Lemon Bay Park is a 210-acre site hidden on the back streets of old Englewood, and it is a true gem in the community. Black mangroves, scrubby pine and oaks make up most of this wonderful park.
The butterfly garden alone is worth a stop to sight lots of lovely butterflies and learn the butterfly attractant plants. On this day, even in the slight morning chill, we spotted zebra longwings, gulf frittilaries, monarchs and white peacocks as we walked by.
Deb Johnson, the Venice Area Birding Association’s eagle-eye birder, led this trip. We converged at the parking lot as some more of our good birding friends were coming from Port Charlotte and north Venice. Once all had arrived, it was decided to walk the boardwalk first.
Good choice: We were treated to four immature bald eagles. One was definitely a second-year bird, as the feathers were already turning toward adult colors. We all were talking about trying to sight the nest when we hiked the main area.
Our attention was captured by the many gulls and terns whizzing by. Quite a few laughing gulls and brown pelicans were in the air flying past. The group was happy to sight a small flock of American white pelicans. We would see several more flocks throughout the day.
Double-crested cormorants were decorating the pilings out on Lemon Bay. Forster’s terns were diving for their breakfast. Also spotted were royal tern and one lone sandwich tern, identified by the mustard on its beak. In addition we sighted several black skimmers. The tide was high and we were lucky to sight these birds.
A little blue heron was spotted in the jungle of mangroves. We watched as it caught a small crab and devoured it. We then noticed the complete lack of the hundreds of tiny fiddler crabs that usually scurry under the mangroves at water’s edge. Where did they go?
Fish crows were calling (“Uh-uh! Uh-uh!”) as we continued down the path. This portion of the trail is so wild and beautiful. As we hiked, we heard then spotted a northern cardinal. Sharon was stopped in her tracks as she thought she heard a thrush.
The wood thrush is a beautiful bird, with rust on its back, striping on the white neck, spotting on the breast and a white eye ring. Several of us were straining our eyes trying to find it as the call (“Pit, pit, pit!”) was quite loud. Alas, we did not see it — but it was just as good to hear it, as it brought back old memories for me.
Belt Woods Natural Environment Area is a 625-acre national natural landmark near my old home back in Maryland. This protected area with no trails is a famous migration site for the wood thrush and several other birds.
Some years back, my Audubon group was invited to hike through the woods. It was a wonderful experience, as this is one of the last stands of old-growth hardwoods on the Atlantic coastal plain. We were thrilled to hear the melodic flute call of a wood thrush echoing through the dark forest of tall trees.
Moving down the trail, Patty sighted a northern flicker. We were a few steps ahead watching a red-bellied woodpecker. Mourning doves cooed as we hiked along and the familiar call of both the Carolina wren and the house wren were heard. We also had gray catbirds, northern mockingbirds and blue jays.
Everyone remarked about the beautiful weather we were experiencing: Low humidity, sunshine, and about 65 degrees. As we hiked along the well-kept trails, we spotted what might have been an eagle’s nest quite far off in one of the tallest trees near the water. We had a discussion as to whether that was an old disheveled nest or a new one under construction. We came to no conclusion.
We had some fine warbler sightings, which are always welcomed. A black-and-white was seen by all. We also had a yellow-throated warbler and a common yellowthroat. Pines, palms and yellow rumps were also spotted.
A lump sitting on a branch in the far distance turned out to be a red-shouldered hawk when we got the binoculars focused. We also had the great luck to spot a merlin, an American kestrel and a Cooper’s hawk. We hiked around to a small pond and sighted a great egret and a green heron. An anhinga was drying its wings as it sat on a branch over the water.
To the delight of our group, several more flocks of white pelicans flew by. They are just so beautiful in flight. As we hiked back to the welcome center, we picked up an eastern phoebe hawking from branch. We also heard the high-pitched call of a belted kingfisher.
As the sun rose and the day became warmer, our 3-mile hike was coming to an end. We had sighted 50 species of birds. Thank you to Deb Johnson for leading this great trip and making reservations at a favorite Englewood restaurant. All of us were ready to eat and discuss our birding adventures. Another memorable birding trip in the books. Why don’t you come with us for the next one?
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.