An Evening In The Marsh

One definition of opportunity is:  a favorable combination of circumstances, time, and place”.  I was recently presented with an “opportunity” to go birding in a very unique area.  I thought about it for, oh, about 3 seconds and said “yes, please”.  A large group was to be provided a tour of the area and I was to be part of a small scouting party the day before in order to determine what birds might be available for viewing.

A project has been under way for several years to create a wetland mitigation area on the south side of Lake Hancock in Lakeland, Florida.  The Southwest Florida Water Management District oversees the project.

Basically, water will be pumped from the south shore of Lake Hancock and flow through three “cells”  planted with vegetation which filters impurities from the water.  The result will be improved water quality from Lake Hancock into Saddle Creek which will ultimately flow into the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor.  The newly created wetlands consists of approximately 1,000 acres and will eventually be opened to the public.

We started late in the day (3:00 p.m.) and dodged rain showers most of the afternoon.  Despite the weather, our tally at sundown was 63 species observed.  Over 3,000 American White Pelicans chose to roost here this evening!  We also saw 12 species of ducks, over two dozen American Avocets, over two dozen Black-necked Stilts, heard at least ten Soras calling and found a good mix of additional birds.  Other animals also apparently like the place as we found tracks of raccoons, opossums, white-tailed deer and wild hogs.  There are plenty of alligators and snakes here as well.

As the weather settled down, so did the birds and the sound of Barred Owls echoing across the marsh provided an exclamation mark as to how special this area is becoming.


Some American White Pelicans spend the winter in central Florida and their numbers fluctuate locally from year to year.  They apparently liked what they found this year.  Our conservative estimate was at least 3,000 Pelicans roosting here on the day we visited.

First, there was one.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


Then, a line formed.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


Soon, the word had spread.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


Chaos as choice spots were fought over.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


A bit of pushing and shoving to establish personal space.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


The crowd pays attention as the Head Pelican explains the rules of deportment.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


A late-comer finds it a challenge to locate an open spot for landing.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


The early birds show from whence came the expression:  “slept like a rock”.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


If you endure enough rain storms, you will eventually get to enjoy a rainbow.




As the sun made an appearance late in the day, Tree Swallows began their forays over the water for supper just prior to roosting for the night.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow


Black Skimmers likewise went on the prowl for small fish foolish enough to be too close to the surface.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer


Even more Pelicans began to arrive just at sunset.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

American White Pelican


A quartet of American Avocets relax and prepare for bed.

American Avocet

American Avocet


As night began to assert itself over the marsh – a true birder’s thoughts turn to one thing – there MUST BE OWLS OUT HERE!




If you’re in central Florida in the future, check to see if this area has opened to the public yet (not sure of the estimated date) and don’t miss this very special opportunity!


Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!


See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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34 thoughts on “An Evening In The Marsh

  1. Wonderful photos and will definitely look this place up in the future!! thank you

  2. Just amazing…. I’ve never seen such a sight, in my life! What a wonderful day. 🙂

  3. Brilliant Wally absolutly brilliant, any time I see a White Pelican now, I’ll think of you.
    All the best, Gordon.

  4. That a lot of pelicans! Good to see that the idea that wetlands clean water is spreading – not that it’s rocket science!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  5. Oh my gosh Wally.. I’m speechless. (Almost). Have put this on our future must visit someday list. I hope we get to do it. I didn’t know there were any avocets in Florida. We used to see them in Oregon, but I guess we’re not there at the right time of year any more because it has been years. All of the birds are wonderful. Thanks for this.

  6. Fabulous shots. i love all those pelicans. It’s nice to see a place that’s been created for these marvelous birds, rather than taken away.

  7. Avocet Quartet — that’s just plain fun to say. And what a beautiful photograph. Exuberance jumps of the page in this post. I’m so glad I know the sound of your voice, Wally. It adds to my enjoyment to “hear” your words. The pelicans are really something. Every time I come to your blog, I am suffused with a sense of abundant life. Oh, and the barred owls. I’ll bet their calls really reverberate and electrify in that open setting.

    • If you want to correct my typos, I won’t mind! 🙂 . . . make that “off” the page.

      • I would never presume that you would commit an error – rather, I choose to believe you meant to invoke a sense of animation to my words which caused them to vibrate as if preparing to jump from the “virtual” page of the blog.

        (Aren’t you happy I’m not your editor……….)

    • I’ve been lucky to have visited that area a few times now and “abundant life” has almost become “overwhelming life”! The sights and sounds of thousands of birds and dozens of species, not to mention the diversity of other animals, insects, plants, trees — a true sensory overload. Two words – “Briar Patch”.

      Love you, Sister!

  8. Hi Wally. Looks like your pioneering exploration paid off with 63 species in an afternoon and a Pelican Bonanza.

    It’s great to hear of such environmentally usefull schemes from which everyone benefits, people and wildlife.

    Lovely sunsets, and I look forward to seeing those owl pictures very soon.

    • Well, Phil, we certainly could have used your counting expertise! It was gratifying to sit in the truck in the afterglow of sunset and realize all that I was seeing had been the result of human endeavor. Oh, the things we could do if properly motivated!


  9. HI Wally How amazing to see it all happen in front of your eyes, from the first bird arriving to them trying to settle down and roost for the night. A wonderful series of shots to show us how this all comes about. Also I love the shot of the Black Skimmer with the fantastic reflection. Many thannks for sharing this great outing

    • Margaret, thank you so much for visiting! It was really special and I enjoyed every second! We certainly appreciate your very kind comments.

  10. Hello Wally,
    Well, this is just beautiful!
    Talk a bout a swarm!!!
    Fantastic shots especially the swallows with one flying upside down!!
    And a magnificent sunset with the birds’ silhouettes
    Keep well and happy birding!

    • Thank you so much, Noushka! It’s a great place and it was a lot of fun! (The “upside down” swallow is actually the other bird’s reflection.)

  11. Wow! The white pelicans were great and then I saw that rainbow. Amazing. All great pictures. Can’t wait for this place to open. If you get a chance to get back out there on a weekend, shoot me an email.

  12. Wow, amazing numbers of White Pelicans! A great place for birding! Your photos are awesome!

  13. Oh, how humbled I am when coming here.

    So that’s where all of our white pelicans have gone. 🙂 I had hoped for more shots, but only a stray or two remain. Gorgeous reflection and silhouette images. Your photography is so beautiful to look at.

  14. just awesome! they put one of those water mitigation areas about 20 miles from here and have a wetland visitor’s center near it. i’ve not really gone, yet, but i see some flocks there now and then. GREAT shot of the skimmer! love the big flocks of pelicans, too.

    • I hope yours is a fraction as good as this one as far as numbers of birds! Thank you so much for continuing to make such nice comments!

  15. 63 species in one day is impressive. I will certainly check to see if it’s open to the public the next time I find myself in Florida.

  16. So much to comment on in this post! First the wetland mitigation scheme sounds great – its so good to hear of environmentally sensitive schemes to fix some of the water quality issues that have happened with all our close “development”. Love the pelicans! I’ve only seen them in those numbers in places where they were breeding out west in one of our wet seasons. Of course, the sunset photos over the water are very beautiful!

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