Ollie’s Pond Park is a small but treasured birding site off Wintergarden Avenue in Charlotte County. The park is about 40 acres and features a large manmade drainage pond. The pond and its park were named after Ollie Hewett, who was a devoted member of Peace River Audubon.
Each year, the Venice Area Birding Association will have at least one trip here on our yearly schedule (and often two or three). We always go in the winter to scope out the pond for ducks. For new birders, this is wonderful place to hone your new birding skills. For the old-timers, it’s an easy-access place to bird on the spur of the moment when you get that itch. We often see common species, but those who love nature love seeing any bird any time.
Our trip leader, Jean Reger, had us convene at Ollie’s. Tom Duch had his scope set up in the parking lot viewing area, and quite a few birds were sighted without putting out much energy. Anhingas were hanging out on a large limb extended out over the pond. Common gallinules, a green heron, glossy ibises, ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal, a mottled duck and a possible bufflehead were sighted. A pied-bill grebe did his usual mystery dive, leaving us to wonder where he would pop up next.
We started our hike around the pond. Our first bird on the trail was a common ground dove. We also sighted quite a dew mourning doves. Catbirds seemed to following us. We watched a green heron as he prowled for some food. Group members spotted red-winged blackbirds, a boat-tailed grackle, several mockingbirds and the nest of an American crow high in the top of a pine tree.
As we stopped at the railing, we sighted a very dark brown Florida banded water snake. They usually grow about four feet and are found in swampy areas. This one was quite a handsome creature, though not as colorfully patterned as they usually are. Then we spotted a purple gallinule, much more colorful than the related common gallinule.
A red-bellied woodpecker was making a racket in a nearby tree. Right behind us was a far more quiet downy woodpecker. A little blue heron was hiding in the reeds very close by. I’m sure he thought we couldn’t see him. There was a quite a bit of action as all the birds were feeding. Suddenly there was a huge splash and looked up to see an osprey flying off with a big fish catch clutched in its talons.
We came upon a few common gallinules running around in the grass, probably eating grubs and such. They didn’t seem to care that we were walking right through their little pack with them pecking away. Pine warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, northern cardinals, a blue-headed vireo, a common yellowthroat and several eastern phoebes were also sighted. Tom spotted a sora deep in the reeds.
As we hiked the far end, Gail was motioning us to hurry along. We did hurry to find several owls. A great horned owl was camouflaged in her nest, and another blended in along the trunk of a tall tree. Mama owl seemed to have found the most perfect spot for her nest, cradled in the branches.
We all were excited and happy about this double-header sighting; however, we spent a good deal of time trying to point out the exact spot to see the owls to others in the group and also to people passing by. A long time ago, I was taught to spot the bird with your naked eye first, then find an identifiable limb or green area near the bird.
Once you do that, you can bring your binoculars up to find the bird well hidden in the tree using your locating marks. It is not always an easy task, and often quite frustrating. Of course, if someone has a laser light on them, that would also be helpful.
Sue and I were standing and chatting for a moment when a large gray bird crossed the sky. It had a white spot on the rump and was undoubtedly a male harrier — another good sighting for the day.
We headed back to the parking lot. Along the way, we stopped and listened to the high-pitched buzzing of a small flock of blue-gray gnatcatchers. These are very cute tiny birds. In addition, we were fortunate to see a second purple gallinule, skulking through the broken branches along the shore.
Our trip ended with a 4-foot gator at the edge of the parking lot taking his morning nap. What a great day in the neighborhood. Forty-two species were sighted on the trip. Thank you to Jean Reger for leading this excellent trip. If any readers would like to come along on a future VABA adventure, we’d be happy to have you. Contact me for dates and times.
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.