she flew back over us, I spotted the white spot on her rump. Female harriers are a rich brown color. The males are a beautiful soft gray above and whitish underneath. Both are stunning birds. It is fascinating to watch them hunt as they fly over the swamps and meadows searching for small prey. We watched this beautiful female for a bit and then moved on.

It was getting late and we had to pick up the pace to get back on the road home. Our gift on the way out was a single stunning roseate spoonbill flying overhead, bidding us adieu for the day. What a great fun group and a fabulous day. I am so thankful to all the Floridians who had the insight to preserve these beautiful lands.

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 or email her at

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 or email her at


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