The Venice Area Birding Association (VABA) has a few leaders who have scheduled some simple trips this fall. Many of us are going a bit stir-crazy after being in the house for so long.
Months back, I received a very nice email from Al Lessman telling me that my columns in WaterLine were helping him get through the pandemic. Al is a volunteer at Peace River Wildlife Center in Punta Gorda. He informed me that they were doing private tours of the center, although they were closed to the public. I jumped at that opportunity and VABA was set to go on a tour the day before All Hallows Eve.
Of course, that was also the day they decided to open it to the public. Fortunately, it was not too crowded for our excellent tour given by David Hayes.
David graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and park management. David gave our group an informative talk on each species we visited and provided us with all the personal little details of the resident birds. He even shared which ones were grouchy.
We have visited PRWC many times over the years, but seeing the birds up close and personal never gets wearisome. Luna, the leucistic eastern screech owl, is a favorite of many people who visit the center. What a beautiful creature.
Enclosures for the barred owl, the great horned owl and the eastern screech owl are all lined up in a row. Beginning birders can see the differences in sizes and coloration.
The great horned owl is the largest of Florida owls. Honestly, you do not want to mess with this large and very strong bird. The average wing span is about 48 inches. They are night predators and it is best if you keep your small pets inside. They have excellent hearing and vision. It’s common to see their silhouettes up in a tree at dusk as they prepare for their search for tasty treats. If you are confused when you see the silhouette, just remember the great HORNED owl has tufts that look like horns.
You may also see barred owls at dusk. Unlike the horned owl, a barred will have a smooth rounded head. It is also a little bit smaller than the GHO, but still big enough to snag a smaller cat or duck. It is best to have your pets as house pets and not outdoor pets. You will see these differences in the owls as you compare the two at PRWC.
The large ponds in the rear of the center are home to brown and white pelicans that are being rehabbed for return to the wild. Some that can’t return to the wild due to serious injuries have a home for life here. When you visit PRWC, take note of the size difference between the brown and white pelican. Brown pelicans are large birds at about 48 inches in length, but white pelicans are around 60 inches. They’re huge.
Many birders, even those who have been birding for years, don’t get to see the crested caracara very often. However, one can study this handsome bird close up and personal at PRWC. If you see vultures on the side of the highway feasting on roadkill, check the crowd for a caracara. They also feed on carrion (and so do eagles).
There are also a number of raptors, shorebirds and songbirds at this rehab center. We have been there many times when wild birds fly in to try to get a snack or free meal. This time, we only sighted one great egret. However, at other times we have seen fly-ins of black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons, snowy egrets and even cattle egrets.
The volunteers and the full time staff at PRWC are all wonderful devoted individuals. Even the lady in the gift shop is knowledgeable and helpful. My collection of headwear from many wildlife refuges grew by one more as I left with a lovely green Peace River Wildlife Center visor. When we are birding, I like a visor to shade my eyes while I’m using binoculars.
Off we went to the outside deck at Hurricane Charley’s in Punta Gorda. The breeze was refreshing and lunch was excellent. We enjoyed lunch as we watched the gulls and terns take flight from the nearby pilings.
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.