little blue heron

Photo by Abbie Banks

A little blue heron debates whether to take a stab at something in the water.

The name Red Bug Slough is enticing enough to make one want to explore this refuge and see the red bugs. Our very first visit many years ago was a memorable experience us. We hiked a bit and then sat and watched some wading birds go by in a small pond. We started exiting the refuge through a beautiful and serene wooded area.

Suddenly there was an almost silent swish. A stunning barred owl lighted upon a tree limb just an arm’s length from us at eye level. We both stopped and did not move a muscle. We stood motionless for quite some time taking in the beauty of this russet creature with its barred chest and huge eyes. We watched him observing us as we observed him. We were thrilled to be so close to this owl. Just as silently as he had approached, he took off and disappeared, flying low into the woods.

We didn’t see any red bugs that day, but we were thrilled to have this barred owl experience up close and personal. And of course, I didn’t have my camera at that time.

I was a bit annoyed at myself for not having a camera with me. Since that day, I always have a camera with me on birding trips, and I usually get some decent shots.

Now, my birding cameras are not of the same caliber as those used by professional National Geographic photographers. When you’re out hiking in the muck and rain and sand (and you are a bit of a klutz), a high-priced camera might not be such a good idea. I have dropped cameras in mud before. I even dropped one in the Gulf of Mexico. Clearly, I need a camera that I can afford to replace.

Over the years, the many cameras I’ve had have suited me quite well. About five cameras ago, I started using Panasonics. The two I have today are a Lumix FZ70 and a Lumix FZ300. Most of the time I take the FZ70, with its 60X zoom, on our longer trips birding in the field. It’s a bit heavier than the 24X. However, when we are puzzled at what is sitting in the snag of a tree a half-mile away, the FZ70 does the job and we can usually identify the silhouetted bird in the tree.

These cameras are an ideal compromise for me. They’re lightweight, easy to carry, get the job done and don’t cost an exorbitant amount of money. Actually, I think they are quite reasonable. But if you’re after the best possible photos — especially at longer ranges — you’ll probably be disappointed.

Some of my birding friends have extremely expensive cameras costing in the high four-figure range (once you start pricing lenses, you’ll see it’s not that hard to reach such numbers). When they take their camera in a field birding, they usually don’t have binoculars with them due to the size and weight and complexity of the camera. These friends take amazing professional quality photos of wildlife.

Since I am as interested in seeing the birds as I am in taking photos of the moment, I appreciate my little lightweight Panasonics. Often, I take the FZ300 (which still has a 24X zoom) when we do the monthly surveys at Wildflower Preserve. This is a lightweight camera that takes a nice crisp photo. Lately, it has been terribly rutted and muddy at Wildflower due to the restoration work. If I slip and fall, my tough little Panasonic will probably be OK, as it has survived several other disasters.

Red Bug Slough is a 72-acre preserve was once known as Skeeter Drain. The slough itself is a slow-moving stream running through the preserve. Our trip leader was eagle-eyed Deb Johnson.

Our first half-hour was actually spent birding in the parking lot. The thickly leafed mature oaks and pines were bustling with blue-gray gnatcatchers, tufted titmice, a yellow-throated and white-eyed vireo, mockingbirds, mourning doves, red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays and palm warblers. We actually had to tear ourselves away from parking lot birding to start our trail birding.

RBS is a beautiful natural area with mature trees and wild undergrowth. It is very pleasing to hike these types of natural trails. We veered off the trail to check the slough at one point and spotted only one great egret in the far distance. Back on the trail, we listened to several red-bellied wood peckers rapping in the distance and heard Carolina wren.

As we exited the path on the banks of a large pond, a small flock of white ibis flew overhead. A little blue heron was feeding along the bank, paying no attention to us. Tree swallows flitted overhead. I heard the chitter of the belted kingfisher and finally sighted it camouflaged on a tree limb. An immature little blue in. Immature little blue heron are always white and easily mistaken for snowy or cattle egrets. For tips on distinguishing them, go to

As we started on the return hike through the woods, it was getting a bit warm. We were glad of the cool forest cover. Near a side stream, several of us spotted a marsh rabbit frozen in its tracks and probably thinking he was hidden out of sight. We had to stop and watch this little handsome little guy for a minute before moving on.

We all converged back on the parking lot and decided it was time for a visit to a new place for brunch, Millie’s Restaurant in Sarasota. Actually, it’s just new to us — Millie’s has been serving food since 1959. Thank you to Deb Johnson for leading this great VABA trip to Red Bug Slough. If anyone would like to join us on a future trip, email 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 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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